Trick or Treat! Is Your Business Website a Haunted Forest or Magic Castle?

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No one wants to get lost in a haunted forest with its frightening darkness, lurking monsters, and paths that lead to nowhere or worse — to trouble. No, we’d all rather spend our time in a magic castle, where everything is beautiful and everyone is helpful, and all our needs are taken care of and questions answered (even before we ask).

The analogy applies to site visitors’ expectations with your website as well. They don’t want to get lost or to encounter monstrous design. And if they do, you can bet that they’ll go seeking a “magic castle” elsewhere (otherwise known as your competitor’s website). What you want is for them to linger on your site, clicking through and going deeper and deeper, happy with the information they’re discovering.

So the question for you is this: is your website a haunted forest or a magic castle? How do you tell? Here are seven questions to ask yourself.

1. Is your navigation clear and intuitive? Your website navigation should guide users; it shouldn’t confuse them or lead them on bridges to nowhere. Does your navigation include the important basics? Navigation is not the place to get clever or cute. People come to a site with certain expectations for finding information – they should easily be able to see your products/services, contact, and company background without hunting for it (or, to refer to our haunted forest analogy, without getting hopelessly lost). The navigation should be consistent from page to page (it shouldn’t change), and it shouldn’t be too deep.

2. Is the look and feel wicked-witch ugly or pretty-as-a-princess? Yes, boys and girls, looks do matter—at least for websites. Websites need to be aesthetically pleasing to the eye. Yes, they need to ultimately provide value, but if your site is so ugly that people can’t see beyond the ugliness an quickly back away, then what’s the point? Be mindful of your color palette and layout, especially if you’ve built the site yourself. Of course, a good web designer will help make sure your site is visually pleasing. But still, it’s good to educate yourself on the basics of good web design.

3. Is your content error-free? Yes, your ninth grade English teacher was right: grammar and spelling count. Poor grammar or copy filled with misspellings and typos indicate laziness, a lack of professionalism, and a complete lack of interest in the details. Do you struggle with the basics and don’t even know if you’re making mistakes? Hire a website copywriter to either write or proofread your site. Trust us, it will be money well spent.

4. Does your content provide value? Nothing is scarier than a web page that’s simply crammed with keyword phrases and that fails to deliver on what it promises. Each and every page of your site should deliver value to site visitors. What’s the page about? What’s the implicit  promise made when someone clicks on a page? Does your FAQ page really answer questions, or is it a thinly-veiled sales pitch? Does your About page provide info on the company, its founders, latest news? It’s 2012—people are savvy searchers and surfers. If they go to a page expecting certain info, and the page doesn’t deliver, you might not get a second chance to win them back. An overlooked piece of info that’s worth mentioning here is the meta description, which is the snippet of text that shows up on the search engine results pages. This snippet of text should, in fact, tell people what to expect when they land on the page – what information is in store for them – and then the page should deliver on it. Need more help? Check out this article from Copyblogger on 58 Ways to Create Persuasive Content Your Audience Will Love.

5. Do you tell site visitors what you want them to do? It’s easy to think that if people make it to your site it’s because they’re looking for your product or service. And yes, this is probably true. But that doesn’t mean your job is done. Each step of the way – each page of your site – should provide a specific call-to-action, even if it’s something as simple as inviting the visitor to click a link that brings them deeper into the site. Here’s a free eBook from HubSpot on how to create effective calls-to-action.

6. Do you regularly review your website analytics to understand the story they’re telling? By regularly reviewing your website analytics, you can start to see a story emerge about site performance. Do you find lots of people go to your main products page, but then quickly exit? That’s something to look at and dig deeper as to what may be causing the drop-off. Perhaps people are overwhelmed, don’t know where to go next, or are confused. Need web analytics? Google Analytics is useful and free.

7. Does your site suffer from bells and whistles overload? Live chat. Newsletter sign-up boxes that seem to materialize out of nowhere (these are called light boxes). Videos that automatically play whenever you land on a page. Virtual people who start talking. Animated ads. It’s easy to think the more bells and whistles your website has, the better and more exciting your site will be. But you want to make sure any add-on or plug-in complements the site and doesn’t confuse or frustrate site visitors. How do you tell? Again, your analytics can often provide info. Another way is to ask customers about their experience or to even occasionally poll your fans on places like Facebook (e.g. “What do you think of Live Chat on business websites – good or bad?”). Remember, there’s a fine line between looking connected and high tech and looking like someone who decided to throw everything but the kitchen sink at the site.

Remember, think magic castle, not haunted forest. If you feel you don’t have the time, skill, or objectivity to effectively evaluate your company website, then ask a marketing and/or web consultant to provide an assessment of your site. Yes, this will require a monetary investment, but you’ll receive a professional review and – quite likely – suggestions on how to improve your site.

What things do you hate to see websites do? What are some “must haves” that all business websites should consider? Share your thoughts in the comments.

BONUS: Since Halloween is right around the corner — which is where our whole haunted forest theme came from — we thought we’d remind you about this article we wrote on Halloween party ideas and tips for the office. Have a great Halloween! :)

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