Six Features Your Website Will Fail Without

By Lisa Barone

Whether you’re a brick-and-mortar or you’re strictly an online shop, you need a website. And while many small business owners are starting to come to terms with this, I can’t tell you how many SMBs I’ve spoken to who have spent considerable amount of money (often five figures) on a website that simply “didn’t work.”

Either it didn’t do a good job selling, wasn’t spiderable (please don’t build your whole site in Flash) or simply didn’t address any of the things important to wary customers.

Don’t let this happen to you.  Make sure your site will give customers the information they need before you invest in a flashy (no pun intended) design.

Below are six things your website should absolutely have. Are you covering all your bases?

1. Intuitive Navigation

A user landing on your website should not have to spend time deciphering how to work their way around. Instead, it should be intuitive. Don’t put your navigation on the right-hand side, don’t make it all Flash, don’t hide the search box, and don’t make the links so tiny a potential customer would need the physical dexterity of a neurosurgeon to click the right link. Make it simple. Something else to consider: Call things what they are instead of trying to be clever. The place where items go once a user attempts to buy them is a Shopping Cart. Call it a “product receptacle” and they’re not going to have any idea where that link goes. And then they may run away scared.

2. Sticky Content

What separates your site  from everyone else trying to be you is the strength of your content. For that reason, it’s really important that you highlight some of the “sticky” content you have on your site, preferably directly from your home page. What type of content qualifies as “sticky”? Maybe it’s that e-book you created, a business checklist you allow users to download, or the most recent article from your blog. You want to have something that will attract a potential customer and lure them further into your site. If your website is a blog, then consider using something like WP-Sticky to bring attention to the posts or articles you most want to highlight and the ones you think visitors should read first to understand your brand promise or what you’re about. Bringing attention to your best content brings attention to the best parts of your brand. Show it off a little.

3. A Blog

This probably isn’t too surprising, but I’m a really big believer in small business blogs. As an SMB, there is no better way to establish a point of difference, become known for thought leadership or consistently attract links and attention than by putting a blog on your site and using it to share information and/or start conversations. You don’t necessarily have to update it every day, but get yourself on a schedule for sharing quality content with your audience.  Your blog is your company voice and what gives your company a personality.

4. Your Address, Phone Number & Contact Information

One of the most powerful ways for a small business owner to establish credibility is to include a local address, phone number, and a few ways for customers to get in touch with them (e-mail address, Twitter, Facebook page, etc.). By highlighting this information, you show people that you’re real and that you’ll be easy to get ahold of should they have a question or a concern. This information is also super important from a search engine optimization standpoint because it gives the search engines important cues about where your business is located and what areas or neighborhoods you’re relevant to. Make sure this information is highly visible on your website.

5. Reviews

It used to be that online reviewers were simply used as another way to establish credibility, but in 2011 they’ve become much, much more important. With the introduction of Google Places, Google Hotpot and Google placing review information right next to business listings, it’s important that small business owners not only encourage reviews, but also be proactive about getting as many of them as they can. As the Web gets more social, online reviews are being shown to have more weight and prominence.

6. Calls to Action

Users are on your site. Be sure to tell them what you want them to do! You want to create a clear path for visitors to navigate through so that they’re naturally achieving all the goals that you’ve laid out. If you want them to buy something, set up the offer and then show them how to do it. Then take away all their distractions so they have nothing to do BUT click the “buy now” button. If you’re trying to educate the people who land on your site, make sure you’re directing them to the resources and articles your site features. Your calls to action should be as clear and intuitive as your navigation. It’s the only way they’ll work.

For me, those are the six things your site absolutely must include. What do your six look like?

This post originally appeared at Small Business Trends.

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