Evaluating Your Website Like a Job Applicant

When hiring new employees, you likely form a first and lasting impression of applicants based on their appearance, and whether they appear to "have it all together" during the interview. If applicants look sharp, and offer all the right answers, you're likely to hire them.

The way customers "interview" and select a financial institution, retailer or any entity with which they want to do business isn't much different. What is different is that many businesses today do not have web sites whose appearance, content and usability accurately reflect the high quality of the institution behind the site.

Just as the resume from a prospective employee speaks volumes to their experience, your site is a direct reflection on your organization. Watch for these opportunities to shine, while avoiding common pitfalls.

If you want to draw visitors deeper into your site, provide fresh content on the home page and main landing pages. Using purposefully worded, topical and attention-getting headlines will draw visitors in. When visitors notice that your content changes regularly, they are likely to scan for interesting items, rather than clicking past without a second thought. Not just any content will do though, your visitors must find it interesting!
If your site has gone without updates for more than a month or two, members may already be conditioned to ignore your main page content. If you want to win their attention back and turn your site into a marketing tool, you'll need to keep your content consistently updated, at least as often as visitors are likely to frequent your site. For example, if you're a bank and you know that customers will hit your site twice per month, your content should be updated at least twice per month.
Adhere to usability standards for developing words and selecting graphics for your web site. Text should be concise, scannable (bullet points are well-received) and provoke a call-to-action. You should only use graphics when they add value to the page, and for your visitors' sake, keep the file sizes small.
Resist the temptation to place your monthly brochure directly on the web as it appears in print. If visitors put in the effort to navigate your site, you risk turning them away from your message if they see it exactly as it arrived with their mailbox.
Ferrari's aren't designed by amateurs, and neither are great web sites. Credibility, security and professionalism are attributes that your site can convey to visitors. Technology offers tremendous opportunities to build relationships with visitors, and reduce service delivery costs. To realize these benefits, you need to make visitors comfortable with your services, and nothing makes them more comfortable than a site that looks professional, secure and most importantly, is usable!
To save money, many organizations have designed their own sites, or hired low-cost development firms. Unfortunately, visitors can usually tell the difference between a professionally developed site and one that was created "on a shoe string." If your site doesn't appear secure, professional and usable to visitors, they simply won't use it. The opportunity costs are significant if you're not maximizing your web site investment.

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A blog by InetSolution about programming, security, design and marketing for banks, credit unions and e-commerce.

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