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10 Fundamentals for Improving Website Performance
By Greg Marta, V.P. Sales, Kurani Multimedia

If you're involved or in any way responsible for your corporate website chances are you're starting to hear clamor about actually producing results. Long gone are the days when you can put your website up and just be glad that it's there. Your competition is hungry and actively seeking new and innovative ways to beat you and you've sunk too much money in it over the past several years just to be content that it's there and it looks nice enough.

If you're involved or in any way responsible for your corporate website chances are you're starting to hear clamor about actually producing results. Long gone are the days when you can put your website up and just be glad that it's there. Your competition is hungry and actively seeking new and innovative ways to beat you and you've sunk too much money in it over the past several years just to be content that it's there and it looks nice enough.

In working with firms across a multitude of industries we've discovered consistent issues that are hampering website effectiveness. Effectiveness being defined as a site's ability to help meet organizational objectives. Is the site helping to gain market share, launching new products, offering effective customer support channels, generating leads, or helping to advance the sales process? A shocking number of marketing directors don't know. Oddly, none of the potential fixes are very costly or particularly time consuming to implement. Here are 10 remedies to improve website performance.

1. Marketability - It's important to develop a specific objective(s) for a site visitor during their user session and apply the right call to action and means for them to follow through. Given recent economic times marketers can't afford to be satisfied to just have people visit and explore nicely laid out content. Think about what your business needs and then develop site flow to support these objectives. Do you need leads, strong awareness within a particular target, e-commerce sales, reduced sales cycle time, increased event participation, help with customer support, or tighter integration with your affiliates? Find out what it is and then make them an offer. 'Call now for a free assessment.' 'Email to receive a sample in the mail.' 'Sign up to receive our newsletter (press releases, product updates, events schedule, etc).' 'Contact your nearest representative.' Numerous studies suggest that these terms are much more effective than a form with just a 'submit' or 'sign up' button. Be sure to make it really obvious and easy for them to follow through on your offer. Have an active email link, a form, or your phone number right at the point of the call to action. Give people a compelling reason and the means to pick up the phone, email you, register, buy something, contact one of your dealers, etc.

2. Lead Capture Forms - Have multiple forms placed throughout your site to correspond with different visitors objectives. Develop separate forms for e-newsletter sign ups, customer support, press release requests or sign up, and general inquiries. Each form can have subtle differences in required information to help process the request. For example, newsletter sign ups only really require the person's email address and possibly first name, your customer support form might need the customer number or product description, and your contact form should have a large open-ended field for people to articulate their request. Also be sure to have required fields. Don't be afraid to lose someone by having multiple required fields, if they really have an issue or important question they'll take the extra couple of seconds to fill them out. This will help you process your leads and requests much more easily because the visitors will have qualified themselves more thoroughly for you. Additionally, this will help to weed out a lot of weak prospects for your sales team and give them more complete information to prepare for effective follow up. Research strongly links the lifetime financial value of a lead to the thoroughness of the submission form.

3. Lead Database - There are several ways to manage leads and web-generated contacts. It is essential that the contacts are routed to the appropriate party so they are managed effectively. If you have a CRM system they can forward and integrate directly into that process. If you use a contact management system you can upload leads to that system or have the leads forwarded electronically for your sales or customer support staff to manually enter and follow up with. In many instances, programming would make it possible to fully automate the process. If you gather names for remarketing purposes (newsletters, press releases, etc.) they will need to be segmented into groups based on their needs. People that sign up for your newsletter may not care about your investor information so don't waste their time or ruin your goodwill by sending them info that they haven't opted-in for. If you distribute leads to branches, distributors or other affiliates, make sure there is a feedback loop in place. Follow up and track which ones are closing, this will help you to measure their effectiveness and the ROI of your marketing efforts. For larger and more complex efforts third party systems can be integrated into your website to provided comprehensive reports on all of your online marketing efforts.

4. Email Remarketing - Most companies have a hard copy newsletter, issue press releases once a month or so, attend 3 - 4 significant events each year, or have 2-3 new product or service announcements or offerings. If you fall into one or some of these categories use that as your leverage point for your website by offering these items online. Email design and deployment systems are relatively inexpensive for the amount of exposure that you get. Most have built in point and click email builders so that you can cut and paste your existing copy very easily into this new online format. The other advantage that an email deployment system has is that they offer opt-in, opt-out, send to a friend, open rate, click-through reports, automatic database updates and a host of other features. Generally speaking, they are relatively easy to use and require minimal training. More complex solutions are available to support enterprise-wide initiatives and may require a greater degree of integration and programming.

5. Tracking - Tracking links will need to be programmed throughout your website and integrated into a reporting system along with your website statistics. Tracking is essential if you want to maximize and track your return on investment. This will tell you where the visitors are coming from (specific keywords, banners, email newsletters, etc.), which pages they are visiting, and how much time they are spending on each page. In turn you will be able to determine where to concentrate your ad spend and which areas to invest money within your website as well as which campaigns are generating the best cost per click, cost per lead, and sales. One of interactive marketing's true strengths is its ability to precisely tie spending to quantifiable results.

6. Search Engine Marketing - Making sure the basics are covered should be a top priority in any organization. This means having a unique page title for each page of your website, descriptive meta-tags about the content on each page, and alt tags for each photo or graphic. In order to verify whether or not you do, it's best to start with someone in the IT department. Have them sit down with you and show you how to verify these for yourself. Have your web developer add the appropriate tags and page titles to your site and then manually register your website within the major search engines. There are only about 20 search engines that are responsible for the majority of web traffic and there are numerous specialist firms that can also help. The goal should not be to just drive traffic for the sake of having visitors but rather to develop a steady stream of highly targeted individuals. In order to increase search term penetration it would be advised to enter into an ongoing search engine optimization program and/or a cost per click program with Google AdWords and Overture.com. Optimization programs usually require routine site tweaking, monitoring, and reporting for and extended period of time - at least 6 months if not indefinitely. Pay per click programs are very flexible and inexpensive to start so that appropriate testing and ROI can be calculated for a variety of keywords and phrases before making larger investments in more robust search engine optimization programs.

7. Improved Customer Service - An effective website will have tools to help customers to help themselves which in turn reduces stress on the organizations internal resources. This is an indirect way to contribute additional ROI to web initiatives. Some simple suggestions include: FAQs to help relieve customer service by allowing customers and prospects to help themselves. Product specs and manuals to help with implementation or aftermarket support issues. Service firms can post 'self help' guides for prospective clients. For example, a mortgage broker could have a listing of all the documents and information your clients will need for every step of the process - application, closing, etc. It's important not to use your website as a barrier or replacement in situations that require hands on help. Rather, websites should enhance or support those efforts to develop a deeper customer relationship.

8. Intuitive Navigation - A site needs to be easy to use. There are de facto standards and guides for web design, layout, and navigation. The easiest way to determine some of these norms in your specific industry is to visit the sites of some of the leaders in the field as well as the leaders in related industries such as suppliers or business partners. Identify some of the common trends - link placement, news and events, product info, etc. Your site can be unique and should still have a lot of latitude within the norms. Here are some quick thoughts: Cluster like items together and never have more the 2 or 3 clusters within your main navigation. For example product or service information should be set apart from utility information like 'site map' and 'contact' information. Deliberately set apart or highlight navigational links that support the desired user response. Nothing should be offset in a way that makes them unnatural to find.

9. Consistent Brand Image - Make sure that existing branding guidelines are followed so that the site is geared specifically towards these established design principals. If formal branding guidelines don't exist make sure that your web development team is familiar with existing marketing materials. Follow up with to make sure that they design something that will work with your current brand image. For existing sites that are a little off, a simple refresh may be all that is required. Change some colors and basic elements around if the site doesn't merit full web redevelopment. The best site on the net could confuse prospective customers if they're not sure that it belongs to you.

10. Contact Options - Make it easy for people to reach out to you. Every website should have the corporate phone number at the bottom of every page along with a 'Contact' or 'Contact Us' in the upper right-hand side of the site. This is the most common placement for 'Contact' buttons so it's very important to make sure that it is in that vicinity. On the contact page offer an email link and/or a contact form. The complete address should be listed along with appropriate phone and fax numbers. If you plan on having visitors to your office include your directions or embed a map to an online map service like MapQuest.com or Yahoo Maps. If you have multiple locations either list them on this page, have a separate specific listing page, or have an interactive map developed if you have many alternate locations. More and more companies are integrating instant messaging or IM into their sites as an immediate response contact/customer service tool. IM is simple to program into websites and has some relatively low price points for entry-level solutions. Having dedicated staff on the backend to immediately handle requests is crucial to successfully leveraging this as a convenient customer support channel.

Take the time to review these items by yourself and formulate an idea of how your website stacks up in each of these areas. Invite others from your organization to offer their honest feedback. Compare this accumulated knowledge to your firm's organizational goals and strategies. In a lot of cases firms identify a large amount or work and decide to put all of it off until they have the time to rework it entirely. Unfortunately a website is more fluid than most other marketing material and therefore requires constant fine-tuning. Therefore, prioritize the issues and establish a timetable for getting them resolved. Moving forward, stay in the habit of finding new ways for your site to add value to your organizational goals.



About the Author
Greg Marta (gmarta@kurani.com) is the Vice President of Sales for Kurani Multimedia, and specializes in project planning, account management and corporate strategy.

About Kurani Multimedia
Kurani Multimedia provides design, programming and interactive marketing services to a wide array of companies throughout the country. Kurani Multimedia offers a cost-effective approach to web site design, web application development, multimedia presentation production and online marketing strategies.

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