I. The Website Audit in respect of the Internet Genies
The Website Audit
Roaming the Internet are harmless Elves and Sprites, mischievous Goblins and Kobolds, and the all-powerful, menacing Google and his Genies. The Website Video Genie was released from his bottle some time ago.
"Aladdin finds the genie in the cave."*
He is getting more powerful by the day. Neither your competitors nor you are going to be able to put him back into the bottle.
The Website Audit
Part I - The Context
Part II - Ask Your Staff
Part III - Ask Your Customers
Part IV - Website Critique Services
Part V - Resources
Part VI - What Hinders People From Buying On-Line?
I. The Context
The website is an integral part of your marketing strategy. It both reflects and determines your positioning and branding. It is also a major advertising medium. The subpage on the marketing audit expands on these subjects. Looking at the website from an advertising point of view extends to quantitative approaches about optimizing an advertising budget. An example is given at Papers: "Dragonfly Ads, Updating Vidale/Wolfe for the Internet."
II. Ask Your Staff
The first question is how important is the website for your business anyway? Is it a key business driver, or is it merely a calling card one has, because nowadays one is expected to have a website?
If the website is crucial, then one should audit it periodically as part of reviewing one's marketing strategy. The audit would begin by asking for feedback internally. An excellent document to use to give that feedback structure is Web Site Review Procedure, written by Gary Polson, an engineer and market researcher. (He is also the author of "Market Research, Industry Research, Business Research, How to Learn about an Industry or a Specific Company," as referred to in the subpage A. Market Research Basics at V. Marketing Strategy of Services.) The lengthy, thorough procedure can be used as the blueprint for organizing a project team for an in-depth analysis of a major website.
III. Ask Your Customers
The more specific your questions are, the better will be the answers you get. Do not ask: "Did you like the meal?" ( = do you like our website?) Rather ask about their purpose (business meal, celebration), their general dining preferences (usually eat at home, at fast food chains), how often they have been there, the menu (ease of reading, foods offered), the prices, the taste and presentation of each dish ordered, the wine, the waiters, the time from ordering to receiving the dish, the tablecloth, napkins, silverware, glasses, porcelan, the table and chairs (how comfortable), the decor (paintings on the wall), the cleanliness - especially of the bathrooms, the general noise level, the background music, the room temperature, their impression of the other diners (for their level of comfort - the Hell's Angel feels threatened surrounded by tuxedos), the ease of making a reservation - and how (telephone, computer), the area, the building, the parking lot, the advertising.
The combination of these factors, among others, makes for the total restaurant experience. That experience determines whether one returns, and whether one recommends the restaurant and to whom. Similarly a variety of factors make for the total website experience, including the browser the viewer uses. Of course one should not ask too many questions all at once. Instead organize them into a series of short surveys. Consider what incentive to offer for completing each one, perhaps a coupon, free pdf download or a prize for the best suggestion.
A survey could be devoted to only:
- the landing page (including how one came upon it)
- product/service descriptions
- the website videos
- the payment procedures
- on-line customer service
- content, specifically helpful information on the website, and navigating to it
- only the English, only the German, etc. version of the website
Conducting the surveys could be a good task for a computer-savy student intern.
IV. Website Critiques
1) Forum critiques - for free!
There are many forums where one can ask for a free website critique, beginning with those relevant to one's own industry, as well as marketing forums. Just two examples are given below.
1.1 - PHP Freaks is a forum devoted to free website critiques. Again, one gets the best feedback by asking specific questions.
1.2 - MarketingProfs offers a brief informal website critique as one of 19 question categories. To obtain it, one opts-in by joining the MarketingProfs, which is free. The know-how exchange of this marketing site is the most active English language one in the world. Upon joining, one receives 250 question points, which one can use for the website critique. As a member, one earns points by answering questions, and spends points by asking questions.
2) Tools, brief examples
Google tools are an excellent beginning. These should be supplemented by ones from other sources as a cross-check.
2.1 - At Google Webmaster Central submit your XML sitemap in order to receive website diagnostic data.
2.2 - The Google Analytics tools allow one to examine your website traffic.
