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Web and flow

How many times have you visited a website and made a hasty retreat because of your first impressions? In a consumer survey by moneyQuest, an overwhelming number of consumers reported the same common complaints about websites they visited recently – content which is not current, pages taking too long to load or which do not display properly and content which is irrelevant to them.

The legitimacy and presentation of your website clearly drives the consumer’s impression and ultimately their buying decision. We expect credible businesses to have up-to-date online content from which we can glean information quickly and without any hassle. In the ever-changing financial services market, products come and go on a daily basis and there is such generic uncertainty about the market that the opinion and analysis of subject experts have never played such a crucial part in the way consumers make financial choices.

Our industry obviously realises that websites are a highly effective way of communicating with our audience and probably the most lucrative way of generating leads. In a recent survey by Ofcom, 75 per cent of those asked said that the internet is their first stop for information about goods or services. Most people now consider internet access an essential part of everyday life. I think our sector realises that a website is a plat-form that allows communication of brand and proposition to everyone at any time.

However, so many sites appear to be old models which clearly have not been maintained and updated regularly. I accept that all websites are essentially a work in progress and that it is unrealistic to expect to launch a site that is a comp-letely finished product. But out-of-date content and functionality are not only incredibly frustrating but can give the impression that the company is disor-ganised, unprofessional or apathetic.

Only this week, I spotted wildly inaccurate information on the sites of three high profile intermediary businesses. One speaks of market improvements predicted for 2010, another firm’s site has a mortgage calculator which indicates that six times income is freely available and another boasts opening hours from 8.30am but I got no answer until 8.50. How can consumers trust your firm if website content is flawed?

Customers expect round-the-clock information and service. The internet enables them to get things sorted from the comfort of their own home. And if they choose to, consumers can make significant financial decisions without ever meeting an expert or leaving the house. It is our responsibility to recognise how consumer behaviour has changed and continues to do so by tailoring our delivery of information to suit.

The days of websites being brochureware, which is secondary to your other communication tactics, are long gone and, given that the average time spent on a page is just 30 seconds, the prominence, accuracy and clarity of content on websites is more important now than ever. There is no doubt that it will correlate directly with how many visitors turn into customers.

Rob Clifford is a director at national broker moneyQuest



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