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Ten Strategic Marketing Problems That Will Destroy
Your Website'S Selling Effectiveness

SUMMARY

Four critical dimensions determine website sales effectiveness. These are saleability, search engine visibility, usability and credibility. These must be built in from the start when developing a new website. The previous Newsletter described how this is best done.

What can be done if your website is up and running? Can selling effectiveness be improved for an existing website? The answer is almost certainly yes. This Newsletter discusses ten real-life problems that are all too evident in many websites. Often the problems can be cured for very little money. Yet the returns in increased sales are likely to be considerable. It is really a no-brainer. Read on to find out how it is done.

DISCLAIMER

The phrase "Internet Time" captures the nature of the world now. Things happen in months where they used to take years. Changes are happening at this speed in the Internet Search Engine world and the changes are dramatic. This is even more turbulent currently with the major acquisitions of Search Companies and with Microsoft developing its own Search Engine. Search Engines are continually evolving to deliver better search results than the competition. Webmasters strive to discover new and sometime unacceptable ways of getting higher positions for their own websites. Consequently, the Search Engine owners try to develop spamming filters that will prevent unscrupulous webmasters gaining unfair advantages.

This newsletter is correct at the time it is issued early in November 2003. Contact SMM for any changes that may have occurred since then, if you are reading this some time later.

INTRODUCTION

If you had a retail store and found people were walking past, sometimes without even looking in the store window, then you would really be concerned. The equivalent for most companies now is the company website. The website should be the strongest selling force a company has. Yet if people who might be potential customers are not even aware of the website, there is no opportunity to sell them products and services. If people who might be potential customers give scarcely a glance at the website, then again a selling opportunity is lost.

To ensure that the website will generate customers rather than having only passers-by, it must have

strength in four critical dimensions:

  • SALEABILITY
  • SEARCHABILITY
  • USABILITY
  • CREDIBILITY

In the following sections, we explore each of these dimensions and discuss the most important elements that often destroy a website's selling effectiveness. Unfortunately for every one of these, there are many current websites that fall down badly. Other important elements could have been described in an even longer newsletter. The elements mentioned here are the top ten in causing the greatest drop in effectiveness in real-life.

For simplicity, the elements have been colour-coded to indicate how difficult it may be to correct and strengthen the particular element. Blue indicates an element that is easy to correct: red indicates an element that is difficult to correct. This distinction is judgemental and for a typical website. Individual cases may be easier or harder than the colour coding might imply.

SALEABILITY

This measures the ability of a website to help its products and services stand out from the crowd of competitors. The website should then convert interested prospects into committed purchasers. Three elements are important here.

1. NO CLEAR AUDIENCE FOR WEBSITE

Problem

Sometimes a website is constructed to appeal to a variety of audiences. As a result, it sometimes does not work well for any of them.

Solution

The growth aspirations of most companies demand that the website help sales growth. It therefore must be directed to potential customers who know nothing about the company. A typical prospective customer should easily find the information they would like to have. If there are other audiences for whom this website would not work well, then separate websites should be constructed for them.

2. NO USP (UNIQUE SELLING PROPOSITION)

Problem

The information explosion now overwhelms most people. The Internet gives access to a host of potential

suppliers in many market places. As a potential purchaser surfs the Web looking for a short list of potential suppliers, how can you make sure your company website is on that short list.

Solution

To stand out from the crowd of competitors, the company's product / service package must have a competitive advantage versus the competitors' offerings. This is the Unique Selling Proposition that must come through loud and clear as a prospect visits the website.

3. NO SATISFIED CUSTOMERS

Problem

It is very tough to evaluate products and services in a website and know how to compare with competitive products and services. Sometimes the most elegant websites can be promoting the most shoddy products.

Solution

One quick way to cut through the tough sledding of product comparisons is to hear that a real-life customer is highly satisfied with the benefits they are receiving from their purchase. Sometimes for reasons of privacy, the real life customer's name is not given. Nevertheless quotes from real customer testimonial letters can be very persuasive in showing that the purchase will likely deliver satisfaction.

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SEARCH ENGINE VISIBILITY

Trying to achieve high search engine visibility is rather like white-water kayaking. Unscrupulous webmasters try to use questionable practices to gain higher rankings than the content of their web pages might deserve. The search engines try to produce lists where the higher ranked web pages will be the most "relevant" to the human searcher. So they constantly adjust their ranking algorithms to try to defeat the unscrupulous. It is all very turbulent. Meanwhile the competition may be constantly adjusting the content of their web pages to "ethically" gain higher rankings.

A further problem is that a website that looks good may not be very visible to the search engines. Many website designers are concerned only with the viewer once they have landed on the webpage. That is their "test audience". However other issues are involved in the process of getting them to that page. Ideally the website designer and the search engine expert must work together on the initial design to devise something that works for both human visitors and for search engines. It is much less satisfactory to take a "finished" website and then try to optimize it for the search engines.

There are three important elements under this heading of Search Engine Visibility.

4. THE WEBSITE USES FRAMES

Problem

A website in Frames is one where usually a top and/or left hand frame stay in position as the lower right hand part of the screen can be scrolled up or down. Visually it is attractive and many website designers are forceful in pushing this approach with their clients. However it creates a whole packet of troubles with search engines. Similar problems are created by other of the new programming codes such as pages done wholly in Flash.

Solution

In all cases some improvement can be made with such pages to make them more visible to the search engines, but the improvement is very limited. The solution is to add a text description of the web page within a section of the web page. This should give some improvement, although the value with any particular search engine is difficult to predict.

