Too many businesses take a "launch it and forget it" approach to their website, which leads to out of date content, inaccessible pages, missing images and files. Not only can this create a bad experience for customers, it's also bad for business. To create a great experience, keep on top of your web content, regularly checking pages and links.
A small piece of forgotten content
I recently purchased a new mountain bike and was frustrated by the registration process. Using the printed registration card I typed in the warranty address only to find the page broken with a directory listing. Annoyed, I visited the main site and scaned the navigation for warranty or registration menu items. No luck. Up next, the onsite search box. I tried typing in both 'warranty' and 'registration'. Zero results.
Frustrated at this point, I gave up and emailed support (the last resort). After a few days I received a response that filling out the warranty isn’t required – as long as I have my receipt. But, if I felt better registering, I’d find a link in the footer of the website.
Knowing that there’s no real reason to register, why would I?
Every experience a customer has with your site informs their opinion
This experience left me with two impressions:
- The manufacturer’s warranty form is really just a method to get my contact info for marketing. This is disingenuous, but since I'm a fan of a company and they’re upfront about how they plan to use the info, I’m ok with this answer.
- A company website is a reflection of the quality of their products and services. The smallest details can cause frustration, which leads to a bad impression of the brand. A similar problem during the research phase of a purchase may have caused me to select a different brand.
What caused the problem?
Most likely the company’s warranty cards were printed before the latest redesign of their site. When the site was redesigned, the link to the warranty page was broken.
This is bad news for an established website. Not only was I unable to register, but other pages they had indexed in search engines may have stopped working as well.
The manufacturer launched the site and forgot to take small details into account. Instead of treating a website as an evolving business tool many companies simply launch it and forget it, leading to bad customer experience and lost revenue.
A strategy for avoiding “Launch It and Forget It”
To avoid "launch it and forget it," use a strategy that designates one person in your organization responsible for making the site the best it can be. This probably won't be their primary job, so add the task to their schedule. Assign a page or section once per week – even 10 minutes will improve customer experience.
With a large site this work can be split amongst departments with one person co-coordinating the review process. Some things to consider:
Create a list of all pages on your site in a spreadsheet. Add a column for the page name, the address, who’s responsible for content and the last review date. Consider adding a column to keep track of suggestions and opportunities. This document helps coordinate where and by whom the website needs attention.
Audit offline materials
Review all marketing and service materials (brochure, flyers, manuals, commercials) that have been released to the public. Do they contain website addresses? If so, test each address to ensure it works. Don't forget to check documents for each language your company operates in.
Avoid broken links
Use a site-scanning tool to scan for missing files. On Mac, there's a great tool called Integrity, for other platforms there’s LinkChecker. A quick Google search will reveal many other tools.
Some tools will export a spreadsheet, which can be used as a base for your site quality checklist. Google also has a free tool called WebMaster Tools that supplies a list of broken links and other useful info. Your developer can help you install this free tool.
Provide a 404 page that helps not hinders
404 is the name for a page that is shown when you hit a broken link on a website. Most of these pages simply say the page is not found. Not the most helpful message ever written.
Take this opportunity to help your visitors get where they want to go. Include a search box and a site map with links to your most important content. Want to take it to another level? Add your phone number. Broken links will get fixed quickly and your customer (or potential customer) will be impressed.
Review content not just links
Take the time to read content. Does it still make sense? Does it reference an out of date feature or document? Is it customer-focused or does it use internal dialect? Was the content written in the same style as other pages on the site? If not, make a note and have someone review it.
If a fallen tree blocked your business entrance you'd notice right way and deal with it. Non-functioning forms and processes are just as bad for your business but not as easy to spot.
The best way to ensure key processes work is by testing them yourself. Go through order processes and registration forms regularly. If they’re important to your bottom line, schedule frequent testing.
Email is still important
Spam filtering helps get rid of the junk but can prevent you from seeing a great business opportunity or service request. Ensure your contact form is working and is being received by the appropriate people. If you’re able to, have a backup copy of every message stored in a database that can be scanned by a human for legitimacy.
Ensure every page still works
Websites can be finicky things. Often a change made to one file can impact an entirely different area of your site. A server upgrade or configuration change can break a process that once worked. New versions of web browsers can make a once useable form impossible to fill out. These types of problems are hard to avoid with the constant change in tools, technology and features. Test often.
Test internal search forms
When a visitor can't find what they're looking for in the navigation they head for the search box. A quick look at your stats should tell you what terms customers are typing in. Take the time to type in those terms to see if results meet user expectations.
Remember my bike? When trying to register there were no results for the terms that I use to describe what I was looking for.
Review raw log files
Yes they still exist in the Google Analytics era. These raw server logs can be provided or reviewed by your developer. They contain all of the pages and files that people are trying to get to that aren't there. If people are still hitting a missing registration form from another site, search engine or by typing you'll be able to put in a redirect or take other measures. Just think of all the marketing the bike manufacturer could have done if their registration form worked.
Listen and adjust
When a customer takes the time to write to you with a complaint, it’s an opportunity to fix a problem and improve your brand experience for everyone. Make notes and adjust easy to fix problems right away.
When re-launching a site
When undergoing a redesign it's important to audit all pages on the existing website. If files are being renamed during the process, they should be redirected with 301 redirects. These will help visitors with the old link get where they want to go, while not loosing valuable search engine page rank.
As a customer, my experience with your brand doesn't end with my purchase. I'm really happy with my new bike, but preventable errors and an unnecessary registration process caused me frustration that continues to cloud my opinion of the brand.
Every interaction with your company has to be great.
To avoid "Launch It and Forget It", it's key to have someone responsible for your website constantly making improvements. Even the smallest thing, like a broken link can leave a customer with a bad experience. How do you ensure customers have a great experience with your website?