How to Convert Your Website into a Moneymaker
Deciding that your pet business would benefit by having its own website was easy. However, for many independent pet specialty retailers, avoiding common pitfalls that might make a website a money drainer instead of a moneymaker can be challenging.
At first, commercial websites were designed by early computer experts. These hardy pioneers were quite comfortable in the arcane world of computers, but they woefully lacked communications and marketing skills. The result was a flood of “clever” websites that accomplished little except to make their sponsors look silly.
Those days are over. During the past few years, web design has evolved into a sophisticated combination of art and science. Today’s best sites are powerful marketing and communications tools.
Unfortunately, plenty of the old sites are still around. Worse, more of these types of websites are going up every day. Pet specialty retailers can make sure that their website—whether it’s in the planning stage or is already a reality—isn’t marred by one or more of the most damaging errors of website design by avoiding these seven common missteps:
1. Failing to Formulate a Clear Purpose for Your Site
That might sound obvious, but failing to define and execute a clear purpose is one of the more common website errors—and one of the most costly.
Do you want a website solely to establish an internet presence, with a single page providing basic information such as your address and phone number, and a general description of your business? Or do you want a complete e-commerce site with multiple pages, photos of your store, staff and pets, a description of your specialized expertise, and other data—or something in-between?
Why are you going to the expense of funding a website? Precisely what do you want it to accomplish? If you can’t state your purpose clearly in a sentence or two, you’re probably not ready to dip a toe in internet waters.
2. Failing to Provide Interactivity
In a business such as pet retailing, providing a means for the viewer to interact, or communicate, with the site is a big help in eventually closing a sale. Static sites that provide only for one-way communication miss out on one of the most powerful selling features of a modern website.
3. Failing to Understand that the Most Important Element of Any Website Is Content
Web surfers are looking for information about your business, the nature of your expertise, the quality of your products and why they should look to you for their special pet needs. Details such as design elements and colors should always be transparent to the viewer. If the design of a website calls attention to itself, it has defeated its purpose.
A site cluttered with annoying animations and graphics that do nothing to enhance your message will be a sure turn-off for most viewers.
Perhaps you’ve seen sites alive with dancing bears, cartoons, pulsating banners and other irrelevant devices. If you’re like most people, you have little patience with that sort of nonsense. Such schemes might have a proper place on a high-school student’s web page, but not on your business site.
Make sure that your designer understands how you feel about unnecessary distractions. Graphics that are primarily decorative in purpose should be kept to a minimum. In website design, less is more.
4. Failing to Provide a Simple Navigation System
Web users are notoriously impatient. Viewers who log on to your site want to see, at a glance, the nature of your business, what pet supplies you offer and what they must do to find other key information. If your home page and your navigation system do not provide quick answers, many viewers will quickly move on.
Every page on your site must provide an easy and intuitive way to reach any other page. Internet viewers simply will not invest the time and effort needed to plow their way through a confusing maze of menus.
The most popular navigation systems consist of bars laid out vertically on the left side or horizontally across the top of each page. Whatever system you choose, it must be consistent. At an absolute minimum, every page on your site should contain a “return to home page” link.
Remember: If you allow your viewer to get confused, you’ve probably lost a potential customer. Your navigation system must provide your visitors with enough information to make easy and effective choices—no more, no less.
5. Failing to Provide an Easy Way for Interested Viewers to Contact You Directly
If you have a full e-commerce site, this requirement might seem too obvious to mention. However, if it contains only basic information such as phone numbers and a description of your practice, it will be easy to overlook the need to provide a feedback link.
Prospective customers could have questions that you haven’t anticipated, or there might be problems with the site such as broken links. In either case, a quick-and-easy email link will allow the viewer to reach you with the click of a mouse.
Caution: Once you set up a feedback link, it is essential that you arrange to have your email checked several times every day, and that you respond promptly to every message. Many people regard unanswered email messages as a personal affront. That’s not a good way to build your business image.
6. Failing to Test Loading Time on an Average Computer
The short attention spans of most people today will cause them to move on quickly if your site takes more than a few seconds to appear on their screens.
Excessive use of large graphics, animations and other devices that increase the file size of the pages on your site will increase the time it takes for the page to appear on the viewer’s screen. Many sites are elaborate creations with the potential to win design prizes from fellow professionals, but they accomplish little or nothing for the people who are paying the bills.
If you own a high-powered computer with a lightning speed processor and a ton of memory, or if you have high-speed internet access, don’t use your own system to test your site’s loading time. Find a friend with an average setup.
Then, if your site takes more than four or five seconds to load, you and your designer need to sit down and decide what has to go.
7. Failing to Utilize Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Tools
Search engines on the internet allow web users to type in keywords such as “pets,” “pet stores,” a company name or any other subject. Then, in the blink of an eye, the search engine scans the millions of sites on the web and lists those that have meta tags identical to the typed-in search term.
Meta tags are simply words and phrases that describe the contents of your website and the nature of your business, making it easier for the search engines and interested viewers to find you.
Meta tags aren’t a magic key to site effectiveness; however, they can increase the chances that your site will be included in the list that pops up when a web surfer types in one of those words or phrases.
The use of meta tags is a technical subject too complex to cover in full here. For our purposes, it is sufficient to say that you should discuss the matter with your web designer to make certain that a full measure of appropriate tags is included on your home page.
If you’d like to learn more, log on to wordstream.com/meta-tags. You’ll learn how search engines work, and you’ll find all you ever wanted to know about meta tags.
Once you’ve checked out meta tags, type in a general description of your business. The result will be an education on the creative opportunities that await you in website design.
Steering clear of these seven missteps cannot guarantee a blue ribbon for design and effectiveness, but sticking with these guidelines will help to unleash the full power of your website, lifting it well above many of your competitors’ websites.
William J. Lynott is a veteran freelance writer who specializes in business management as well as personal and trade publications and newspapers, plus consumer magazines including Reader’s Digest, AARP Bulletin and Family Circle.
This article originally appeared in the March 2018 issue of Pet Product News.