Build A Better Web Site

Have you logged onto your website lately? Were you surprised at what it said about your store?
    Monitoring what’s happening on the public face of your business is mandatory. Keeping your website fresh, interesting and responsive can also be a valuable investment.
    “The Web is an ever-changing landscape; the world of marketing for large and small businesses has needed to adapt to keep up with the times, and bridal shops are no different,” says Itai Sadan, CEO and founder of Duda, a company that helps small businesses build websites. “A site doesn’t need a full tear-down to make it effective at turning visitors into loving and loyal customers. A few tweaks can take it that extra mile.”
    And it’s important to make these changes, as your online presence sends a message to brides.
    “Businesses gain more credibility if their online presence is fresh and up to date, so that tells the customer they have a lot of business, they have the latest designs, and they have lots of good reviews,” says Emi Fitzgerald, director of client services for HCK2 Partner, a Dallas-based marketing communications firm. “Online presence needs to be as polished as the presence you present in your store. Your foot traffic depends on it.”
    With that in mind, here are nine quick and easy, yet impactful, changes you can make to your website.

1. Get with the (mobile-responsive) times! It’s no secret that brides do a lot of research on where they want to shop and the dress styles they want to see before ever setting foot in a store. But what is different these days is the rapidly growing number of customers who are conducting this research via a smartphone or tablet as opposed to a desktop computer.
    “Every single year overall website traffic is leaning more and more toward mobile, so if your site doesn’t have that, you can be losing customers,” Fitzgerald says.
    In fact, by 2014, the number of people using mobile devices outnumbered those on desktop computers, according to Business Insider.  Therefore, when you are designing or updating your website “consider mobile first and include the most important information on the mobile version,” says Kristin Shivley, founder and CEO, Pristine Public Relations, Inc. “Make sure it is easy for visitors to take action.”
    Sadan agrees, adding, “More and more browsing is done on tablet and mobile so you want your message clearly received across all devices. The amount of people visiting from mobile devices in the United States has passed more than 50 percent, so you can’t afford to deliver a bad experience on mobiles. “
    Another important reason your website needs to be designed for mobile browsers is that even from a search engine optimization perspective, search engines like Google and Yahoo! are dinging websites that are not responsive in the search results, Fitzgerald explains,  reducing sites’ ranking accordingly.
    “You could have great traffic from a desktop perspective, but if you don’t have mobile responses on your website, you won’t be ranked as highly as someone who does,” she says. “Clearly you want to be ranked high in the search results with people that work like you. Most templates out there already are the mobile-responsive themes. Most website builders have platforms with the responsive themes.”

2. Boost your site’s load time by compressing your images.  Today the speed at which a site loads is important from two aspects.
    “First, a user’s experience is altered if the site loads too slowly,” Sadan says. “Next, Google is now paying a lot of attention to load speed time. If your site loads slowly, they may penalize you and lower your ranking in Google search results.”
    For these reasons it’s a good idea to know how fast a page loads.
    “A good tool to learn how you are faring is Google Page Speed,” Sadan says. “It also will give recommendations to improve load speed.”
    Website speed directly correlates to the success of your website, Shivley agrees.
    “If your website takes more than three seconds to load, four out of ten visitors will sign off without even seeing it,” she says.

3. Update contact information. Once your site is up and running, it’s easy to forget to check on such basics as contact info.  
    So schedule a regular site review to ensure that all data is current. Make sure your contact information is up-to-date on your website and in Google Places. Also, test your social-media links to be certain they work, and they are taking visitors to currently updated pages. It’s also a good idea to browse through your photo albums and delete any old lines or employee pictures that are no longer a part of your store.
    “(Current data) is crucial for search engine optimization and to make it easy for people to contact you,” Fitzgerald says. “I think it’s important for business owners to really put themselves in the shoes of their customers, not only about the products (they) provide but how people are finding out about (them).”
    As an example, she points to a bride who wants to go and look at wedding gowns on a Saturday. That bride is likely going to type into Google Maps something along the lines of “bridal boutiques in fill-in-the-blank city” in order to begin deciding which stores she may want to visit. However, only sites that are up-to-date are going to pop up.  
    You do not want to be left out of this list, so make certain your information is current.

