Planning a website
Why bother planning a website?
‘If I make a good Facebook page and tidy up my twitter account, surely I won’t need a website of my own and that will probably save time effort and money won’t it?’
With the rise in popularity of social networking platforms and so-called‘Free’ website builders, this is a question that a new business owner could be tempted to consider. But the very feature that appeals to the newcomer, ie, the free nature of these platforms - Is the very thing that works against them.
First of all free is never truly free. All platforms and all systems have to be paid for in some way - all have running costs, equipment and staff to be covered. In the main these are recouped by advertising, in some cases this may seem pretty unobtrusive - but many systems now employ sophisticated targeting systems that ‘follow’ site users around the internet, continually serving up ads. In the case of the ‘free’ website building systems, they tend to promote their own companies and advertising partners very heavily indeed. At the end of the day, the free companies need your content to draw in surfers - to look at their advertisers products - which in turn generates their revenue.
Secondly, you must always ask who owns the content that you put out on the platform? Almost without exception It will be the owner of the system - and that means that if for any reason you fail to comply with their many rules and regulations your content can be removed without warning. Essentially you are relying on their goodwill to promote your business. If they change the rules or you infringe them - that’s it as far as your account goes.
The value of time
One of the factors rarely considered at the outset of these free or very low-cost projects is the real cost of the business owner’s time spent whilst planning a website or learning new and often alien skills. All businesses have two main resources that will be stretched at the beginning of the venture, Time and Money. Whilst money can often be recouped through sales, time can never be replaced. If you have any kind of a deadline to get your business up and running - you might find that the do it yourself approach will sap all of your time and energy at the outset - and still not produce the result you anticipated.
Finally and probably most importantly, there is the question of validation - by using a free or advertising supported platform are you showing your business in the best possible light? Frankly, people might be entitled to think that if you are not prepared to invest in your own business, why should they? Having your own domain name and business email address shows that you are taking your business seriously at the very least.
Remember the last time someone gave you a business card? - you probably followed up with a visit to their website to find out more about them, didn’t you? Well. you should expect others to do the same - and if they find a poorly designed, advert filled, free offering, what sort of impression will they be taking away of your business?
Who is it for?
Of all the questions you should be asking whilst planning a website, this is probably the most important one. Before you go near a computer or connect to the internet - you need to allocate some time to ‘profiling’ your ideal client. Identifying a specific type of person who will want to use your products or services will help you design a website that appeals to them.
For example, if your ideal clients are 50 something females, you might want to use colours and font sizes that are feminine in tone and large enough to read.
On the other hand, if you are hoping to attract ‘boy racers’ then black red and yellow might be your choice of colours with an emphasis on video, depending on the product or service offered.
Building a picture of your prospective clients also helps to focus your mind on what you say and how you say it - words are important on the web - remember you are not standing directly in front of the prospect, so you cannot use body language, facial expressions or hand gestures to convey meaning, your website is doing the talking for you - so you have to rely mainly on the printed word. take a look at our article on content updates.
What do you want?
Having thought about your ideal clients and decided that you want your website to appeal to a certain group or groups of people - you next need to think about what you want to get from them?
Will you be selling directly to them from the website? And if so how will they buy? Have you considered the charges involved in credit card transactions on the web? How will delivery charges be worked out? And have you considered who your REAL competitors are?
Many firms set up online - hoping to sell products, not realising that their biggest competitors are not the traditional businesses in the next street or town, but the mega-corporations like Amazon, Argos and eBay.
Generally speaking, when it comes to virtually any kind of consumer products - these three cover virtually all possibilities - So why should a surfer buy from you when the established big boys have become so efficient at packaging, discounting and delivering on a massive scale? Frankly, If you sell anything that can be obtained easily and cheaply from these suppliers, your chances of competing directly, head to head with an online shop are less than good. You have to find another way.
Many websites exist to collect information about the site visitors - it has often been said that ‘the money’s in the list’ and building a list of prospective clients is one way to start the online selling process. Offering surfers something useful in exchange for their email address is a straightforward method of list building that has been tried and tested over the years. Once they are on the list you can drip feed information or special offers or a relevant newsletter to your audience - building trust that will lead to sales.
Other website owners are looking to generate enquiries directly from their web pages either by telephone or email - once again this is a form of information collection - but in this case, the surfer’s enquiry is generally dealt with in real time by a real person, not an automated email system. Many firms have found that having a live chat facility on their site greatly increases the enquiry rate.
Whatever the desired end result you are seeking, it is imperative that you make it clear to the surfer what they should do next. A clear CALL TO ACTION [CTA] should be on every page and ideally your business contact details should be clearly displayed at the top AND bottom of EVERY page on the site - whatever you do - don’t make it hard for customers to get in touch!
The basic building block of any website project is the navigation system - it is crucial to your success - without a clear system, your visitors will leave in frustration. Not being able to find what they are looking for is the number one reason for high visitor bounce rates - and also explains abandoned shopping carts. You must face the facts - your visitor has limited attention
You must face the facts - your visitor has limited attention span and even more limited patience - if a thing is not immediately obvious they just click and go - after all, there’s no shortage of other websites for them to visit is there?
Simplicity is the essence of good navigation. These days the consensus of good design seems to indicate that your primary navigation menu [navbar], should be located at the top of each page and whilst this is the norm for most applications you might want to think about a couple of variations on this theme. First off vertical navigation down the left side of the webpage. This was a popular layout some years ago and has made a return to popularity with sites that have lots of pages and subpages
First off vertical navigation down the left side of the webpage. This was a popular layout some years ago and has made a return to popularity with sites that have lots of pages and subpages - the left-hand location prevents the page content being obscured by drop down menus and is a very clear and simple way of getting around a larger site
Next, the hamburger menu - the hamburger is the icon that looks like 3 short horizontal lines - just like a hamburger stack. It generally locates in the top right corner of a page and is the accepted or de facto standard for most mobile page menus. it can, however, be employed on standard page layouts too - and is v very useful where the page title are long and may cause the top menu layout to break up on average screen sizes. To ensure clarity it is best to have a small label next to the hamburger that just says ‘menu’ so that surfers who are not familiar with the icon know what to do next!
