Visitors should have a simple way of getting contact information from your website. It sounds obvious but it’s something that many business websites neglect. Contact information actually serves two purposes. The first is to get visitor feedback or allow them to take next steps. The second is that providing ways for people to contact a business adds credibility that it’s a legitimate operation.
So what contact information should be available on a website? The basics are, a phone number, an online medium (contact form or email address), and a physical address. There are separate reasons for each:
- Phone Number – Some people just prefer the phone and will not contact you in other ways. Other people who have a specific question that they can’t get answered on the website will want a form of contact with immediacy. Furthermore, a lack of a phone number can erode credibility as almost all legitimate businesses have a published phone line.
- Contact form or email – A website needs an online form of communicating. There’s a good chance that if a visitor finds you through your website then they will want to communicate via a digital medium. A contact form is often useful because you can give a general layout. For example, if you take online orders you can frame the fields to take all necessary information that a buyer might not otherwise include. Another example is what I use for my site. People can make an inquiry but also select their preferred method of response (email or phone). In this way, you can cater responses to a visitor’s preference. Email is also viable but be sure to use an email address that is checked as well as a non-personal one. Email addresses on websites are often farmed by SPAM bots and can easily get bombarded with junk. If it’s a specially set up email address it’s a fairly simple process to deactivate it if SPAM becomes a problem.
- A physical address – No, people are not likely to send a letter. However a physical address adds credibility by clearly telling people where you are located.
The most common means of neglecting contact information is by having a contact us form. . .and only a contact form. Don’t get me wrong, a contact us form is a good idea as it’s a simple and easy way for visitor inquiries. However, it doesn’t replace other contact methods because not everyone is going to be comfortable using it and it garners little credibility.
A good general rule is that visitors should always be one click away from getting contact info. That is usually accomplished by including a contact link as part of your primary navigation. If you really want to ensure that your contact information is readily available, publish it as part of you footer on every page. Make sure your contact information is easy to get. After all, the goal for our website should be to have visitors contact us.
Many times we get too close to our own websites. We know right where everything is because we put it there. The problem is that what makes sense to us, often doesn’t make sense to visitors. An easy way to ensure that items of a similar type are easily found is to make an index page. When a site has an index page for a single topic then it serves to be a single point of contact that visitors can use to find the individual thing they are looking for.
Recently I was reviewing a client’s website. We were in the process of updating it to support marketing efforts. My client was heavily involved in doing events designed to give a sampling of how they help companies which converts some of the attendees to customers. In fact, this was such a large part of their marketing matrix that they ran an event every two weeks.
So we outlined which events were coming up and made a list of 6 events for the quarter. I jumped on my client’s site to see how each event was promoted. I found 2 of the events that were featured on the homepage. However the other 4 were MIA.
So I called my client and asked whether the events had pages on the site. He assured me the events were there and walked me through the navigation. Two of the events were available through banner ads but the ads cycled so they were only available 25% of the time. It turned out one event never had a link set to it. The sixth one was available through a buried link on a calendar document.
I was a dedicated visitor and I needed a guide to find the events I knew were there. How many unmotivated visitors that don’t know about the events do you think made it to the event pages? As you’d expect, very few.
The solution, make an events index page. We placed an events link on the primary navigation so that it was easy to find what was on the calendar regardless of where a visitor went in the site. The index page provided a handy list to site visitors as well as my client so that there was a simple reference of upcoming events. Furthermore, promotions could point to the index or the individual event page depending on what’s most appropriate.
It’s a simple thing but one that can be lost as a site grows. Make sure that any important category of your site has an index page so that visitors can easily get to the information you want them to see.
Site owners often tell me things like, “Users are going to love this feature” or “This tool is perfect for what our visitors should be doing.” My response is usually, “Is that what testing has shown?” The reason I ask this question is because many site owners make decisions on gut feel. After making the gut call, many of them will lament/blame, “Users are really missing the boat with this, here’s all the great things they could be doing . . .” Your users are not you, so don’t presume they feel just like you. Do some testing to ensure that a feature or tool you are developing is something users desire.
Doing a short reality check on how well your presumptions match up with user needs is worth the effort. In a recent conversation with a site owner, he was complaining about an event matrix tool that he had launched for his users to track events of interest related to his site’s content. He was sure that every user would want to use it. After spending significant time and energy, he discovered very few users had an interest. He could have saved some time and/or developed a more desirable tool if he had done a reality check before investing in the tool.
Testing doesn’t have to be a giant undertaking, though for large sites or in depth campaigns it needs to be thoroughly planned. For smaller sites it is less in depth. Testing can be a sample of people that visit your site and provide feedback on how they use the site and what they’d like to see. It can also be a user test session where a person uses the site and the site owner observes how and what they use. This is sometimes more valuable, as actions will speak louder than words.
Here are the primary things to look for from the tests when deciding if the feature you feel is great, actually cuts the mustard with users:
- Navigation – A great tool is worthless if people can’t find it.
- Usability – Users have to be able to easily use the feature or tool. Make sure it is intuitive so that users will stick with it and get the maximum benefit.
- Functionality – The feature or tool better do what you claim it will. Setting expectations that aren’t met will harbor resentment.
- Communication – You won’t have a lot of time to highlight your feature or tool using online communications. Spend some time boiling it down to its most basic benefits so you can concisely generate interest.