Does Your Website Need A Facelift? - InformationWeek
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9/24/2010
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Michele Warren
Michele Warren
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Does Your Website Need A Facelift?

If you're a small business with a website, you'll probably agree that having an online presence has taken your business to new heights. But when's the last time you took a look at that website to make sure it's still the efficient, powerful brand-management tool you envisioned it to be? A stagnant website could lead to stagnant sales.

If you're a small business with a website, you'll probably agree that having an online presence has taken your business to new heights. But when's the last time you took a look at that website to make sure it's still the efficient, powerful brand-management tool you envisioned it to be? A stagnant website could lead to stagnant sales.On the other hand, redesigning a website isn't something you should take lightly or approach haphazardly. It requires time, thought, energy, and money, so you need to make sure that you're doing it for the right reasons.

Josh Levine, CEO of Alexander Interactive, a web design and engineering firm based in New York, works with clients big (Campbell's Soup, Schwinn, and Citi included) and small. He says there are seven questions small businesses should be asking themselves to determine whether or not to launch a website redesign (from Levine's article at building43.com, an online community of technology thought leaders). If you answer "no" to any of them, your website may be ready for an overhaul.

1. Has Your Site Grown Gracefully? Has your website stood the test of time? It might have worked exactly the way you wanted it to a year ago, but what about now? You may have made navigation changes, and you've probably added content. "Some of these changes may have been tacked on, and your existing site structure may not have accommodated them seamlessly," Levine says. "Over time, these types of organic changes can make a site unwieldy and impact conversion."

2. Is Your Site Flexible? Ultimately, your website should be easy to update and maintain. It should be moldable to your evolving business needs. "Changing an add-to-cart button from green to red and implementing a quick A/B test should be feasible without five meetings with your IT department," Levine says. "If your site isn't keeping up with your business, you may need to get on to a more agile and robust platform for change and growth."

3. Does Your Site Succeed in Representing Your Brand? As Levine says, the visual design of your website is your "public face." It may not be easy to develop one that attracts users, speaks to your brand, and fulfills your business goals, all at once, but it's necessary. "If your site feels stale, uninviting, and unmemorable, it probably is, and it's time to change," Levine says. "You'd do the same thing for your physical office [space] or reception area."

4. Are You Listening To Your Customers? Your customers are always talking to you; you just need to listen. What are they ordering online? How are they ordering it? (For example, if a fair percentage of customers are picking up the phone to place their orders with a customer service rep instead of ordering online, that tells you something -- negative -- about the online ordering process.) Customers also send you feedback and communicate with customer service, right? "Keep your website user-friendly by observing and listening to your customers," Levine says. "Their expectations will evolve as they're exposed to newer things on the web, and as technology allows for better user experiences. Redesigning around customer feedback is essential."

5. Is Your Site Shopper-Focused? Consider the following questions: -Do you truly understand your shopper? -Do you know the various shopper types and their respective personalities, aspirations, backgrounds, preferences, and tastes? -Where do your shoppers live? -How do they think and interact in the real world? -What is their communication style? -Are your shoppers experts? Or do they need hand-holding?

"Your website design must cater to your customers; your content and labeling should speak their language; and your navigational structure should allow for customers to shop the way they want to shop, not how you think they should," Levine says. "Be there when they need you, and get the heck out of their way when they don't."

6. Are You Using Social Media? Let's face it: People's decisions are influenced by the opinions of others -- whether friends, family, or the latest edition of Consumer Reports. It's a fact, so you might as well embrace it -- or, rather, embrace the machines that feed our cravings to socialize and consult with others. (Think Facebook and Twitter.) Almost every company, no matter its size, can benefit from adding social networking features to its website, Levine says. "The time when you could ignore social media is gone," he adds. "Brands are now regularly leveraging this channel and enjoying increased sales and mindshare."

7. Are You Capitalizing on New Technology? According to Levine, the important thing here is to make technology work for your customers -- and for your business. "Your site can actually define how you run your business, giving structure to your business processes," he says. "The magic of the web is the constantly evolving technical possibilities, and the evolving consumer expectations [that result]." Levine says that every small business should at least consider speeding up their page-load times, introducing new search and browsing methods, integrating product/service reviews, and adding location-based functionality.

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