Five Keys to Optimizing Your Website on a Shoestring

by Kevin Casey on November 12, 2010
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“If you build it, they will come.” Sounds great when whispered by Ray Liotta in an Iowa cornfield, but it makes for a lousy website strategy. So will this work? “If you build it, they will not only come but flawlessly complete every transaction.”

Yeah, right.

We highlighted a story last week about travel giant Expedia and how a minor tweak to its website led to a major windfall. But Expedia is just that: GIANT, to the tune of roughly $3 billion in revenue and 8,000 employees. It has a few bucks and bodies to throw at its site. So what’s a business with tighter resources to do?

1) Use your own site – One cost-efficient method of testing and optimizing your site is to become your own quality assurance team. Use your site as if you were a customer. If you have employees, get them involved, too. Devoting even a small amount of time at regular intervals can help you catch errors and inefficiencies. Remember that your site is a living thing — it needs some TLC to thrive.

2) Don’t assume customers are savvy – If you’re at ease in the online world, you may forget that some of your potential customers don’t feel the same. I once worked on a redesign where we watched a focus group test the new site. Our side of the two-way mirror began snickering when one user struggled with a supposedly simple step in a transaction, until the room went quiet as it realized the joke was on us: The prospective customer was unable to spend a dime on this multi-million-dollar website. You can’t please everyone, but you should put a high value on convenience and ease of use.

3) Trim the fat – You’ve probably heard the long-standing “less is more” adage. It has stood so long for a reason. Too many sites still push unnecessary extras. If your online store sells hats, it doesn’t need a rock-n-roll soundtrack and a weather ticker scrolling across the homepage. That’s the equivalent of a car dealer pushing rust-proofing and luxury floor mats. Audit your site page by page and cut the dead weight.

4) Spy on the competition – Make it a regular practice to visit your competitors’ sites so you don’t fall behind. That’s not to say you should do everything as they do — for your sake, let’s hope they make mistakes — but you need to know your competition to ensure you offer the best.

5) Put your customers to work – If your website doesn’t work for your customers, it doesn’t work for you. Ask for their input — the good, the bad, and even the ugly — so you can enhance what your site already does well and improve what it doesn’t. Odds are your customers will appreciate the opportunity to give direct feedback, but if they need some prodding consider giving them a one-time discount or other incentive for their time. Small businesses even have an advantage here: You’re likely already much closer to your customer base than a corporate behemoth.

Kevin Casey is a business writer for Intuit and is passionate about solving small business problems.

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