Whilst every website is different, there are some common elements and themes that every website really must follow.
These are not optional extras – they are mission critical – either for marketing or legal reasons. So here are the 10 most important things to make sure you include on your website:
1. Strong headlines stop people disappearing
On your home page, you have approximately 3 seconds to grab someone's attention before they hit the back button.
They are asking themselves one question:
What's in it for me? (WIIFM)
Whether they are looking for a particular item of information or a particular service, most people are clicking around the web knowing what they are looking for. True, we still sometimes ‘wander around the web aimlessly' but these days, there are too many sites competing for our attention to waste time.
Give every page, particularly your home page a strong headline. Make sure you use sub-headings to break up the text and allow people to scan down the page and see what the different sections are about.
2. Make the most of visual content
Many people are visual and do not like looking at lots of text.
Strong imagery can help grab attention – use images that describe what you do – far too many people use stock photography. It is preferable to use real photos of your actual company, products and services.
It can be difficult and is more expensive to get professional photography done for your website but good photos can really make the difference over ‘corporate images' from a photo library.
You can meet local photographers at local business networking events – why not talk to a few and see what they can offer?
3. Benefits, benefits, benefits
It is important to talk about ‘you' (the customer) and focus on benefits not features. They say that ‘features tell and benefits sell'.
Is the specification important…or is it more important to focus on why that matters to the customer?
Read our article on Why a benefits statement is better than a unique selling proposition.
4. Don't let your customers get lost
Simple navigation is absolutely critical. You know how you browse a website yourself – you have a look round the home page, you browse the menus and see what jumps out at you…
So make it simple for visitors to your website:
- Don't offer too many choices
- Make choices clear and self-explanatory
- Don't use menus 3 levels deep – keep it to a single level or, at the most, two levels
- Don't use complicated / fancy navigation items
- Do make your navigation easily understood by someone browsing your site
- Do offer navigation to the critical sections on your home page
If you are not sure if your current site is easy to navigate, why not ask a colleague to click around your website and watch them while they do it…see where they hover their mouse, where they click and what grabs their attention.
If you want to take this to the next level, you can use website ‘heat mapping' tools (such as Crazy Egg) which will track the mouse movements and clicks of site visitors. That way, you can easily monitor and visualise where people click.
5. Offer social proof
Social proof is really important in marketing – it is much easier to convince someone that your products or services are great if they can read testimonials and case studies on how it has worked for other people like them.
Social proof really works (think fashion items or the latest social media viral hit).
Viral marketing, referrals, social sharing and online engagement are all ways of enhancing your social proof.
6. Calls to action
A ‘call to action' (sometimes referred to as CTA) is just what it sounds like – asking your website visitors to do something.
Usually, these will take the form of buttons, links or sign-up forms (or putting an item in your shopping cart on an e-commerce site).
A call to action should be included on every page – even it is just asking people to share the content. They should have visual impact (such as a big button) with persuasive, action-focused marketing copy to get the reader to act.
All too often, what are otherwise very good websites do not have adequate calls to action so make sure you make it clear what you want your website visitors to do by including one.
7. Contact details
This may sound obvious (and some sites avoid putting their contact details too prominently) but it is important that you give website visitors a means of contacting you.
You may laugh but many sites do not remember this golden rule! If you have a telesales line, you should even include this as part of your site header so it is on display prominently on every page.
You should at the very least include an online contact form but many people will also like to see an e-mail address, telephone number or even a postal address.
You want to demonstrate to your website visitors that you are an expert in your field and / or provide great products and services.
There are various methods of giving your website ‘authority' including:
- Display qualifications and certifications to demonstrate expertise
- Display logos of affiliates and respected brands with which you are associated
- Use quotes and reviews that demonstrate you are an expert
- Establish a reputation as providing independent, impartial information and advice (not always pushing your own services)
- Write with confidence and an ‘air of authority' so readers will take what you are writing seriously.
