Paul Downs, contributor to the New York Times, brought up some interesting questions in his article yesterday in the NYT small business blog. He is the owner of a furniture business that has turned almost entirely into a custom conference table business. He has had a website since 1999 and updated it twice, in 2004 and 2009, when he changed domain names and built a new site. His site is producing results, but it hasn’t been updated in 4 years.
When is it time to update your website?
As a business owner, you have lots of things on your plate, so as long as your website is up and running and calls are coming in, it’s easy to forget about it. However, you should have schedules for updates, maintenance and user testing to make sure that your site continues to resonate with your customers and potential customers. Even with a system in place, though, every 2-3 years the site layout, code base and functionality need to be revisited to make sure that your site hasn’t become dated.
Part of the conference table site functionality that has become dated is the instant quote system. Since the product and sales process no longer match the functionality of the instant quote functionality, that is something that needs to be revisited. In order to figure out how the functionality needs to change, user testing is key. Companies like UserTesting.com offer real user testing quickly and inexpensively and companies like Optimizely allow you to do quick and easy A/B testing on your site.
Website questions every small business should ask
Here are some great questions posed in the New York Times article from a small business owner wanting to improve his website that will probably be relevant to many other small businesses with websites.
Is showing our pricing a good thing?
This is a common question that many business owners ask. Many times they are afraid that if they show their prices, it will put them at a competitive disadvantage. If you’re coy with your pricing, then your customers will assume you have something to hide. Publishing some type of pricing on your site is important so that customers have an idea about how much they will be spending on your product or service. Some service businesses can’t put pricing because it really depends on customer needs. However, sample pricing for featured products or services or stating a starting price can be very useful to help qualify your leads. At the very least, you should provide a ballpark estimate and invite your customers to call for a quote.
What content management system (CMS) should I use?
While ExpressionEngine and Sitecore are great (expensive) CMS products, I would recommend WordPress in most cases because of its ubiquity and ease of use. It’s open-source (free), customizable, easy to update, and widely supported by a large community of contributors and developers. Many think of WordPress as merely a blogging platform, but it has evolved into a full-blown CMS to the point where 19% of all websites now run on WordPress.
Even as far back as 2007, Matt Cutts, head of the Search Quality (spam prevention) group at Google highly recommended WordPress for small businesses. According to Matt, WordPress automatically takes care of many of the common SEO issues that online-marketers run into. WordPress makes it easy for search engines to go through your site and allows you to focus on content. It is also easily customizable so you can quickly divide content into sections using multiple pages and custom menus.
If I change the content management system, how do I make sure that the links we are using now map onto the new site correctly?
If you don’t want to lose your link juice, then you need to keep the directory structure and page names the same between the two sites. If you change web platforms (i.e. .net to php), this will require a little extra effort. You’ll need to conduct an inventory of the new site to make sure all the pages are accounted for, and then check the rankings and incoming traffic for each page to create 301 directs. It’s important to let Google know where the new pages are located. This piece will require expert help to program your web.config or .htaccess file correctly, but it shouldn’t be a big issue for a good web developer.
What do I need to do about mobile?
Mobile traffic is an important consideration, as mobile web browsing is predicted to outpace desktop browsing by 2015 (at which point you’ll probably need another redesign, anyway). Responsive web design (RWD) lets you tailor the layout and content of your website so that it’s optimized and served up properly on a wide variety of devices, from desktop PCs to smartphones (and everything in between). The goal of responsive web design is to craft sites in such a way that they provide an optimal viewing experience for easy reading and navigation with a minimum of resizing, panning, and scrolling. While responsive design might require larger up front development costs, it can save a substantial amount by eliminating the need for multiple sites and duplicate content for the various platforms.
What else should I be asking?
- User Testing – Before you make any changes, you should conduct some user testing to see how real users are interacting with your site. We’ve found UserTesting.com to be particularly useful.
- Social Media – You should also create a presence and participate in social media, not only to build a community, but as a form of customer service. More and more customers are reaching out to businesses through Facebook and Twitter these days. Additionally, you need to see what other social networks have audiences that are looking for your products or services. Different types of people gravitate towards different networks, such as LinkedIn, Pinterest, Foursquare, Flickr, Yelp, Instagram, BizSugar, Reddit and many more.
- Analytics – While tracking leads coming from your website is a good start, web analytics can help give you a picture of what visitors are doing on your website, including what they are looking for and when they decide to leave without contacting you or purchasing anything. Google Analytics is a great place to start. Installing and using Google Analytics is free (with the knowledge that Google will have access to your website stats) and it will allow you to track visitors, visits, page views, and bounces, as well as set goals to track for your site visitors.
- Content Marketing – Content marketing is a new buzzword, but the practice has been around for a long time. Give your visitors additional, useful content that helps them find what they’re looking for and sets you apart as an expert in your field. You can accomplish this by adding content to your main website, like FAQs, Q&A, tips, a series of articles, or starting a blog on your site. Depending on the CMS you choose, it should be easy to add a blog to your current site. Additional forms of content marketing include starting an email newsletter or guest blogging on industry-related websites.
Hopefully, taking all of these ideas into consideration will help decide which direction you want to take your website. If you’re actually running a business, you may not have time to implement all of these strategies. However, this should give you enough information to make the right decisions and hire the experts that will help you connect with more customers.