Archives for August 2013

Death of a Sale: It’s Time to Fix Your Website’s Organization

Your business website is the primary marketing tool that potential customers use to decide how much they really know, like, and trust you. Properly organizing your website is the crucial, first step in producing a website that will do just that.

We all surf the web and know a poorly organized website when we see one. But, just like you don’t notice when your car doesn’t break down, it’s what goes unnoticed that makes clean, well organized websites so much more effective. When everything is where you expect it to be, it’s so much easier to focus on the content.

Planning a fantastic website experience for your visitors will take some thought, but the hard work will quickly payoff. Here are a few things to consider, BEFORE you build your business website.

Navigational Menus

These are the links that are usually in the same place on every page. We all have muscle memory for using them, but a website’s primary navigation also has another, more subtle purpose. With just a few, well-chosen words, your navigation can instantly tell visitors what your website is about and what the most important pages are. Conversely, using drop-down menus is a great technique for “hiding” content from those who don’t care about it, while ensuring it’s easy to find for those that who do.

Choosing the actual words for these tabs can be tricky. They must make sense to the user and fully represent the pages they link to.

Example: Pretend you sell fancy candies. You find out from your sales department that many people want to know if your caramel candies are gluten-free. Your ingredients are all listed on your FAQ page, but with this new information in mind, it becomes clear that it needs to be brought to the forefront. You decide to make ingredients its own page and make it a drop down menu item under FAQs, accessible from every page. Once they click, they’ll see that all your products are gluten-free, and that you don’t even allow gluten in your kitchens!

They’ll be happy to place an order.

Slideshows

When planned, placed and sequenced correctly, a slideshow can be the perfect device to tell your story, without the visitor having to do a thing. A great slideshow is inspirational, and like a good movie trailer, will excite people and have them itching for more.

Example: Pretend you own a destination wedding business and a bride-to-be arrives on your website. Imagine her joy as she scrolls through photos of honeymoon-suites, private beaches, balconies on the sea, and even underwater snorkeling for her and her groom. By introducing the visual story upfront, you’ve gotten her excited about the experience, not just that you have accommodations available. She knows you have everything she’s looking for, and you’ll be her second-best valentine!

She’ll be thrilled to book her honeymoon.

Sidebars and Footers

Sidebars and footer menus are kind of like the catch-all for website navigation. They are the best place to show off the depth of your website as well as how active your company is. Blog headlines with dates will exhibit your expertise, while showing visitors that your website is actually current. Feeds from your social media profiles can entice visitors to interact with you in ways that they are already comfortable with.

Typically, the footers we think of contain things like the terms of service and privacy policy pages. But treating it as an afterthought is a mistake. A footer menu is one of those elements that appears on every page of your website, which means it’s a great place to introduce content that, otherwise, may never be found. This is particularly true if you have a big website or add content to it often.

Example: Pretend you are a skyscraper developer. Your website is geared toward leasing office space and it seems to be doing its job. One day, there’s a big news story about a group of 20 people who get stuck in an elevator for 7 hours. You’ve already hired the most reputable elevator company in the city, but no one knows that. So you quietly publish a new webpage about the elevators in your building—how many there are, their speed, and of course, your prestigious vendor information. You stick a link to the page in the footer and you’re done.

Now most people would not find that page very interesting, and many probably won’t even see it. But if that lone page helps sell even one small office, it was totally worth the effort.

The Takeaway

A website is no longer just a fancy business card. Every square pixel must be purposeful and strategic by focusing on your customers. Keeping the less important details out of sight, but easy to find, is the tricky part.

It’s easier said than done. Need some help?

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Getting the Most Out of Your Website Redesign: A Case Study

“All we need is a redesign,” is a phrase we sometimes hear from prospective clients. But is it true?

In our business, we’re lucky enough to have an educated clientele who understand valuable ideas when they hear them. The decision-makers at the top of any small business typically understand the tremendous value that their website holds. And that’s made evident by the fact that it’s usually the owners, officers and directors heading up the task of getting a new website built.

In the 10 or so years we’ve spent creating websites, we’ve had hundreds of businesses come to us for a “redesign”. The term undoubtedly has a lot of different meanings to a lot of different people, but there’s always one thing for sure — In some shape or form, a website already exists. Now, I’ve seen some tragedies that I’m not even sure you could call websites, but that’s another blog altogether. This post is about what goes into a true website redesign, way beyond changing the colors and adding new graphics. No, a true redesign is much closer to a blank canvas than most people realize… Fortunately we get to speak with those sharp decision-makers, who ultimately understand that that the changes their website needs are more than just skin-deep.

We took a look at one of the recent website redesign projects that we had a chance to work on and dug through our meeting notes to give you an in-depth look at the thought process behind OUR version of a redesign.

AbleChild.org

AbleChild.org is a non-profit organization that helps educate parents and teachers on the misuse of psychiatric drugs in children and teens. They pride themselves on staying in the foreground of such issues and are wildly passionate about what they do.

The Initial Challenge

The Old AbleChild.org (before a website redesign)
The Old AbleChild.org (before the redesign)

AbleChild came to us for a redesign because their existing website was built around the turn of the millennium — and it showed (click on the screenshot to the right). That by itself wasn’t really a problem, but there was certainly a catch. Over the years, they had regularly been adding useful, but timely, content to the site — and they added it wherever they could find room.

The original website did not include a contingency plan for additional content, and by the time it found its way to us, there were over 500 pages, press releases, news articles, blog posts, videos, legal briefs, legislative resolutions, downloadable forms… I’ll spare you the rest of the list. Granted they made the best of their situation. They had drop-down menus added along the way and consolidated videos into their own separate sections, but visitors were having trouble finding what they were looking for, and that was a major problem.

Needless to say, it wasn’t long into our first phone call before we knew what our challenge would be:

To design a great looking, modern website, with a highly navigable user experience that allow visitors to quickly find the most timely and relevant information, while still keeping all of that out-dated information accessible to those who needed it.

The Planning

Before we could even think about what this site was going to look like, we had to figure out EXACTLY how it was going to be organized, and for us, there was only one solution…

A blog, by traditional standards, is a place where a person or company can share their thoughts or ideas with their visitors. I’ve written about the stigma of the blog before, but in this case, it wasn’t really a blog we were after, it was the technology. The most important aspect of a blog is that everything is automatically organized, in reverse-chronological order. In other words, the most recently published items are the first that a reader sees on the website. In essence, it was the perfect functionality to solve our little massive organizational problem.

We proposed to AbleChild that we use a blog for each major section of their new website, while really just calling it something else. We talked them through the benefits and noted that we could pretty much copy and paste  each of the old articles into the new system. They flipped, however, when we explained that they would use the very same system to publish future articles, and it would all be cataloged automatically. Never again would they be cast into an organizational nightmare.

Solving the User Experience

So here we are, a major organizational problem solved, and yet… we haven’t even begun to focus on the front end of the website — the user experience, the design, etc. We knew two things for sure: First, the design had to be much more vibrant and inviting than the old website. And second, 99% of the website’s visitors were there to either learn about the organization or read the latest updates.

Creating a design for AbleChild was smooth sailing (see the finished result below), they knew their audience and what they were going for: a clean and modern layout, with a cheerful but serious feel. We introduced them to the idea of placing a slideshow on the homepage, which would allow visitors immediate access to the most important parts of the site and created easy-to-use dropdown menus that led right to the most recently published items in each news category. Lastly, we included a custom search box, powered by Google, to help those die-hard visitors find exactly what they need, quickly and easily.

More Challenges

Somewhere in the latter half of the project, the founders of AbleChild came to the realization that they could be doing way more than they were. The goal of any good organization is to grow, spread their message and help as many people as they can. They needed more followers, and instantly we knew that social media was the answer.

They already had a Facebook Page — now we just needed to take it a step further. By integrating interactive email and social media sharing buttons throughout the website, the already-loyal user base would do all the work of syndicating what THEY consider to be the most interesting and useful information. What’s more, AbleChild has long known that the best way to reach the right people is through local, tight-knit communities. What better way is there to encourage outspoken parents to share their discoveries, with other like minded folks, than through Facebook?

Conclusion

If you are considering a redesign for your crusty, old, circa Y2K website, consider the fact that times have changed. New technology allows customers and loyalists to communicate more easily than ever. Marketing tools and search engines make your website more important than it’s ever been…

…So consider how your website could ACTUALLY HELP your business.

Does your site need a boost? Click here to get an online proposal in just 10 minutes.

The New AbleChild.org after a website redesign
The New AbleChild.org (click image to enlarge)