Before any company can successfully employ any online marketing tactics, you have to have a company website. And when it comes to that website, you probably think you've thought of everything, from the initial design to website usability. You've hired a professional designer who claims to specialize in website usability, and you spent weeks agonizing over the best color scheme for your company website. You've brought in a search engine optimization company who got you #1 rankings on Google for every conceivable phrase in your industry. Your marketing department tells you that your online marketing tactics have caused traffic to your website to soar, bringing in hundreds or even thousands of visitors every day. This may sound like a very successful endeavor, but what kind of return are you really getting on your investment?

Understanding What Your Website Is Doing for You

You may have spent tens of thousands of dollars on developing an eye-catching, state-of-the-art website and employing all of the latest online marketing tactics, but do you have any idea what percentage of your total revenue begins with a visit to your website? Do you know what percentage of visitors to your website actually contact your company for more information or make a purchase? Even more important – do you know how many potential customers, ready and willing to buy or inquire, left your website because they were unable to find the information they were looking for – information you probably have available and could have given them - today?

If your company is like a lot of companies, the answer to all of these questions is most likely, "No." Despite the website's obvious and infinite potential to help drive sales and increase revenues, most companies do not give the area of website usability enough attention. When investing money in online marketing tactics like search engine optimization, pay-per-click campaigns, online advertising, or e-mail marketing, you know that it is critical to consistently evaluate how effective each of these strategies is and which online marketing tactics drive the most targeted visitors to your website. However, it is even more critical to evaluate your website usability, or, how valuable your website will be to the potential customers you target.

Why Increasing Conversion Rates Is Just as Important as Increasing Traffic

Whether a visitor types your URL directly into the address bar or is targeted by online marketing tactics you employ, when someone visits your website, chances are that he or she is already interested in learning more about what your company offers. All you have to do is provide that information. Unfortunately, most companies do not take advantage of the opportunity to convert these anonymous visitors into qualified inquiries and/or customers, and, in fact, turn these potential buyers away and into the waiting arms of their competitors.

Online marketing tactics like search engine optimization can be extremely effective, but only if you've also considered the issue of website usability. When you optimize a page of your website for "IT security," what types of visitors are you hoping to attract? Unless they have already decided to purchase your products, these visitors will most likely have questions they need answered in order to make a decision. If it is not easy to find the answers to those questions from that page of your website, these visitors will probably return to the search results and visit any one of the many other companies listed there instead – more money down the drain, wasted on online marketing tactics that will never be effective until you've addressed website usability.

Statistics have shown that most Internet users who leave your website without finding what they are looking for will never come back to give you a second chance. If you start by simply using online marketing tactics like pay-per-click campaigns or e-mail marketing to drive twice as many visitors to your website without increasing your website usability, you may double your web-generated revenue (inquiries), but you may also double the number of people who leave your website with a negative feeling about your company. If, instead, you could double your conversion rates by improving website usability, you would still double your revenue while actually decreasing the number of discouraged visitors to your website, with no additional costs or marketing campaigns to manage. And, a higher conversion rate means that any marketing dollars spent to drive traffic to your website through other online marketing tactics are more efficient and more effective.

Using Website Usability to Turn Your Website into an Effective Sales Mechanism

Website usability is easily the most overlooked factor in website development, and it's also the area that the fewest web designers truly understand. Content, design, navigation, load time, and other factors will either help convert visitors or drive them away. In developing your website, it is important to design around what your typical customer wants and expects rather than what you may think is "good" web design. For example, many companies commission exhaustive websites built in Flash with impressive graphics and rollovers. However, extensive website usability studies of Internet users report that many people find such websites difficult to navigate and slow to load, two of the biggest reasons that people leave a website and never return. In the real world, even the most attractive, engaging showroom needs to unlock the doors for customers to enter, and the same is true online.

Website usability is often a struggle between users and designers. It may offend your web designer's sensibilities to use a fluid page layout that allows visitors to make text smaller or larger if they so desire and adjusts easily to different monitor resolutions. After all, adjustments in these elements change the visual image he or she has worked so hard to create. Or maybe the traditional blue underlined hyperlink doesn't "go" with the color scheme you chose. When faced with a choice between aesthetics and website usability, you need to ask yourself if you would rather spend $5,000 creating a piece of artwork with your company logo on it, or if you'd prefer to spend that money creating an interactive sales tool that helps potential customers to learn about your products and services and move visitors brought in by online marketing tactics into the sales pipeline. A visually appealing site is certainly an asset, but a website's primary function is to be useful, not artistic. When it comes to your company website, function should win out over form every single time, or you'll be turning away visitors in droves.

Getting the Most out of Your Website

While they are all very powerful, none of the online marketing tactics out there that will pay off as well as enhancing your website usability. Focusing on the needs of your visitors by providing them with a site that is easy to use and answers their questions will almost always result in more sales and more revenue for your company, and it follows that doing so will, in turn, enhance the effectiveness of any future online marketing tactics like search engine optimization or e-mail marketing. Not only will having a more usable website improve your bottom line, but you will also increase the number of people leaving your website with a favorable impression of your company – one which they're likely to share with others when asked for a recommendation.

Discuss this article in the Small Business Ideas forum.

April 11, 2007

Erin Walker is the Director of Conversion at Medium Blue, a search engine optimization company.

Search Engine Guide > Erin Walker > Making Your Online Marketing Tactics Count