One of Gordon Ramsay's most popular programmes is Kitchen Nightmares, where he helps turn struggling restaurants around. Let me say right from the start, I'm no fan of Ramsay. But I believe he's teaching us some valuable lessons when it comes to website marketing. Let me explain.
The first thing he does every time is to experience the place as a customer. Once he's got an idea of the quality of the food and front-end problems, he then examines its systems and business approach, as that will undoubtedly explain why the diner's experience is so poor. He’s then able to decide what needs doing to put matters right.
An important aspect of his approach, no matter how low the restaurant’s patronage, is that he purposely does not try and increase this before ensuring the changes and improvements he's suggested have taken place. Only once he's confident the restaurant can deliver a great dining experience does he go to phase II: drumming up business, something he does by going round the streets with tasters and inviting local influential people to experience the place.
So, how is Ramsay's approach relevant to websites? In the world of website marketing it seems to me that too much focus is centred on getting people to a website and not enough on ensuring that once there their experience is a great one. We get called and emailed daily (and I suspect most readers here will have too) from experts who can help with search engine optimisation, pay-per-click advertising, banner placements etc, but no one ever calls us up and says they can help with the website experience.
Driving people to your site before you have critically evaluated what you offer from their perspective, and then ensuring you deliver on this is not only ineffective, it's actually counter productive. You run an extremely high risk it will create an experience that will not only stop them ever returning (even if you do put matters right eventually), but that they will compound the problem by bad mouthing you. Common thought is that people are more likely to share bad experiences than good ones, which is bad enough in itself. Add into the equation the ease in which these negative opinions can be broadcast through social media and you can see just how dangerous the wrong approach can be.
So, take a leaf out of Ramsay's book and see how your website's performance should really be improved. Getting back to basics, a website will only perform if its content is valuable, interesting and relevant to the audience it's targeting. The content of the website is like the meal in the restaurant. To a very large degree, in both cases, it IS the experience. Sure, other factors affect it too, such as the setting and look and feel, but ultimately it's a simple formula: a visitor will come back if the experience is good and they won't if it's not.
So what elements make for successful content? Obviously this will differ for each type of audience, but some of the basics include:
- Fulfilling the needs of the visitor. What do they need from your site? If it's information, be sure to give it to them in a clear, logical and consistent manner. If they want your opinions, give them freely. Make sure the content at all times is focused on delivering what they want to find and not what you want to tell them.
- Not falling into the trap of self glorification. If you're going to big yourself up explain just how/why the visitor benefits from this. Everyone wants the experience to be about them, and not about you. If you do need to mention some of your achievements and accolades, ensure the reader can see how that will benefit them and is not simply thinking "so what?"
- Keeping the content fresh. If the content remains unchanged, why would you expect anyone to come back? The people you do want coming back are your customers as the cost of doing business with existing customers is always less than bringing on new ones. Make sure there's a reason to get them back, and better still telling their contacts the good news about your content.
- The way you deliver your content shows your commitment to service delivery. A site riddled with poor grammar and spelling mistakes does not inspire confidence and is such a simple thing to get right.
- Seeing yourself from the visitors' perspective. Is the experience a good one and if you were a stranger to the company, would the website experience be enough for you to recommend it to others? Get someone with a fresh pair of eyes to critically evaluate the experience.
For websites, there’s a common quote that 'Content is King'. I'd suggest it's only great content that's King. Poor content is like quicksand: not only will it absorb your marketing dollar, it will swallow up your potential prospects.
Only when the ‘experience' is refined, captivating and customer focused, should traffic generation be attempted. That's a separate exercise, but one that uses the well formulated content as its bedrock.
- Allan Kent is the business development manager of web marketing company Labyrinth Solutions.