Creating a Successful Website
One of the most impotent factors in guaranteeing a Return On Investment (ROI) when building a web business is establishing credibility. Of course, this is not specific to web business. Credibility is a concept that is at least as old as the Latin motto “Caveat emptor,” or “buyer beware!” A sort of timeless tension exists between a buyer and seller, given that buyers want to get the most value for their money, and sellers want to get the most money for their time. When these two desires correspond, it is then that the ultimate objective in business is achieved. The happy buyer returns again and again to what has been established as a credible business, and the happy seller moves one step closer to a guaranteed ROI in the long-term.
The prospect of an online business, however, presents several unique problems with regard to establishing credibility before a massive community of web users. The most obvious issue is the fact that no one can see you! In fact, they cannot even see a “brick and mortar” shop, which by its very nature would assure the buyers they would be able to find you tomorrow, should they be unsatisfied with your product or service. Therefore, web designers face the significant challenge of needing to create virtually instantaneous “believability” for Web users who, one way or another, encounter a commercial web site.
Our research has identified the elements that factor into the perception of credibility for an online web site, and narrowed them to five major aspects:
- Real-world feel
- Ease of use
As mentioned above, a web business by its nature lacks the “brick and mortar” real-world presence that has traditionally been the foundation of a business's credibility. The question, then, is how a web designer may replicate that “feel” through various aspects of a site's content and layout.
The best way to do this is to show that there are real people behind the site and in the organization. One way to accomplish this is by placing images of owners and/or staff prominently on the site. Rightly or wrongly, many people believe they recognize an honest face when they see it. Another way to bring to life the people involved is to post short biographies or historical information about the company. Such content goes a long way in building the confidence of an online buyer/user.
Also, it is important that you make it easy for web users to contact you by e-mail, phone, or ideally, both. For many, this is the quickest way to weed out “scam” sites, from legitimate online businesses. If the user has no way to contact you, this often sends up a red flag for an increasingly cautious and savvy web community. Plus, a human voice or even a personally written email response can do wonders for establishing credibility.
Ease of Use
“Ease of Use” is really just a synonym for simplicity. The more questions that arise as a person visits a website, or the more confusion that arises, the less likely it is that the web user will seek your services. While many web designers understandably want to show off their technological know-how through the use of flash animation, java applets, or other “bells and whistles,” these types of things must be used with caution. Not only do they do nothing for search engine optimization, they can also become a detriment to your site's “ease of use” if used improperly.
The best way to determine whether or not your site is easy to use is to have some of your friends and family members test out the site. Be sure that your test audience consists of a wide range of technical experience. Actually, the less experienced the better! See if you can have them explore your site as you watch over their shoulder. Do not answer any questions! Watch carefully the “trail” they follow through the site. Take careful note of any pitfalls or “dead ends” they encounter. If it is obvious that there is something important they are not noticing, take note of that as well. Once they have completed their tour of the site, ask them specific questions about their experience. Ask which parts were confusing, which aspects were easy to understand, and generally speaking, how the site may be improved.
There is no good way to fake this—you either know what you are talking about, or you don't! However, there are a number of web sites and organizations who have significant knowledge about a particular topic, but fail to express it clearly on the web site. There are a number of reasons for this. One could be that, even though you know your stuff, you may not necessarily enjoy writing about it! In this case, one should consider hiring an experienced web content writer that can take the knowledge you have, and present it in the most professional, encouraging manner possible.
It is important that the expertise behind an organization be presented in a variety of ways. For example, do not simply talk about the products you offer, or highlight aspects of your individual organization. Instead, try to provide a number of general educational pages that do not have any obvious “agenda” behind them. This enhances the web user's impression that you are an expert in your field, and that you are not simply in it for the buck. (Even if you are!) Just as importantly, having many informative pages on your site, each “optimized” to a particular subject matter, can do wonders for helping web users find your site through the various search engines (Google, Yahoo, etc.)
There is no single strategy one might use in making a site appear trustworthy. Trust, of course, is best established through experience and the building of relationships. So first and foremost, if you want customers to trust you, you simply need to be trustworthy. That means everything from promptly responding to inquiries, returning phone calls, delivering products or services in a timely manner—in sum, all of the aspects that factor into the building of any successful business.
The problem is how to convey that trustworthiness to new web users who have had no experience with the organization. One of the best ways to deal with this is through the creation of a “testimonials” page. Web users are much more likely to request your services if they are able to read genuine accounts of others who have dealt with you in the past, and were highly satisfied.
Even if you are just starting out, however, there are a number of subtle ways you can make your site appear trustworthy. Much of this has to do with the language you use throughout the content of your site. Web users are more likely to trust a site that employs more space in describing the quality of the products, services or information offered, than another that focuses on how “cheap,” “fast,” or “easy” they are. Whether on the web or in the real world, people prefer to feel as though they were making up their own mind based upon information, rather than being pressured into making a quick purchase.
No matter what the nature of the products, services or information your site is offering, it should be presented in the “cleanest” manner possible. Avoid using too many colors, or using distracting aspects such as flashing text or “loud” graphics or animation. Keep it simple, straight-to-the-point. Try to make all of your pages even and clear throughout. Each page should try to draw the web user’s attention to one or two main aspects. If you try to highlight many different points at once, the effect is generally a complete dispersal of the web user’s attention and, more often than not, the user will simply go elsewhere.
Make sure to completely proofread all of your pages and, again, have your friends and family members help you with this. Something as simple as a mis-spelled word or poorly aligned paragraph can significantly diminish the credibility of your website. By the time you have set up a web business, you most likely have invested a lot of time and energy. Do not let something as simple as poor tailoring wreck all of the work you have put in!
A large website ROI can be obtained as long as you invest in quality content for your website. Also, your website message might not always say what the text does.