It’s a common story: the eager business owner SO excited about their newly-developed whiz-bang website that is now going to send their sales figures through the roof.
And just as common is the fact that the results tend to be the exact opposite – the equivalent of ‘dead-air’ on the radio!
I hate to be the bearer of bad news here, but websites aren’t a magic portal through which you can follow the White Rabbit into Wonderland where all your customers excitedly await your presence, ready to unquestioningly throw money at you for your products or services (although that sounds pretty amazing if it were only true).
Sarcasm aside, in real life the business owner is left perplexed as to why their website DIDN’T generate a huge increase in sales. Perhaps their design wasn’t flashy enough and/or they needed to throw a higher budget at it? Or maybe it’s just a bad market out there right now and it will pick up? Or it’s possible nobody needs their product or service right now? Whichever reason the business owner chooses to comfort themselves by believing, it usually isn’t the real reason why their website isn’t working for them.
One common reason for low website sales is bad website functionality.
Yes, functionality. NOT the website’s design.
In the case of a website that isn’t increasing sales, we could also say it might be offering the customer a poor shopping experience.
I believe it is critically important to distinguish functionality from design.
Design covers the website’s appearance – its layout, its colour scheme, the fonts that are used, the website theme that is being used, the way the website displays for the user on different devices, and many more aspects along these lines.
Functionality, in contrast, refers to the way the website works for the user – does it lay out the most logical data the client will be searching for when they first land on your page? Where does it lead the user to next? Does it assist the customer in finding their way through your sales process and help ensure their enquiry converts to a sale?
To illustrate functionality in a practical example, consider how a customer might use a paint shop website:
- A logical first function of the website would be to ask the client what job they need paint for, thereby determining the best paint for their job.
- The next step may be to then lead them into the colour scheme section to help them consider their options, and get them more serious about the sale.
- The website might then help the customer calculate how much paint they will need for their project.
- Finally, it would be logical for the website to either get them to lock in their choices by leading them to the cart to secure their paint or encourage them to contact the store with a quote number to finalise the sale.
- And a good ‘fall-back position’ might be for the website to invite the customer to sign-up to the store’s mailing list to get more tips on DIY paint projects for the home (thereby getting the customer’s details into your database, just in case you lose them in this whole selection process or they aren’t quite ready to commit to a sale).
Hopefully, the above shows how functionality is a case of make or break for your website. Just displaying everything you do isn’t enough – a website just can’t be a fancy catalogue anymore, it needs to be one of your salespeople!
The key thing to consider when it comes to functionality is that it NEEDS to reflect your existing in-person sales processes in order to guide your potential customer towards a sale in the way that works for you. For every industry and niche, this process is different and so no two websites would achieve this in the same way.
From my perspective, the best way to create a successful website really is simple:
Design your website so it reflects your business’s real-life activities.
Most businesses do the exact opposite: they allow a designer to set up a website with a similar image to their business, but their entire focus is on how good it looks and how modern it feels. From what I have observed, there appears to be no thought for how the client is going to perceive or use the website and how successful the client’s user experience will be (which will usually reflect in resulting sales).
In reality, your website shouldn’t stand alone as a solitary sales tool – it should be a part of your sales funnel. Put simply, your sales funnel is the way you want to lead your customer through all the steps in your sales process in order to gain their business. It also should include options that retain the customer’s interest when they aren’t ready to spend money with you yet (which is a large percentage of browsing customers).
I see a sales funnel as best portrayed with a flow chart, as per below:
When a potential customer first lands on your website, what do they first see? Is it your logo (which, by the way, doesn’t mean much to most people unless you are a large corporation who has millions of dollars to spend on exposure to their brand)? Is it your mission statement? Is it why a customer should be buying from your business and an outline of all the reasons and benefits? If you said that last option is what is on your home page, then I would say you are on the right track! Most websites do not do this, and this is what makes the majority of websites carbon copies of each other.
Once your client has read your home page – and bear in mind, this is usually the only page of a website a client will assess, within a brief 30 seconds, to determine if you have what they want – where to next? Do you offer them all the steps that you would offer them in-person if they attended your store or had spoken with you over the phone or via email? Does your website encourage them to sign-up to your mailing list just in case they navigate away from your page quickly or get distracted in the middle of the process? Do you make clear the location of all the information the customer might need to make their purchasing decision? And so importantly, do you make clear what countries you service, your contact details, your shipping processes and your physical location (if you have one)? Yes, all this is a lot to take in, but you NEED to think like your customers in order to offer your customers what they need!
The important take-away from all this: YOU the business owner, need to come up with the website plan. This doesn’t mean the design – this means the flow chart of your website. Draw one up (or do it on computer) and make sure it comes with you when you meet-up with your website designer.