4. Give your site a visual facelift.  Just as first impressions of people are made instantly, ”(website) visuals are perceived in a matter of seconds and (customers) will form a general opinion of your website,” Shively says.
    One way to create a better impression is to change the typography. It’s important to pick the right typefaces, color and spacing in order to ensure that your website looks harmonious with your store. Here are some important things to note:
    Contrast: Make sure your copy is darker than the background or vice versa.
    Line height: This should be set from 1.5 to 1.75 to ensure that lines have enough space to breathe. This also makes for a clean layout.
    Hierarchy: Systemize your copy. Use bullet points, sub-headlines and noticeable headlines that stand out.
    Typeface pairing: It’s a general rule to not use too many typefaces on your website. Two typefaces will do the job. Font Pair helps designers pair Google Fonts together.
    Make use of white space. Many websites try to cram as much verbiage as possible on their site, but it ends up being a visual mess. Utilize white space to give more room for the main elements of your website. It will also give your site a cleaner look and feel.
    Finally, opt for a sleeker look by removing the large background image, suggests Ekaterina Lyapustina, CEO and founder of Avocado Digital Media.
    “Removing this large image can help increase your site’s loading speed,” Lyapustina says. “If you still want the larger visual image, try using it just on your header.”

5. Avoid the program Flash on your site. One key reason: most mobile browsers will not load Flash files anymore, Fitzgerald says.
    “Flash is basically on its way out from a technological perspective,” she says. “A lot of older websites have all of these beautiful images that go across the page. Several years ago, Apple said its mobile won’t support Flash and now it’s getting to many desktop sites as well.”  
    The bottom line: If there’s Flash on a website, users might not be able to see it. And for that reason alone, your time and website resources are better spent elsewhere.

6. Think about your “About Us” page. This page is the perfect place to tell your bridal salon’s story! Yet unfortunately it’s also one of the most neglected parts of a business’ website.
    First and foremost, it’s crucial to make sure the information presented is up-to-date. You’ve lost the impact of being in business for 20 years if your “About Us” page says it’s only been 15. Also important details such as changes in ownership or management and updated staff biographies are crucial.
    But beyond this, have fun! Why did you get into bridal? What do you love most about the industry? What makes your store unique or special? Presenting this information – perhaps in an easy to read Q&A format – is one great way to make your “About Us” page shine.

7. Spotlight your social media. By this point, every bridal salon owner knows that maintaining a social-media presence is crucial. And most salons have joined the big ones – Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram. But there is a big difference between simply being on these sights and actually spotlighting your presence.
    Bottom line: Your social-media icons must have a prominent, visible spot on your website.
    And equally important, especially since these icons are being spotlighted: Make sure the content shared on these sites is up-to-date. It may be subtle but you can give brides the impression that your merchandise isn’t current if your last post promotes an event in the distant past or even a week ago. As one expert put it, if your site looks untouched or stagnant, shoppers can jump to the conclusion that you are no longer in business.

8. Create or recreate a blog. As you know, blogging can be a great way to personalize your website.  
    “Adding a blog helps bring your brand to life by providing an inside look into your company,” Lyapustina says. “It is also the easiest way to update content and improve your search engine optimization.”
    A blog gives bridal shoppers a reason to check back into your site. And if your content provides them valuable information or something to think about when planning their wedding, they are more likely to revisit and even scroll back to past blog posts to see what’s been discussed.
    One important caveat about blogging: You can’t just initiate it and forget it. While a daily blog post may be unrealistic for busy independent bridal shops, postings should be regular and consistent. The experts note that a blog doesn’t have to be a novel; a few brief comments can be just as effective. The idea is to provide fresh content on a regular basis.

9. Rethink testimonials. Testimonials from past brides give potential new customers an idea of what it is like to work with you.  
    “Their wedding is an enormous moment in their lives, so they want to make sure they are comfortable with whom they are working,” Lyapustina says. “Make sure you update your testimonials whenever you get a new one. Older testimonials become stale on your site and don’t ensure trust in potential new customers.”
    So be proactive in acquiring positive reviews from bridal shoppers! This isn’t an occasion to be shy about asking for couples to talk about their experience at your store, any problems you’ve solved for them, or even to provide photos of their wedding.
    Testimonials can be posted on a dedicated website page, as well as on your social media. Ideally, they should represent a cross-section of your customer base and a variety of wedding styles and locales. The idea is to appeal to as many potential bride “types” as possible. And a referral from a happy past bride posted front and center on your website is an excellent way to do that!

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