Building a Better Website

Building a Better Website

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Imagine not having a telephone number that customers can call when they want to reach you. It’s unthinkable. Equally ridiculous in today’s information age is the fact that some small and medium size businesses still do not have a website, or at best they have a stale online presence that is never updated.

“Customers perceive a business to be more established and professional when it has an active website,” says Leigh-Ann O’Hagan, owner of website design company LIT Creations. “It’s a great way to market your business.”

Indeed, business owners who insist they do not need a website will soon find themselves going out of business, according to Rob Stokes, CEO of digital agency Quirk eMarketing. “Whether you provide investment advice or plumbing services, people must have the ability to find you on the web. If you’re not there, you will lose out to competitors who are online.”

Even cost-conscious SMEs have to acknowledge that times have changed. The Internet is now the fastest growing advertising medium and it has to be embraced by businesses of all sizes. An informative, well designed website enables a business to break through any local barriers and become accessible to anyone, anywhere, at any time.

Think about that — your business is reachable to people 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The convenience factor is huge, and can help to boost customer satisfaction from the word go. Your customers and potential customers can visit your site from the privacy of their home or office to find out information about the products or services you offer, making it possible for your business to reach a wide audience with a relatively small investment. And because you can change the content on your website, you can keep it looking fresh and tailor it to what your visitors are looking for.

What does it cost to build a website?

What should you pay for a website? That’s a tough question to answer. For SMEs looking to develop an online presence, O’Hagan’s company, which focuses on SMEs, charges as little as R200 per web page. “A website with four pages — a home page, About Us, services and contact — will cost R800 including all design. We also offer additional functionality for an extra fee. B&Bs may want a gallery for instance, while another business may want a shopping cart or a content management system.”

For start-ups, web design company Media Etc offers logo, letterhead, business card, email signature, a four-page website and your own domain for R8 100.
Interexcel’s web design package costs R7 600, which you can also pay off monthly.

Jasper Consultants web developer Gideon Oelofse, says business owners should budget between about R1 500 and R5 000 per page depending on the programming needs.
“Artwork is fairly standard at R1 500 per hour, but it’s the programming element that’s key. A weighing system or a catalogue that sits on the web page runs in the background and has to be added on to a standard design.”

At the higher end, Stokes says websites which typically provide About Us information and list the products and services available can cost from R20 000, up to R100 000. This type of site is perfect for businesses seeking to have a presence on the Net, but which do not transact financially with customers.

“You can employ a freelance designer to create a website that will cost you in the region of R20 000 to R50 000,” says Stokes. “Where companies make a big mistake is that they will fork out R100 000 on a website when they should rather spend 70% of that budget on actually marketing the website, and only 30% on creating it. The point is to get people to your site.”

Paid search is key to achieving this. It’s an advertising strategy that involves the purchasing of web traffic from search engines. Your ad appears in the search engine’s ‘sponsored links’ section and clicking on the ad will redirect visitors to your landing page. Google’s version of paid search is called AdWords.

Cost per click is the amount your company pays for having that link clicked on within a search result page. Also important is the click through rate, the rate at which a keyword listing is displayed against how many times it was clicked. For example, if an ad is displayed 10 times, and clicked on twice, the click through rate is 20%.

It is easier to determine the return on investment in this type of search engine marketing, because the data reflecting activity around your ad is generated instantly. “The advantage of this type of marketing is that it’s very controllable,” he adds.

Conversion rates are key

Stokes points out, however, that the conversion rate for South African websites — a critical consideration — is as low as 10%. The conversion rate is the ratio of visitors who convert casual content views or website visits into desired actions based on subtle or direct requests from marketers, advertisers, and content creators.

It’s defined as follows:

Conversion rate =

number of goal achievements

visits

A successful conversion may be a membership registration, e-newsletter subscription, software download, or other activity that occurs due to a request on the site that directs the visitor to take action. To an online retailer, a successful conversion is usually the sale of a product to a consumer whose interest in the item was initially sparked by clicking a banner ad.

While paid search brings people to your site, you must ensure that the site is designed to achieve certain goals and makes use of the appropriate visual and textual cues.

Relevant content

When it comes to website development, a great amount of emphasis is placed on design. Equally important, however, is the content. Too often, copywriting is an afterthought in web development. No matter how attractive, clever or interactive a website is, its main purpose is to convey information. A great website is designed around the content. User experience is what it’s all about. When people visit your site, is it worth their while? This has nothing to do with size or impressiveness. It’s simply about relevance.

“The key consideration when it comes to content is what your user is looking for, not what you want to tell them,” Stokes says. “There are some really great looking sites out there that just don’t deliver on that. If you’re a fast food company, for example, make sure your website is optimised for use on a mobile phone. It’s when I’m driving home from work that I’ll want to call and place, so I must be able to find your contact details on my phone.”

Email marketing

Business owners must not underestimate the power of email marketing. It’s become the forgotten child, but it can be extremely effective in driving people to your site. Take a décor business as an example. People who visit your site are interested in decorating their homes.

That provides you with an ideal opportunity to send out a regular newsletter that gives them an update on the latest trends in décor and design, rather than merely sending out an email about your products. Maybe you can include a discount coupon in the newsletter. By providing information and value for your newsletter subscribers, you can convert them into active supporters and customers. n

Critical Considerations

Professional design or DIY? Paid or free hosting?

Make these choices based on the needs of your business.

Content management

The publishing platform WordPress is a full content management system (CMS) which comes with thousands of plug-ins, widgets, and themes. An open source CMS, it is the most popular one in use today. It simplifies the publication of web content to websites and mobile devices in particular, allowing content creators to submit content without requiring technical knowledge of HTML or how to upload files.

Free websites

There are also a number of free website options available. Among the most popular is Yola, which offers three levels of service. The most basic website is free, while a professionally designed site from Yola Premier will cost $349,95. You simply let the designers know what you want and they’ll make a custom five-page website for a one-time fee. You’ll have full control of the completed website, and you can make changes or updates at any time at no cost. The website is also hosted for free and comes with technical support.

The bespoke route

If you have R100 000 or more to spend, and you want more than an online brochure, you may opt to have a custom-built website. These are usually created with programming languages like ASP and PHP. Unlike static HTML web pages, websites built with ASP and PHP are more dynamic and can allow users to interact and exchange information using the website’s databases. This route is ideal if you want to build an e-commerce site, or any other site where there is a lot of interaction between the business and the website users.

When it comes to costing and expenses, ASP costs more, while open source PHP can run on a Linux server which you can get at no cost. PHP is also more flexible when it comes to database connectivity and it can connect to several. If you are particular about speed, then choose PHP. It runs much quicker than ASP.

Hosting options

Just as a free or low-cost website may be ideal for your business needs, both free and professional web hosting have their benefits and downsides. For a simple website, a free hosting service will provide what you need.

The biggest problem with a free service, however, is that the amount of traffic to your site may be limited, as may the size of the files. You also have to ensure that the hosting company does not experience downtime as this will impact the number of visitors to your site. Avoid sites covered in sponsors’ banner ads as these look very unprofessional.

Paid services provided by a good web hosting company should come with far better customer service. They will also offer ample web space and disk space. Often large amounts of uptime will be guaranteed. So yes, they cost more, but the service is far more advanced.

Monique Verduyn
Monique Verduyn is a freelance writer. She has more than 12 years’ experience in writing for the corporate, SME, IT and entertainment sectors, and has interviewed many of South Africa’s most prominent business leaders and thinkers. Find her on Google+.