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    Would you hire your website?

    Your website is not a brochure; it’s a dedicated, always works overtime, multi-tasking sales person. It responds to interaction, makes pitches, reaches out to people looking for answers, and is often your brand’s first impression with a potential customer.

    If you’re like most business owners, the end goal for your website is to convince users to buy your product or ‘hire’ your services. An important question to ask is, if your website walked in for an interview, would you hire it? According to research conducted by Universum who’s results were reported in Forbes Magazine, the top 3 personality traits a company looks for when hiring an employee are:

    1. Professionalism (86%)
    2. High Energy (78%)
    3. Confidence (61%)

    Similar to a brochure, it’s easy and common for companies to focus solely on the aesthetics of a site. What’s the message? What’s the ‘look and feel’? What’s the content? These are the blatant, obvious concerns. But these elements only go so far in conveying professionalism, energy, and confidence.

    Performance is overlooked.
    Imagine Johnny.com walked in to your office to interview for a lead sales position with your company. He shows up a few minutes late but says it was due to traffic, no big deal, you know how the I-5 bridge to Portland is anyway. As he sits down you notice that while he looked put together at first, his socks don’t match, his right cuff is unbuttoned, and his fingernails aren’t trimmed. You look past that because you don’t want to judge a book by it’s cover and begin the interview.

    “Thank you for coming. We’re excited to be hiring a new lead sales person. Let’s start by telling me a bit about your work history, how long have you been in sales?”

    Pause. 10 seconds of silence while Johnny.com stares at you, seemingly pondering your question. Finally he answers.

    Barney_Meme

    “Sales is how businesses make money. You should hire me.”

    Well that’s not a good answer, he didn’t even address the question. You back up and try again, this time phrasing it differently, “So have you worked in sales before?”

    After 30 minutes of questioning and rephrasing your questions you finally become confident that he at least knows what he’s talking about. However, at this point all of the ‘small issues’ are piling up. He was late, he struggled to provide you with answers, his responses were slow and awkward, and he didn’t seem to have concern for detail. In essence, he seems to lack professionalism, has low energy, and definitely doesn’t inspire confidence.

    With this scenario in mind, now let’s look at 3 key factors in producing an effective website that are often overlooked yet could have a dramatic impact on your bottom line.

    *Meme courtesy of www.quickmeme.com

    Speed

    According to research conducted by  the Aberdeen Group, a 1 second increased delay in page load time causes an average conversion loss of 7%. For a small business that does $3 million in annual sales, this equates to a $210,000 loss! A larger e-commerce site that does $50 million in sales a year, loses an average of $3.5 million annually when their site takes 1 second longer to load.

    Internet speeds, mobile usage, and user expectations will only continue to increase. About 10 years ago, an 8 second page load time was acceptable but today a 3 second delay is considered a ‘poor user experience’. As a result, the top 2 factors that effect bounce rate are:

    1. Content relevance
    2. Page load speed

    In April 2010, Google began including page load time as one of its ranking factors. Therefore not only does a slow site create a bad user experience, it now can cause you to not be found in the first place!

    What to do:

    Johnny.com needs to plan for traffic. First, find out how your site performs. Try these tools for instant results and suggestions:

    Google: https://developers.google.com/speed/pagespeed/insights

    Pingdom: http://tools.pingdom.com/fpt/

    Once you know what you are dealing with, carry out the recommendations or find a development firm to do so for you. Most speed modifications are relatively straight forward which makes it possible to see a significant return on investment.

    Consistency

    Consistency equals professionalism. It implies reliability, shows attention to detail, and an overall passion for the craft being shown. Inconsistency, on the other hand, reveals apathy, conflict, instability, and gives the impression you would rather be doing something else. From a branding perspective, consistency speaks to whether your company is a focused expert, or a dysfunctional amateur. Here’s 3 common areas to look out for:

    Language

    Successful mobile app design has proven that a consistent personality and voice inspires loyalty. Websites are beginning to catch on to this philosophy as well. Within a multi-author blog, it’s good that each article reflects the author, however, outside of the blog the website should have one cohesive voice.

    To facilitate this, MailChimp published their own Voice & Tone guideline website. MailChimp uses consistent language throughout their company from marketing material to the newsletter application interface. Ask any user what they think and chances are you will find they have a strong affinity for the Chimp, which greatly rivals the brand loyalty for competitors such as Constant Contact and Vertical Response.

