high-performance race car

What Exactly is a High-Performance Website?

I use the term “high-performance” several times on my website and may often use this phrase when talking to clients. We all know what a high-performance car is like or a high-performance athlete. But what does this term mean when applied to your company or organization’s online presence through its website?

Back in 1995, websites were totally passive; they just sat there and waited for someone to visit them. Mostly, they were “online brochures.” We drove traffic (people) to them through our business cards, advertising in newspapers and other traditional media, or by word-of-mouth. They served their purpose well to support and enforce our business and its brand. Their owners often designed and constructed these sites, modeled by mimicking the designs of the commonly distributed brochures and other printed materials at the turn of the millennium.

There are still occasional cases for having these electronic brochure websites, but their numbers are dwindling. And business owners who continue to think as they did 20+ years ago will watch their precious enterprises fail when their competitors eclipse and then bury them with websites that not only look and function better but do so much more than digitally displayed paper brochures.

To me, a high-performance website does one or both of these things:

  1. Convert.
  2. Add business functionality.

I’ll get into more detail about these later on in this post. For the time being, think of the term “convert” meaning you want to change a website visitor from a “looker” into a “doer.”

The second point above is that your website can do more than just act as a marketing vehicle. It’s relatively easy these days to add functionality to a website ranging from actually selling things (e-commerce) to appointment booking.

A Website Is An Employee?!

It’s actually both relevant and logical to think of your website as being an employee. Aligning with my two stated points above, an employee’s job could be to convert people into customers (sales or marketing) or handle regular business functions (e.g. reception or order entry). As businesses grow, they naturally hire people to help them with the burgeoning workload, or they employ them immediately before that expected increase in business. So, describing the two potential aspects of a high-performance website by using an employee analogy is totally valid.

Converting Website Visitors

Every business – and even a charity – is involved in selling something. Whether it’s a product, service, belief, cause, or movement, people need to be informed, swayed, and convinced to “buy in” to whatever is being pitched. So let’s use a quick story about two salespeople in my high-performance website/employee analogy.

You have two salespeople in your imaginary business, which is involved in the sale of large appliances such as stoves and washing machines. Both are paid a straight commission rate of 6% on everything they sell.

Hugh is a good-looking, smooth-talking, well-dressed fellow who epitomizes the word “gentleman.” He can close most every prospect that walks in the door of your shop because he knows his stuff. People immediately like Hugh when they meet him and he’s happy to be paid totally on commission. Last year he made $90,000 working for you, selling appliances worth $1.5 million. Not bad for the industry. If Hugh has any fault, he’s not really what you’d term a “go-getter” and his typical sales routine is that he waits for potential customers to walk in the door or relies on referrals from his past customers. Oh, and incidentally, Hugh is your brother-in-law, so he’s pretty well “unfireable.”

Daphne is young and a bit rough around the edges. She’s average-looking and not nearly equal to Hugh in the first impressions department. Daphne has analyzed her employer’s place in the market really well and fully understands the buying process of most of her customers. Her closing rate is equal to Hugh’s, but surprisingly she has a lot of new customers that walk in the door and actually ask for her.

Daphne figured out soon into her new job that investing in it was going to be up to her because you’re a bit of a cheap boss. (Sorry about that!) So, she spends a few hundred dollars a year subscribing to a service that sends her information about new home building permits in her city. Using this information, she uses a good part of her day calling these people who are building new homes who will obviously be in the market for as many as a half dozen new appliances sometime soon. Even though she’s only in contact with these prospects by phone and email, she immediately establishes a good rapport with them. In fact, she’s got her prospective customers virtually sold before they even walk into the store. Daphne has also invested $50 each month on an online system where her prospects make appointments to come and see her – and they like this! Daphne’s selling system is so efficient that she works ten fewer hours each week than Hugh, yet handles 30% more customers. This resulted in last year her making $150,000 on sales of $2.5 million.

But this year has been different. There’s a pandemic that’s swept the world and affected your appliance business – and everybody else’s. People aren’t building as many new houses, and they sure aren’t spending their savings on upgrading their appliances. It’s come to where your revenue has dropped to where it can no longer support two salespeople. You’re going to have to let one of them go.

But Hugh is your sister’s husband. He’s part of your extended family and you’d feel terrible to have to lay him off. But this isn’t the time to be sentimental. You’re now considering the survival of the business.

It’s pretty obvious to me (and it should be to you) that Daphne is the salesperson worth keeping.

In this little analogy of mine, Hugh is your current website. He’s reliable, and he does the job. You like him and feel comfortable with him, and you sure don’t want to cause a rift in the family — but the job he’s doing is just not up to what it demands of an appliance salesperson in the 2020s. He’s passive and just waits for people to come and almost demand that he sell them something. Nothing he’s been doing really brings in business for the company.

