Ian Portsmouth: Ian Peter Freer: Peter

Ian: Welcome to the Business Coach Podcast, an advice-oriented series that tackles the top issues and opportunities facing Canada’s small businesses. I’m your host, Ian Portsmouth, the Editor of PROFIT Magazine. And we’ve developed this podcast in cooperation with BMO Bank of Montreal.

Simple strategies for more effective websites is the subject of this episode of the Business Coach and the reason we are doing it will be obvious to many of our listeners. There are simply too many bad websites out there. Unfortunately, yours might be one of them. But even if your website gets a passing grade, there are probably some easy ways to make it even more effective at attracting customers, boosting your revenues or reducing your costs. Joining me to help you pick some of this low hanging online fruit is Peter Freer. Peter is the principal and client strategist of MessageWorks Communications, a marketing and communications agency located in Toronto. Peter, welcome to the Business Coach Podcast.

Peter: Thanks very much for having me on.

Ian: So why do you think so many businesses have bad websites Peter?

Peter: Well I think that the problem ultimately is that business owners really haven’t quite realized that search is such a priority right now for online activity. In other words, we have a whole demographic of young online users who are going directly to the web first.

Ian: We’ve moved well passed the era in which a website was really a static electronic brochure. Can you give us a short list of the things that a good website does today?

Peter: Well, I can tell you what it is not. It’s really important that a website is not considered an online brochure, with things like very obvious stock images which we tend to see a lot of. It is certainly not an opportunity for a hard sell or to present a bait and switch kind of environment or to pester online users with expectations for emails and phone numbers and things like that. So it really depends on the business but an online site really in my opinion should take an integrity approach to selling their business online. It really depends on how the business functions.

But typically, a business can use their website as part of their sales cycle and something where they can build credibility. And it really needs to address their target audience’s needs first. In other words, it should be designed really to be as efficiently as possible to answer the question, why should that user give their time and spend any time on their website when there are millions of great sites out there.

A good website should also utilize a marketing platform, one that presents the company’s value proposition and why it’s different in its products and its services and its philosophy and present a clear offer for the visitor to act on. Ideally, a good website would actually address some of the personality and the difference in the business itself.

Ian: Those are all great points. Now, let’s talk about design and when I mean design, I don’t mean graphics and colors and fonts, which seem to be down to personal taste amongst many businesses, but more about the architecture. Because a good website really tries to get people to come in the front door which is the home page and end up somewhere. So what does a well designed or a well architected website do?

Peter: A well architected website really recognizes the user experience, looks at a prospective customer and says that they understand that time is of the essence. So, really it comes down to recognizing that the average website user wants to get to their path in three clicks or less. That’s one very important thing. It asks that user who they are and offers them a unique path to the information that they are looking for. So the navigation architecture, through different tabs, speak to the individual if they are a customer, it could be, if it’s a business and it’s maybe a franchisee audience, it should address those individuals. And ideally, it should provide a clear call to action. So easily located information, particularly contact information often gets overlooked, it’s often at the very bottom of the website.

In terms of design, for sure, it should meet the World Wide Web Consortium’s recommendation for web design and best practices. It should meet the design must haves to Web 2.0, and that means things like the content is clear, the navigation is clean, the site is uncluttered and it lets the visitor move forward and backward intuitively.

And lastly one other thing that I think is also important is the design should incorporate a strategy for disabilities, for people with visual impairments and others and also incorporate different languages into the site as well, or the facility to translate.

Ian: Now how important is content to a site. I am in the content business and a lot of people tell me how important online content is. So, again, how important is this content to a website and why?

Peter: Quality content is considered to be the key to successful online experiences both in the web and in the social world. Really what it is, is you are talking to a user from their perspective and if your content is original and anticipates the kinds of questions that a potential customer is going to ask of your website, if it answers the question how do I, how do I find that information that I need. You’re really answering a typical sales prospect and their question, but you are doing it in a digital fashion. So content really refers to creating the right material for an individual to stay on your site and that’s what experts refer to it as the sticky factor or the engagement factor, and it gives them more than just a typical sales pitch.

