Today’s web is fiercely competitive. Staying relevant is no longer simply a matter of having a website – you need to keep a close eye on your competition and see what they are doing, and ensure that your own efforts do not fall behind. And don’t think that because you were ahead of the curve a year ago that you are still there today, either. The web is evolving at an ever-increasing pace, and technologies and practices that were once cutting-edge can (and do) quickly become dated.
When you next review what the competition is up to, here are a few things to be on the lookout for:
Responsive and Mobile Websites
In the not-so-distant past, mobile browsing was a fringe activity. Users who surfed the web on their phones may have been content to deal with designs that did not properly display on their devices, were only partially functional, or even failed to work at all – because they had no other alternative. Today’s mobile web, however, is different. Modern standards for website design and development place high importance not only on cross-browser compatibility (which has been a concern since the web’s inception), but on cross-device compatibility as well. The most popular ways of addressing this issue are responsive websites (which are designed to adjust themselves automatically to the format of whatever device the user is viewing them on) and dedicated mobile websites (which are separate websites to which the user is directed whenever your site detects a mobile device).
Both techniques have their proponents and opponents, but one thing is clear: If you have customers and prospects who are visiting your website via a smartphone, tablet PC, or other mobile device (and you most certainly do), you need to be employing one or the other type of mobile site. And don’t let the fact that your competitors may not all be using mobile-friendly technologies yet give you cause to rest on your laurels, either. Simply sitting back and assuming visitors will be content with a website that is not optimized for mobile is simply no longer a viable option.
Serving Your Audience Correctly
Most businesses fall into one of two basic categories: Business-to-business (B2B), where companies primarily provide goods and services to other companies, and business-to-consumer (B2C), where companies primarily serve individual consumers. Although there are similarities between the two sectors, B2B consumers have very different expectations for websites than B2C customers do.
Customers in B2C industries are often more likely to make impulse purchases than their B2B counterparts, who have to provide substantial justification (in the form of ROI forecasts) before making a purchase, due to the higher price tag associated with most B2B goods and services. Additionally, B2B consumers (particularly in niche or specialized industries) often have a relatively high level of knowledge about the products and services they are looking for – meaning that your content needs to be at that level if you want to convey the proper sense of professionalism. Regardless of industry, the core is the same: Craft your content according to what your audience expects from you, not what you want from your audience.
Make E-Commerce Easy
In the 17 years since Amazon.com sold its first book, e-commerce has gone from a relative novelty to something we take for granted. Today, there are millions of consumers who do nearly all of their shopping online, without ever setting foot in a traditional brick and mortar store. In 2012, online transactions have accounted for over $218 billion in sales in the United States alone. What does this mean for businesses with online storefronts? For one, it means that no retailer can afford to ignore their website.
Competition in the e-commerce sector – an industry steered by the whims of consumers frequently driven to impulse purchases – is particularly fierce. Companies are always on the lookout for ways to make it faster, easier, and more attractive for their customers to buy their products online. When reviewing your online storefront, among other things, keep the following questions in mind:
- If a customer sees an item they like, how easily can they add it to their shopping cart? How many clicks does it take to accomplish this?
- Is your checkout process streamlined and efficient?
- Are you effectively cross-selling products by suggesting similar items to customers based on current and past purchases?
- Do you allow customers to track the status of their order(s) online?
- Is your online store optimized for mobile devices?
- Is your customer service department easy to get a hold of? Do you offer an online chat service to quickly field inquiries?
- Do you provide a place for customers to review their purchases and leave feedback on your products and quality of service?
Takeaway: The web of 2012 (and beyond) is one where innovation is far more likely to drum up business than the status quo. If you want to stay ahead of the game, you need to remain abreast of what your competition is up to. Position yourself as a leader, rather than a follower. Your customers (and your bottom line) will thank you.