Contact forms – don’t neglect yours!

This was posted on July 18th, 2016

contact-forms

 

When you’re setting up a website for your business, there’s a huge amount to keep in mind. We all spend days agonising over the appearance of our sites. The colours have to be just right, reflecting the tone of your company. The layout has to be carefully thought out, ensuring the site is easily navigable. The rise of high speed broadband has seen the increase of all sorts of extra whizzes and bangs, from video backgrounds to robotic assistants and animated components. Without a doubt, there’s a massive number of questions we all have to ask ourselves, to make sure our sites are a positive reflection of what we do, and to encourage our customers to fill their trolleys.

However, there is one part of many business’s websites which is regularly lacking attention and care. The contact form on your website is one of the most important pages in your arsenal when it comes to targeting customers and turning intrigue into closed sales, and yet it is one of the components which is most commonly neglected. This could be for many reasons – a lot of people are so distracted by pimping up the rest of the site and making sure it looks flashy and tempting, they forget about the importance of the contact form, which is, after all, often the last page potential customers see and thus vital for forming those closing impressions. Perhaps we’re so used to seeing uninspiring contact forms, we forget how much better they could potentially be. Perhaps, because of the nature of the form and its purpose, we assume that anyone clicking on that page are already interested enough not to warrant extra effort.

We shouldn’t underestimate how important and how useful a well designed, carefully constructed contact form can be. As I just mentioned – they can create a lasting final impression, and this can be equally powerful as a first impression. Furthermore, contact forms are vital for the success of your business. They allow visitors a quick and simple method for expressing interest and getting in touch with you, and this is most likely to be the first contact you’ll have with your customers directly. They may be enquiring about your products and services, which you can easily turn into sales, and they may also be contacting you directly to make suggestions or ask questions which could lead to the improvement of your business and customer relations. As such, they are hugely important, and should be treated and designed with this importance in mind.

So, let’s take a look at why this part of your website is so vital for the growth of your business, and a few ideas of how to improve them to make the most of your contact with your customers. After all, who doesn’t like receiving fan-mail?

What does a good contact form do?

Contact forms are not just for potential customers. They are the primary way all types of people are going to get in touch with. Existing customers may want to send you words of praise or constructive criticism, jobseekers may want to enquire about getting involved with your business, and other companies might be interested in working alongside you. A good contact form keeps things simple and direct, and handily directs all these type of people to the same inbox. For almost any business, they’re the best communication tool you have. Here’s why:

  1. They’re dead quick and simple. Customers don’t want to have to search your site for an email address, copy and paste it into their email server, or go through any extra effort to get in touch. Competition online is ferocious, and this has led to the attention span and patience levels of the general public shrinking rapidly. A contact form can be filled quickly, and with a click of the mouse, customer’s messages can be with you in an instant.
  2. They help you know your customer base. This is really very important for your business. A good contact form should allow you to know where your customers are coming from, what type of people your business is attracting online, and what the denizens of the internet are looking for. From this, you can streamline your business to attract more of the same, and develop useful ‘frequently asked questions’ sections of your site. Good contact forms on new-style websites also tell you how your enquirers found your site – through social media, google, etc – something which is becoming increasingly important in the world of online marketing.
  3. Contact forms positively invite enquiries and suggestions. Not all of your customers are going to be instantly converted to your products or services, no matter how wonderful they may be. A contact form gives them the freedom to quickly ask questions or seek advice, thus allowing you as a business person the opportunity to dispel any fears or hesitations, or offer your own suggestions.
  4. They help generate leads. What business doesn’t want to close more deals? When people log onto your website, you don’t have a clue who they are, you don’t even know they’re looking at your information. Contact forms convert the anonymous into the known, and when somebody enters their personal details into the form, they are demonstrating a level of trust that you – as a salesperson – can build upon to form a relationship with them.

With all this in mind, don’t you want to include your own contact form, or take another look at your contact form, and ensure it’s doing its job properly?

