The most common question I'm asked is whether a website can actually generate leads. A valid question, considering most small businesses have had their sites for years, without scaring up enough new business to cover the costs, much less deliver a return on investment.
I've compiled a short list of the most common deficiencies.
1) No Eyeballs! Without any traffic, your website is doing nothing for you. The beautiful photos you uploaded, the text you laboured over with your co-workers… all worthless.
With Google's algorithm updates, over the past few years, SEO has become a content play. Your company needs a content strategy, with a commitment to publishing regular, relevant content. A serious, "take no prisoners" SEO / content marketing plan, can turn things around within about 5 to 10 months.
2) No UX (User eXperience) Strategy Most sites are built on the cheap, from an off-the-shelf cookie cutter template. Websites are viewed as necessary evils of business — like business cards — and the owners invest accordingly, with bare bones budgets.
It's important to invest the required time and money in determining exactly who your audience is, how they will be using the site, the kind of content they're looking for, and then creating a site specifically for your customers.
And be very careful about your competitors' sites. Most of them have absolutely no idea what they're doing online… including the bigger companies that are coasting on a reputation they built 10 to 15 years ago.
3) No Content Strategy Not only does content increase rankings and traffic, it increases your authority and credibility in your industry. By publishing valuable content on a regular basis, and promoting it through social channels, you build your subscriber base. Subscribers may download a white paper, or receive access to special content, in exchange for their email address; or they may choose to subscribe to your blog posts in an RSS reader.
Why do you need subscribers? Many leading online marketing gurus believe that the primary purpose of a website is to build your list of subscribers. Subscribers represent "influence", and these people have given you permission to influence their buying decisions again and again.
4) No Conversion Strategy Let's say you hired an SEO, you've got top 10 rankings on Google, you're blogging regularly, you've got someone working social media… Eureka!, you have traffic. Sadly, rankings and traffic alone are no guarantee of leads or sales.
An effective website delivers regular and extremely valuable content on a regular basis. It does not ambush the unsuspecting visitor, pouncing on them, then attempting to hold them in a headlock.
I see this all the time. One hard close after another is delivered, the equivalent to a sucker punch in the gut, followed by a few kicks to the groin. Those aggressive tactics may have worked last millennium, but we have a far more informed consumer in 2014. We have to demonstrate plenty of value before they will ever listen to our pitch.
Trust is earned over time, based upon value received.
5) No Lead Nurturing Strategy One of the most effective conversion strategies uses irresistibly helpful emails, sent out to opt-in subscribers. The emails are so valuable, your readers actually look forward to receiving them each week. They don't try to sell anything. There are no shameless offers. And every email provides a link to even more quality information.
The landing page, for that link, includes a short form that requests contact information, and asks one or two questions. The top fields of the form auto-fill, so it isn't much bother to answer a question and download the white paper or ebook. The questions change, and over time, the CRM (contact relationship management software) collects a whole file of useful information on each subscriber.
Your team begins following these leads on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and LinkedIn. A wealth of additional information is gleaned that way, and it's time to actively engage in conversations with these people, on topics loosely relating to the product or service you sell. Through relationship building, very soon your cool lead becomes very warm.
Most websites are tendered out to a low bidder, or someone the business owner knows through family or referral. Without a proven marketing strategy and careful rollout of that plan, all you have is "a website".
Without "eyeballs", it's like a box of brochures in your company's supply cupboard. Completely worthless without distribution and promotion. Even if your site does see the light of day, with a few visitors, it doesn't collect leads because, like most sites, it was assembled to make you happy enough with the style, look and feel, that you cut the designer a final cheque.
To me, that falls well short of the spectacular lead generation tool your website can be. I believe that web design should contribute to profit, not overhead.
Cole has been designing and developing websites since 1997. He’s a content strategist and writer, conversion copywriter and online marketing coach.