    If your site is maintained by multiple people or a 3rd party web maintenance company, consider taking the time to craft your own voice and tone guideline.

    Design

    Design is the visual counterpart to language. It’s easy to become focused on a single element such as a call-to-action for a new product, and complete overlook the overall design of the site. Contract can be a great tool to draw attention but too much can end in a disjointed experience. Remember this: controlled variety is interesting, random is irritating.

    Layout & Navigation

    Users come to your website to find and consume content that is relevant to them. The harder it is for them to do that, the more likely they will get frustrated and leave. While attractive design improves a users brand-impression, an inconsistent layout or confusing navigation can quickly toss out those warm fuzzy feelings and replace them with flat out irritation. This can obviously effect conversion rates, but if the user does convert, you’ve managed to taint the brand expectation before you’ve even been introduced!

    money-never-sleeps

    What to do:

    Hire a webmaster! In the age of great open source content management systems (CMS), the ‘webmaster’ seems to have been thrown out with the bath water. Rather than assuming your CMS replaces the need for a webmaster, recognize that it is actually a catalyst to expand the webmaster’s role and enhance their productivity. The webmaster can operate as a gate keeper or quality assurance enforcer. In Johnny.com’s case, the webmaster is a fashion and etiquette coach. This, in combination with well-organized CSS can do wonders.

    Forms

    Whether its a contact form, a newsletter sign up, or full e-commerce checkout process, a conversion happens when a user is changed from consuming content to giving something of value back to the website owner. Therefore, most high value conversions end with a web-form.

    The moment you present a form to a user you are asking them to change their behavior and trust you with their personal information. This is no small request. Instead of looking at a form as a tool for collecting information, look at it as the final pitch in your online sales process. If your website is a sales person, the form is the moment their pitch ends and the sale is requested. It’s arguably the most important moment in your sales process. Any sales guru will tell you that it’s paramount to make the sale as easy and painless as possible, once the person commits. The same rules should apply to the web form.

    We see good web form practices more commonly in mobile sites. The restrictions of small thumb-driven devices has forced designers to streamline the conversion process. Unfortunately that philosophy is all too often not applied to the desktop environment. To paraphrase Derek Nelson in his Smashing Magazine article regarding mobile e-commerce sites, “What’s annoying on a desktop can be fatal in mobile.”

    What to do:

    These simple rules apply to most forms. There are exceptions, such as long forms which are designed specifically to carefully qualify applicants (see Happy Cog for an example!).

    1. Review every field of the web form and ask yourself, “Can I complete the sale without this information?” If the answer is yes, drop the field.
    2. Make the form linear. This means it should be obvious to the user what field to complete next. A form laid out like a grid with no clear direction implies more work. Remember, annoying is fatal.
    3. Clearly identify required fields. If a field is required, clearly identify it! It’s annoying to be forced to return to the form to correct mistakes. Additionally, if the user is in a hurry (which most are!) clearly marked requirements can streamline the necessary steps.
    4. Use instant validation. A typical form will not tell you of a mistake until the user attempts to submit it. They are then denied, and forced to scroll back through the form to find the mistake. This is annoying. A form that instantly validates as you leave the field, without interrupting your ability to type, feels helpful rather than restrictive. User’s don’t want a police officer, they want Watson.
    5. Make sure it WORKS! Too often clients come to us wanting to improve their conversion through Search Engine Optimization, only to find out their contact form doesn’t work half the time. We recently tripled a client’s conversion rate by adding form validation. Users thought they were successfully completing the form when in fact they were not. Test your forms regularly to ensure they are functioning. Many forms rely on 3rd party APIs or technology, which means they could break without you being aware.

    The Bottom Line

    A typical, professionally crafted website for a small to medium sized business costs between $25,000 – $75,000. That’s nearly the same cost for a non-commissioned sales person’s salary. Would you allow Johnny.com to be paid $75,000 per year if he only brought in $20,000 worth of business? While strategy, design, and digital marketing are key elements to an effective website, a bumbling, poorly operating website, can keep you from getting business. Your website may be pretty, but is it effective? Websites should pay for themselves.