In a Google-first world, an out of date, bland or generic website can be a very significant business liability.
While the positives of any website are easy to track – in the form of inbound enquiries, low bounce rates and even customer feedback, what about the negatives?
Perhaps the business’s reputation precedes it, and so some customers and prospects are happy to overlook any failings of the website. But what about those that are not? How many times have customers been lost before the sales process even begins? Or when potential A-player candidates thought not to apply or even refused an interview after checking out the online presence?
For busy business owners, it can be easy to miss the signs. And that is where the employee voice is key.
Employees are totally tuned in to the issues affecting clients and the messages the business needs to present to the outside world. As Keren Lerner, Founder and Managing Director, Top Left Design, explains, employees’ impressions of the company’s marketing, including the website and social presence, is a vital indication of the state of health of the organisation. It is time to listen.
A good website will easily communicate a business’s ethos, objectives and deliverables through a mixture of strong design and layout, shaping, branding and good copy. Yet while for any small business it is the owners that define the company’s voice and vision, the temptation to abdicate responsibility to someone who was not part of that initial business vision can be an expensive mistake. Marketers have all the skills and techniques required to create an engaging website, packed full of social media feeds and content – but they don’t have the love.
The result is that while the business is innovative and inspirational, the public image is generic and bland. Yet business owners are often oblivious – unless someone is brave enough to make the point!
But who? More often than not, it is employees who are best placed to flag website problems; the people on the front line who are often struggling to meet goals due to the inadequate online presence.
If any individuals are too embarrassed to point prospects, suppliers or friends towards the website or resistant to using dated social media profiles there is clearly a problem with the online presence.
If these same individuals do not feel able to share that situation with the business owner, it could indicate a very real lack of collaboration and communication internally.
How can a business owner ensure employees are empowered to share their concerns and, if necessary, trigger a website refresh or redesign?
In today’s increasingly collaborative working environment and culture, switched on business owners should be proactively encouraging employee feedback. These individuals are not only working with customers and prospects, suppliers and partners, but also playing a key role in expanding and building the team to support business growth.
Of course no business owner wants to be continually deluged with random comments about possible improvements to certain areas of the website, or one-off pleas to add a Snapchat account. Instead, feedback needs to be part of an overall business plan. Opening the discussion and planning a meeting where all employees are asked to bring their views on the current website and ideas for improvement is a positive step. It not only demonstrates to employees that their opinions are valued, but also ensures key messages are included within a brief for a new marketing and website strategy.
From customer feedback to the quality of competitor websites, this open forum is an invaluable opportunity to combine the owner’s voice with the expectations and experience of employees – and reinforces a strong company culture built on shared values and objectives.
Employee input should not start and finish with the open discussion; they need to be part of the on-going website development. Today’s websites are a world apart from the original static brochure style sites, with their lists of products and services. Sites now are live, dynamic and interactive, designed to bring customers, prospects and partners back to the company again and again through the use of innovative content and thought provoking discussion to build long-term engagement. Organisations need to use the skills, expertise and experience of employees to continually enhance this dynamic environment – from live links to active social media profiles to creating new content, such as blogs and eBooks.
Building on the initial discussion by creating a brief, appointing a company to help with the development, setting a deadline for the launch and defining plans for continual updating – all with a clear timeline – are key to ensuring the project retains momentum.
It is also worth a business owner including a number of employees within the development process. Adding those individuals with strong experience of the target audience – such as the Head of Sales or Relationship Manager – to the discussions on design, content and social profiles with the web design agency can be very valuable both to the initial development and longer term. These are the individuals whose expertise will play an important part in creating the articles and blogs required to build long-term customer engagement. It is their social media activity that will drive prospects and potential recruits to the website. Getting their buy in up front, ensuring they are trained to update blogs and so on, will be vital to ensuring they are truly committed to this website – rather than perceiving it to be just one more task on the list.
Given the change in business culture that has occurred over the past decade and the shift towards a more collaborative model, the majority of owner-managed businesses will recognise the importance of better employee/management communication. The website should be one of the most important – and obvious – indicators of a business’ culture; an exact and precise lens not only into the organisation’s business activity but also the beliefs and passion that inspired the owner to found the company in the first place.
Those businesses that have opted for a generic web presence are not only failing to present the company in the best possible light; they are potentially undermining staff morale and confidence.
Consider the website as a flag; a real indicator of business culture. And welcome the employees’ perspective. They want a website that is a true business showcase, something they can proudly present to prospects and customers, suppliers and potential recruits. Actively encouraging employees to share their opinions will support the creation of a website and marketing plan that truly reflects the business and market expectation. This open attitude will also improve employee morale and reinforce a powerful business culture.
Allow that employee voice to be heard.
About the author
Keren Lerner has run her Soho-based design and marketing agency, Top Left Design since 2002. She leads a time of seven talented and creative people who thrive on helping their clients make a bigger impact.
Keren regularly speaks at events and provides training and inspiration for other businesses helping them to improve their marketing and discover their ‘unique greatness’.