2.3 - The Google Website Optimizer lets you run experiments, including multivariate analysis. The ability to test different website designs, from the landing page onwards, at minimal cost and with real customers is a tremendous advantage of the Internet.
2.4 - At Open Site Explorer you can check backlinks, which are critical for SEO (Search Engine Optimization).
2.5 - In Occam's Razor, a blog by Avinash Kaushik, you will find good tips about web analytics.
3) Modestly priced critiques
Google the phrase "website critiques" to find current offerings. Below are three results, July 2011, by way of example. Be sure to conduct due diligence before spending any money. As a minimum, verify the testimonials and check the guarantee.
3.1 - Soleil Web Solutions offers website critiques for $50 and $200.
3.2 - Darren Slaughter offers website critiques for $200 with two outstanding features, and one marketing blunder. Outstanding is that his service is only for the construction industry. He uses a 38 item checklist about your website, and, again outstanding, sends you a video about his findings. The blunder is that not only does he not offer a guarantee, he states that the payment in advance is non-refundable.
3.3 - Ideally, you want to find a website professional who concentrates on your industry. Another example would be Kathleen Allardyee, whose firm Build Real Estate Results offers website services for real estate brokers and agents.
4) SEO critiques
There are a great many SEO experts. Ask a number of them a question, and you will get as many different answers as there are experts! Two firms to use as benchmarks that offer on-line marketing services with strong SEO capabilities are:
4.1 - hubspot in Cambridge, Mass. (close to M.I.T.) and
4.2 - seomoves in Florida.
4.3 - CGMK Consulting offers a website SEO analysis for $200.
Another good way to receive website and specfically an SEO critique is to put out an RFQ (request for quote) on off-shoring sites such as elance, which also has a German language site. Do this only if you really intend to have work done on your website! As part of the selection process, ask people to indicate what, specifically, they would correct/improve.
Jerry West has written an excellent short article "How to Interview an Outsourced SEO Person," which appeared as a StomperNet blog July 1st, 2011. He emphasizes starting someone out with a small trial project. The eight questions he asks are summarized below. One should read the article for his expert take on what constitute good versus bad answers.
- SEO tools most used
- strategies implemented
- how SEO campaigns are evaluated
- which other SEO experts are followed
- what forums and blogs are read
- biggest SEO failure
- SEO strength
- SEO weakness
1) Continuing education
Consider sending someone on your staff to courses on website design, SEO, etc. These are offered by community colleges, by, in Germany, the IHK and the Volkshochschulen, etc.
< 2.1 - Web Marketing All-in-One Desk Reference for Dummies, 2009 was written by a team: John Arnold, Ian Lurie, Marty Dickinson and Elizabeth Marsten. This 850 page reference book includes a section on what to look for when hiring an SEO professional.
2.2 - Search Engine Optimization for Dummies, 2011 by Peter Kent is one of the better introductions to SEO.
VI. What Hinders People From Buying On-Line?
Six main reasons are:
1) Understanding the need: They do not really understand how the product or offer satisfies their needs. Their doubt ranges from "What is it anyway?" to the more common, "Do I really need that?"
2) Value: Even if they need it, they may not particularly value your offer, or believe they can afford it.
2.1 - The price/performance ratio is not convincing.
3) Alternatives: They see themselves as being able to solve the problem or build the product on their own, or with another provider.
4) Trust: Value (price/performance) is there, but they do not really trust you.
4.1 - Risk: There is too much risk. For instance, you are an unknown provider.
4.2 - Track record, testimonials and guarantee are not convincing.
Video testimonials have more power than written runs. The "best practices" guarantee is the awesome one of Land's End: "Guaranteed. Period." Benchmark your guarantee against that, and also consider using services such as etrust, BBB and verisign.
5) Urgency: Both value and trust are there, but urgency is not. The purchase is not a priority.
6) Call to Action: They are ready to purchase, but the website does not have a clear call to action leading to a smooth and easily navigable way to place an order.
* © Virginia Frances Sterret, "Aladdin finds the genie in the cave," Arabian Nights, 1928, Public Domain, age; Gyan Web Design 2010