9. Engagement & sign-up
The term ‘engagement' is increasingly used but what does it actually mean? It is not just marketing hype – the term engagement can be defined as ‘an arrangement to do something or go somewhere at a fixed time'. In the website context, this means your customers interacting with your site by submitting a comment, signing up for a download or committing to something else (that's why we have calls to action!).
Engagement with your website visitors is one of the ‘marketing must-haves' because if your website visitor does not engage, you have probably lost them forever. Very few casual website visitors will come back a second time so you really need to get them to engage – the bottom line is that if your website visitors don't engage, you don't know who they are and they won't buy anything.
Top tips to encourage engagement:
- Make your website friendly and welcoming – Avoid corporate speak and marketing drivel – develop your (brand) persona through a personable, friendly writing style.
- Offer lead magnets (free added value) that people have to sign up for to download.
- Encourage subscriptions to newsletters, tips and advice
- Encourage visitors to leave comments and join in discussions
- Make your ‘about page' meaningful – tell them about your company, about yourself and tell them what is important to you (your values) and what drives you (why do you work in xyz).
- Ask website visitors what they think, want and feel (polls, surveys, reviews)
Remember, people browsing online are looking for information, products or services and are fed up with reading long-winded pages of waffle without finding what they are looking for.
Keep your site simple and give them what they want.
10. Legal issues
I know that this one is a bit boring but there are certain things that you are required to include on your website.
Now, I am not a lawyer, but here in the UK, these fall into the following headings:
- Company Information such as your company registered number, registered office, VAT number.
- Electronic Commerce Regulations (EC) – the EC directive on what information you should include on your website.
- EU Anti Spam Regulations – we all hate spam and there are regulations covering your collection and use of e-mail addresses with which you need to comply. This is covered by the Directive on Privacy and Electronic Communications in the EU and you can read the Guide to Privacy and Electronic Communications from the Inforamtion Commissioner's Office.
- Website Accessibility & Disability Discrimination Act – how your website meets the guidelines set by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C)
- Data Protection Act – the law in the UK that defines how you should manage your data. You can check out the Self-Assessment Tool from the Information Commissioner's Office.
- Payment Card Industry (PCI) Compliance – if you are taking / storing card information on your site (not if you are embedding a form from a payment provider)
- Consumer Contracts Regulations (previously known as Distance Selling regulations) – as of June 2014, this covers the UK regulations on selling by phone, mail order or ‘online' (web, digital TV etc). A good guide for this from a consumer viewpoint is on the Which? Website – Consumer Contracts Regulations.
- EU Cookie Law – technically, you should ask all site visitors to accept cookies (although many sites still do not).
Having built and launched hundreds of websites over the last 20 years, these are the most important issues that I can think of…
What do you think?
Leave a reply if there is something else that you would include in your Top 10 critical elements.
Mark Woodroof is a qualified marketing coach who was awarded a BA(Hons) in Business and a Diploma in Marketing (from the Chartered Institute of Marketing) in the early 1990's and has spent the last 20 years working with private and public sector organisations.
During that time, Mark has worked with hundreds of business owners helping them to grow their businesses, launch new products and services, set up and manage their own marketing plans, websites and digital marketing strategies.
Today, he specialises in Digital Marketing, Social Media, WordPress Development and marketing automation systems such as ActiveCampaign & Infusionsoft.
Mark's areas of expertise include:
- Marketing Strategy & Planning
- Software Development Project Management (Microsoft.Net & Laravel)
- Customer Relationship Management Systems (Infusionsoft, Zoho & Insightly)
- Web Design & Development
- Digital Marketing Campaign Development
- Mailing List Services (eg AWeber, Mailchimp)
- Traffic Generation Strategies & Tactics
- Sales Funnels, Squeeze Pages & Online Conversion
- Customer Value Optimization
- BA(Hons) Business Studies (University of Portsmouth)
- Diploma in Marketing (Chartered Institute of Marketing)
- Level 5 in Coaching and Mentoring (Chartered Management Institute)
- DigitalMarketer Certifications:
- Certified Content Marketing Specialist
- Certified Customer Acquisition Specialist
- Certified Customer Value Optimization Specialists