5. IMAGES

Problem

One problem with standard HTML web pages is that each viewer may see a different page dependent on the Internet browser being used. One solution is to make images of the text on the page and then display these images. Such images are seen exactly the same by all human viewers with whatever browser they may be using. Unfortunately search engines see only text. For them the images are worth nothing in terms of information.

Solution

It is very difficult to compensate for this loss of information for the search engines, given the current ranking algorithms they are now using. Images can have an < ALT > tag attached to them that gives a short description of what the image is depicting. These used to be used by the search engines, but no longer. The only satisfactory way for search engine visibility is to put back the text.

6. TITLES

Problem

The title is an important item for any web page. It is the set of words that appears along the top of the screen when a webpage is being shown in the browser window. Currently it contains the most important words associated with a web page for most search engines. What a waste of opportunity if your web page shows at the top of the screen only - Home Page, Test, Welcome or even Untitled. All of these are real live examples to be found on existing web pages.

Solution

This title could be signalling to the world and to the search engines, "Mouse Traps, the best in the world from the Catch-It Company". In other words, keywords should be included early in the Title. With a distinctive title and a little supporting text within the web page, you may easily find yourself at #1 with Google.

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USABILITY

So via a search with a search engine or through some other route, the potential purchaser is looking at a web page from your website. Are they able quickly to see how they may get the information they require? Or, horror of horrors, do they click away from the website in frustration in not knowing how to find relevant information. This topic is called Usability. Sometimes those close to the website development do not realize how the person in the street may guess how the web page works. It is a tragedy to have someone brought to your website and lose their interest. Two major elements are important in the impact of Usability on selling effectiveness.

7. CONFUSING NAVIGATION

Problem

It might be thought that anyone should be able to figure out how to use the various buttons on a web page and find what they want. Equally it might be thought that it should be very easy to design a tax form that is easy to fill out. In practice, after much time and money, the tax forms still give many people problems. The reason why people have problem with web pages and with tax forms is that we never quite know how other people may be seeing the screen or form. Different words may imply different things to different people.

Solution

The only way to check on problems is to have usability tests with small groups of people similar to those prospects we hope to sell to. Usually it is difficult to change the items in web pages that define the navigation. However in some cases some small changes may be possible.

8. VISITORS MAY "FALL OUT" OF THE WEBSITE

Problem

A particular unfortunate way to lose a prospect is to have them end up on a web page and not be able to go back to some other web page they would like to see again. Of course some may remember the back button on the browser menu and it may work. You may lose the prospect in this case, if their interest in your company as a potential supplier does not outweigh their frustration in getting lost as they try to go back.

This may be a particular problem if the website included PDF documents, that open in the Adobe Acrobat Reader. In any case there may be a certain frustration in having to wait for Adobe Acrobat to open. Sometimes the way back is not too clear.

Solution

Usually with a small amount of extra programming, these problems can be minimized. New web pages can open in a separate window with a Close button to return to the starter web page. If PDF documents are being considered, it is probably best to have a HTML version of the page for each page, with the PDF document reserved for those who would like to print out the document. Care should be taken to ensure there is a clear path back when the PDF document has been printed.

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CREDIBILITY

If the prior three factors have been well handled, then the prospect has managed to find the website and to get around. They also have seen the company's USP and are open to finding out more about the products or services. How do they develop confidence in the potential supplier so that they can be persuaded to consider purchasing?

Confidence is built up if the purchaser feels there is a credibility about the supplier as perceived through the website. There are many small details that can undermine this credibility. A good list can be seen in the Stanford Credibility Guidelines. In their list of ten factors, the two that are most often not handled well are described below.

9. ANONYMOUS

Problem

If a website gives no indication of the people who are involved in the company, this is a big barrier to prospects developing confidence that the company will deliver products and services in a satisfactory way.

Solution

On the other hand, if there is some indication of the real people who are involved and their skills and experience, then confidence builds. One good way is for the President to be visible on the website and show the commitment to customer service in a letter or a policy statement.

10. TYPOS

Problem

One very important and shockingly obvious point in the Stanford list is their 10th factor: Avoid errors of all types, no matter how small they seem. Typographical or grammatical errors and broken links hurt a site's credibility more than most people imagine. It is also important to keep your site up and running.

It is surprising the examples you will see that persist for months and even years. One very frequently seen problem is the confusion between it's (a contraction for 'it is') and its (meaning belong to it, or done by it). Here are two real-life examples:

"Today it is one of the most respected manufacturing and suppliers of XXX products and have an enviable reputation for it's technical skills and dependability."
"Managed by a dynamic and motivated team strongly commited to total quality, XXXX INC. does not spare any effort to ensure to it's customers the best quality and delivery time."

Another common problem is unsatisfactory translations of text from other languages. Here again are two examples:

"Be rest assured that the goal of these new facilities is to better meet the specific requirements of you "present" and futur clients. And our number one priority bas always been qualiy.."
"With time, we have developed an excellent hability and a high sense of perfection."

When such problems occur in web pages, then some of the potential audience will be lost. Indeed it may be better not to have a website than one that undercuts your image as a quality supplier.

Solution

The solution is of course to have a proficient and skilled copywriter and to very carefully proof the final web pages. In practice it is wise to have a number of people proof the web pages, since word blindness can so easily occur.

CONCLUSION

If your website suffers from any of these strategic marketing problems, then you should correct these as quickly as possible. Previous newsletters give more details on how to deal with many of these issues. Luckily very often some significant improvement can be achieved by "tweaking" the website content with a very modest cash outlay.

If you would like a free overview of your own website to check the selling effectiveness, then contact us. Our help can be configured to meet exactly the needs you have. Our strengths, experience, creativity and practical common sense can complement those of your company. So write us a Message today on what you're looking for without obligation.

Barry Welford

Added to site 3 November 2003

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