Your Online Brand: The Three Most Important Things You Can Do
Your online brand is as important to your business success as your website itself. In fact, a website design without a strong brand may very well prove to be a detriment to your business, online and offline.
As a brand consultant for the past 15 years, I have had the opportunity to help many organizations make more money via integrated marketing strategies, including website development and online branding. Some organizations take branding very seriously and manage their brands like they manage their finances, while others consider branding an afterthought if they consider it at all. Often, it's this latter group that experiences wild fluctuations in sales and revenues as the market ebbs and flows.
Why is your online brand so important?
Online, your brand is communicated through your website's entire visitor experience. Beyond the website design, look and feel, corporate color palate and logo, your visitor “experiences” your website the same way they would if they visited your office, except it is more personal.
Imagine going to the local mall to buy some shoes. You arrive at one of the mall's many entrances and, without instruction, are supposed to find a shoe store that a friend told you about. You walk the halls and ask around, but no one knows where the shoe store is. You look at the mall information signage, and the store is not listed. You're frustrated. You want to buy some shoes and have limited time. You know exactly what you want, have money in hand, and after 15 minutes of looking, you give up and leave the mall. This is exactly what happens when someone visits your website and can't find what they are looking for. Except they leave in seconds.
If your website design does not provide an easy, rich, and friendly experience for your customers, then they will leave. Worst yet, they will remember a negative association with your business. Whether you own a business that sells its products online or offer a place where your visitors are coming for knowledge or validation, the experience your brand offers will be the difference between a win and a loss.
Building a strong online brand takes a whole team of experts. Many organizations think that they can hire a programmer and, with a little help from marketing, they can post a new website that will provide a return on investment. This approach often results in a lot of wasted time and money. If you are building a website for the first time or enhancing an existing online presence, do it right and hire the experts. If this is not an option there are three areas that you should pay particular attention to.
Three Areas Essential to the Value of Your Online Brand
1. Graphic User Interface
Start with the website design or look and feel. Does it look professional? Is it consistent with your offline marketing collateral? Your website should not look like an afterthought. No matter your business type, your website should be a strong representation of your organization. Check out your competitor+Cs sites and make sure your website looks as good if not better.
- Colors, fonts and graphics should be consistent and easily readable
- Avoid stock photography and clip art if possible; If you must use stock photography, make sure it comes from a reputable source and try to avoid something that may be used on many other sites
- All imagery, charts, graphs should be professionally rendered
- Offline and online communications styles and voices should be consistent
2. NavigationIs your website easy to navigate? Can visitors that have never been to your website easily find what they are looking for? If you have limited budget, ask some friends to peruse your site and tell them to find specific things. If it takes more than two clicks to find something or if your friends can not complete the task without your input, your navigation may be too cumbersome.
- Navigation should be located in the same place on every page. Don+Ct make your visitors re-learn your website structure from page to page.
- Make sure your contact information is readily available. A visitor should never have to hunt for a phone number or address. Ideally, place your phone number on your home page or in the header/footer of every page.
- Test your website in multiple browsers. (Internet Explorer, Safari, Firefox, etc.) Every browser displays your website differently. What works in Internet Explorer may not work in Firefox.
3. ContentThe content of your website is key to a valuable and rich visitor experience. A beautiful website with excellent navigation will not matter at all without great content and vice versa. Your content should be catered to your target audiences. Define every audience type that might visit
your site. Develop content and a rich experience that speaks to each of these audiences
respectively. Make sure you are providing more than just information about your organization.
Provide value. Visitors are often looking for more than just information, they expect value through the whole experience. Value can be provided in many forms, including: product or service videos, expert advise, product comparisons, industry knowledge, etc. Ensure your website offers visitor engagement at every turn.
- If you have information that can be communicated in a video, then do it. Visitors like video. Most people would rather watch than read. Keep the limited attention span of web users in mind, however, and keep your videos short and to the point.
- If using video or photography have it professionally developed and compressed for the web so that it loads quickly and looks attractive.
- Provide value and prove that you are an expert or prove your product is the right choice. This means you can+Ct just serve up an online version of a brochure. Give your visitors information they can+Ct find elsewhere.
- Details, details, details. Offer visitors options for detailed information. This can be product information, assembly instructions, employee profiles, etc. Think about everything that a customer or prospective customer would want, and then put it online.
- Build content for each of your target audiences. Your content should speak to your target audiences individually and specifically. Show your visitors that you understand them and know what they want. If your website was built for the masses, do not expect mass attrition.