NOTE: This blog post was originally written for the NEXT Marketing Agency’s website, which is no longer in use. I am posting it here to showcase a reference to my portfolio. See this post, which explains the other writing I did for this marketing agency: Being a marketing writer / ghost blogger for a marketing agency. I also used to produce the BRAND CHATTER™ marketing reports for this agency, and part of that was analyzing the marketing effectiveness, as well as the SEO of their clients’ sites and their clients’ competitors’ sites.
NEXT Marketing is known for our signature brand awareness methodology called BRAND CHATTER™. Not many people may know, however, that in our BRAND CHATTER™ reports, conducted for many businesses in various industries, we not only analyze where our clients and their competitors are being found online, but we also do an analysis of their current websites. That’s right – we believe that good branding requires a proper online presence with a ‘home base’ that all social media traffic can be directed to and stem from. People can talk about you online, but let’s say you get popular on Facebook and someone says, “I want to check this company out!” Will they land on a website that tells your story effectively and makes this user want to buy your product or service? Or will it confuse them, or even worse, turn them away and lead them running to your competition?
So we thought we’d write this article to let you know what it is we look for in a good website, and the types of things we analyze in our BRAND CHATTER reports when it comes to your website’s effectiveness as a branding and marketing tool.
A good website is always branded and designed well
This is just the surface. We want to find out if your design is updated, if your logo is clear and if your tagline says what you do and why people should care. In short, we need to know that your site really ‘speaks’ its brand message in an instant.
Good branding also means professional and current design. This means we consider things that indicate good design standards such as font usage and pairings, layout, colour choice, sizing of elements and graphics that are made for the web. Do users have to squint to read your text because the site was made years ago when screen resolutions were not as high as they are today? Are text headlines embedded into images because the developer couldn’t get the font to work as live text from the days before we had font-embeds on browsers? These types of things are sure signs that change is needed.
Nowadays, it’s also pertinent that the site design is mobile responsive to be able to view properly on any device. If users have to zoom in to be able to read your content on mobile devices, or even worse, if some animation does not show up because it is made with Adobe Flash, your site is already outdated. Responsive design is already ingrained in our web standards and mobile usages of websites are starting to surpass those of desktop visits.
A good website has a clear goal
People should know in an instant not only what it is you do and why they should care, but also what it is you want them to do on your website. Do you want them to call you? To click a “buy now” button? To read your articles and share them online? To sign up for a newsletter? All of this should be clear at the outset, and the design and layout of the site should be conducive to these goals.
A good website makes information easy to find
One of the things that results in terrible user experience is poor content architecture. If it takes too many clicks for users to find the information they’re looking for, or to take the action you want them to take, then your content architecture plan has failed. According to the book, Don’t Make Me Think by Steve Krug, users shouldn’t even have to think about what they are doing or how to get something to work on your website – it should just be intuitive.
Oftentimes sites that are outdated and have had information ‘tacked on’ to them over the years result in poor content architecture. This is because the original site that was developed did not consider the future business or content growth. In other words, no one asked, ‘what will this site need to do in 2 or 3 years? How will my company be different at that time?’ So when it comes time to add new product info, new company descriptions, new social media links, etc., the site should be ready for these expansions without disrupting the original design or goals. Navigation should not break because a new page or functionality is being added, buttons should all look the same and the design should be consistent throughout the site.
Poor design is also often to blame. This is not about sites just looking good, but also functioning well for the user. It’s not about what we like as website owners – we always should be considering how the customer will interact with the site and make use of it. For example one thing people often mistake for a ‘good website’ is lots of photography at the tops of pages. It is known from multiple user tests that people on the web scan webpages to find content and skip over photographs. If your site is forcing users to scroll to get to the important information they are looking to find, then your site design may need an adjustment. Even worse, if your site has an intro page that plays an animated video or slideshow, you are only stalling your users from getting what they want right away. This is not useful to them, it only seems to ‘look cool’ to the website owner.
A good website captures leads
It would be a waste to have several visits to your website and no opportunity for those visits to turn into leads that you can follow up with. This is why we look into whether there are things like newsletter sign up forms and social media links where people can follow you online. E-mail newsletter marketing is another ball game that requires its own success strategies, but at the very least, your site should be collecting newsletter subscribers. Any good Internet marketer will know that ‘the money is in the list.’ A contact form is great, but that would require manual data entry into a newsletter system list that you can later utilize to follow up with clients. Contact forms are generally more direct in their purpose, and are used by people who want to buy right away, whereas newsletter sign ups can be from people who are not yet in the buying cycle, but do want to stay updated with your VALUABLE information (i.e. not your sales letters!).
A good website is SEO friendly
Yes, we look in the code to see how your SEO is doing because after all, why have a website if it can’t be found online through a search engine, right? If your site is keyword stuffing in a Meta keywords tag, we will let you know that is an outdated strategy that could be hurting your rankings. Aside from Title tags and Description tags, we also find out if your site is using alt tags, proper heading tags and if you or your competitors are ranking for important keywords. We look into your index count, your cache age and what directories you are listed in. In our more advanced SEO analysis reports (a step beyond the BRAND CHATTER reports), we find out if your site is using important up-to-date SEO and social media code in its back end such as:
- A canonical rel link
- Schema.org markup
- Facebook Open Graph
- An XML sitemap
- And other things, as well as how you compare to your online ranking competition.
A good website disseminates useful information
One of the things affecting rankings and traffic generation to websites in a huge way over the last few years has been content. Google is constantly saying that it wants our sites to be useful to visitors. With the advent of social media, we businesses are starting to realize that if we want our brands shared by an army of brand ambassadors on platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and all the rest, we need to be engaging, fun, useful and most of all, not sales-ey. Brands need to carry meaning on the web today and there is no better way to do that than to provide valuable, entertaining and useful content through a blog. Yes, a blog. Does your company need one? Well in today’s world, if you want to attract visitors through online traffic generation and SEO, then yes, you need a blog. And the blog can’t just be about your company news. No one cares about your company. People care about what’s useful and helpful to them, in their lives, right now. Later on they may remember you for that cake-baking tip you blogged about and will come back to your bakery for a wedding cake. But for the moment, it’s time to shine and let your expertise be known by giving away free tips and advice. Yes – we’re shocking you again; we said free tips and advice. Don’t hold back, give and you will reap the rewards (I mean really, who is going to bake their own wedding cake? Not many people, which is why giving a baking tip is not going to hurt your business but only show how well you know your craft).
Well, for starters, with the information we’ve shared above, you can start to have a look at your own website and begin evaluating where it is at in terms of your branding efforts. Should you run to get your website remade tomorrow if it happens to not be responsive? No, don’t rush into anything. A good website that will have long-term value to you and your brand takes a lot of consideration, content planning and brand discovery. Your goal cannot be only to have a responsive website or updated design. Your site goal should have to do with converting your visitors into buyers, and that should encompass all of the above points we have made. It’s not easy but we are here to help if you need us!