17/02/2012 05:49 GMT | Updated 18/04/2012 06:12 BST

Prevention Before Cure: Preparing and Keeping Your Website in Order

In competitive marketplaces the web, related social media and even mobile channels can be unforgiving. The window of opportunity to entice and maintain interest is limited if the quite straightforward approaches aren't adopted. Fail here, and the task of 'turning the frown upside down' could become an impossible mission.

Therefore, the best course of action is to follow the prevention before cure school of thought - where presenting the brand properly within digital environments better assists in establishing health and maintaining it. Businesses may be at different points on their journeys in terms of their website; e.g. a new site, a refresh, or maybe it's a little grey around the sideburns. They need to check on the health of their sites, which shouldn't be managed in silo from the rest of its operations. Above all, the impact that any health check and implementation of changes may have should be tempered with what may have an impact with the offline presence of the business. Indeed, how they should be managed, so that they are seamless.

Focusing on websites, there are many approaches that businesses could take not only to give their brand a digital health check, but implement processes taking into consideration many other facets that have an impact upon the business.

Every website owner should know more about their web presence and site. On a basic level how their customers arrived, what they did when they got there and how they left. Without knowing this basic and essential information, all facets of a business (including customer services, marketing, PR and sales), whether it is off or online may suffer. With real-time tracking available now, the excuses not to do this are limited. The internet is a lot less forgiving than any other medium available today, due to the rate it moves and how much more social it has become. It's a combination of factors that influence and instil confidence. Some of the factors seem so simple and obvious, and from experience the devil will be in the detail and addressing the simple obvious issues can separate success from failure.

The ways best to avoid common mistakes include looking at some of the top mistakes below*.

Website performance. Monitoring site performance, e.g. referrals, how users arrive, entry pages and most popular / unpopular pages can help a business ascertain how their activity off and online impacts the traffic driven to a site.

Unmasking interest. Monitoring drop off points and exit pages and understanding why the user has left; allows the business to find and apply measures to reduce this from happening. It could be a number of reasons, so this needs to be addressed as soon as is able. With many free and low cost web analytics tool with countless tutorials to guide businesses owners, there isn't an excuse not to embrace this.

Reeled them in? Seal the deal. Complicated or long billing process (perhaps users cannot see the submit button, or it's too small and so on) which deters visitors from making that all-important transaction. Web analytics can monitor entry and exit to purchase, so this information should be available at business owners fingertips ensuring more informed decision to help perfect this process.

The final purchase. After addressing the above, having the transaction process as smooth as it can be could be all undone at final hurdle due to restrictive. payment methods. If businesses are online, then they should be trading online and in doing so have international appeal (and in turn its product / services). Payment methods should reflect this being secure, flexible with plenty of choice for the end user. There are numerous providers that cater for this and the upside is they will make more sales catering for credit wise customers, who are more security conscious than ever. Aesthetics are incredibly important, but a site and business need to do more than this. Beyond providing great products, services and 'being good, or doing no evil', the appeal to customers can be achieved by addressing some simple requirements below.

The digital check list*

  1. Create, and maintain sensible URLs throughout the site taking visitors on interesting journeys
  2. From web analytics present clean, crisp and intelligent websites that are easy to navigate, but think how online can translate into offline promotions / presence
  3. Avoid usability and accessibility issues, ascertaining how users can access and interact with the brand (think mobile, tablet and web)
  4. Have more than a form to get in touch, provide a postal address, telephone number and so on
  5. State how long web enquiries will take to be answered, particularly if serious about customer service and building much need long-term relationships and pass-a-long factor
  6. Explain pricing structures easily with special offer or discounts shown clearly, remember everyone loves an offer and bargain
  7. Explain returns policy (and/or refund); a clear and simple explanation (in plain English) of what it is and what it entails
  8. Present clear privacy and terms and conditions (T&Cs) that may be read at visitor's leisure and are reviewed as necessary
  9. Ensure that it is clear to whom the website applies. Businesses are global with a web presence, so if there are any restrictions (e.g. UK delivery only) state this from the outset to avoid disappointment
  10. Think social (incorporating social media into retail activity), but don't be governed by it. Appreciate how word-of-mouth can be shared with positive and negative experiences

As a rule of thumb, become your audience; use and test your website as if you are a customer (new and old). It sounds obvious and even cheesy, but businesses may look at their website differently, though someone else's' eyes.

Next time, how to manage a brand online with a website and what your options may be.

*Note this isn't an exhaustive list, but an initial guide of what to consider.