Thursday, July 16, 2009

Website Features: What Do You Really Need?

What website features do visitors expect? You decide.

You just registered your domain name. You’re one step closer to that dream of your own website and finally, financial freedom. But now what? Well, if you’ve signed on with a good web host (one who values your site’s success because it ultimately means the web hosting company’s success) you’ve got a box full of goodies to play with in designing your website.

You don’t need a pricey site designer. But you do have to decide on what your website will display and which features will be left out. There are lots of options which means lots of decisions – and there are pros and cons to each one.

A Secure Checkout

Pros: If you sell a product or service, and you accept payment over the web, you don’t have a choice. You must have a secure checkout with SSL encryption to ensure that sensitive personal information isn’t snared by a bad guy. The alternative is to use PayPal or some other payment service but the more payment options you offer, the more your offerings will move out of the warehouse.

Cons: Cost, for one. If your web host doesn’t provide free checkout software, like osCommerce, it could cost you a bundle. On the other hand, people want to pay with credit cards as long as they believe the transaction is secure.

Also, opening a merchant account – one that allows you to accept credit card orders – is going to cost you – sign-up fees, per charge fees and a percentage of every sale, so if you’re operating on tightrope margins, these additional percentages may mean the difference between a viable business and one that shuts down after three weeks.

Web hosts should offer free checkout software. And, a premium service will let your site piggyback on the host’s SSL certificate, saving time and money.

A Blog

Pros: Blogs are great for keeping a site fresh with new content. A closed blog (one in which posts are limited to your control) is easiest to maintain. They’re also useful for a couple of other reasons. First, it’s easy to post new content when you have a blog module as part of your site’s infrastructure so you can update daily with a couple of clicks.

Blogs also create site communities. Once a reader begins a thread, others follow the lead and in no time, you’ll discover the same people conducting conversations and debate on your blog. These are visitors who return to your site often. A very good thing.

Finally, blog software should come free as part of your tool kit. If it doesn’t, look for another web host that does offer freebies by the pound at a reasonable price. They’re out there.

Cons: Conversely, if you allow visiting readers to leave comments to your posts, maintenance may become a problem. There’s always some foul-mouthed, trouble-maker who stirs up more interest in his online antics than the topic at hand. As the boss of the blog, you can block these distractions, but that doesn’t eliminate the need to monitor threads. You want an active blog but you also have to maintain it with regular posts and constant oversight of readers’ comments. This means part of your day will be used up in editorial duties, a real con.

Google AdWords

Pros: There are thousands of site owners who create websites for no other reason than to generate PPC (pay-per-click) revenues. They put up a little content, stuff each page with AdWords skyscrapers and wait for the money to roll in. And it does. Some of these site owners see $200 - $300 a month in click-through revenue per site, and if they maintain 10 such sites, it starts to add up to some real “walkin’ ‘round” money.

AdWords is a simple, easy-to-manage way to monetize a new site quickly. You only pay when search engine users click on your link so you’re not wasting money.

Cons: I don’t care how well designed a website is, AdWords – those cheesy little blue links on the top, bottom or side of a web page, diminish the perception of quality in the mind of the visitor. And as we’ve said many times in this blog, on the W3 perception is reality.

If your law firm maintains a website (and it should) you want to project a professional, positive image, not the Lionel Hutz “I Can’t Believe It’s A Law Firm” image.

Another con: click fraud. A competitor can just click on your AdWords link and have all of her friends do the same for five minutes a day. Your AdWords budget gets eaten up by black hat tactics and there’s not a whole lot you can do about it. If you can prove click fraud, Google will give you credit, but it’s up to you to prove the fraud. Google get’s paid whether the click is licit or a scam.

Affiliate Links

Pros: A great way to make cash fast. Affiliates are companies into which you enter agreements. You agree to display the mother company’s logo and link on your site and, in return, you receive payment based on the number of visitors to your site who click on the link and perform some action. For example, put up an eBay link and collect $35 a head plus a nickel for each bid one of your referrals places.

Get a couple of hundred eBay buyers placing bids everyday and that money can add nicely to your site’s revenue stream. Also a great way to monetize a site quickly.

Cons: Same dealeo as Google AdWords. If you access a site jam packed with affiliate links, it doesn’t add much to the process of building visitor trust. The site looks cluttered and cheap.

More negative news: each one of those affiliate links takes up space that could be used to sell your products or services.

And finally, each one of those affiliate links is a ticket off your site. With a click, they’re off looking at something on an affiliate site. You may pick up a few bucks a month in affiliate revenue, but you aren’t making the real money you make selling your own goods or services.

One suggestion: As we said, affiliates do generate cash and fast, so if you’re runnin’ on empty, add affiliate links to a single page with a navigation link labeled “Our Partners,” “Our Favorites,” or “Our Picks.”

Pictures and Other Images

Pros: Pictures sell more than words. Online buyers want to see what they’re paying for and, yes, one good product picture is worth a thousand words. So you will sell more with high-quality pictures.

Carts and graphs are useful for providing a lot of information in a small space.

Cons: Unless you own a decent digital camera and unless you know how to dress a set (the place where the product will be shot) and you know that the product should be lit from at least three directions, don’t use product pictures that you take yourself.

Log on to eBay and look at the range of quality of product pictures. Some are ripped from the web so they look okay. But some are nothing more than a front-on flash that blows out the object to a hot white blur floating against a blacked out background. Awful stuff, and not a good selling point.

If you can get product pictures from your wholesaler’s marketing department you’re all set. If not, have those pictures taken by a professional using a hi-resolution camera, lit properly and attractively staged. It’ll cost you some cash but it’s a lot better than using home-grown product pictures that don’t do justice to the product.

Charts and graphs should also be professionally done, unless you know how to create images in Photoshop or some other image manipulation software.

The Choices You Make Now…

…will often determine the short- and long-term success of your site. And remember, your site will evolve. You may start out using AdWords until your site is pulling in enough traffic to make up the lost AdWords revenue. Then, you drop AdWords and…

… your site takes on a much cleaner, more professional look.

Looking for site solutions, more traffic and improved site performance? Visit for a free site analysis. Hey, you can't beat the price and no strings attached, either. Cool.

No comments: