What do you do if your website is failing to deliver the level of sales and enquiries you expected?

In the growing culture of search, find and buy, it's no longer enough to simply have a website. Your website has to grab the visitor's attention, show your products or services and provide an instant means of concluding the business. It needs to deliver on your customers' expectations.

The days of looking at a brochure or advertisement and picking up the phone are almost gone. Capitalising on the moment is what it's all about. Interrupting the live onsite impulse is a potential killer with major impact on user experience and, thus, search engine ranking.

There are mostly two types of people who visit your website. One will be someone perhaps with a bit more time on their hands and who routinely uses the phone to do business. The other will be someone who prefers and expects to do everything online. After all, they've gone to the trouble of making a search, clicking on your link and coming to your website. The fact that there's nothing but information and a phone number will be a disappointment. If you're selling products, and there's no e-commerce facility, the likelihood is that you've just lost the order. If you're selling a service, and there's no quick enquiry form, you've probably just lost a 'live' enquiry. Many businesses fight hard to achieve a good search engine ranking in order to generate real visitors actively seeking to do business - only to lose them on arrival. Not only does this have serious ramifications for your business but also potentially dire consequences for your SEO.

Why? Because, there's a thing called a bounce rate. Google's business is about brand and trust. It's about delivering real, the most up-to-date and the most relevant results to its users who trust it to do just that. Google's whole model is about information - information about your business and information about what people do when they visit your website. If someone makes a search which brings your business up in the top results and that person then click on your link, Google notices that fact. That's a plus, it adds to your 'popularity' score. The combination of your website title and the short description paragraph has clearly worked to persuade that person to click through.

The longer a visitor stays on your site, navigating through pages and, hopefully, concluding their business by making an enquiry or buying something, the more Google knows that the website content is engaging and, therefore, that it's providing what the short description paragraph in the results promised. That's exactly what Google wants - to deliver to its users what those results promise.

But what if that person clicks on your link, lands on your website and there's just a phone number? No means of buying, no enquiry form, nothing to let them conclude their business unless they pick up the telephone? Mostly, they'll bounce straight back to the results and try another company.

OK, so apart from possibly losing an order or not getting a live enquiry, you might think that's the end of it. But it's not. Google will have noticed that someone clicked your link and pretty much came straight back - and that is significant because it means that the text in your results paragraph suggested or promised something that was then not delivered on the website itself. That's bad news for Google. The user's trust is diminished. If it keeps happening, it will know that keeping your website in the top results would be unjustified and it will therefore downrank it.

There's something else that causes bounces - not having a mobile-friendly (responsive) layout. Since last year, all our own clients' websites have had to be fully responsive because of it. Why the bounce? Because people using a tablet or mobile phone to access your website will see at a glance that it can't be viewed properly without constantly pinching, swiping up and down, right and left in an attempt to see the content. So they'll go straight back to the results. Google actually handles mobile searches and desktop PC searches differently but, as more and more business people and staff use mobile devices for day-to-day work tasks, the simple fact that you don't have a mobile-friendly website will become a progressively more serious issue.

What's the answer?

If you have a website with a good ranking but you're not getting the level of sales or enquiries you'd expect from that position, it's very likely that the website itself is failing to deliver what people expect when they arrive on it.

These days, it's often what a website doesn't do that dictates its success or lack of it. Everything about your website tells the visitors something about your business. Pages that don't load quickly suggest that your delivery or service will be slow. A website that doesn't properly adapt to a mobile screen might suggest that you don't know your customers too well or that you aren't aware of current market trends. A website that offers nothing but static pages and a phone number probably values personal contact, face-to-face meetings and 'real' location more than the online marketplace - and that, in today's market, means 'old'.

There's a lot of talk about swanky websites with moving this and flashing that, calls to action, on-page SEO, off-page SEO and a heap of other 'must-haves'. Much of it is pure rubbish. In many, if not most, cases, it's not SEO (search engine optimisation) that's needed - it's "Business Optimisation". Many of the problems businesses face is one of mixed messages - sometimes a small business has outgrown its initial image and forgets that the website needs revamping to properly reflect that fact. In many cases, a business which started out with a website simply because 'you've got to have one' finds that what they thought was OK at the time now looks stagnant or just dated. Many businesses which opted for simple templates or DIY site-builder options realise later that their website is incredibly similar to many others or that all the SEO benefits are actually going to the software company. But, notwithstanding all those possibilities, the simple answer in almost all cases is that the website simply doesn't deliver what the visitors expected when they clicked to it. And that is what you deal with first.

Part of the development of a website is about a thorough understanding of the business itself - how it runs, how customers order, what they expect to do in the process of placing an order, what the busy days and times are, what the products are, what size, colour or other selectable options there may be for different products, how delivery is handled and costed, how orders and customers are managed and how the business itself is managed. Of course, the nature of the customers will provide a large clue as to whether they're mobile / tablet users or PC Desktop users. This is key in deciding how the website layout should be handled. Understanding these basic factors means that a website can be built to deliver exactly what the customer expects and in such a way that easily integrates into the normal day-to-day business operation.

Once you deliver on your visitors' expectations, an investment in SEO may well be worth the money because your website will be doing what it says on the tin. In many cases, especially in the case of businesses serving a local or niche market, SEO is often not needed at all - the very fact that the website now delivers on that 'search result' promise will be enough to make Google value its content, approve the user experience and uprank it as a result.

Guy Somerville.