4 Guidelines for an Effective Website Makeover
If the recent economic downturn has taught us anything, it’s that we can be smarter with our time and what’s left of our money. Sure, the thought of a new home is exciting, but a smarter option might be to add value by sprucing up the curb appeal of the home you already own. The same principles that work at home also apply to the web.
In any economy, it's just as crucial for companies to strategically engage their audiences. Even companies that have traditionally thrived in the brick-and-mortar world are addressing their audiences online. Many, however, are quickly learning that websites, like homes, tend to accumulate too much stuff over time and grow stale.
Sherwin-Williams’ Minwax division — a 106-year-old American icon and one of the leading producers of wood stains and finishes — found itself in this exact situation. The company has enjoyed a long run of success, but it recently needed to make changes to an increasingly cumbersome website.
Rather than performing a complete tear down and rebuild, Minwax worked with my firm, The Garrigan Lyman Group, to remodel its existing site. Each step was calculated to ensure a desirable user experience, present clear product features, and add elegance to attract a broader, younger audience. Since launching, the new website has garnered a 43 percent increase in site visits and a similar jump in page views.
Whether your company website needs a touch-up like Minwax or an extreme makeover, here are some basic guidelines to follow for engaging new customers and keeping existing ones interested in your products and services.
1. Define your brand at first sight. In an era where access to information is possible anytime, anywhere and anyplace, you have about six seconds or less to make an impression when someone visits your website. As a result, do the following:
- Make sure your brand stands out in a clear, consistent fashion. By clearly defining your company’s products and services from the start, you’ll help create a strong brand voice while also differentiating your brand from the competition.
- Ask yourself this question: What do you want people to feel when they first arrive at your website? For Minwax.com, the site’s purpose is quickly and effectively conveyed through crisp design and copy (color palette, imagery, tone of voice and more).
2. Know your elevator pitch. The Minwax.com remodel began with work on the site’s homepage, where information was culled to include only the most essential messaging. Here are some key ways to make sure your site contains only key information:
- Create concise and specific headlines with clear subheads. This will help your visitors easily find the information they want.
- Provide content that’s descriptive yet straightforward. Also, make sure the content works with the imagery on the page to lead visitors to products and services that match their needs.
- Don’t clutter your homepage with too much content. Sure, this may mean saying no to a lot of stakeholders in your organization, but be strong. On the homepage, smarter and simpler is the way to go.
3. Create a seamless user experience. With Minwax, the new design was applied to each top-level page of the remodeled website. While this worked within the company’s budget, it presented a user experience challenge to ensure that the remainder of the site wouldn’t feel disparate. Here are some ways to create a seamless user experience:
- Give precedence to top-level pages as user-friendly places from which visitors can jump into more specific content.
- Create a look and feel for top-level pages that seamlessly blend into deeper sections by using similar color schemes, content outlines and typography.
- Make minor revisions to second-level pages to close the disparity gap. Remember the 80/20 rule, and resist the urge to rethink everything.
4. Simplify site navigation. Minwax.com's site navigation was restructured to allow visitors to quickly and easily orient themselves and find exactly what they want. It can seem like such a mundane component without the coolness factor of a redesign, however, the most cost-effective fix is often just providing easier-to-understand pathways through your site. The following are a few ways to do this:
- Keep navigation nomenclature simple, providing clear access to key content.
- For top-level navigation, place your most important and heavily trafficked sections to the far left. On Minwax.com, “products” occupies that prime real estate.
- Lay out the remaining navigation in a way that makes sense for your company and its visitors. With Minwax, a natural progression occurs: products come first, followed by learning, then inspiration, application and general information.
By establishing a strong brand presence and employing consistent, recognizable site navigation, Minwax.com has increased recognition among its core audience and even tapped into a younger, do-it-yourself movement. Minwax spent less and got more. Follow these key steps, and you’ll be well on your way to doing the same.
Rebecca A. Lyman is principal and co-founder of The Garrigan Lyman Group, a Seattle-based digital marketing and advertising agency. Reach Rebecca at firstname.lastname@example.org.