My brother built my Web site, why doesn’t it work?

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One of the most frequently asked questions we get about Web sites and Internet marketing strategy is, “How effective is my company’s Web site?”  We run across companies every day that had their Web site built by a relative, typically their brother or brother-in-law.  This is great if your brother or brother-in-law works for an Internet marketing company in the industry. Chances are, he doesn’t.

Many of these companies don’t see results from their Web sites and simply have a hard time proving or justifying the effectiveness of their sites. In the worst cases, they can’t get their sites to work at all.

Here are the five most common reasons Web sites do not produce leads, prospects or buyers.  These are mistakes typically made by someone not ‘quite’ qualified to build a site. All of these challenges are avoidable, so choose your Web designer and developer carefully.

1. Not built to drive traffic

How much traffic your Web site will get from search engines and referring sites depends on how friendly it is to those search engines. Specific techniques must be applied on every page of the Web site. Title tags and other meta data give search engines needed content, but they are no longer enough.

Search engines look for and judge content in terms of its relevance for the keywords searched on their sites. Having relevant, well written content and proper internal and external links will help search engines rank your site and send you traffic.

Using search engine techniques, social media optimization, and Internet advertising the right way will put your site firmly on the information superhighway. Your brother-in-law may live on a farm off a dirt road, but you want your Web site to be on the beaten bath… not off it.  Your Web site should not be a sunk cost in your budget that requires justification each month, it should be a referral sources that increases your revenue.

2. Difficult to Navigate

Don’t think of yourself first. What you want visitors to find on your site is not as relevant as what they are looking for when they arrive. How easily can they spot the information they seek, and how many clicks does it take them to find it?

Making it intuitive for someone to ‘know’ where you put a specific piece of information takes strategic thought. Getting everything on your site to be within three or four clicks for any visitor is even more challenging.

Michael Penn, President of Penn Homes, who speaks nationally on Internet marketing, says “We’re in the real estate business, so we understand lots. We can tell choice lots from dog lots.  We look at real estate and its location in a subdivision as the value of that lot.  When you look at a web page – your home page mainly – you need to look at it the same way.  Top navigation and the left side bar are prime real estates spots, but you don’t want too many things there, maybe five or so items there.”

Think like a fifth-grader or a grandparent and perform a scavenger hunt on your site for specific pieces of information. Then have other people in your company or industry experts not involved in the Web design process do the same.   Listen to their honest feedback. Frustrated Web visitors do not turn into sales; they turn into lost opportunities and lost revenue.

3. Content and Branding

The content on your Web site is so important that if falls into two categories. Search engines LOVE fresh content and they index sites with fresh content more often. And if you can’t get Google to come back regularly, how are you going to convince the Jones’ to visit often?

Having fresh and relevant content is only one piece of the puzzle. The Internet is a visually stimulating media. Google may not know how relevant a graphic is to your Web site, but your visitors do. The look and feel of your Web site has to represent your company image in a professional way. Your leads, prospects and buyers judge how well your company builds homes on how you represent your brand online. Your Web site’s ‘coolness’ factor goes a long way.

At what point does a cool and interactive site become interruptive? Having the right balance between the movement of images, the display of your content, your company brand and the ability for the visitor to navigate s critical. Use flash and video appropriately. Have the right images in the right places to support the content. Write updatable text. And skip the sound.

4. Proper Call to Action

Now that your Web site is set up to be search engine friendly, the navigation is intuitive, and it looks good to your visitors, they need a way to contact you. More importantly, you need to follow up.

Internet sales expert Meredith Oliver, president and founder of Meredith Communications, says, “Having a strong call to action with a Web-only promo will increase registrations. Continuing to use a call to action throughout e-mail follow-up will get people to move from the desk chair to the sales center.”

Oliver continues, “Define a process and a get person in place to maximize the leads and convert them into sales. A well defined, step-by-step workflow from when the lead comes into the website is critical – the key is to be very fast. Internet leads start to get cold in two hours or less…, If you get a phone number, call quick.  Phone calls and e-mails need to be personalized to their question and community; do not send form letters. You can increase your response rate up to as much as 75% by personalizing your responses. We recommend having a dedicated online sales person; however, if you are a small company determining the person responsible for that step in the process will help you convert leads more effectively.”

5. Tracking and Analytics

If you have followed all of these tips, you are in good shape. But are you done? How do you know your new site is working?  What metrics do you look at on a regular basis, and what do you do with that information?

Set up tracking tools on your Web site so that you know EXACTLY where your traffic is coming from and what they are doing on your site. Use that information on a regular basis to tweak your site, strategy and ad placement, thereby keeping your company competitive. Simply getting a report of what the traffic was last month or looking at the click throughs from your advertisers is not enough. Trend those key metrics monthly and watch the effect of the changes in the actual traffic report so you can make business decisions specific to your company. This ongoing process will make your budget and strategy work for you.

“You need to look at Internet marketing through a builder’s eyes – develop Web site, drive traffic, measure it, maintain it,” Penn states.

Your brother is probably a great guy to take to the ballgame or meet on the links, but think twice before allowing him to build one of your most critical marketing components – your Web site.