Make sure your contact form follows these basic guidelines:

  1. It must follow the design of your site. You don’t want your form to look as though it has been tacked on at the end, as an afterthought. Make sure the design components of your site are carried through into the contact form, whether this means sticking to a colour scheme, keeping the same fonts and headings, or including some related images.
  1. Make sure it contains all the relevant components. You’ll need a space for their name and email address, and plenty of space for questions and comments. Lots of good sites nowadays are coming up with creative ways of making this seem like a less intrusive process. For example, instead of putting just ‘NAME’ next to the text box… why not try something friendlier, like ‘My name is…’?
  1. Put in a confirmation message. This is reassuring for the customer, they want to know that their message is getting through. So after they’ve clicked ‘send’, make sure they see a quick message telling them their message has been sent, and an approximate guess as to how long it will take for you to get back to them. This will leave your customers feeling comforted, and these sort of impressions really count.
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Five Simple Ways to Improve Your Online Shop

This was posted on July 11th, 2016

improve-shop

 

 

My, how the world has changed. Many of us still remember the scepticism and snide jokes that were bandied about when online shopping first became available, with many claiming it would never catch on. They said the same about mobile phones. They said the same about jazz and rock n roll. They probably said the same about the television, soap and the wheel, too. The fact of the matter is that more and more of us are relying on online shopping for an ever-increasing percentage of our purchases. Groceries, clothes, children’s toys, wine… you name it, there’s an online shop providing it.

While this has had an adverse effect on the high street – we’ve seen the slow but inevitable death of bookstores, record shops and travel agents, to name but a few – this has surely been an overall positive trend. For the first time ever, the normal consumer no longer has to rely on what is locally available, and has more choice than ever before. Global competition for more or less every product and service has made companies lower their prices and make their services far more efficient and customer-friendly than ever before, and we’re all enjoying the benefits this has brought.

If you’re the owner of a business or the manager of a website which deals with online shopping, and you aren’t feeling the same benefits other similar businesses are enjoying, there could be a number of reasons for this. To be a player in the world of online shopping, it is of vital importance to keep up to date with new trends and the latest fashions for online shops. It is all too easy, in this fast paced, competitive market, to fall by the wayside. To be even a year out of date is drastic and potentially fatal nowadays, so take into account these five simple steps to ensure you’re doing all you can to bring success to your business. As is always the case in these matters, it’s often the little things that make all the difference. Even by updating your product photos (make them sharper and more professional looking) will massively improve the image of the company your customers receive.

  1. Offer the extras

It’s all too easy to offer the bare minimum nowadays. Because of the competitive nature of online shopping, somebody is always waiting to undercut your prices and offer something which you are not. Customers are not as loyal as they once were, and your competitors are nothing more than a mouse click away. As such, small extras such as free shipping (which everybody everywhere appreciates enormously), loyalty rewards for return customers, and free advice and consultations can make a world of difference, and will bring customers back to your site time and time again.

  1. Keep your customers up to date

This one should go without saying, really, but so many people fail to take this simple and effective step. It takes little more than a monthly newsletter to maintain interest in your products and services. Most website providers and site building companies now offer incredibly cheap and easy solutions to communicating directly with your customer base. Spend a little time every couple of weeks writing attractive, tempting newsletters, informing your clients of progress in your company, offers and discounts, or new ideas, and directly invite your existing and potential clients to click on your links and see for themselves what they’re missing. People appreciate the personal touch, and it is a great, warm way to invite people back who’ve visited in the past.

  1. Encourage reviews and feedback

This one can’t really be overstated. You’re proud of your company, and you know you’re products and services are great. But in this age of youtube comments, tripadvisor star ratings and ebay reviews, consumers expect and demand to know the deal from existing customers, not from the boss. Open up a feedback page on your site, or regularly publish positive reviews and thoughts from your happy customers. You can then highlight what people love about what you do, and this will encourage new customers to see how you can make them happy, too. You can never please absolutely everyone, but the consumer knows that a majority of positive reviews is more likely to sway their decision than anything else.

  1. Make sure your website is looking good

First impressions make a huge difference, in life and in business. Websites that look old fashioned, uncared for or badly designed have a massive impact on how long a customer stays on the site and browses your products. A bad looking website raises a lot of reasonable questions in the head of the consumer. Questions like: if they can’t manage a modern website, how well are they going to manage my money? It isn’t unfair to assume that because a website looks shoddily put together, your services and products would be the same. Would you buy your dinner in a dirty restaurant, even if the chef tells you the kitchen is clean? Of course not.

  1. Clearly state your returns and refund policies

At the beginning of this article, I said that online shopping was originally met with some hostility and scepticism. For many people, this feeling remained. There is always an element of risk with online shopping, as after all, you haven’t had the chance to see the product in situ, haven’t been able to touch it, see it from all sides, or try it on. There is an increased likelihood, therefore, that it may need to be returned at some point. For customers with this worry in mind, they need to be clearly reassured that should they be unhappy with their purchase, the returns policy is simple, straightforward, trustworthy, and written on your site in plain black and white. The chances are, they’ll be delighted with their purchase, but this little extra bit of security is likely to give them that final push in the right direction.

