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.
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. It makes your business 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.
Where to start with your website
The first thing you need to do is to register your domain name. This would be www.yourcompany.com .
Next, you need to work with a designer to create the look and feel for your website. A good designer will help you to figure out what information should and should not be included on your website. You want to be informative about your business without going overboard.
Your next step is to secure a hosting account for your website. Your web designer can help you to do this as well.
What makes a good website?
Before getting enmeshed in design details, get the big picture by writing a site outline. A well-thought-out site outline includes: content, structure, design, navigation and credibility.
An outline helps you get the most out of your e-commerce budget. You’ll know whether you or someone in your company can do each piece or if you need outside help. That way, when you hire someone, it will be for only the parts of the job that you’ll need to have outsourced.
A detailed outline to prospective web designers makes the process more efficient.
Content: The key to a successful site is content. Give site visitors a lot of interesting information, incentives to visit and buy, and ways to contact you. Once your site is up and running, continually update and add fresh content to keep people coming back for more.
Structure: Next, structure your site. Decide how many pages to have and how they’ll be linked to each other. Choose graphics and icons that enhance the content. Pictures of adorable children of different ages, for example, might work well if you’re selling children’s clothes, with pictures of toys and books that site visitors can click on to jump to other pages within your site where they can buy these items. At this point, organise the content into a script.
Your script is the numbered pages that outline the site’s content and how pages flow from one to the next. Page 1 is your home page, the very first page that site visitors will see when they type in your website address, or URL. Arrange all the icons depicting major content areas in the order you want them. Pages 2 through whatever correspond to each icon on your home page. Following our example of selling children’s clothes, perhaps you’d start with the icon labeled “birth through one year” as page 2. Pages 3 through 12 might be all products and services pertaining to that age range. Page 13, then, would start with the icon from your home page labeled “one to three years.”
Writing a script ensures your website is chock-full of great content that is well organized. Write well, give site visitors something worthwhile for their time spent with you, and include a lot of valuable information and regular opportunities to get more content. Whether you offer a free newsletter, a calendar of events, columns from experts or book reviews, content and its structure becomes the backbone of your website.
Design: With the content and structure in place, site design comes next. Whether you’re using an outside designer or doing it yourself, concentrate on simplicity, readability and consistency. Before you start using HTML tags right and left, remember what you want to accomplish.
For example, if you have a pet products website, you recognise that many pet owners have both dogs and cats. You want them to be able to shop and order in the way that’s most comfortable for them. Perhaps they want to get their pet food order out of the way first, then shop for toys and fashion accessories. Maybe they prefer to shop for their cats, then focus on shopping for their doggie goodies.
Cue them with graphics, colours and fonts that make sense to you. Should all cat-related text and icons contain blue, while dog items are red? Should all food text and graphics be green, toys red and accessories yellow? These subtle cues make all the difference in how visitors respond to your website. Keep surfing the internet to research what combinations of fonts, colors and graphics appeal to you, and incorporate pleasant and effective design elements into your site.
Navigation: Make it easy and enjoyable for visitors to browse the site. Use no more than two or three links to major areas, never leave visitors at a dead end, and don’t make them back up three or four links to get from one content area to another. For example, if you have a website for convention planners, make it easy for visitors to link to city sites where they can find information about theaters, river cruises, museums and the like so convention attendees can check out recreational activities on their own.
Credibility: This is an issue that shouldn’t be lost in the bells and whistles of establishing a website. Your site should reach out to every visitor, telling them why they should buy your product or your service. It should look very professional and give potential customers the same feeling of confidence that a phone call or face-to-face visit with you would. Remind the visitors that you don’t exist only in cyberspace. Your company’s full contact information – contact name, company name, street address, city, province, postal code, telephone, fax and e-mail address –should appear on your home page.
From thorough contact information to customer testimonials, here are the essentials that every small business website should have for it to effectively help you do business.
1. A clear description of who you are
Someone who stumbles upon your website shouldn’t have to do investigative work to figure out what, exactly, it is that you do. That means clearly stating your name and summing up your products or services right on the homepage.
2. A simple, sensible web address
Don’t make things complicated. Your domain name is like your brand. It should be easy for a user to type it into a web browser or an e-mail address. Avoid dashes (which can cause SEO headaches) and numbers (which can cause confusion for customers).
3. An easily-navigated site map
Clear links to the most important pages, and a site map, are crucial for guiding visitors to the information they’re looking for. Be sure your navigation is clearly laid out. You can use dropdowns in the navigation menu so the visitor can see the content under every heading from virtually any page. You want to make it very easy for your visitors to find what they are looking for, or what you want them to know.
4. Easy-to-find contact information
You wouldn’t want to lose a customer to a competitor just because you made it difficult for them to get in touch with you. Not every online visitor has the patience to click through every page on your website to find the contact information. The best place for the contact information is the top left or top right corner of the home page. It is also good practice to include contact information in every page of the website in the footer or side bar or even in top right corner, which helps the visitors to find it more easily.
