WEBSITE REMEDIES Expert help for ailing sites

Get users (and Google) to trust your Web site

If you aren't seeing the traffic numbers you desire, start by examining how credible your site looks.

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(Fortune Small Business) -- Dear FSB: Our current Web site, www.fusedsolutions.com, does an okay job of portraying the appropriate information to those that get there, but unfortunately not many get there. Can you please give us a few tips on how to get our site to the top of search lists and build substantial traffic?

- Justin Groden, Fused Solutions, Potsdam, N.Y.

"It's not a surprise that no one gets there, as there's not much you're doing right," says Rich Schefren of Strategic Profits. "If a marketing person was involved with this site, he or she needs to be fired for marketing malpractice. You only have to look at competitors to see how bad it is."

But Schefren offers hopeful news: "The only place you can go from here is up."

So let's get started. The first problem Schefren points out is in the title tag for your homepage. Unless Internet users are actually searching specifically for Fused Solutions, they're not going to care that it is the title of the page; they could even be confused by it.

The top of the page should be dedicated to terms that people will search for, so that they know right away that they've landed at the right place. Consider using terms that define what you offer, such as "service software," "service outsourcing" or "customer service representatives."

Elsewhere on your homepage, Schefren points out communication problems: The language on the page has a Gunning fog index of 17. The Gunning fog index is determined by a mathematical formula that takes into account word complexity and sentence length. English that caters to a wide audience should stay under 12.

"You are using words that your customer would never use," Schefren says. "The reader has to stop and think about what he just read. That's not going to keep people on the page."

Greg Ricciardi, managing partner at Philadelphia branding firm 20nine Design Studios, says small-business owners often have trouble describing their business in basic and direct terms.

"They know their business so well that they assume everyone else knows it, too," he says. "When you are so close to something, it's hard to see it through other people's eyes - and that's clearly what's happening here."

Business owners too often fall into the trap of treating a Web site like a brochure, Ricciardi says. But the user experience is different online: You have to get across who you are and what you do very quickly, as the average Web surfer spends just seconds on a page.

In addition to keeping phrases short and the terminology simple, you'll need to focus on common keywords that will bring traffic your way. Small changes can have outsize results: "There are less than 3,000 searches a month for 'help desk technology,' but over 90,000 searches a month for 'help desk software,'" Schefren says. "If I am doing a search for help-desk software, I want to land on a page where there is no doubt in my mind that focus is on help-desk software. Here, people won't be too sure and will click the back button. Google (GOOG, Fortune 500) can see that users are hitting back, and counts that against you."

Another example: Schefren suspects your site visitors will be left wondering what "contact center services" are. "Outsourced customer support" is a more straightforward explanation.

One way to keep visitors on your site is to address them directly.

"All the information and tabs are about the company. Everything is 'we, we, we.' Stop talking about yourselves and instead insert content that is geared towards the consumer," Schefren says. "Make the links and tabs talk to the visitor, such as 'How to increase your customer satisfaction rates' and 'How to eliminate customer support headaches.' The site should not be about the company so much as what benefits the company can offer the client."

Ricciardi recommends changing your tabs to "services we offer," "about the company," "partners" and "how to get in touch."

Another problem: Your site lacks a clear navigation path.

"I'm left wondering who you are and what I'm supposed to do on the site," Schefren says. "Looking at Kayako.com as an example: Immediately the user can download software, get a free trial, find a community, learn about customer support, and chat with a live operator. Fused Solutions needs to tell the user right off the bat how to get started."

An easy way to get the user involved is to offer quick tips on how to address customer-service problems. Start educating the readers and building up their faith that you are experts in your field, and they'll want to continue reading.

Ricciardi and Schefren both point out that your site has no phone number or "contact us" button, which would allow visitors to communicate with your company right away.

"If I can't find the contact page, that makes me suspicious of the company," Schefren says. "Instead of legal info on the bottom of each page, put the address and phone number. Without an invitation to call, I'm left thinking that you could be a kid working out of a basement."

Users also question the credibility of site when text that looks like a link turns out not to be one.

"Under 'our technology,' some links are clickable and some aren't," Ricciardi says. "And under 'who we provide to,' we expect to be able to click the bullets, but we can't." Plus, he strongly recommends posting a list with actual client names, rather than generic industry categories.

Though your Web site's aesthetics are far down on the list of necessary fixes, you may want to start considering how better present your brand graphically.

"The font of the tabs is tiny, and the colors have nothing to do with the company," Ricciardi says. "There's no rhyme or reason for blue, yellow and purple. From a visual perspective, it's stagnant."

But the main reason you are not seeing traffic is because Google doesn't send people to sites that look unreliable. To increase traffic, make sure your site speaks to the users to gain their trust.

"Your Web site needs to articulate the customer's problem better than the customer can articulate it," Schefren says. "That way they'll think, 'Yes, this company gets me!' and will want to stick around to see what kind of solution you can offer them."

The more you can provide visitors with useful, relevant information, they better they - and the search engines - will respond.

In our "Website remedies" feature, Fortune Small Business enlists Web marketing and search-engine optimization specialists to analyze small-business Web sites in need of an overhaul. Could your site use a makeover? E-mail us at fsb_mail@timeinc.com. Plus, share your tips for improving our featured sites in our discussion forum. To top of page

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