Many business owners get really excited about creating their websites, and get completely wrapped up in the design process. Usually this results in fancy flash sites that are difficult to use, take forever to load, and drive customers away.
The website is not about the needs of your business, but about the needs of your customers. What do they need to know about how your product or service will solve their problem or meet their need? What additional information would they benefit from learning from you? What do they need to know before they pick up the phone and contact you?
Every business is unique, and will have a different purpose for their website. Some will have an online store, while others will have three simple pages, relevant product and contact information. An effective website is one that meets the needs of the target market.
If your business has an existing website, it might be time for an update or a complete redesign. It's time to take a critical look at the website your business currently has online. Of course, if your site experiences a high number of daily hits and has a high conversion rate (converting 'hits' into leads), you may not need to revamp it. However, I recommend you always look for opportunities to improve.
Does your website look professional?
There are millions of websites out there, but unfortunately many look sloppy, templated, and unprofessional. In all areas of your business your first impression matters and this includes your website. Prospects who know nothing about your company will judge your product or service based on how your homepage looks and feels. A well-designed website will attract customers and begin to build trust and confidence in your offering.
Has your business grown since you built your website?
If it has been a while since you built your site, chances are your business has grown and so has your customer base. This is great, but you need to check in with your current website and make sure it still provides accurate and relevant information about your products and services.
It also may be time to take your site to the next level. Here are some suggestions:
Online customer support
Online purchase of products or services
Frequently asked questions
Customer feedback form
E-mail newsletters or auto-responders
Free 'expert' information
Where does your website rank when searched on Google and other search engines?
When you take the time to build a website, you want to make sure that people can find you when they search the major online search engines. If you are a dog groomer, you want your site to be in the top 10 when people search for dog care and products in your area. You want your site to rank higher than the competition on the list.
If you didn't design your site for search engine optimization (SEO), then redesigning it to rank higher is a smart investment for any business. I'll explain more about SEO and using keywords later on in this article.
Unless you're a web designer, I highly recommend outsourcing the creation of your website to an experienced person or firm.
The reason for this is simple. It's really hard to create a site that looks and functions professionally when you have little experience in web design. Plus, you're busy running and growing your business, and building websites can be a huge drain on your time - especially if you're building your first one.
Whether you choose to hire a design firm or build your site yourself, here's a step by step process for creating a website for your business:
1. Decide what your customers need from your website.
Just like any of your marketing materials, when creating a website you need to first stop and think about your target audience. In this case, you want to consider how your market is going to use your website, how web savvy they are, as well as how much information they need to know about your business before they contact you.
Who is my target audience?
What is the purpose of my website?
What do viewers need to know to convince them to make contact?
Will I need to sell products or services online?
2. Register a domain name that's easy to remember and then select a web host.
Choose a domain name, and register it online.
A domain name is your 'address' or 'location' on the Internet. It's the phrase a customer will type in to find your website. Your domain name can be any combination of letters and numbers up to 63 characters, and followed by an 'extension' like .com, .ca, or .biz.
A good domain name:
Is short and easy to remember.
Is simple and easy to spell.
Reflects your business.
Usually ends in .com
To register your domain name, simply search "register domain name," and find a registration website. You will need to first search the availability of your domain name, then secure it by registering it to your name for one or more years.
Choose a web host.
A web host is a company that stores your web site on their servers and transmits the files to the internet so that when someone goes to your domain name your website appears.
When you have your domain name registered, you will have to choose a hosting company. The key here is to find a host that offers great tech support and is available 24/7. If something happens and your website goes down, you'll need to be able to reach them quickly to fix the problem.
There are a variety of web hosts out there, and many major Internet providers will also offer hosting services. If you are using a web design company, they will be able to recommend a quality host.
3. Hire an expert to help build your website.
Like I said above, I highly recommend using a web design company to build your website - especially if you are building an e-commerce site.
If you do decide to create it yourself, there are many website-building programs out there, and some web hosts even offer templates for you to use. If you choose this option, ensure that your copy and images are as clear and simple as possible. Don't attempt to earn any design awards, or you may run the risk of producing an amateur site.
