After all of the time and money you will invest, what you should get from a new site is this: a high-performing website. What exactly does that mean? What are the criteria that you will use to sit back after launch and say ‘ahhh, we done good!’?

This is what companies typically report that they are happy with after they launch a new site:
• It looks better
• It is easier and faster to update content
• The content is more organized and consistent
• It functions and navigates better
• Ease of highlighting social activity and videos
• It integrates better with our database and/or other third-party software

All important criteria and if you can say yes to them then you are well on your way. So why then did we give an “F” to a newly launched site that had these qualities? Well, it comes to what defines a high-performing site.

If you want the bottom line right now as to what a high-performing site is, jump to the Pass/Fail list below. For those who are still with me, think about these scenarios:

Jen chooses a doctor: Go to the local list serve and search archives and postings that mention pediatricians. Go to doctor review sites, then the Facebook page for the practice that most people were positive about. Narrow your options, check out their website, book an appointment. Ask brother-in-law if he has heard of the doctor.

Mack buys a printer: Read about what the printer manufacturer does to help the communities where their products are made. Check out their tweets. Go to comparison shopping sites, identify a model and best option for where to buy. See if there are a lot of the same model you are considering selling on Craig’s List. Figure out the sales cycles for printers, buy when it goes on sale or is offered bundled with other products.

Dante selects a restaurant: Walking down a street in NYC, hunger hits. Luckily, there are no less than 20 restaurants within sight. He scans the options, selects a cuisine and pulls out his mobile to check Yelp and Zagat. Done, selection made from many customer reviews that are very positive and a quick review of the menu online. Only five minutes from hunger pang to sitting at a reliably good restaurant enjoying salmon nigiri drizzled with lemon and a cold carafe of unfiltered sake.

It’s easy to see from these examples how the customer has all the power; easy access to information about you and, more than likely, others’ opinions of you and to your competitors as well. This is true for all businesses, from product sellers to professional service firms. How people choose to buy has shifted. That means that your site is all that more important, and it means that it must deliver results.

So back to high-performing sites.

A website is a marketing tool. It functions as a hub for your content to attract and inform your customers/members/volunteers. It’s the place where you can continue the ‘conversation’ about who you are and what you believe in. That hub is connected to your social channels and, hopefully, it has a lot of links back to it. But it should also deliver information to you about your visitors, more than Google analytics will give you. Your site should be nimble, with an ability to be modified easily, affordably and quickly.

Here is the scorecard for the site that we gave an F:


1. Fail — Did the site help move us to a new level in our marketing?

I don’t see the necessary technologies or inbound content processes that enable this site to provide a customized experience to their varying audience segments, or generate leads. In 2013, this is a big fail for a professional services business.


2. Fail — Social integration

The firm’s social footprint is not integrated throughout the site, nor is social sharing encouraged by making it easy for visitors to do. Placing social media icons at the top of the homepage is not sufficient social integration.

Social Media Examiner: If you use social media to keep your customers or clients apprised of your recent happenings and are actively managing your outlets on a daily or bi-weekly basis, it might be wise to showcase your Twitter feed or Facebook posts directly on your website.
Smashing Magazine
: Your website should be the hub of social interaction, not sitting on the sidelines. It has the potential to draw together conversation across multiple networks and allow users to interact with friends, whether buying a camera or sharing an inspirational quote.


3. Fail — Automating and Customizing the Experience

We all know the import of the customer experience and at this site I get the same calls to action copy every time I visit, regardless of my past actions (or inaction). Only with an automation system can you avoid this annoyance and display content that comes from the advantage of knowing more about your visitor. With an automation system in place, calls to action and content can be effectively delivered to measurably increase business in addition to improving the user experience. Using marketing automation software is like working with thousands of couriers who deliver the right content at the right time to all of your Internet-based prospects. All your team needs to do is pre-build great content into your marketing funnel, and the software takes care of the rest.
: Despite an increase in traffic due to their blog post, Main Line Family law didn’t see many conversions of that traffic into leads. Then came an ‘aha moment.’ After attending a webinar series from HubSpot,

[the owner] realized that she was missing a key part of the marketing playbook: calls-to-action. Thus, she created “On the Move” a planning guide for a healthy marriage separation in PA, using the Landing Pages tool. This made their marketing efforts gel together and they started receiving 3-4 qualified leads per day, leading to a high increase in clients.

4. Fail — Content Marketing and Tracking

If you don’t have an automation platform in place then you can’t truly close the loop on tracking your content. Without tracking your content, aka content marketing or inbound marketing, you can’t be sure that your content is delivering the results that it should.

The 2012 State of Inbound Marketing from HubSpot
: “While it is clear that businesses are gravitating towards inbound marketing [blogging, social media, SEO], some are moving more aggressively than others. Those who move first are more likely to reap the tremendous business benefits of this new era of marketing.”
American Bar Association: …50 percent of responding small law firms (2-9 attorneys) and 53.3 percent of surveyed solo practitioners that are blogging reported retaining clients directly or via referral as a result of their legal-topic blogging, based on the recently released survey. That’s not just attracting website visitors or fielding phone calls for free consultations, but landing actual new business. Forty percent of respondents at larger firms (100-499 attorneys) who are blogging reported generating new business from their efforts.

