The 5 Cs of a successful website

If looks could sell

By Brad Smith

The purpose of a website is to make money, not to be a work of art. Easily, one of the biggest mistakes business owners make when developing their website is to put too much focus and attention on looks. This is quite understandable, considering that in the brick-and-mortar world, the success of a business is often dependent on its appearance. The more effort put into the look and design of a facility, the better the business often does.

Unfortunately, the same does not always hold true for your 24/7 online location. Here, too many graphics and Flash animations can affect your site’s functionality, performance and rankings on search engines. For example, iPads don’t even support Flash.

Your website must be designed with visitors and search engines in mind — visitors to make sure they can quickly and easily find the information they need; search engines to ensure consistent, high rankings. If it’s not designed with those factors in mind, it doesn’t matter how slick it looks; it won’t drive sales.

Turning your website into a revenue-generating investment starts with the 5 Cs: Clean design, Current content, Concise information, Clear navigation and Contact strategy.

 Clean design

Follow the KISS principle — Keep It Simple and Straightforward. A clean design is simple, consistent and easy on the eyes, featuring attention-grabbing visual cues with heavy contrast to text. We are comfortable reading black text on a white background, so your design should reflect that reality to get your visitors’ attention and encourage them to look further.

Visitors get what they want or leave unsatisfied. Your site should state, “This is who we are and what we have to offer.” It shouldn’t concentrate on dazzling visitors; it has to focus on serving them, and converting them into customers — faster.

A good rule of thumb is to include highly relevant content without generating confusion or creating too many distractions — Keep it simple. Look at high-traffic social networking sites, such as Facebook, Twitter or Craigslist. They all have adopted a minimalist approach to design, yet they are very successful.

The best design speaks for itself. In a matter of seconds, visitors must understand who you are, what you do, and how to get to the information they came for.

 Current content

Key pages of your website — including Inventory, Specials, Events and News — should be frequently updated to keep prospects and customers coming back for more. If you’re not going to diligently refresh pages, you’re better off removing them altogether. Empty or outdated sections show a lack of professionalism and dedication, and will turn prospects off.

In addition to frequently updating informative pages, you should also clearly promote and regularly rotate products on high-traffic areas of your website. If you offer reference tools, such as an online parts lookup system, clearly promote and reference them in how-to articles to better target the do-it-yourself (DIY) crowd. 

Following are some proven best practices to keep your website fresh:

Showcase searchable inventory with key features and options, complete specifications, and eye-catching photos and videos to drive more qualified traffic.
Promote and regularly rotate products on high-traffic areas of your website.
Prominently display and cross-promote products on your website, such as the parts lookup system in how-to articles.
Provide complete service information, such as service menus and Q&As for the DYI crowd to drive incremental sales.
Highlight promotions to encourage visitors to take action. They should be featured on a “Specials” page, on a banner ad space above the fold on your homepage, and with each item on promotion.
Position your site as the local authority to encourage visitors to return.
Promote events — yours and others in your area — to become the go-to site for enthusiasts.
Feature testimonials to build credibility with prospects and loyalty with customers.

Concise information

Let’s start with some revealing numbers:

You have an average of 3.5 seconds to catch your visitors’ attention.
Visitors spend an average of 30 to 90 seconds on most websites.
Visitors are unlikely to scroll “below the fold” on a Web page: 80 to 90 percent only read content or click links located above the fold.
Visitors scan content in an F-shaped pattern, searching for visual cues or links to navigate to their area of interest, all in 3.5 seconds.

You need to adjust your writing style to users’ preferences and browsing habits. Self-serving, promotional writing will not be read. Long text blocks will be ignored if they don’t include images or keywords in bold or italics. Exaggerated statements will be ignored. It’s about them, not about you. The “What’s in it for me?” factor plays a pivotal role in convincing visitors to take action, whether to request more information, or, better yet, buy products and services online.