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Video Backgrounds – Not Just A Fad

This was posted on July 4th, 2016

video-background

 

One of the reasons we, as a civilisation, are so obsessed with and enthralled by technology is due to the fact that it is always moving. Twenty years ago, nobody would have imagined that in the pockets of almost the entire population would sit a small device, connecting us to all the information in the world, every film ever made, every song ever recorded, every book ever written. The pace at which technology is moving forwards is as exciting as it is fascinating, and every year, new advances are made which change the game for the year to come.

High speed internet changed what websites were able to do, more or less overnight. Suddenly, we could expand the size of our websites. We could add more information than ever before, make fast and effective links to other related sites. We could push our message across with every colour in the rainbow, and additional extras like sound and music began to be bolted on to words and pictures, creating a more immersive, personalised and interesting browsing experience.

Moving into the future

The newest widespread step in website design has been the addition of video and animation – not just as a insert or a link, but as a fundamental part of the image of a site. More and more companies and website owners are beginning to implement video backgrounds to their websites, creating something truly effective and involving where before there might have been just a static, blank canvas on which to post information.

This has been carried out with great effect, particularly in the creative industry. Successful examples include:

  1. The websites of various bands. These have had moving images of atmospheric scenes floating across the screen on their sites backgrounds, adding the drama and linking images with sounds taken from forthcoming records and tours, etc.
  1. Promotional websites for movies. These have added an extra layer of intrigue to their teasing, by running slow-motion clips of key scenes behind cast lists and reviews. It’s a brilliantly subtle way of ramping up the ‘image’ of a film, and demonstrating cinematographic skills and heightened dramatism.
  1. Industry giants such as Spotify. Many large music websites have used video backgrounds highly effectively, creating a sense of calm and a positive vibe for everyone who browses their site.

How to make the most of video backgrounds

The thing that seems to work best, when it comes to video backgrounds, is subtlety. Video backgrounds seem to be at their most effective when they are not blasting you with information or distraction, but are instead heightening the atmosphere and ambience of the browsing experience. Think peaceful woodland scenes, leaves blowing in the wind and lovers strolling hand in hand in the distance – this has a subtle, psychological effect, which can encourage casual browsers to spend more time on the site, and feel comfortable doing so.

As websites have become more sophisticated, web users have become more discerning and perhaps more influenced by the appearance of the site – nowadays, the difference between an attractive, modern site with video backgrounds, and more old fashioned, clunky, static site is enormous. As such, increasing the impact of your site in those crucial first few seconds that somebody clicks on your link has never been more important.

Video backgrounds are also a great way of increasing the effectiveness of your brand. Once upon a time, branding meant little more than sticking to company colours and placing a big company logo on the corner of the screen. Today, branding is all about identity and association with specific lifestyle choices. Bringing video backgrounds and well-chosen music onto your site is an easy and highly effective way of reaching out to your customers and letting them know what you’re really about.

Imagine you’re inviting a date over for dinner. You want to make a powerful first impression, and give your prospective partner a taste of what to expect for the future. Are you going to leave your home exactly as it normally is, or are you going to pull out a few stops, change the lighting, put on some mood music and wear your most expensive perfume? In a similar way, video backgrounds are seductive, they’re dynamic, they’re another tool to demonstrate that you care about your company’s image and you’re willing to go the extra mile to make the customer’s visit to your virtual home and a pleasant and memorable one.

No need to cast doubt

There is always going to be a certain amount of scepticism when it comes to things like video background. After all, the internet is full of fads and passing trends – things which catch on for a short while, then go the way of the virtual dinosaur. However, because of the way the internet’s usability, speed and general performance is going (up and up and up, it seems) we can expect video backgrounds and more dynamic visual appearances to become the norm, relatively quickly. Unlike other fads, video backgrounds seem to have a genuine positive effect, as long as they have a level of subtlety which does not interrupt or disturb the overall browsing experience, and as long as the video itself is well chosen to fit the brand as a whole. As such, this is a bandwagon it really could be time to jump onto.

Furthermore, you don’t need to be a film maker or creative artist to make video backgrounds work for you. Thankfully, stock video can be purchased and used in much the same way as stock photography. As such, there is a staggering wealth of video out there to browse through and choose from, so you needn’t sweat about creating or finding one with any difficulty.

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