By Matthew Shelley

I was about to order from a website on Sunday when I noticed that the last news update was 2009 – same with the blog. It wasn’t anyone I’d done business with before, and I suddenly felt doubts. Perhaps they had gone bust, or just weren’t much good. Far easier to shop elsewhere. That meant a sale lost and the chance of an ongoing customer relationship down the pan. The website that was supposed to enhance their reputation was doing it damage.

It’s amazing the way a tool that can do so much good is so often used badly. Many healthcare IT company sites are crammed with data but lack consumer-friendly information. They have pictures of models, with Hollywood white teeth and stethoscopes draped round their necks – from US hospital dramas rather than NHS reality. The ‘about us’ sections show suited directors with lists of past jobs and qualifications – not a hint of anything about them as individuals, people you might trust with a large contract.

Sales is about being liked and trusted, as a person or a company. And a website is about sales. There are many ways they can go about selling – by educating, informing or even entertaining. But ultimately they are for attracting and keeping customers. A good website says ‘this is what we offer you’ rather than being a vast data repository.

When we advise clients we get them to talk about sites they buy from. It normally turns out that they don’t read the top level pages in depth, they scan. They don’t care if a company says it’s ‘passionate’ about what it does – everyone says that. They form an impression based on the look and feel as much as the words, and they won’t touch anything that doesn’t inspire trust. They want the experience to be quick and easy.

Many websites aren’t very good at telling people who you are, and making them want to buy from you. Test your own site. Think of the type of customers you want, imagine yourself in their shoes, and ask if it would genuinely succeed in persuading you to turn a casual visit into a serious enquiry.

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