Editor's note: Steve Henke is president of Harpeth Marketing, a Franklin, Tenn., firm providing outsourced marketing and consulting services to the market research industry. He can be reached at 615-415-3980 or at steve@harpethmarketing.com.

Marketing technologies and tactics are changing at a whirlwind pace but one thing that has remained true for years is that a company’s Web site is – and should be – the foundation of its marketing.

Your company Web site is the first place a prospective client will go to learn about your business, services, team, history and latest news. It’s where resources like blogs, articles and e-books are stored and accessed. It’s the starting point for prospective clients looking to communicate with your firm, either directly or as a place to connect with your social media sites. It is the centerpiece of your brand and the starting point for all other marketing.

Then why are so many Web sites in the MR industry so bad?

This article will outline the 13 most common Web site mistakes that impact a site’s usability and alter visitors’ perceptions of your firm (in no particular order):

1. No elevator pitch. Just like at a networking event, you have 10 to 15 seconds to grab a visitor’s attention and clearly explain who you are and what you do. The message has to be front and center on the home page. If it’s unclear, vague or difficult to find, you’ve lost them.

2. The site design is dated. The most egregious contributors:

  • The site uses an out-of-date, boxy design.
  • The fonts and colors are no longer in favor.
  • The site has little or no imagery (images of people are best!).
  • It relies on Flash for Web site animation. Flash is not only out of favor, it also dramatically slows down site load times.
  • There is very little white space and the site is so crowded with information that the eye doesn’t know where to look.
  • The navigation is not user-friendly and visitors have to hunt to find things.
  • It’s slow to load due to poor design or a lousy hosting company.

Take the time and invest in a professional Web design or development firm. Too many sites in our industry look homemade and amateur – not a perception you want visitors having of your firm.

3. It’s poorly written. The text is just a blathering of facts and most sentences start with “we.”

People care less about what you can do and more about what you can do for them. Every visitor wants to know, “What’s in this for me?” Answer that question on every page. Focus on the benefits (what prospects gain by doing business with you) instead of your business features (what you do). Remember who you’re writing for and talk about how you solve their problems. If you’re a research agency, remember your clients don’t have research problems they have business problems that research can help solve.

Don’t bury visitors with too much data. Keep text simple. You’ll communicate more effectively if you pretend to explain the business to your 12-year-old daughter. You’re not trying to explain everything, you just want to showcase what you do, intrigue visitors a little and get them to connect with you.

4. No business differentiation. Most Web sites highlight what a firm does and who it serves but very few in our industry express how the company is different and why it should be chosen over the competition. What is your true point of differentiation? Communicate that and you can gain a competitive advantage.

5. Not promoting your team. People in our industry want to get to know the team they’ll be working with, so make sure to include photos and bios of your staff.

6. No reason to believe. How do you convince new sales prospects that they should take a chance on your firm? Easy: prove to them you’ve done it before. Make sure you provide the following kinds of proof on your Web site: a client list with logos, client testimonials, case studies and white papers. Without this, it’s as if you’re saying to a sales prospect, “Hey, just trust me!”

7. No links to social media sites. Assuming you have a couple of social media sites (a LinkedIn corporate site and Twitter account, at minimum), make sure there are social media icon links on every Web page.

8. The site is not optimized for mobile use. If your site is anything like ours, about one in four visitors are on a mobile device. You don’t want them leaving your Web site because it’s hard to read or navigate. And according to Google, starting on April 21, 2015, mobile-friendliness becomes a factor in search engine ranking.

9. You don’t have a blog. A blog should be the cornerstone of any content marketing you do. It positions you as an industry thought leader and it positively impacts SEO. The key to blog success is consistency.

10. No other resources are available. We’re in the knowledge business and providing content – articles, e-books, infographics, etc. – builds awareness, positions your firm in the marketplace and differentiates you from the competition. It also helps with SEO, gives people a reason to keep coming back to your Web site and can be used effectively for lead generation.

11. Not measuring your site’s effectiveness. At least once a month – weekly if possible – use Google Analytics to track and monitor your Web site’s activity. At a minimum, make sure you keep an eye on how many people come to your site, where they come from, how long they stay and which pages they visit.

12. It is difficult to get in touch. Congratulations! Your Web site’s done a good job of convincing a sales prospect that they should include your firm in their RFP (or RFI) process. Is it super easy for prospects to do that? Provide a phone number, an e-mail and an online form for getting in touch with you. Why all three? Because it’s not what you prefer, it’s what they prefer!

13. Not using a content management system (CMS). You shouldn’t have to pay someone (Web developer, your nephew, etc.) to do simple things on your site like adding a blog post! There are so many proven platforms available. Not keeping simple Web site management in-house is just bad business.

You only get one chance to make a first impression, and in nearly every case, it’s with your Web site. Don’t blow it because you’re not paying attention to these common mistakes. Now that you know what to do – and what not to do – go make it happen!

Good luck and good marketing!