Finally the mega-menu. This is a variant on the standard top level navbar. Mega menus (sometimes spelt “megamenus”) are a type of expandable menu in which many choices are displayed in a two-dimensional drop-down layout. They are an excellent design choice for accommodating a large number of options or for revealing lower-level site pages at a glance.
As you can see there are many ways to present your content - the secret is to keep things simple for the visitor.
The Home Page
When it comes to planning a website, your homepage is a critical component. Most of the time, it’s the first page people see, it’s the page most likely to be clicked on in the search engine results pages (SERPs), and it’s the page people will look at when deciding if they would like to do business with you.
Unfortunately, most small business homepages are not built with a purpose in mind.
At least not a purpose tied directly to the growth of the business. Which is funny because if you were meeting one-on-one with a potential client, you’d probably go into the meeting with a very well defined objective. You’d want to make money by selling your product or service.
Why should your web design be any different?
After all - the web pages you show to a potential client are essentially your silent salesmen aren’t they?
in my opinion, however, somewhere along the way, the process of building a website has become more about the business owners, rather than the clients or customers. Instead of building a website focused on generating sales, most small businesses focus on:
- Building a web design that looks beautiful.
- Producing a web design that showcases the designer’s creativity.
- Telling customers what you want them to know instead of what they want to know.
Unfortunately, none of those things contributes towards sales, revenue or profits. Why? Because the unfortunate truth is that people don’t want to know what you have to say. They want to know that you have a solution to their problem. Once you do, a funny thing will happen – your website will start attracting more leads and generating new business.
Why? Because the unfortunate truth is that people don’t want to know what you have to say. They want to know that you have a solution to their problem. Once you do, a funny thing will happen – your website will start attracting more leads and generating new business.
Because the unfortunate truth is that people don’t want to know what you have to say. They want to know that you have a solution to their problem. Once you do, a funny thing will happen – your website will start attracting more leads and generating new business.
They want to know that you have a solution to their problem. Once you start to address their real issues, a funny thing will happen – your website will start attracting more leads and generating new business!
For a lot of companies, that contact page is the main reason they have a website in the first place. For others, the contact page filters or manages all incoming contact requests. The right information on these contact pages, combined with for instance a map or images, really improves the user experience. And that way you can even use your contact page to improve the overall SEO of your website.
Please understand, when planning a website that there is more than one way to look at a contact page. Some websites use it to direct customers to their customer service, others fill their contact page with call-to-actions and direct visitors to their sales team. Small businesses will use their contact page to direct people to their store or office. What works for others, might not work for your contact page. It highly depends on what kind of business you have. Go read and decide for yourself what improves your contact page!
Essential elements of your contact page
During the planning a website process, think about what you are looking for when visiting a contact page on any website. I for one, am not a big fan of phone calls, so I’d rather email a company. Saves time, and it’s less intrusive. Personally, I prefer a contact form on some occasions and an actual email address on others. So I’d advise providing both. Let’s look at all the essentials:
- Company name.
- Company address.
- General company phone number.
- General company email address.
- Contact form.
If you have more than one department that can be reached by phone or email, list all. Add a clear heading and the details of how that department can be contacted. An example: universities and hospitals usually have separate departments for students, patients, press, business opportunities and more. Obviously, these departments should only be listed if their details should be available for everyone visiting that website.
Reviews and testimonials have become an essential part of my online buying process - are you the same?
If you are just in the early stages of planning a website then you won’t have many reviews yet - but it really is important to have a process for getting as many as possible as quickly as you can.
The fact is, that we are all looking for trust signals, a reason to choose one supplier or one product over another - and recent stats have shown that a massive 90% of us are influenced by them. We also know that online reviews can help Google evaluate the quality of a website for ranking purposes.
Good Reviews make a BIG difference to clients.
Firstly they certainly help to make your business more attractive to potential clients - It’s likely that the site with good reviews will get better quality, more ‘ready to buy’ traffic, than a site that has no reviews or bad reviews. That’s just human nature I think. Certainly, I visit the supplier with the best rating first - whether I’m in Google, looking for local goods and services or doing an Amazon search for products.
Good Reviews also matter to Google
When it comes to ranking your website in the SERPS [Search Engine Results Pages], Quite a lot of weighting is applied for sites with good third party reviews - some experts claim that they can influence your position by as much as 10% overall - that’s a massive advantage over competitors who don’t bother to acquire good third party testimonials.
So how do you get started with online reviews?
Which online review service should you choose and how do you get your customers to write them?
With some online review sites, the reviews submitted are exclusively restricted to that website, and therefore have no impact on your Google Rating. It makes sense then, to choose a review website that Google does use if you want your reviews to help in terms of SEO. Some review websites like Yelp, discourage you from asking customers to leave a review directly, whilst others, including Google Reviews, encourage you to obtain customer reviews. All sites discourage the solicitation of positive reviews, however, and any tactics used to obtain reviews should be neutral in tone. Make sure that whatever review site you decide to use, you are familiar with their individual rules. My own tactic is simple in the extreme, send a polite email to the client with a link to your Google
My own tactic is simple in the extreme, send a polite email to the client with a link to your Google reviews page and leave the rest up to them!