Posted 10th October 2014 | By Nick Evans, Chairman

Forrester Research's recently published Top Technology Trends for 2014 to 2016 includes the fact that "A great digital experience is no longer a nice-to-have; it's a make-or-break point for your business as we more fully enter the digital age."

What makes the difference here? Essentially, if your customers get a better digital experience at someone else's portal, why would they stay with yours? That "digital experience" is something that has been hard to define over the years, but now, as technology converges, it's becoming clearer. And it's something that your customers are expecting. So here are the top ten things that will give your customers that zing when they visit your website:

Clear structure - the navigation of your website should be clear, simple and user-centric. Multilayer drop-down menus with complex sub menus on the page are not conducive to easy navigation. Try to stick to no more than one layer of sub menu and make the naming of menu items simple and clear. Quirky is good fun, but does it help your SEO or your usability? - probably not. And, as your website grows, ensure it does so organically so there are no odd sections hanging off irrelevant top-level pages.

Friendly, accessible interface - ultimately, how well your website works is down to design. Clear, simple pages with logical connections between them make for easy browsing. Friendly images that are relevant to the content help to ease the brain into what's being said on the page. Systems that serve the needs of the visitor such as shopping carts, or booking and enquiry forms should have clean interfaces and not collect irrelevant data from the visitor.

Flexibility - if your website is responsive, it will work well, anywhere, on anything. With the majority of Internet users now browsing and emailing through handheld devices, not being responsive is a real sales prevention tool.

Fast and efficient website structure and cart system - if your website is on a low-cost shared hosting, it's unlikely to perform well when the number of visitors increases significantly. Prepare for success and ensure you have robust hosting that can be scaled to meet demand. Otherwise your website will be slow, transactional processes will crawl and your visitors will lose interest and go elsewhere.

Findability - Search Engine Optimisation is a must-have for any website which you intend to have competing in the marketplace. Why's this a part of the "great digital experience"? Simply because you will have customers who want to find your website and maybe don't know where it is. Make the process easy - SEO your website for your products and services, your geographical territory and your area of expertise.

Security - don't expect visitors to take the risk of transacting on your website if you have not put in place security to protect them. All transactional interfaces should feature SSL encryption (web pages display with the https: instead of http: prefix) and certification that demonstrates the validity of the security. There should be no insecure connections for transactions - they want to feel safe - so there should be no switching between the website and a payment portal elsewhere on a different site. People should feel that there are easy sign up preferences and unsubscriptions - in that way they will trust you to protect their personal data.

Information and help - your content should be simple and clear (again) not sales blither: good product information with sufficient detail, but not too much. In fact, you need great content generally, not just SEO keyword-stuffed paragraphs. In addition, people like the opportunity to read and to make reviews and comments, or to provide ratings. Video demonstrations or instructions, user help pages and frequently asked questions (FAQs) all help to improve the experience.

Personalisation - people love to think that you, as a company, care about them. Remember them, give them access to their history and help them to buy things that match their preferences and purchasing history. Send them personalised email, promotions that speak to their interests and tailor their experience to match their needs as far as possible.

Personality - something of an extension of the previous point: visitors enjoy having a real person on the end of a Live Chat facility. Similarly, a phone line or a quickly answered email is essential to keep people happy. And don't forget that the company can interact with visitors through social media too - indeed, this is frequently one of the top ways to convey a company's personality.

Merge offline with online - truly integrated online marketing makes sure that everything drives traffic to the website: advertising in all its forms - even on the back of a bus! Posters, mailers, your business cards - everything that tells people about your company, whether online or offline, should point to your website. It's the hub of all information about you, your products and services.

If your company demonstrates a visible understanding of the opportunities that technology offers business, people will consider that you're an up to date company. You're acknowledging that lifestyles are changing, that people buy where they get the best products, prices and service; you know that people are living in a connected world where wearable tech is becoming the norm and new techniques are appearing every day to help Internet users get the most out of being connected. Your company should always be watching future marketing techniques, watching what your customers do, finding what they want, and then tailoring your website to match their needs.

Nick Evans from ExtraMile

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