Over the many years I’ve been doing this web design gig, I’ve come across a lot of ideas as to how to grow a business through online channels. I’ve ridden the different waves, and taken interest in many different ideas which have all generated tangible results in business growth. Among them:
Principles of Good Design. Probably the most important of the bunch. Right from the get-go with websites, we all knew a crappy site from a good one. Good design, no matter what is trending, looks good and makes visitors want to stay and read more. It just works. Plus, a professional looking design usually makes visitors think the organization behind it is… surprise, surprise… more professional!
SEO – Search Engine Optimization. The king back in the day! If you could only get more search visitors to your site, you’d sell more product. And you know what, it worked!
Conversion Optimization. Once someone gets to your site, how do you get them to “convert” into a paying customer? It takes a keen eye on design and user behavior – things like heat maps and specialized analytics are helpful here.
Email Campaigns. Yes, we wanted repeat visitors, and we recognized the power of switching from physical mailers to emails when we started adding up the actual costs. But after switching, and finding that most people didn’t really read or respond to emails, we knew we needed to learn the tips about emailing. Because there’s just so much to know! From writing headlines, to proper CTA’s (calls to action), and how often to send them, emailing has a massive amount of strategy to consider.
UI – User Interface. Once we realized our main goal of the site was to improve site traffic, increase conversions, and have people click on the proper CTA, we started to wonder if we needed all the extra stuff that always seemed to live on every site. Sure, it made us feel more official to have a site like everybody else’s, but frankly, if it wasn’t helping sales, it needed to go. And so, the web started trending toward pared down user interface – the bare necessities. This, of course was paired with the next item…
Mobile Optimization. Half of web visits across the board are from mobile devices as of this writing. It’s crazy to imagine that just four years ago I wasn’t even bothering with creating mobile versions of sites. Now, it’s absolutely critical to a site’s success. I’ve seen a lot of different ways people have dealt with mobile. Among them:
• Leave it the same as the large screen site – most common still, and worst option;
• A site that looks and feels like a mobile app – I think this was the first decent reaction, but also annoying because it would take out all sorts of features and useful info;
• Responsive design – which is all the rage right now, where the different elements of the site all stack onto each other so the mobile viewer still sees all the content, but just one at a time instead of all at once – an option I’m still toying with but not sold on. And finally;
• Simple sites that look the same no matter what the platform. Yes, I think this is the way the entire web is going. I’m not 100% convinced, but it surely makes sense to me.
UX – User Experience. The idea that you don’t just assume what the actual users will do on a site, but you watch and record them using it, and have them think out loud, so you can have hard data about what is working and what isn’t. This idea brings with it the concept of Analytics 2.0. Analytics today doesn’t just take into account mass behavior, it’s also taking into account how individuals (aka real people) use the site. It’s quantitative plus qualitative. And it really, really works.
Social Media. We all seem to love it and hate it. Why? Because half the time it feels like a waste of time, but the reality is, it does make a difference. People do use these tools to spread around what they’re interested in. And so, we have to embrace the Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest, and whatever else suits our industry, or be left in the dust.
All of these elements combine to improve website performance. However, it starts to become a major juggling act to manage all these ideas and tools at once.
We have to ask ourselves – what is the real goal of this website?
All websites are built to be seen. All websites want more newcomers and more returning visitors. And this brings us to the true goal that all websites need to consider – growth of online inbound marketing.
Improving Inbound Marketing
Inbound Marketing is all about a different approach to websites. Sites are no longer simply online brochures. They’re tools for growing interest and an online community based around your brand. Whether I’m helping an industrial manufacturer or a performing arts festival, every client I work with has the same need, and could benefit from the same strategy.
Over the last couple of years, I’ve struggled over how to create a system that does this well – that takes someone from being an online visitor, to a subscriber, to a customer. Up till now I’ve put together a mishmash of tools, and it’s seemed to work ok. But not as well as I think it could. And that’s why I’ve decided to try Hubspot.
Hubspot is an inbound marketer’s dream come true. It is a platform for all the analytics, email management, customer management (CMS), and social media management, all in one place that makes sense. It is a commitment – the price is more than I’d normally want to spend, but I have decided to become a partner, which will allow me access to developer tools to improve my clients’ sites a hundred fold.
This is a journey. The online environment is different than five years ago. And I’ve recognized that if I want to be successful, and help my clients be successful, I need to change with it.
As I begin to use the tools, I’ll inform you about how well they work. For now, let’s at least all recognize that we need to grow our strategies, and take a few calculated risks in order to be successful online today. I’ll let you know how it goes.
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