We often think of a website as just a few pages on the web, and back in 1999 that was a pretty accurate description. But in 2013, things are quite different. Today a website needs to be much more than a “page.” Your website should be an experience. What do I mean by that? Well, let me give you a few examples of media experiences: movies, TV shows, radio, eBooks, blogs, photo galleries, animations, video games, video chat, social media websites, apps . . . The list goes on and on—and what’s interesting is that all these things can happen on your website. Now, I’m not about to recommend that ALL these things happen on your website. That would be a bad experience. You need to pick and choose your media and curate a positive experience for your website visitors.
How, you ask? Well . . .
1.Express Your Brand’s Identity
Every company, artist, author, and musician will develop an identity over time. Some of this identity is given, acquired and created. Chances are you have already done a great deal of work establishing your own brand identity. It could be infused into various aspects of your work such as your writing style, the way you dress, the colors you like, or a period of history that inspires you. Designers often talk about a brand’s visual brand identity. Brands with a strong visual identities can be recognized by anyone anywhere. When you look at your website does it express your brand identity? Do the colors, photographs, and videos all support the essence of what your art is? Probably not entirely. This is a difficult and ongoing task for all website owners. Take a look at your website. Are there some easy changes you can make to make it represent you better?
2.Invite Interaction on Your Site
Your website shouldn’t be a one-way conversation. Why not invite your visitors to interact with you? A website can be a portal for comments, videos, chat, social networking and more. The easiest way to invite interaction is by including social media features and a blog where your visitors can interact with you. Also don’t forget to encourage your fans to join your email list. Besides the wonderful tools available, you can hold contests, ask your users to send you photos, essays, and other content that you can post on your site. Co-create your website with your users and they will always come back for more.
3. Keep Your Site Consistent
This goes along with “brand identity” but also involves user experience. If every page on your website has a completely different page layout, different colors, different buttons, different fonts, different kinds of content, etc., your users will become confused. They may not even realize they are still on the same website after a few clicks because so many things have changed. Now, I suppose, some people might intentionally create a chaotic web experience, but if this is not your goal, try to use consistency to help your visitors easily get what they want and learn about your brand identity at the same time.
4. Use More Than Words
No I’m not referring to the 90’s hit by Extreme (though it still gets stuck in my head now and again). By all means write brilliant copy, but also use pictures, videos, surveys, and signup forms. Use whatever you can to tell your story and involve your audience.
5. Don’t Forget About Screen Size
More and more people are using tablets and mobile phones to access websites. Does your site render well on desktops laptops, tablets, and phones? Using responsive design is a perfect way to make sure your website works well on all devices. (Also: avoid Adobe Flash. It doesn’t work on most Apple devices).
6. Offer Value
Why do we go to websites in the first place? Because we think there are things worth experiencing on the web. What does this mean for website owners? You’ve got to give away killer content for free. I know it hurts, but that is how the game is played. What do you think would happen if you had to pay a fee every time you visited a website? Well, we’d probably all still be reading newspapers and creating more and more deforestation. The trick is to build an audience by offering great free content on your website, then gently suggesting they buy your premium content once they have become invested in your brand. For example: stream a new single on your website every week, but encourage your fans to buy the album, or publish a few poems or stories from your eBook and encourage your readers to buy the whole thing if they liked it.
7. Don’t Send Your Website Visitors in the Wrong Direction
Your website is your home base. This is the most important place your visitors can be. Yes, it’s good to give your fans the opportunity to follow you on social networks, but try to publish all your best content on your website. Instead of linking to an article, video, or photo elsewhere, just embed it on your site so your visitors don’t have to go anywhere.
8. Give Them Some Options
People love choice. So offering more than one way to experience your website can be a good thing. Some people like to read. Some people like to watch videos. Why not offer a transcription of your video so both parties are happy? Also, don’t use auto-play on your music or videos. Let visitors decide for themselves when they want to hit the play button. Otherwise they might just hit the “back” button.
9. Monitor Your Visitors
Use Google analytics or a similar analytics program to learn about your website visitors. Where do they come from and where do they go when they land on your site? This can help you improve your website experience. If you have a lot of visitors from mobile phones, work on your mobile experience. If your bounce rate is high on a page, maybe it needs some improvements. If people never click on the button you want them to, maybe you should feature it more prominently. Analytics can tell you a great many things about user experience and what is working and what is not.
10. Update Your Site Often
As web users we expect websites to offer us new content on a fairly regular basis. If every time I land on your website, there is the same article about that horseshoe contest you won in 2006 and nothing else. I’m going to stop coming back.
Do you have any ideas for making web experiences better? Please weigh in in the comments below.