Remember that attractive web design will draw visitors to your site, and engage them in what you offer. Many people will judge a product or company based on the design of the site, which means that a good web design can potentially help your business grow.
However, also be aware that content is still king. It's easy to get wrapped up in flashy design and lose focus of the content or purpose of your site. Make sure there is a healthy balance.
4. Use keywords throughout your web copy.
One of the key strategies for search engine optimization is the incorporation of keywords in your body copy. Keywords are the most common words and phrases that people use to search for when looking for businesses like yours, or any other type of information online. When the words are entered, the search engine delivers the top sites that relate to those keywords - there may be millions of them.
If your website is search engine optimized, it will appear in the top 20 to 30 sites displayed, which will usually generate a high volume of traffic to your website. If you don't use keywords, you will have a difficult time bringing your website up the search engine rankings.
If you've hired a web design firm, they should be well versed in SEO and able to help you write your copy with keywords in mind. To find out what keywords you should incorporate, go to Overture or WordTracker and follow the steps.
You will enter some common search phrases a customer may use to find you, and hundreds of similar search terms will be listed, along with frequency. The more often you use the high frequency search phrases in your copy, the better the SEO of your site.
5. Publish your site by uploading it online.
When the files that comprise your website are complete, you will need to upload them to your web host's server in order to 'publish' your site or make it live.
If you are using a web design firm, they will usually take care of this for you. If you are building your site yourself, you will need to use an FTP program like FileZilla to login to the host server and upload the files to your domain.
If you want to make edits to the site yourself, you will have to download the files to your computer, make changes, and then upload them to the host server again. Be clear with the company that designed the site about the procedure for making changes. The most current files should always be the ones on the host server, because it can get complicated if edits are being made in two places, with two sets of files.
6. Test your website for usability.
When your site is published, invite your friends and colleagues to "test drive" it for user-friendliness. Watch them as they fill in forms, submit quote requests, edit user accounts or profiles, make a purchase or even just find key information. Don't help them along, just sit back and see how easy it is to navigate around your website as a customer. You may find areas that you need to tweak or improve.
7. Register with search engines and tell everyone about your site.
Ensure that your site will get listed with major search engines. Register your website address with the top search engines so prospects can find your business. 70% of web surfers find sites through search engines, so you really can't afford not to. Most are free, but some will charge a nominal fee for the registration. It's worth the investment.
Click on the following links to register your site:
MSN Search: //search.msn.com/docs/submit.aspx
Send your friends, customers and colleagues an email announcement. Send an email announcement to your customer database, as well as your business partners and colleagues announcing the launch of your new site. Provide a link for them to easily access the new page.
Exchange links with complementary businesses. If you know of other complementary businesses with websites (make sure they're not competitors) offer to exchange links and post them on each other's sites. Generally, the more sites that legitimately link to yours, the higher your search rating will be.
Promote your website offline too! Don't forget to include your website address everywhere you include your contact information. This goes for ads, brochures, direct mail pieces, business cards, business listings and letterhead. Use an email address with your domain name.
8. Implement a system for tracking traffic on your website.
Establish an in-store system for tracking leads generated from your website. Include your website as a lead source in your tracking systems, or when you ask customers where they heard about your business. This will give you a sense of how many people you are converting from website hits to qualified leads.
Build a tracking system into your website with Google Analytics. Use an online metrics measurement system like Google Analytics to monitor the traffic your site generates. Google Analytics is free to use, and easy to set up. Register at //www.google.com/analytics/ and have your web design company insert a small tracking code on each of your web pages. Google Analytics offers a comprehensive range of tracking and web analysis tools, and will measure metrics like:
how many people visited your website
which pages they visited
where they came from (geographically)
where they came from (online - search engine, link, other site, direct)
at which page they left the site
You can then use this information to restructure the copy on your website so that the pages with the highest traffic also have the most important messages. You will also be able to see which advertisements are drawing the highest traffic, and drop the ads that are generating the least.