Similar to Hugh, your website is functioning like it was still 2000 when nobody “pre-shopped” brick and mortar stores by looking them up online. Nobody then made any buying decisions before actually going to the store. But that sure isn’t the case anymore, is it?!

Daphne is your new high-performance website. She doesn’t just welcome in the prospective customers that darken your door — she actively pursues them by purchasing data to target and connect with new, high-value potential customers who are actively researching new appliances. Daphne then invests in and leverages technology to make herself more efficient by having her prospects book time with her.

Similar to Daphne getting advance notice of building permits, people use the internet to troll for information prior to purchasing something. Knowing what search terms people are using to find businesses like yours means you can skew your website’s written content to include those words and terms. That way, visitors to your website are effectively “pre-qualified” and are already in the mindset to be using your product or service. Designing the website in ways that effectively “funnel” visitors through a pre-defined process makes converting them from “lookers” into “consumers” far more probable.

Conversions

A high-performance website has one primary purpose: to convert. That is, to move and motivate visitors to your website to perform a specific action. Almost everything on a high-performance website is geared this way. To put this in different terms, a high-performance website does more than simply inform — it motivates action.

So what could that action be?

In the most simple sense, it could be to have the website visitor contact you. Immediately. If this were by phone, then suitable CTA (call to action) buttons or links would be strategically placed through the site. With up to half your website visitors using a cellphone to view your website, they would, of course, be “clickable” on a smartphone. That way the user wouldn’t have to transcribe your phone number when they want to call you. If you wanted them to reach you by email, then you’d have CTA-connected links to your primary email address. Even better, you’d have a neat and concise contact form that not only captured their name and email but also some pertinent and helpful information about what they’re interested in.

For an e-commerce website, the obvious action would be to purchase something. Most all of us have been through “shopping cart hell” in such websites that were poorly designed or didn’t execute properly and efficiently. And how many of us have bought add-ons — items that we didn’t originally intend to purchase from an online store?! A high-performance e-commerce website has built-in upsells, down sells, and cross-sells.

Another common conversion action for a website is having the visitor sign up for a newsletter or a mailing list for future emailed sales and offers. While we might provide something in exchange for this personal information, most of the time we simply expect people to willingly surrender it. A high-performance website will streamline this sign-up process into the design of the website and make the offer to give this personal information irresistibly compelling.

Under the Covers

What most people wanting or needing a new website seem to misunderstand or avoid comprehending is that much of the work in creating a high-performance website is in the things that nobody sees! Simply designing, building, and posting a gorgeous website on the internet does not automatically list it with Google or Bing or make it popular. It certainly doesn’t make it suddenly and easily “found.” And even if it does, is it listed for the best possible search terms? Is it on the first or second SERP (seach engine results page) or buried on the fifth? Finally, when a new visitor arrives at your website, does all the language, graphics and photos, and structure of the website direct and focus them to performing your desired action? These take thought and a significant amount of expertise, something that few business owners have the time to acquire and learn how to implement.

Websites are the same as human beings, in that beauty is only skin deep. A gorgeous-looking website that makes people ‘ooh’ and ‘ah’ when they view it is nice to have, but not very useful if it doesn’t help our business or organization. Getting a website to be useful and become high-performance requires a lot of behind-the-scenes thought and work.

High-Performance Websites as an Investment

A high-performance website will always cost more than a typical website — and so they should! There is significantly more work, time, and expertise required to design and build such things. And there are often higher ongoing costs to operate and maintain HP websites. But there’s almost always a payoff, an ROI (return on investment) that might be only a few months away. There’s a point in time where the website begins to actually make you money and no longer be seen as something that costs you money.

What smart business owner wouldn’t invest in purchasing a machine that spits out widgets three times as fast as the current widget-maker and offers a half-year ROI based on current sales?! Even borrowing money to buy such a piece of equipment at loan-shark rates would give a dramatically quick payback!

I often find it frustrating when my potential website clients can’t make the same connection. If a high-performance website were to:

  • increase your annual sales by a modest amount
  • free up a few hours of your life each week
  • add an additional source of income to an already-existing business
  • give your customers a higher level of pre- or post-sales satisfaction
  • create a community around your brand
  • provide an alternative way for your customers to buy your products or services

wouldn’t it be worth it?

Summary

In the world of websites, we can divide them into two groups: those that are high performance and those that are not. Those in the latter camp will never increase the sales or awareness of their owners’ business or organization because it bases their primary purpose on a decades-old way of doing business.

Like an employee (that doesn’t complain or take holidays), enterprises and institutions will benefit financially and in other ways by adopting high-performance websites that serve them, increasing both visitor conversions and convenience.

While I am happy designing and building online brochures (AKA low-performance websites), I truly get a much bigger kick from making those that serve purposes beyond the traditional ones. After all, who wouldn’t get satisfaction from watching a client’s website increase sales or the overall productivity of their enterprise?

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