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Do you recall your last website project?

The one where you spent months planning, creating content and perfecting every last detail only to find out that nobody visits it? Whatever happened to the promise of “If you build it, they will come”?

The grim reality you have to face is that the website you developed four or five years ago does not make the cut in today’s interactive culture, and most new websites being developed right now are not up to snuff. Websites need to multitask. They need to display information, collect information, guide visitors, measure and, most importantly, they need to work for you. Websites are not a “set it and forget it piece” in your marketing puzzle—they need to always be changing and improving. If you build it, will they come? Will they convert? Will they share? The answer is not quite that simple.

Here are 10 ways your website can work harder for you:

1. Websites collect data (and your marketing team needs to understand how to use that data). Installing an analytics tool on your website can take very little time, cost you very little money (Google Analytics is free) and the data you collect can be used to help you make better marketing decisions by understanding your visitors and their behaviors. Getting a clear grasp of your website analytics can help identify the actions needed to make your website work better for your business. If you really think about it, data has become the digital marketer’s focus group.

Website Big Data

Example: Amazon.com. By collecting data about its current customers’ behavior and previous purchasing patterns, Amazon.com is showing me relevant products on their home page as well as in emails. The company is using the data they have collected about its customers to create a more customized shopping experience. In the image you can see how Amazon.com shows me the books that I’ve looked at before, but never purchased.

2. Websites attract relevant traffic and keep them coming back. Ensuring that your website is optimized for relevant search traffic is important, but you also need to be equally concerned about what happens once a visitor lands on your website. Is this traffic converting or are they just leaving? Are you giving them a reason to stick around and a reason to keep coming back?

Make sure your website is enticing visitors with both hard and soft calls to action. Soft calls to action, such as newsletter sign-ups and whitepapers, generate interaction with website visitors who may not be ready to pull the trigger on your actual product or service. Hard calls to action work to lead the visitors who are ready to buy right to the primary conversion point. These are your “Click here to buy” type of buttons.

3. Websites display what the customer wants to see. Websites are not just a mass communication tool. They actually work really well when they show your visitors what they want. With shrinking attention spans on the web, if a visitor does not see what he wants want he’s more likely to go elsewhere.

Example: Vaughn.edu. Many higher education websites are now offering a listing of “quick links” on their home pages: one for prospective students, one for current students and one for alumni. College marketers realize that each one of their audiences requires different information and provides a simple way to access the most popular content to each group. Similar features can be found on all kinds of websites ranging from hospitals to banks to e-commerce websites.

4. Websites are visually appealing and evoke trust. This isn’t exactly a new idea, but the design of your website is still vital to its success. The modern website needs to play the role and fit the part; a business website can’t look like it was designed by a middle school student. Your navigation and user interface needs to be simple and make sense. Dorothy, we’re not in 1996 anymore.

Website Trust Mint.com

Example: Mint.com. Would you connect your bank accounts, investments, loans and all other financial data to a website you’ve never heard of? Probably not. This is the challenge that Mint.com, a financial tools website, had to overcome. It uses a significant portion of its homepage to gain consumer trust. Pull quotes from articles in trusted publications, customer testimonials and even validation through social media by showing the number of Facebook Likes they have help to lend credibility.

5. Websites integrate with social. Piling up a row of social media icons is not going to cut it anymore. Social media widgets from Facebook and Twitter have been helping to further integrate social media into websites. Best yet, these social media sites make it relatively simple to get started. Facebook has tools you can use to create the code to paste onto your website. Twitter’s widgets and badges are drop-dead simple as well. There is no excuse to not have social media integrated with your website.

6. Websites validate with social. Showing off a high number of likes, shares, reviews or comments on your products socially validates your products and services, especially when a visitor has never heard of you before. This type of social validation can be seen across the web. Blogs display how many comments a post got and e-commerce sites show the number of reviews. This has become very visible on Bing’s search results, which use social data to try to provide more relevant results:

Bing Social Search Results

7. Websites play host to a marketing strategy. Websites need to be a lot more than just an online brochure for your brand, they need to be a strategic element in your overall marketing plan. Landing pages for lead generation programs work to attract prospective customers and collect important information, allowing your sales team to close the deal. Great content on your website can fuel your social media activity, create opportunities with search engine optimization and strengthen your domain authority.

Here’s something else to chew on: according to SiriusDecisions, 70% of the buying process happens before someone is willing to talk to a sales person. Your next customer is on your website right now, researching what you offer and comparing you to the competition.

8. Websites tell visitors what to do next. Leaving your customers to navigate your website however they want might not yield the results you are looking for. More websites are placing additional attention on what happens when the visitor reaches the bottom of a web page. Where do you want a visitor to go when they reach the bottom? What do you want them to do?

Mitch Joel Social Media Blog

Example: Six Pixels of Separation. One of my favorite bloggers and podcasters, Mitch Joel of Twist Image, offers readers links to related posts and tags to explore content. He also has icons for sharing, printing and commenting. When you finish reading, he’s suggesting what you should do next instead of leaving it up to the reader.

9. Websites are tested and tested again. It is odd to think that a small detail like changing the color or placement of a button can boost click-throughs, but the data is out there that proves it. If you are not testing your headlines, images, buttons and calls to action, you are most likely missing out on conversions.

10. Websites react to devices. We live in a multi-screen world and as our browsing, searching and sharing habits become more mobile, your website needs to be ready to receive mobile traffic. It can be a real pain to pinch and zoom into the copy of a website, scroll back and forth, up and down, zoom some more and try to hit that tiny button to get to a specific page. Don’t create a bad mobile experiences for your customers and clients. The time to think about the experience your website is delivering to mobile customers was last year. The time to get moving on mobile is now.

Modern websites have so many functions and features. What is necessary on one business website is unimportant on another. What would you add to this list?

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