Ian: Right. So these can be things like blogs for instance. So how should a business owner determine what kind of content or what content formats their site needs?

Peter: Content comes in many forms. So, firstly, at least 80% of your site will come down to words. So, text is your number one thing. Having original content is very, very important. Having content that people can share is also extremely important. And we can get more into that on the social level. Content comes in the form of images, it comes in the form of videos, downloads, social interaction. So and again as you mentioned, a blog could be a perfect way to do that. The idea of course is to try to keep it as original and anticipate what your user is expecting of your site.

Ian: Now we hear a lot, Peter, about search engine optimization. And my question is who should do this for a business owner? I think typically they don’t want to take it on themselves. So who should do it for them, how often and what exactly does it cost?

Peter: That’s a good question. Search engine optimization really is a hot topic. There are individual SEO consultants that can provide value. I think it’s important to source them as long as they have a proven track record. With more complex sites and campaigns, a larger provider can certainly help and probably would be in order. It is important to understand whether your site requires new development if it’s out of date, it might require new programming and actually a complete make-over, a complete site redesign. So you might need a web developer to help as well as having an actual SEO expert. Another individual that comes into play would be an SEO marketing writer. Because SEO is developed around the concept of key words which are the actual words that the typical searcher uses to find you, find your business on the web, a marketing writer is part of the mix too. So that individual probably comes into play and creates the content that holds the key words so that individuals can find your site.

As far as the cost goes, it really can depend on what a budget can support for the average business. It could be hundreds of dollars a month to thousands, depending on the complexity of the site and any other integrated advertising campaigns that play into it. And as I mentioned, site development for SEO programming is pretty time intensive depending on what’s needed. If the site needs to be redeveloped, it’s going to take time and that in turn is part of the budget. And again, it’s an on-going process. So anybody that is going to get an SEO has to really commit to doing it and sticking with it over a period of time.

Ian: Now let’s talk about social media, but particularly as it applies to websites. A lot of business owners want to get into social media and sometimes, this is only because they keep getting told that they have to. But rather than going into social media which is an entire topic of its own, where do websites and social media meet?

Peter: You know I think it is interesting question because I believe that websites now are going into a whole new phase and really what they are doing is they are embracing how social media has really changed the landscape. It’s really forced business owners to look at their website in terms of community, site design and function, you know, for a website today, really must be socially relevant and optimized. And what that basically means is the business owner now has to really put on a few different hats and really embrace the concept of a community because when you look at social media, you’re looking at networks that are around conversations and around building communities. In essence, your website shouldn’t stand alone from that.

So a socially optimized website can include things like a corporate blog, which is very typical, it is also a very key element to SEO as well. But it really is an opportunity for conversations to occur on the site. And that brings things back to the website in a way from your social network, it allows stakeholders to get involved in conversations that matter to them, it can educate customers and prospects on different product benefits and really build a community around the culture and including things like career insights and opportunities as well.

So a socially relevant site or socially optimized site as its becoming more often known, incorporates all the social network values clearly in all the main pages. It can include real time feeds, directly on the main page, you know, feeds from Twitter showing the conversations that are happening and it gives the opportunity for peers to share with others, to retweet good content. And again, really it is an opportunity for a website or a business owner to create the right remarkable content.

Ian: That’s great information Peter. I want to thank you for sharing it and your other insights with the Business Coach Podcast.

Peter: Thanks for having me on, Ian, it was a pleasure.

Ian: Peter Freer is the principal of MessageWorks Communications in Toronto.

That’s it for another episode of the Business Coach Podcast. Be sure to check out other episodes which you can download from BMO.com/coach, profitguide.com and iTunes. For other tools to help you build your business, visit the small business resources section on BMO.com. Until next time, I am Ian Portsmouth, the Editor of PROFIT Magazine, wishing you continued success.

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