Go ahead. Spend all the time and money you want on an online marketing strategy, business plan, and corporate identity. But don’t lose sight of what really keeps people coming back again and again great content, effective navigation, and good ol’ word-of mouth recommendations.
Back in the days before everyone turned their attention to banner placement and the theory of branding, our favorite sites were the ones with the best information and easiest navigation.
Today, the stakes are higher and competition more fierce. And true, these days it’s almost impossible to get your name recognized without some kind of online marketing. But no matter how much huffing and puffing and money your throw into online branding and ad banners, that kind of marketing will only get a visitor to your site once. It’s the content and design of your site that keeps people coming back for more and turning word-of-mouth into your number-one marketing tool.
So how do you keep your existing audience loyal and encourage newer visitors to come back for more?
Create personality and a community for your site. Give visitors a way to send messages to you and to each other via message boards or email. It’s the cheapest and most convenient way to glean honest feedback about your product or site. It also gives direct insight into the personalities and needs of your clients.
Invite visitors to register. But don’t make registration mandatory. It’s plenty annoying — especially for those of us who have a tendency to forget special passwords! But do have somewhere where visitors can sign a guest book or register. After all, creating a database of names and gathering info about your customer base is one of the reasons you publish a web site. Give users an option to be included on your mailing list. Email coupons, links to news updates, and press releases — anything that will spark some interest and keep them coming back for more.
Be consistent throughout the entire site. Using the same font or color schemes breed familiarity and comfort when visitors navigate through a site. Also, don’t underline anything unless it’s a link. It’s confusing.
Editorial standards still apply. Broken links and typos make your site lose credibility. Take time to proof all your updates and stories with the same care you would give a piece going to print.
Have a outsider look over your site. Tom Hespos had the right idea when he penned “How My Mom Uses the Web.” Have someone outside your office look at your site. Take notes on where they click and how long they remain in each area. Then interview them about your site. Did they understand each link? Do you indicate the purpose of your site and a bit about your corporate culture? Do they see a reason to go back to visit?
Don’t focus all your attention on the home page. Search engines can send visitors to any page of your site.
Test your site on all platforms and browsers. Just because everyone in your office uses that latest version of Explorer on a PC, don’t assume the rest of the world does. Your web site can look drastically different on another monitor or browser. And don’t forget AOL. Web developers tend to overlook this very large audience.
Go where print can’t go. Take advantage of the web. Post updates daily, rotate graphics, gather a database of email addresses, collect information about your clients and definitely sell online.
Aim for fast downloading. Don’t use large graphics, video or audio unless it truly adds to the content of your site. Remember, just because you can do it doesn’t mean you should. If you do choose to use large files, always provide a basic text version as well. Not everyone has a roadrunner or T1 line for access. Your office computer is probably about 40 percent faster than the typical home user.
Always provide a link back home. No matter where visitors end up on a site, they should easily be able to return to the home page. If your site provides links to other URLs, don’t loose visitors by not giving them a quick path back to your site. Creating an extra browser window or mini frame are good ways to keep visitors from straying too far.