If you built your website a few years ago it's time for an update, if for no other reason than the fact that usage patterns have changed dramatically: The number of mobile Internet users is expected to surpass the number of desktop users in the next two to three years.
That means your website is unlikely to be as effective a marketing tool as it once was, especially if your site doesn't automatically resize and rearrange content for all possible devices. (Go ahead: Check out a few sites on your mobile phone. Find one that doesn't resize automatically. You'll bail in seconds.)
I asked Adam Moore, co-founder and CEO of Austin-based SpaceCraft, a website publishing platform for small businesses, to share simple ways to make websites more effective for small business owners—and for Lance Armstrong, one of SpaceCraft's first clients.
1. Make it mobile.
The shift to mobile makes it crucial for your website to be optimized for all types of devices, especially smartphones, and tablets. One approach is to create device-specific versions of your website, but a better approach is to use a new responsive design layout that works seamlessly on all platforms—both now and in the future.
Lance fact: Lance's huge global following consistently accesses his website from mobile devices. (His site gets tens of thousands of visitors each month.) Lance insists his fans have a great experience on his site, no matter where they are or which device they use.
You should, too.
2. Update your own content—regularly.
Long gone are the days of static websites. Today's most effective websites frequently update content to give visitors a reason to come back.
And quality is just as important as quantity, so make sure your company information is up-to-date and communicate relevant details about your business through regular blog posts or updates. Frequent updates not only help better sell products and services, but also play a key role in getting higher search results.
Most importantly, make sure to use a content management system (CMS) that makes it easy for you to make your own updates. The right CMS will make managing content as easy as using a Web browser, and when you do it yourself you can make sure your personality and your brand shines through.
Lance fact: His team feeds the latest press into his website, ensuring that search engines time stamp his site with a recent date. And Lance can easily add photos from races and training so fans have even more reason to come back frequently.
3. Integrate social media.
Social media is an essential tool for every business seeking to build a powerful web presence—from promoting your online brand to managing customer service issues.
Go beyond including social media buttons by adding your Twitter and Facebook feeds directly on your website so customers can stay up-to-date. Invite customers to engage by allowing them to like your products and services so they can become your biggest advocates.
You can hire a developer to integrate social media on your website, or better yet choose a tool that allows you to add and manage your own social media content on your website.
Lance fact: Lance uses Twitter several times every day to interact with his 3.5 million followers. His tweets automatically feed directly onto his website, enabling fans to discover and participate in real-time conversations.
4. Remove annoying features.
Lots of restaurants, for example, upload a PDF of their menu. That's easy for the restaurant but a pain for site visitors. The same is true of any content that requires an application launch, especially on mobile devices.
As the site owner your experience is irrelevant; all that matters is the customer experience. Get rid of anything - anything—that could potentially irritate your visitors... or worse, drive them away.
5. Keep it simple.
The goal of most websites is to get visitors to the content they seek as quickly as possible. A simple, intuitive design is the best way to accomplish that.
Fewer page elements—which can distract visitors—keeps the focus on your website's content and leads them to your desired outcome, whether it's a phone call, email inquiry, or sale. Work with a web designer to clean up your site or choose a build-it-yourself website tool that offers simple design options.
Lance fact: An easily navigable layout ensures a high engagement rate and makes it easy for visitors to find what they're looking for. For example, photos of Lance are a key component of his Web presence, so the site features high-quality images set on a simple backdrop. The photos, not the design, are what's most important.
6. Stay in the driver's seat.
If you do choose to hire freelancers for design or development services, make sure you choose a CMS that you understand and can update yourself. That way, if the relationship ever sours, you're in control of your content.
And if freelancers help create content, make sure that ultimately you own that content. If you currently don't, start creating new content to replace what you don't own.