If you’ve ever woken up in New York City on New Year’s day and gone out on the streets any time before 10:00 AM, you may have noticed how eerily quiet it is. It’s unlike almost any other morning in a city that’s normally hustling and bustling by 6:00 AM. Folks definitely take their time to get their move on, but eventually they’re up and out, meeting for brunch, doing a little shopping and checking out the sights. Ultimately, everything goes back to normal.
And unless you’re a major online retailer, your Company’s website traffic probably experienced a similar New Year’s morning traffic lull over the holidays. But sure enough, your customers and prospects will get right back into the swing of things come that first official business day of the New Year. And as we all know, it’s increasingly likely that more and more of them will be looking for you online.
Well then, maybe one of those New Year’s resolutions you’ve recently made should be squarely focused on an evaluation of the health of your website. This evaluation can be super complex or just hit the basics. My guess is that if you need a complex evaluation, you’re already on top of things – so let’s stick to the basics. This 10 point checklist should be enough of a conversation starter to let you know if it’s time to make some improvements.
1. Have you updated the content on your website over past year?
Keeping your website fresh with updated or new content is sort of like hitting the gym. While it’s not always easy to do, it’s definitely good for you and becomes easier once you get into a regular routine.
Why is it important? Well, primarily it gives your site visitors a reason to return and makes the impression that you’re a dynamic, vibrant business with something to say. Additionally, it can help with your search engine results – Google actually factors in a Content Freshness score in its algorithm.
What kind of content should you be adding? Having a blog can be one option but only if you have the capability and desire to continuously update it (the internet is littered with failed blog attempts). An easier thing to do is to write about your customers and the products or projects you are delivering to them. This is content that generally has a longer shelf life and can lead to interest from potential new customers. And it demonstrates your subject matter expertise and really gets across the point of how current and active your business is.
2. Can you easily manage content on your website?
If your answer to question #1 was “No”, it’s possible that you’re not able to easily update content on your website. Maybe your site was built on a hard-to-use content management system (CMS) and or has no CMS at all.
A CMS is a software platform that makes it easy for people with no technical capabilities to manage a website. There are a ton of CMS platform options available – and they cover all budget ranges and functionality requirements. There are well established open source platforms like WordPress and Drupal, build-your-own website platforms like SquareSpace and Weebly, and more complex, licensed solutions like Sitecore, Solodev, Kentico, or at the highest-end, Adobe.
Whatever solution you go with, focus primarily on making sure it meets the needs you have today. Updates to all of these platforms are frequent and what your business needs now might be different than what it will need in two to three years. By then, a completely different platform might make more sense due to changes in your business, technology improvements or new trends in how customers interact on the web. So, don’t try to be Wayne Gretzky when selecting a platform – just skate to where your puck is now.
3. Do you use tracking and measurement tools for your site like Google Analytics?
This is one of the biggest no-brainers in the world of websites. Just like you useQuickBooks, FreshBooks or something even more enterprise level to manage your business’ finances, you absolutely need to manage and measure the activity on your website. Best part – with a solution like Google Analytics (GA), it’s absolutely free and super easy to implement.
Whomever your web team – make sure they have some sort of tracking software installed and if they don’t, have them drop the GA code on your site immediately. Initially just focus on the basics like overall site traffic, number of unique visitors, what pages are most frequently accessed, time on site, etc. Get comfortable with tracking those metrics and then maybe move on to more complex levels of visitor interaction. At that point, you might want to bring in some pros.
4. Is your site optimized for mobile devices?
Newsflash – more people now access the web from mobile devices than from traditional laptops and desktops. This includes your customers and potential customers. Just look at the gifts given over this past holiday season – how many more iPhones were under the tree than were laptops?
If you haven’t heard the term “responsive design” yet, you soon will (well, you just did). Responsive design is a technique used to make sure your website looks perfect across a whole range of screen sizes – whether on a smartphone, tablet, laptop or even a huge desktop. The beauty of it is that it relies on a single instance of your website – there is no need anymore for a specific mobile version of your site. In fact, Google looks more favorably at responsively designed sites and rewards them in its search rankings.
If you’re budget constrained, there are still plenty of options for responsive design. Most WordPress design themes are responsive right off the shelf, as are the template options in SquareSpace and Weebly. And as responsive design has been around for several years now, even in the world of custom design it’s become much more affordable.
5. Does your site drive new leads for your business?
Without a doubt, your website is your number one marketing and business development asset. And despite all the noise around high-profile websites like Facebook and Netflix, most websites are built for one purpose and one purpose only – to drive in more customers to their respective business (actually, it’s really no different for Facebook and Netflix).
