The history of the company website began with the paper brochure that was handed out at trade shows, to street passersby or busy building entrances to unsuspecting victims (prospects). When the Internet came into play, this same brochure was handed to a web designer who turned it into a beautiful website.
This made sense at the time: Brochures were static, the website thingi was new and mostly static, and companies had to spend lots of money to have these brochures designed. However, having a “brochure like” website is where the trouble starts for many business marketers and owners today.
If your website is like many of the websites we see, it is a one-way broadcast tool—think PA system. We find that people visit these types of sites once, click around, and never return. Why? Because nothing on these sites, which are filled with sales-oriented messages, compels them to stay.
The web was originally built to be a collaboration platform by Tim Berners-Lee in the 1980s, and while it took a couple of decades to get there, the web is now truly collaborative. Instead of broadcasting to their users with a PA speaker, the top-ranked sites today have created communities where like-minded people can connect with each other.
In order to take full advantage of this collaborative power, you must rethink your website. Instead of “PA” think “hub.” What we want you to do is to change the mode of your website from a one-way sales message to a collaborative, living, breathing hub for your marketplace.
If your company is like most others, you put all your online marketing energy on your site. Seventy-five percent of your focus should be on what is happening off your website concerning your brand, your market niche, and your competitors. Your focus should include creating communities outside of your site for people to connect with you, your products, and others within the community. Ultimately, this “outside” focus will drive people back to your site.
In effect, you want your website to be more like Kampala City than Kotido. Kampala has several major highways running through it, various major business hubs, three huge taxi parks, one major train station, a king’s palace, state house, schools and so on. Kotido has one highway passing through it, no airport, a lousy taxi park, and no train station. The highways, trains, buses, and airplanes to your site are the search engines, links from other sites, and thousands of mentions of your company in the social media. All of this is what turns your website into a magnetic hub for your industry that pulls people in.
Over time, many people will become regular readers of your website and subscribe to it. These readers won’t visit your site directly to read the content, but will consume your content through a social media and regular newsletters that allow content to be pushed to those users who are subscribed. That makes it very convenient for your readers to automatically know when you have created new content on your site without having to constantly revisit to see if there have been updates.
Sharing your site content changes the dynamic of your site from a static brochureware site that someone visits once to a site that’s living and breathing. Every time you post something new, your subscribers get that update automatically and are pulled back onto your site.
The same goes for email. So you should give site visitors the ability to subscribe to your site or sections of your site via email. In the same way as sharing, this keeps your prospective and current customers in touch with your website — and by extension, you and your company — a totally different paradigm from an online brochure.
Hey, I’m not kidding here! You want to distribute your site’s content to social media sites, such as Twitter and Facebook, where it can spread to new, interested audiences more virally. If you do this properly, people will consume your online content while using these applications, not just on your website.
You may be interested in reading: Stop Frustrating Your Website Users
If your company is like most others, you are currently in the process of or thinking about redesigning your website. Here is the typical process we see.
For the first month or two after the redesign is complete, you love your new site and can’t stop looking at it. It looks fantastic and your wife and mother are very pleased! Around three months or so later, you start to nitpick about certain things — the navigation is not quite as cool as ‘Sijui’ Company’s, for example.
By about six months after the new design, those nitpicks are now starting to really bug you—the background image looks a little dark, and the font choice isn’t feeling right anymore. By the time nine months has passed, you start thinking that if you have to look at your site for one more second, you will go zombies, because you are so sick of that new design.
The problem is, you spent a lot of money and the design process took six months, so you don’t want to go through all of that again—budgets, delays, content creation, and other matters to address.
Then about a year after the new design, something really great happens: You get a new Marketing Manager who has the brilliant idea to rebrand the company with new colors, a new logo, tweaked value proposition (verticals this time), and while we are at it, let’s get rid of that tired website. Great news — you can start over! Rinse — repeat.
The reality is that most websites look perfectly fine. The colors are fine, the menus are fine, the logo is fine, the pictures are fine, and so on. You personally do not like the look of your website because you look at it so often. Your visitors, on the other hand, are not particularly interested in your site’s colors or the type of menus used. Your visitors are looking for information — something interesting they can read and learn about — which is why it makes sense to focus on getting people to consume online content through other means such as email and social media sites.
Save the millions of shillings and countless hours you were going to spend on the redesign of your site and do three things.
Before you begin making the changes I would recommend, take some time to measure where you currently stand in order to track your progress and results as you implement changes.
The first thing you should measure is the number of subscribers you have. By subscribers, I mean people who subscribe to your email newsletter list. Also include the number of people who are following you on social media sites, including your Facebook page fans, members of your LinkedIn Group, and followers on Twitter. If you do not have any subscribers, fans, or followers, relax mahn — that can be changed.
I recommend you read: Understanding Social Media Traffic
The more people following/subscribing to you, the broader your reach across your niche market. This is exceptionally important, particularly in the case where you have some new product innovations that you want to tell your leads about or get feedback on.
In addition, you should be measuring the number of links back to your website from other websites and the number of organic keywords that are producing traffic to your site on Google. You can get this information from web analytics software and online tools that measure inbound links, such as hrefs.com, MOZ, and Google’s Free Search Console.
The combination of your reach through blog subscribers, social media followers, links into your site, and traffic-producing keywords is the size of your city. You want to make it as easy as possible for people who may be your prospective customers to find your company online. In other words, you want to move from the Kotido model to the Kampala City model.
Volcanoes Safaris, is a leading luxury lodge company in Uganda and Rwanda. they have been at the forefront of reviving gorilla and chimpanzee tourism in the region since 1997. They were the first to set up simple camps in the areas around the gorilla parks twenty years ago, centering their connection with prospects through their blog on the website—and because they write compelling content about their industry, readers spread their articles via email and virally through social media, and they’re often linked to by other travel bloggers. Due to this viral activity, Volcanoes’s blog articles appear often in Google’s search results. Ultimately, the company’s blog and newsletter (which I receive every other month plus invites to their hosted cocktails in Kampala) has helped the company pull in hundreds of bookers to their lodges. If you visit volcanoessafaris.com today, their website looks nothing like a traditional online brochureware site. Instead, it’s an online hub for their industry and includes the company’s original travel blog and information about their facilities and services. One interesting thing about this site is that the look and feel, colors, menus, and other features haven’t changed much since I first noticed them three years ago.
Like Volcanoes Safaris, you must begin thinking about your web presence in terms of an interactive, constantly changing hub for your entire industry— a hub that also happens to sell experiential African Safaris.
Volcanoes Safaris is successful because they leverage the disruptive power of the internet to tip the balance of power in their industry from much larger players, such as Safari Bookings.
While looking at the Volcanoes Safaris site for inspiration, ask yourself what you can learn. For example, what other types of information, other than product specs, would be useful to your marketplace? What types of information and tools can you put on your site that will pull in more people from your market?
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