I’m always surprised by the number of websites I visit that are difficult to navigate, slow, not mobile friendly and weighed down with unnecessary information and lack a clear message about who they are. Brick and mortar business owners know they wouldn’t survive long if their store had no signs, no lights and horrendous wait times. Yet businesses make equivalent mistakes with their websites all the time.

Let’s face it. We live in a world where people will Google a business before they visit it. If your online presence is a mess, it’s likely you’re losing a lot of customers. Your website is a big part of your identity. In order to make the best impression, be sure the following components are solid:

 

Content

Great content begins with finding your voice and having a clear message that resonates with users. Content is what allows your site to feel original, credible and answers questions about who you are. It is the backbone of your site and is what drives search engine optimization, or SEO.

 

SEO

SEO refers to the process of attracting users to your site. For years there’s been a demand for “SEO experts” who can work magic. You want the secret to an effective SEO strategy? High-quality content. Search engines give top scores to websites that give users what they want in the form of engaging information. If users like your story and trust you, they’ll buy what you’re selling and recommend you to others by linking to your site.

 

Speed

Another component that will affect your SEO ranking is site speed. According to research by Google, users expect pages to load in two seconds or less. After three seconds, up to 40% of people will move on. The average mobile site takes over fifteen seconds to load. To test how well your site performs, tools.pingdom.com offers a free speed test and tips on how to fix bottlenecks.

After your site loads, the next challenge is to quickly convey your message. Millennials have an online attention span of about 8 seconds. For Generation Z, that time drops to 2.8 seconds.

Your website should immediately communicate what you do and how you will make your customer’s life better:

Geico: “15 minutes or less can save you 15% or more on car insurance.”

CageRat Baseball: “Help your son reach his baseball goals.”

Nike: “Bringing inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world.”

 

UI

The user interface is the look and feel of your site. This is where imagery, color, shapes, typography and form come together. Your website should flow seamlessly. A user interface is like a joke. If you need to explain it, it’s not very good. Stanford Web Credibility Research found that 75% of internet users make judgments about a business’s credibility based solely on how their website looks.

 

UX

I’m a big fan of beautiful sites, but it’s not enough that a site looks beautiful. It must function beautifully and be engaging. Creating a great user experience, or UX, starts with having an empathetic understanding of your user’s needs and what they value. Craigslist is one of the ugliest sites out there, but it’s proof that being pretty is not a prerequisite for being popular. The site is bare-bones minimal, but it provides what users want and its lack of polish promotes trust. Sites like Amazon place a premium on information flow, functionality and speed versus aesthetics. While it’s best to have all of those things, never sacrifice good UX.

 

Mobile First

Designing an online experience for mobile devices takes priority over desktop. Almost 60% of site visits come from mobile users. Mobile traffic has increased over 220% in the last 5 years and this trend is likely to continue.

Testimonials

Testimonials establish credibility because real customers are telling your users that the decision they’re about to make in using your product or service is a good one. Unlike a sales pitch, a good testimonial comes across in an unbiased voice and establishes trust. Testimonials create an emotional appeal for your branding and convert users into customers. According to Bazaarvoice’s Conversion Index, they generate roughly 62% more revenue for businesses.

 

Call to Action

Whether it’s “Buy Now,” “Join Free for a Month,” “Subscribe” or “Read More,” every website should have a clear call to action. It should be highly visible, grab the user’s attention, create a sense of urgency and be no more than 6 words. Users should know that following through on a CTA will help them solve a problem or benefit them in some way.

A website is one of the most important investments you can make because it has a profound impact on your business’s perceived credibility and quality. Be sure that your site is the best reflection of who you are.

Melissa Brown is a web developer at SimpleDzn.com and former business professor at the University of Alaska. She can be reached at melissa@simpledzn.com. This column is brought to you as a public service by the UAF Department of Applied Business.