Website Strategies That Work
Written by Dave Collins, SoftwarePromotions Ltd.
The world has become an interesting place in 2002. At the time of writing this, I am sitting in my home in Southern Finland, tapping these words into my HP notebook. By this evening, they'll have made the journey via a floppy disk to my main desktop PC, and from there they'll be attached to an email, and whisked across the web to Jerry Stern in Maryland, USA. After he's finished "correcting" my British English into something that his fellow Americans will understand, he'll then work to somehow combine it with the other articles that he's been sent, and send this whole issue off to a printer. From there it will pass through the hands of Rich Holler, and enter the US Postal System, where it will spread at an astonishing rate, quite literally across the world. My words will end their journey on the very page that you're looking at right now, but hundreds of other identical copies will continue to spread these ideas all around the world. Amazing.
What's even more amazing is that this is the slow method of communicating. Your website gives you an opportunity to spread your thoughts, ideas and products far wider and far faster than any printed medium can ever achieve. But I still have an advantage. You only receive your issue of ASPects once a month, and chances are that you read it cover to cover. I know who's going to be reading what I'm typing right now, and what sort of things interest you. I also know that aside from an unexpected problem at the printers, you'll be able to read this page just fine. And that even if you choose only to skim through it right now, you'll be able to give it a good look over later.
Back to the Basics
Your website, on the other hand, is an entirely different kettle of fish, and ultimately it probably affects your life to a far greater degree than this article affects mine. If you want it to succeed, and you want it do whatever it is you're trying to do, then a little bit of strategy could be a very useful thing.
Perhaps your visitor will find their way to your site from a search engine, or a list of links, or a press release, or maybe even an email. However as soon as they arrive, a clock starts ticking, and chances are they are already thinking about where to go next.
So let's start with the basics. One of the most common mistakes that we make with our websites, is that we forget the user. Your site shouldn't be built around your product, your ideas or your aspirations. It should be built around the user. All too often I see sites selling software, with a front page that is little more than a list of features. The average user doesn't want this. They need to find what they're looking for, be it benefits, ideas or solutions. Features are for editors and reviewers, or people who are already interested in your product. But not for average visitors.
A typical advert for a car concentrates on appearance, implied lifestyle, benefits, comfort and style. The actual technical specifications are either mentioned in passing, or left until later. Take a look around - it works. Follow the car makers.
Following on from this, let's assume that you've defined your target markets, and know more or less who it is that you're selling to. While some applications target a very focused and specific set of users, most don't. If your product has different users, each of whom have different needs and requirements, then can you honestly say that your website is speaking the right language to all of them at the same time?
When it comes to websites, one size does not fit all, and if your product can be used by a variety of very different user groups, then you have to adapt your website accordingly. For example, SmartBoardXP by (www.smartboardxp.com) is a very powerful clipboard utility, equally suited to businesses, general home users, writers, programmers, website developers, digital artists, programmers and so on. Do you think that all of them speak the same language, or are looking for the same features and benefits? No way. If you can setup a separate website for each, all the better, but at the very least, make sure that you have separate content for each of these user types, all of whom have different needs, and communicate in very different ways.
Don't forget the NAPA
Next up is NAPA - navigation, appearance, presentation, and accessibility. Okay so I made-up the acronym, but the importance of these four elements is critical.
Navigation is one of the most important factors, and all too frequently overlooked. Many websites start out as a small collection of pages, but with time, the number invariably grows. A list of links from the front page simply isn't enough, and you should always remember that a visitor to the site may not even start at the main page. Make sure there are links and a good means of navigation throughout the whole site, or your visitor will invariably leave without even seeing what you have to offer.
Your site's appearance is also of utmost importance, and all to many people assume that making do with an old copy of PaintShopPro and some free clipart will do the trick. It doesn't. First impressions are everything, and if the first thing to springs to mind is amateur or ugly, you can probably wave their wallets goodbye. A couple of small logos and graphics really won't cost you very much, and can have a massive impact on the appearance of your pages.
But even the most impressive of graphics will be wasted if your website looks clumsy, cluttered or plain ugly. The presentation of your content is another stumbling block for so many good products, so if you can't do this sort of thing yourself, then get someone to do it for you. There's no shortage of low cost options to choose from, and trying to build your own site with no real experience or skill is as absurd as trying to build the walls of your own shop. Don't do it. You may think that the quality of your software is what counts, but the new visitor may be so put-off by what they see, that they never even make it that far.
Accessibility is also important. Don't use plugins that won't work in some browsers, images that take too long to load, or funky scripts that may crash your visitors browser. If your site is your main outlet for selling your software, then you should have access to an absolute minimum of two different web browsers. If you've never done this before, particularly if you use Internet Explorer, then go and have a look at your site through Netscape. You may well be in for a nasty surprise.
Content still rules - or does it?
While we all now know that Content is King, the latest phenomenon is to take this idea too far. Some sites are nowadays offering so much solid content, that it's difficult to see what it is they're actually selling. We've all the seen adverts on TV that grip our attention and make us laugh, but some of them leave us having no idea what the advert was actually for. Don't make the same mistake. Having a collection of good and useful resources is a great way of drawing in traffic, but always make sure that these people know what it is you're selling, and make sure they're drawn into it too.
A few other points. Make sure that your website is up to date, and make sure that the visitor knows it! There are still sites out there selling software for Windows 95/8 and NT, with no mention of Windows ME, XP or 2000. I suspect that these sort of omissions don't go very far in reassuring the potential customer that the companies behind them are on the ball and up to date. Lose their respect, and you've lost them as a customer.
Never lose sight of the fact that the potential customer looks at you as an authority, as they are turning to you for a solution. Poor quality graphics, bad layout, bad spelling or grammar can all turn off their interest in a second, as can anything that makes them hesitate for a second. Make sure that they think you look good, give them everything that they want, and make it easy to find. Never forget that every single visitor is a potential customer. Keep it fast, keep it simple, and keep it crystal clear. Be seen, be sold.