Have you ever watched a mechanic tune up a bicycle? The changes he makes are generally small: some oil, an adjustment to the brakes, perhaps, and a good pump to the tyres – and yet, when you get back on, everything runs so much more smoothly than before.
In a way, we do something similar to websites: small changes that make them work to the best of their capacity.
What we find fascinating about our business is that sometimes, it only take a few alterations to make a world of difference to your visitor numbers, conversions, or sales. Sometimes those changes are based on a knowledge of typical customer behaviour; sometimes they are based on best practice. It’s always fun to weave some design changes in with some solid SEO work, and stand back to watch the website come into its own.
From the customer’s point of view, the best thing about this is that minor alterations, by their very nature, cost very little.
Today, I’m going to describe some of the small changes we suggested to a client: it’s a perfect example of how a few basic modifications can make an enormous difference to a website.
londonrelocationservices.com – A case study
London Relocation Services is the business of Anthony Gallo, who specialises in finding rental properties for Americans moving to the capital. Clearly, when you are based on one side of the Atlantic and your entire customer base is on the other, a website is absolutely crucial. Not only will it help you source your customers, but it must also engender trust. Moving house is a fraught experience, and if you are going to solicit help, you need to be sure that you are going to someone both genuine and competent.
Anthony came to us with an existing website which was performing adequately, in the belief that it could be working harder for him. We agreed.
Assessing the website
After a chat with Anthony, we identified several major issues:
Architecture: Navigation through the site was not intuitive: like many sites which have grown organically, londonrelocationservices.com had started to break the basic laws of usability.
Ease of contact: As a general rule, we never underestimate the desire of a web user to find everything on a plate. In the old iteration of the site, the user had to click on the ‘contact’ page before they could submit an inquiry.
Impetus: Similarly, nothing was impelling a customer to make contact. The facts were there, but it was left to the customer to make a decision to use Anthony’s services.
Knowledge of the customer: While Anthony was getting customers, he had no real insight into where they were coming from, and no way of discerning which sectors of his traffic were converting the most.
Trust: As we have already seen, trust is vital in this business. We decided to look at ways in which we could increase the site’s credibility.
Design: Good design will help to address the trust issue, of course (and shoddy design downgrades one’s opinion of a site within seconds). While there was nothing terrible about the site’s look, we knew that we could provide something more suited to this business.
Architecture: Because we’re building websites every day, usability best practice is second nature to us. For those who are less experienced, it’s easy to overlook basic principles of navigation or to inadvertently add features that perplex the user.
It’s always best to start with a clean slate, rather than try to tinker with existing labyrinthine architecture. By applying fresh eyes to the business, we were able, after asking Anthony what his basic needs and aims were, to suggest a very simple site structure that adheres to the principles that have evolved since the internet’s inception.
We built the site around it, and the result is a site structure which anyone can navigate. Anthony’s customers might well be web-savvy students who have practically grown up online, or they might be elderly travelers who still find the web a daunting place. Good usability benefits both groups: it’s what the first expect, and what the second need.
Ease of contact: This was a simple one. Where your business depends on customers making contact, put your contact form somewhere prominent. Many businesses know that it’s the decision to make contact that is the hard part – once you have a potential customer’s email address or phone number, you can finalize the sale. If that’s the case, it makes sense to invite contact and make it as simple a process as you can – no five-page forms!
Our solution was simple but effective: we put a form on every page. This allows the user to browse through the pages, find the information he needs – and when he has, fill in the form. If Anthony wants to get clever, he can monitor which page of the site most of his inquiries come from, and thus gain insight into what specific information impels the user to make contact. He can then use this knowledge in other, offline media, or in his subsequent calls.
Impetus: A form may not be enough to get folk to make contact, however: you may find you have to suggest it to them more blatantly. Throughout the site, prominent buttons invite the user to contact the company or to request a call-back.
At the foot of every piece of text, a link suggests the next page the user should visit, making sure that they are not left to make decisions for themselves – one of which may be to leave the site!
Knowledge of the customer: I’ve already discussed one clever way in which Anthony can gain more insight into his customers, above. On a similar note, after we’d talked about the business, we took the fact that Anthony’s customers fall into three distinct categories to allow him even more understanding.
Those who use relocation services can broadly be broken down into professionals, students, and corporate clients. Clearly, marketing for each of these groups will be markedly different. By providing a category on the site for each group, we were able to optimize each page individually.
What’s more, Anthony can examine his site’s log to find out which page is drawing in the most users via search engines and thus find out where there is the most need for relocation services. He can use this knowledge to control his spends on marketing such as Google Adwords and concentrate on the sector or sectors which display the highest level of demand.
Trust: How do you engender something as personal as trust on as impersonal a platform as the internet? Our solution was simple: we’d met Anthony, but his prospective customers hadn’t. A photograph goes a long way to show that there’s a genuine human being behind a company – and with care, you can pick a shot that suggests a wealth of subtle qualities from respectability to warmth.
A small headshot of Anthony, and suddenly the site was transformed: no longer could London Relocation Services have been an unanchored firm, possibly run by any fly-by-night. No, this company has a founder who is not afraid to put his face as well as his name to it. Suddenly, you are dealing with a person.
Our second suggestion in this area was that Anthony starts a blog. We always think that speaking directly to the customer, sharing stories of the business’ triumphs and setbacks, and offering frequently-refreshed content, adds immeasurably to the human side of a website. Quite apart from the many SEO benefits which a blog will bring, it will bring you regular readers, some of whom you may even build up an online relationship with. As such, it’s one of the most valuable tools in a small business’ armory.
Design: Web users are barely even aware of design these days – unless it’s bad design. Subliminal it may be, but it pays to have a design that reflects your business: it’ll do half the work for you of showing just what sort of a business you are.
We design hundreds of websites every year, and we have a lot of experience in matching the right tone to a range of different businesses. After enlarging Anthony’s entire site from 800 pixels wide to 1024, to take advantage of the average user’s wider monitor screen, we applied a subtle range of colors and an elegant backdrop of a London map, immediately matching the site’s theme to its subject-matter.
When customers are anticipating a new life abroad, they want to be able to visualize it, and no site suffers from the addition of attractive photographs. We encouraged Anthony to source photographs of real properties in which he had placed clients.
It’s hard to imagine living abroad before you have even been there, but photographs allow the user to place themselves in a physical environment, and as such are absolutely invaluable.
So: what were the results?
Anthony’s inquiry numbers increased greatly on the very day the new version of the site was launched. The few simple changes we made turned an adequate online business into one that is performing to the best of its capacity.
Would it benefit your business to be receiving many more inquiries than you currently do?
As you can see, there’s nothing revolutionary or even terribly surprising about the changes we made to the site. As ever, we are happy to share our knowledge, and wouldn’t mind at all if you apply the same precepts to your own site. At Notting Hill Web Design we like to operate in complete transparency: if you do not feel confident making changes like this yourself, you may hire us to do it for you, and we will do so quickly, efficiently, and at a price, you may find hard to believe.
Just how much did this all cost?
Like I say, you may find this incredible. All the changes detailed above cost Anthony only £350.00 – possibly the best £350.00 he ever spent.