If your company’s website is not driving in new leads – or if you don’t know if it is – then it’s time to do something about it. Remember, leads can be in a variety of formats – depending on the type of business or even non-profit you’re running. There are many ways to audit your website for lead generation potential – but they mostly all focus on the basics like having high-quality, search engine optimized content, compelling calls-to-action (CTAs), engaging marketing offers, and conversion-oriented landing pages.
6. Do you have a process to easily hand off and track leads from Marketing to Sales?
Driving in new leads is great – but what do you do with them once that starts to happen? At a low volume, it’s not that complicated. But once you get that lead generation engine ramped up, it might be time to get your Marketing and Sales team working in unison. The two primary ways of doing that are through Marketing Automation and Customer Relationship Management (CRM) platforms.
Marketing Automation is software technology that helps you engage with customers when they’re visiting your website, receiving your email communication, or interacting with you through social channels like Facebook and Twitter. As the name implies, you’re able to automate these processes and serve up targeted content to a visitor depending on what they’re interested in or where they are in the sales process. Examples of Marketing Automation solutions include HubSpot or at a more enterprise level, Marketo, Pardot and Eloqua.
CRM platforms generally act like the middleman between your website and your Sales team. Data from lead forms completed on your website drop directly into your CRM and can trigger follow-up by Sales or even an action from your Marketing Automation system (in fact, this line is getting blurred now as most Marketing Automation solutions also include CRM functionality). There are CRM solutions that are fairly basic and very affordable like Highrise and Insightly, or more enterprise level like Salesforce.com.
7. Does your site get found by search engines?
Face it, nobody uses the Yellow Pages anymore. If your customers can’t find you on Google, they’ll find your competitors and talk to them instead. And while there are other search engines out there, Google owns something like 90% of all search traffic, so let’s just focus there. There are three primary ways to get found in Google: branded search, organic search, and paid search.
Branded search is the most basic and the one that you have the most control over. It’s simply searching for your company based on its brand name. Getting that right should be your first priority. You might have an advantage if your company has a unique name – but if it’s common or sounds similar to a big company, then you might have some issues.
Organic search is more about being found based on what you do or the industry you’re in. Using keyword matches (e.g., roof repair or custom house construction), Google serves up algorithmically determined results. Doing well with organic search is hard and at this stage of the game, generally requires the help of a professional. The rewards are there though – nothing beats a first page listing in Google’s organic results.
Paid search (PPC) results are those text ads you see along the very top and right-hand margin of Google. Because it’s based on a bidding model, it can be a bit complicated – and expensive. And like with organic search, if you’re not sure what you’re doing, you can bring in a professional or use a PPC management solution like WordStream.
8. Are you using social media?
Yes, there’s a lot of hype with social media and it’s not necessarily right for every business. The important thing is to find something that you can stick with and that will resonate with the customers you have or would like to have.
Basically there is a holy trinity of business oriented social media – LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook. At a minimum, you should have a professional looking presence on LinkedIn that connects to your individual LinkedIn profile, along with those of your employees. Twitter and Facebook are next in priority, but really only if you plan on actively maintaining those accounts (although, you should secure your brand name in both of those locations just to be safe).
After that, it depends on your business. Maybe Pinterest or Instagram make sense if you have lots of ways to visually represent what you do – this could be anything from interior design, to hair styling, to construction. Or maybe SlideShare if you generate lots of content that’s in a presentation-like format. Again, know your audience, what you’re capable of maintaining and act accordingly.
9. Does your site represent your company’s brand and image?
This is a nuanced issue and sort of like looking in the mirror and asking if you like what you see. You might still look pretty good for 45, but if you’re in an industry dominated by 20-year-olds, maybe it’s time to get a little work.
The fact is that most of your customers will interact with you for the very first time through your website. If you think it represents your brand and image as well as you do when you go to a sales meeting, then you’re good. But if it looks dated, cookie-cutter, or behind the competition – and perhaps most importantly, doesn’t tell your story well – then you know what you need to do.
One big consideration is custom design vs. templated design. There are a lot of “good-enough” templated design options out there, especially in the WordPress world. But if you want to distinguish yourself from your peers, you might consider a custom design option. For sure it’s more expensive, but it can pay off down the road.
10. Do you have a disaster recovery plan for your site?
As has been said, your website is your company’s most valuable marketing and sales asset. What happens if it goes down on a Saturday night? Will you even know? Do you know who to call? Do you know if they’ll be available to get you back up and running?
If your site is hosted in a shared-hosting environment with a reputable hosting provider, you might have less to worry about. But if it’s been awhile since you launched your website and you’re not sure, you definitely want to get a handle on this. You might find that it’s time to improve the overall hosting of your site or that there are other platform options that make more sense for what your needs are right now.
Again, this was meant to be a basic primer. But if this conversation poked holes into the state of your current website deployment, it might be time to start the New Year off right and make some changes.