What website improvements really matter to customers?

Planning a website's structure

Often the budget for a website design or redesign is limited and has to be used strategically – so what features will give website owners the biggest bang for their buck?

Having worked in web design for more than 20 years, I have sometimes observed a gap between what business owners expect from their website and the changes that really matter to their customers. 

At Designweb, we don’t just build sites that look good, but work strategically with our clients to increase customer engagement, reinforce their brand and effectively represent their service online. This means creating a strategy that increases leads, sales and confidence. In our experience, this means focusing on the following: 

1. Customer experience: Communicate what do you do well and offer clear calls to action
Perhaps the most important thing to focus on is communicating what your business or brand does simply, clearly – and fast! Given that a single search yields thousands of results, and users often make a snap judgement by looking at the top of the website, without scrolling down, you don’t have long to create a fast first impression.  

Make sure that your landing page reflects the search term, ‘offers what it says on the tin’, and loads quickly. Canny website owners don’t focus entirely on desktop pcs, but think about creating a user experience that works brilliantly across all devices. If you have multiple product groups, think about creating multiple landing pages to boost SEO, relevance and client experience, rather than directing everyone to the homepage.

Finally, focus on creating clear calls to action – if you want someone to click on your banner or offer, tell them so. If you don’t, your competitor’s website will. The simpler, faster and clearer a website is, the easier your customers find it to use, the more effective it will be.

2. Use An SSL Certificate
Confidence is crucial to building your brand online, and often the basics are overlooked in a misplaced attempt to impress. People often have a huge budget to pay for a flashy, slow loading animation or salesy graphics that do nothing for your business, but baulk at a small charge for an SSL.

Any budget you spent on design is wasted if Google tells your customer that your site is insecure when they land on it. In years past, an SSL certificate was a ‘nice to have’, and only recommended for e-commerce sites, but according to Google, SSL and HTTPS should be used everywhere across the web in 2020. Sites not using SSL will be marked as unsecured if they’re viewed using the Google Chrome browser – making adding one a no-brainer. Sites without an SSL are also ranked lower by search engines.  Even if you aren’t planning a website re-design, website owners should consider investing in one as a priority.

3. Make your business details and contact information accessible
Contact details need to be clearly accessible and a telephone number builds trust. Many website clients will never contact you in person, but even if a customer plans to shop online, they expect to see contact details so they can call you if they need to. Older clients, who prefer one on one contact, will often only look at a website to find the phone number, so make it easy to find. Online chat can also help with this, especially if you experience a high volume of calls – and modern AI chatbots deliver a personal experience that can take the pressure off your frontline staff.

4. Build trust with the Three T’s: Transparency, Third Party Branding, Testimonials
Even online, customers are more likely to trust a brand they are familiar with – or one they feel comfortable with. The value of branding, even on price driven platforms like EBay, means that products from a known, trusted brand can command a higher price, even if the product itself is identical. This is particularly important to older customers, while millenials are more price sensitive. Here’s some tips to make customers get more familiar with your brand:

4.1 Transparency
To succeed, smaller businesses should emulate the tactics used by larger brands, creating brand familiarity and letting them know that there is a real, solid company behind the storefront with useful ‘about us’ pages. Share information so people can find out about you without needing to go off and check elsewhere.  If you are brand new and different, that’s ok too, but let them know WHY you are different and what makes you stand out from the crowd.  Use consistent branding and messaging across your site – and follow through, with company colours, a clear image and make it clear they can contact you if they aren’t happy with anything.  

4.2 Third Party Branding Alignment
If you sell branded products, or have accreditations from a relevant body, share their logos (with permission of course). Sometimes a newer company may want to partner with a household name purely for brand recognition.  This is another trick the big brands use – for example, seeking to improve water sales in Wales, Princes Gate rebranded and partnered with the WRU, purely to put their logo on their newly branded bottles.

If you don’t have their budget, however, you can still use this approach, by sponsoring a local rugby or football team – they will often give you a backlink on their website, the chance to use their logo and website visitors will see that a) you are trusted by and active in your local community and b) you are a real business, not an anonymous online outsider who could be based overseas. Similarly, think about making regular donations to your foodbank or local school.  It costs relatively little and builds a huge ‘feelgood factor’. 

Once you have decided with which brand to align yourself, build the relationship by mentioning your activities in regular blogs and press releases – and on social media. If you tag them in it, the beneficiaries will probably help you reach more people by sharing your posts on their social media too.

4.3 Testimonials
Testimonials are a really powerful sales tool, so it’s important to give customers a place to leave feedback.  We can build integrations with review platforms like TrustPilot, but no matter how you gather reviews, if you know a customer is happy, encourage them to tell you and shout about it wherever you can – share on your website, but share the good reviews on your social media channels too.  If your customers love you, why wouldn’t you want to tell the world? 

5. Don’t forget the value of the individual – the experience should continue beyond the website
Behind every website user is a human being – and most customers want to feel like there is one at the other end, too. Website experiences these days, especially in big tech, are not about delivering a ‘big company’ experience.  On the contrary, they are spending millions on AI that creates the same experience that buyers get when using a small, local business. In their rush to be seen as a large business, small businesses often forget the value of the personal touch. 

The website is the start, not the end of your relationship with your customer, so think about how you can build on that relationship. Use the customers name on telephone calls, think about sending out a handwritten compliments slip with an order, or wrap it in unusual packaging, and ask the packer to sign it with their name. Likewise, if you send out emails to boost customer engagement with your website, think about tailoring them towards their interests, for example, splitting your email list into groups rather than sending the same generic email to everyone – your customers will feel more valued and you will probably get more sales.

The way we do business has changed beyond recognition over the past 100 years – the one thing that hasn’t gone anywhere is the need to put the customer first.  

Done well, your website can be the first stage in building a long, supportive relationship with your clients. Prioritising the above steps will go a long way towards getting that relationship off to a solid start.

Paul Lyons

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