5. Fail — Story

The web is loaded down with business sites, but some captivate with the story of the business. On those sites, you get to know how a company thinks, where they have been – you may feel more connected because you know them a bit. The site we reviewed lacks humanity, it lacks personality. The content is all about them but not in way that imparts what is special about them. We don’t get to ‘know’ them and likely we won’t remember much about them or favor them. Infuse personalities into stories. Brand stories are not marketing materials. They are not ads, and they are not sales pitches. Brand stories should be told with the brand persona and the writer’s personality at center stage. Boring stories won’t attract and retain readers, but stories brimming with personality can.
: If you ask a brand manager or chief marketing officer where they’re putting their priorities, the majority will say, without a doubt, online. Two companies that are seizing these new opportunities better than most are Coca-Cola Co. and Nike Inc. The most revolutionary way they’re doing it is by evolving their story-telling style, and social media is leading the way.
: According to Google ZMOT, in 2011 people researched and digested 10.4 unique pieces of content before making a purchasing decision. If the internet was made up of only visuals and pretty designs, would it be any use? Your online content is the voice of your company, speaking to your customers and telling your story while you’re busy growing your business.

6. Fail — Appropriate Content Management System

If you use a proprietary CMS, it must do more for you than make it easier for your web manager, or your vendor, to update your site! It should come with a universe of support for you – like in-depth web marketing guidance to third-party plugins for more functionality. In the proprietary vs. open source CMS debate, I don’t always vote for open source, but in the case of this business they are locked in to a CMS of the web designer and there is nothing, NOTHING, in the way of help readily available online. It does not come with a community. To me it feels like they’re painted into a corner, right where the marketing firm wants them. With an open source CMS, you can take it with you. You can move it to any host that provides the required server software, at any time you choose. If your site is managed with a proprietary CMS, you can’t do this. And – what if your provider goes out of business?
: Search engine friendliness – Just because somebody offers you a content management system does not mean that it will be search engine friendly right out of the box.  A lot of proprietary as well as open source CMS’s out there require extra work (sometimes a lot of work) to become search friendly. Thankfully some open source CMS’s systems like Drupal and WordPress come pretty search friendly right out of the box.

7. Fail — Rotating images at top of homepage

Look at a site on your mobile and you can see why wasting valuable real estate or slowing load time for a moving sales image is a big Fail! On the other hand, if you have a mobile version that minimizes this element, reducing the real estate taken up, and can justify the space with content that the user will find worthwhile, then you get a big Pass! Performance is the new sexy. Mobile users have a bewildering number of choices for interactive engagement. Any new mobile site has to compete with 500,000+ iOS apps, 260,000 Android apps, and more than 4 million mobile-optimized websites (2011 data). Users have no tolerance for slow performance, but a strong appreciation for mobile sites that get the job done.
: Load time matters. A study from Gomez found that 40 percent of consumers would abandon a mobile Web site if it takes more than three seconds to load.


8. Fail — Mobile

This business does not have a mobile site nor is it well optimized for mobile: gobs of tiny content on the homepage, difficult navigation, a behemoth rotator image. The mobile experience is dreadful. What a huge Fail. ‘Wait,’ they may counter, ‘our analytics show that few people come to our site on their mobile devices.’ Don’t count on that to justify a less-than-stellar mobile experience. Mobile usage habits are changing at an alarming pace and the time to create a carefully crafted, positive, and memorable mobile experience is now, not when it is clear that yours is failing. It’s not just products, people are also looking for professional services. 21% of smart phone users and 12% of tablet users have searched for a professional like an attorney using their device. (“How Today’s Consumers Really Search for an Attorney,” LexisNexis 2012)
: In the year 2020, today’s smartphones will look like the glorified PDAs of the last decade, according to AT&T SVP Jeff Bradley. What should consumers expect? Handsets with nearly 30 GHz of processing power, terabytes of internal storage and half-gig connections to the mobile network.

9. Fail — Secure site

No secure signs anywhere. If I am going to buy anything, I want you to show me that the site is secure before I will even start the purchase process. That means everything from reports to tshirts. Consumers are savvy, they know to look for a secure site. You also want your site as secure as possible from hacking of any kind, even the ‘invisible’ hacking that talks about in the article below.

Mashable: If you’re selling anything online, you need to put some effort into securing your site with an SSL certificate. The SSL will encrypt communications between you and your clients (i.e. a credit card number, Social Security number), which will allay their fears of providing such information, since there’s so much identity theft on the web. You may not think your site has anything worth being hacked for, but websites are compromised all the time. The majority of security breaches are not to steal your data or deface your website, but instead attempts to use your server as an email relay for spam, or to setup a temporary web server, normally to serve files of an illegal nature.

 So, how does your site do? Pass or Fail?