It’s business. You should get to the point as quickly as possible with short and concise sentences. Your copy should be informative and easy to understand, leaving no questions in the minds of visitors, other than how to contact you for further information on a product or service of interest.

Considering visitors’ short attention spans, you have to deliver relevant content laid out so it can be quickly scanned. Categorize the information, using multiple heading levels, visual elements and bulleted lists to break the flow of uniform text blocks and focus their attention on key points.

Last but not least, pay attention to your search engine optimization (SEO). Higher rankings drive more traffic to your website. Search engine “spiders” crawl through your website and scan the content, then match the results with search terms to determine your site’s ranking. Your keywords should be relevant to your business and geographical location (e.g. “lawn mowers for sale in Indianapolis, IN”). The more a keyword is repeated within the text on your website, the greater the likelihood of a higher ranking in search results. So, embed target phrases throughout your website, including the headline, near the top, and at the bottom of each page. Copywriting for search engines is an art: the perfect balance between keeping your Web copy readable for visitors and keyword-rich for search engines.

 Clear navigation

Lead your prospects. You have to anticipate their needs and quickly drive them to the relevant portions of your site. Clear navigation means that every page should be obvious and self-explanatory, featuring a clear structure, moderate visual cues and easily recognizable links. There should be a singular focus on each page of your site.

Finding product information, contacting your dealership, and making a purchase should be quick and easy. If not, your site will fail to convert browsers into buyers. The less work for prospects, the faster they’ll find what they want and take action. 

Contact strategy

All Web leads are not created equal. Online browsers range from hot leads to long-term buyers just starting their research — and everything in-between. Your website should have something for everyone. Every page should include a relevant call to action that encourages prospects to raise their hands and find out more. Offer opportunities for further information via online forms, such as “Contact Us,” “Get More Info,” “Request a Quote,” or “Request Service/Parts.”

In addition, optimize your Web forms for leads and sales — Keep them simple and short. “Requiring” contact information is quite different than “requesting” it. Requiring answers to too many qualifying questions could annoy and scare off prospects. For example, phone numbers should be optional on a request for information.

When requesting a phone number, buyers may provide it 50 percent of the time, but if you require it, you will likely generate fewer leads as buyers may feel pressured. In the case of a service or parts request, requiring a phone number makes sense.

 That’s why it’s important to have multiple forms to encourage prospects to move to the next level. Generally, there are two types of forms:

Short forms such as “Request Information” should only require the name, e-mail and zip code (for territory assignment). However, we do recommend that you request a phone number.
Long or detailed forms should be used for trade-in evaluations or service requests where additional required fields are expected.

A minimally invasive form will have a higher sales conversion rate. Require only what you absolutely need and save the nice-to-have information for later in the sales cycle.

Remember to display your phone number prominently. To boost the number of inquiries you receive, include your phone number in the top frame of your website, which will make it appear on every page and encourage prospects to call you. There is no better time for you to talk to prospects than when they are on your site, so you can use it as a presentation tool.

A solid call-to-action strategy should mirror the five stages of the buying cycle — Awareness, Consideration, Preference, Action and Loyalty. Hand-hold prospects while they do their homework. Drive them from the Web to your showroom faster by consistently fulfilling their needs until they are ready to make a purchase.

Usability and utility – not looks alone — determine the success or failure of a website (i.e. its ability to make money). Since visitors are the ones who click and decide, user-centric design has become a standard, proven approach to developing successful, profit-oriented websites. After all, if visitors can’t use a feature, it might as well not exist.

 Brad Smith is product manager at ARI, a leading provider of technology-enabled business solutions for dealers, distributors and manufacturers in the outdoor power equipment, powersports, marine and RV industries. Products and services include eCommerce-enabled websites, lead generation, lead management, Search Engine Optimization, Search Engine Marketing, and eCatalogs (parts, garments, and accessories). Smith can be reached at (414) 973-4459 or via e-mail at Website:


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