Whatever the size of your organisation, a website is an essential business tool. However, having a good-looking site is no longer enough - it needs to actively work for you by attracting new business and driving your company forward. Greg Poulson explains how to create a hard-working website in ten simple steps
Few small businesses have huge budgets to spend on their website, but the good news is that focusing on certain key principles when developing and managing your website will almost certainly yield a healthy return on investment. Here are ten steps to ensure your website works hard for your business.
- Be business driven. Remember that your website is a business tool, and whilst good design is important, first and foremost it should be business-led. Increasingly, current and potential customers engage with a company via their website, so think of it as your showcase. Consistent branding and developing a defined identity starts with your website - and is then carried on through marketing, stationery, brochures and other activity.
- Review and reflect. You may be perfectly happy with your website, but like any practice or procedure it’s important to review it regularly to ensure that it still meets your needs and that of your customers. Does your site reflect changes in the marketplace? Does it still address your target market? Are the design, content and graphics still relevant? Does it accurately showcase your business? If your website has been up and running for several years it’s difficult to remain objective, so it can be helpful to get an opinion from an outside source who can bring a new perspective.
- Differentiation through design. People have such short attention spans and they will quickly leave a site that doesn’t capture their attention - and that’s where great design comes in. Thanks to faster broadband speeds and improved software, website design has evolved hugely. Graphics and images can now be bigger and better, and are a key part of establishing and reinforcing your branding and identity. Great design is also another way that you can really differentiate yourself from the competition, so ensure your site looks attractive and professional, as well as being functional. Ultimately, this will help to increase visitors, page view rates - and new business.
It's not always obvious how to optimise site performance. This free tool from Yell can tell you what changes you should be making.
- Work in progress. A website should be continually developing. Unfortunately, many people tend to think of their website as a finished project, similar to sending a brochure to the printer, failing to take advantage of the fact that a website can and should be regularly updated by changing and adding relevant content. This can be done by writing blogs, adding to news sections and creating links to and from your site. This is important because clients, visitors and search engines are attracted by active sites. For example, if Google sees that content is being updated, it will visit a site more often, revising listings which is likely to improve both Google and page rankings. However, there is a specific skill to writing relevant content that features the most popular key search phrases on Google. These may refer to specific products or services, geographical areas or a particular customer need.
- Getting to number one. When people look for products or services online, the chances are that they will use a search engine, so it’s crucial that your site is picked up by them. Smaller companies might think that only larger businesses can achieve page one of Google’s listings, but actually any company can rank highly if they use the right techniques and are prepared to put in the time and effort that is required to both get and stay there. However, the process is complicated by the fact that search engines are constantly changing, which means that SEO needs to be ongoing. It also requires off-site optimisation which involves linking to and from other sites, carrying out social media marketing and creating blogs and current content to enhance your site’s overall online influence.
- Get your priorities right. It’s always best to have a clear strategy when marketing any aspect of your business - and marketing your website is no different. Set short, medium and long-term goals but be aware that your web designer may not be the best person to help you achieve them. Designers often lack experience in SEO, which means that any optimisation of title and meta tags will be at a basic level and unlikely to generate the traffic that an active marketing strategy devised with an SEO/web marketing specialist will achieve.
- The value of online marketing. The internet is essentially demand-led, with SEO and some other forms of web marketing such as Google Adwords more highly targeted than offline advertising. This means that people who are actively searching for your product or service will be directed towards your site - so you get more bang for your buck on the internet than advertising in a magazine, for example.
- New marketing methods. In addition, companies are faced with relatively new strategies for web marketing including social media, YouTube and pay-per-click, some of which they may be uncomfortable or unfamiliar with. Whilst it would be great to do everything, financial and time constraints inevitably mean that you will have to choose the media and tactics that work best for your business.
- Be mobile friendly. The popularity of smartphones and tablets as a way of accessing the internet has risen rapidly and will only increase in the foreseeable future - so it’s important to bear this in mind when setting up or reviewing a site. Having a mobile-friendly site is increasingly important and (as long as you follow tips 1-8) a site that is easily accessible for mobile users is highly likely to increase sales and raise your profile, particularly if your business is primarily B to C. This is a whole topic in itself but in a nutshell, a mobile site should be built around the existing website, carrying through the brand identity. From a user point of view, it needs to capture the key elements of your main site, offering a point and click functionality that allows the user to access the aspects that interest them.
- Encourage your customers to take action. You have done the hard part, creating an attractive, functional website that can be found and stands out from the competition, so make sure you take the final step and encourage the visitors to act. Include and highlight plenty of calls to action throughout your site. Adding a reminder to “phone us” or “email us” or “click here to buy” is simple - and amazingly effective.
Your website should always be a work in progress. As search engines continue to evolve, content and SEO need to be regularly revisited. Our experience has taught us that it is the sites that are proactively managed and updated that contribute most to business growth. The best web developers will work in a partnership with the website owner to help them “make their website happen”, with constant review, dialogue and improvement.
The good news is that, no matter what your size, you can create a well-optimised, visible and effective website with a relatively limited budget if you follow these key principles.
Written by Greg Poulson of web developers, online marketing and SEO specialists Freetimers.