You should also be sure to include several ways for them to contact you – phone, e-mail, and a standard contact form, are all good options. One of the biggest mistakes business owners make is to force only one way to reach them. The point is to make it very easy for users to communicate with you on their terms.
5. Customer testimonials
Honest words from others help make your products or services more tangible to customers who are visiting you online. They help your potential customers to build trust in you, especially if you are new. And they help shoppers to confirm whether the product or services meet their needs. People love to hear stories from real people, they help people find out other things you haven’t said on your website.
6. An obvious call to action
Tell the online visitors literally what you want them to do with clear tones of commend. For instance, you may want them to call you now for a free quote, or sign up to your exclusively online coupons, or add products to the online shopping cart, etc. And, call attention to your suggestion by using special buttons or highlighting the text, for example.
7. Know the basics of SEO
Your website won’t do you as much good if no one can stumble upon it. Become familiar with the SEO basics to make it more accessible by search engine. You don’t need to employ mysterious, ninja, black hat SEO types to rank well on the search engines. Simply make sure your website is coded correctly. That means using the correct keywords throughout your text, putting in plenty of links, naming your page titles and URLs correctly, and employing the magic of images and videos.
8. Fresh, quality content
For many businesses, your website is your first impression on a customer. You want to give them what they’re looking for, and perhaps even give them a reason to keep coming back. The user is looking for something. Make sure you give it to them and be sure your content is original, well written and valuable. Fresh content is a goldmine for SEO, as well. You can keep your content from getting stale (and give your company some personality, too) by incorporating a regularly-updated blog or connecting in your social media feeds.
9. A secure hosting platform
Having your online information hijacked is a nightmare, and, should it happen to your business, it could cost you customers. It is imperative that you have a secure, trustworthy hosting company to keep the bad guys out and your content up and running. It is also very important to keep your content management system updated in order to stay one step ahead of the hackers.
10. A design and style that’s friendly to online readers
Online visitors often scan through a webpage to sample the content first when they open a new webpage. If they feel like they are on the right page, they will slow down to read the full story. To enhance the user’s experience on your small business website, you need to organise the content for scanning.
Keep these three style points for online writing in mind:
- Break things down into short paragraphs, with headers if necessary
- Use bullet points
- Highlight important words or phrases.
In the end, simplicity and basic colors are the best bet. Again, the content is the focus, not dancing clowns at the top of the page.
The no cost option
There are 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. If you choose the basic, free option you will not be able to have a custom domain, but you will be given the option to upgrade to a custom domain. The free sites usually have existing templates that you can choose from and simply add your own content to.
- Other sites offering the freemium model include Wix and WordPress.
Web design mistakes to avoid
If you commit these site development sins, it could cost you more than you know.
Your site can’t be all things to all people. Be selective about the content you decide to put on the site and organise it in a clean and logical manner. A lot of people try to put too much, especially on their home pages, and cram more down their customers’ throats.
Making things difficult.
The route from first click to sale has to be easy. It’s important to think like customers and prospects when evaluating the design of a site. One pet peeve is having to set up an account before checking out. Let customers buy from you on their terms.
Your website is never done. Keep finding ways to engage your customers, add content and make your site fresh. This will help keep customers interested and may also help in your web rankings. If you’re promoting a specific product or service or have a special promotion going on, it’s a good idea to use landing pages that support e-mail and social networking outreach efforts.
Copying your competition.
Always check out what your competition is doing, but don’t be a copycat. If you look too much like other businesses, customers could have trouble telling you apart. Review what others are doing, but speak to your own customers and use your own institutional knowledge to determine what is important to them.
Ignoring your audience’s needs.
Try getting baby boomers to read eight-point type and they may get frustrated. Be sure you understand your audience and its preferences before you build your site. Tiny or hard-to-read typefaces or harsh colors may look great from a design standpoint, but if you’re not designing for the people who buy from you, you could be losing their business.
Review the analytics of any sites you have before you begin designing a new one. Know your bounce rate (the number of people who leave the site after viewing only one or two pages) your top entrance page and your top exit page. Google Analytics will help you understand where your traffic is coming from, what keywords people are using to find you and what they’re reading on your site. That way you can build more of what’s working.
Refusing to get help.
Don’t let your pride or fear of spending earn you a spot on WebPagesThatSuck.com. If web design is not your strong suit and you need more than what a web design template can provide, seek professional help. Check your local business associations and look online for sites you like. Many have links at the bottom to their designers’ sites, so you can find a designer whose work you already like.
- Yola: www.yola.com
- Wix: www.wix.com
- WordPress: www.wordpress.com
- Google’s Search Engine Optimisation Starter Guide: http://static.googleusercontent.com/external_content/untrusted_dlcp/www.google.com/en//webmasters/docs/search-engine-optimization-starter-guide.pdf
- Search Engine Journal: http://www.searchenginejournal.com/