Three vital considerations for your web presence (Part 1)

Originally published in the Upstate Business Journal // November 4, 2016

For many businesses, particularly small to medium ones, your web presence is still confusing. It’s easy to become overwhelmed by the contradictory perspectives of agencies and digital marketing experts. It’s easy to become disillusioned by previous initiatives that failed to meet your expectations. And it’s easy to become paralyzed by what to do this time around.

First of all, cut yourself some slack. The ever-changing digital landscape is difficult for everyone, even those in it day in and day out. Devices are constantly evolving. Platforms then adapt and evolve as well. All the while, various economic forces are at play.

The result: On any given day, we are all looking out on a horizon that looks like the digital equivalent of multiple bodies of water meeting up and producing tempest-driven crosscurrents and mountain-sized swells. Most will view such a foreboding horizon as a curse that must be survived rather than what could be a blessing.

But if you keep your wits about you and remember a few simple things, you and your organization will not just survive, but thrive.

To evaluate your brand’s presence on the web, keep these three key questions in mind: Does my web presence pass the visual credibility test? Does my web presence pass the relevance test? And does my web presence pass the differentiation test?

In this article, I’m just going to focus on the first question and will then focus on the other two questions in subsequent articles.

Question No. 1: Does my web presence pass the visual credibility test?

Viewers have more choices than ever, and that is largely paralyzing. With so much white noise and content clutter, it’s no wonder that web users make quick decisions about what’s worthy of their time.

And the most obvious first filter is whether what they are viewing passes the visual credibility test. Does what I am viewing look outdated? Does it look cheap? Does it look like someone has spent time and energy on maintaining its appearance?

You and your brand can get away with a visually deficient web presence so long as you have a captive target audience who doesn’t have anywhere else to go for what they are looking for.

This is often the case in a business-to-business setting where a manufacturer, for instance, is the only maker of a certain product. If there’s no one else in that space, then it’s entirely possible to have a lackluster web presence and not suffer from potential loss of business as a result.

However, if even a small amount of competition exists in your particular industry, one of the first filters that web viewers use in their decision making process is the appearance of a brand’s digital presence.

Like many other areas of life, where a first impression causes someone to be interested in learning more or not, online viewers quickly assess a homepage, social media company page, or digital advertisement to determine whether they will click through to the next step. Homepage and advertisement bounce rates prove this to be true. Be careful not to underestimate the possibility of your website, in particular, causing you to potentially lose business. Your website needs to be at least as visually appealing as others in your industry.

However, there is one important caveat to this idea. The web has, in some ways, blurred the lines between once clearly delineated industries. It’s not just direct competitors in your industry that you are competing against on the web or in digital advertising. It can also be other brands and companies that are upstream or downstream in your industry, or perhaps only tangentially related to your industry. When folks are searching for something online, those industry distinctions aren’t so clear. So, you are not only competing against your known competitors. You are also competing against the web presence of many others. That’s often a nuance that is lost as folks consider their web presence.

If what you are offering is truly credible and worth others’ time in considering it, then give careful consideration to the first impression you are presenting to the world, because you never know who among your target audience may be in that viewing world.