Home \ 10 Tips for a Successful Web Site
Do you have a marketing plan and/or style guide for your business (logo, colour scheme, etc.)? If not, it is a good time to clarify your marketing goals and quantify the “look” of your business before spending time and/or money on a website. Your website reflects you and your business, as does your signage, business cards, uniforms, print advertising, an so on. They should all have a consistent look and deliver a consistent message.
Technology does not equal success. Too often, people read or hear about a certain platform and confuse the (supposed) success other people are having with the type of technology their website is running on.
If you are setting up your own website, make sure you are comfortable with the technology. Things run well until they don’t run well … be careful not to extend yourself too far beyond your technological comfort zone. Time invested in learning about the technology you are using (and the security implications of that technology) will not only help you get the most from your site, but will equip you with the skills needed to handle problems as they arise. Building your own website is building a home - if your technology ladder (knowledge) only has two rungs, don’t try to build a highrise by yourself. Time invested in learning about the technology you are managing will add rungs to your ladder, but always try to be aware of what you don’t know. Since time is money in the business world, if you don’t have the time necessary to learn everything about what you’re trying to build, you can pay for the knowledge and experience of a professional (such as Internet Advisor) to give you the boost you need to reach the top.
And backup your data regularly!
Pop-ups, viral images for social media, Likegates … there are all sorts of tips, techniques, modules, and plug-ins that will help “increase conversion”, “build your list”, or “dominate your niche”.
Before implementing any such gimmicks or features, you want to understand their purpose/objective and value they offer to your customers (yes, your customers - not you).
For example, requiring an email address to receive a “Free Report” or advanced information about your products or services can be a great way to build your email list. However, it may not be a valid trade-off for your customers, and could simply drive a large number of prospective customers to a competitor’s site that presents no such friction in completing their task or obtaining the information they seek.
“Do unto others” has always been good advice. If you don’t like a certain user experience online, such as pop-up ads, why force that experience on your customers? Again, worry less about the gurus and their latest gimmicks and more about an enjoyable user experience.
Be authentic. You want to project a professional image, but above all the site should reflect who you are and what your business stands for.
When we design a site for a client, the first step is gaining an understanding of their business, the second is gaining an understanding of their customer. One of the last steps before launching a new site is scanning the competition to make sure there are no glaring omissions … but if we’ve done steps 1 and 2, then we haven’t missed anything that our client or their visitors need. And, we’ve ended up creating a unique site that truly reflects the business and serves their customer, instead of another “me too” website that looks like every other website in their industry.
We use the term “future-proof” when developing a web strategy; simply, that means that your website should be able to respond to your business needs in the future (both the changes you’re planning for, as well as the ones you can’t foresee).
There are a few criteria to help make your website future-proof.
First, you want to use a platform that separates the content from the design; in other words, if 5 years from now you’ve built a comprehensive site but need to change your logo or colour scheme, you should be able to create a new set of template files and have every page on your site take on the new look. Separating the design from the content also allows you to keep your site compatible with the next wave of tablets, smart phones, or whatever technological marvels tomorrow has waiting for us.
Second, you want to be able to integrate new technologies and build new features as the need arises. Be wary of platforms that require changes to the “core” code to integrate new features. Each time you add a customization to the core code, you make it that much more difficult to update the code without re-creating all of your customizations.
Third, you want a platform that will allow the information on your site to be re-purposed, re-arranged, or used in new and innovative ways. Again, separating the content from the style of your site goes a long way to making this possible.
Finally, make sure your website is yours. Be wary of “hosted” solutions where you do not have access to the underlying code, or are on a proprietary platform that has ongoing license fees. Your site should be portable, meaning you can pack it up and move to another host if necessary (either for performance issues, security, cost, or for enhanced features). If your site isn’t portable, then you’ll likely have to start over at “square one” at some point. Again, things always run fine until they don’t run fine … and that’s the point you need to have a contingency plan. While starting over from scratch isn’t always a bad thing, it can be expensive and inconvenient to start over when you’re not prepared, whether due to an issue like server performance, or even if the proprietary vendor goes out of business, changes their terms of service, etc. (And for the record, the sites we develop on a wiki platform can be run from a USB flash drive - how’s that for portable?)
Sustainable, long-term success online is as much about building relationships as it is in the “real world”. Relationships can take time, and online success takes a consistent effort.
With more than 180,000 active websites and 860,000,000 registered host names (),there will always be someone else there to fill the need if your site offers too much friction to visitors, contains out of date information, or hasn’t been updated or maintained on a regular basis.
Generally, you are a small fish in a big pond; short of a massive marketing and advertising budget to become a bigger fish, the next best technique is to reduce the size of your pond thus making you a bigger fish by comparison. In addition to normal marketing activities (pay per click advertising, display ads, newsletters, etc.), updating your website regularly with original and relevant content, and maintaining a consistent social media presence, will help you build relationships with existing and prospective customers. Those relationships, and the connections and spheres of influence they represent, become your pond.
And if your business is of a local nature, there are a few simple steps you can take to further can reduce the size of your pond.
To improve your search engine rankings, the most reliable technique again is to add original content over time. The major search engines look both for relevance and reputation. Relevance is based on the content of your site (including some simple on-page optimization techniques such as page URL’s, page titles, heading tags, link text, and ALT text for images). Reputation is built over time by Google, and while the actual algorithm is not known outside of Google it is believed to include:
So, if your shiny new website doesn’t appear at the top of Google’s listings, or you don’t have thousands of visitors in the first month, just remember that it takes a consistent effort. Never give up, never surrender!
(And if you recognize the quote above from Galaxy Quest, we’ll get along just fine.)
There may be a number of requirements that apply to your website - The FTC’s Revised Endorsement Guides, CAN-SPAM legislation, Canada’s new Anti-Spam law (one of the toughest in the world), the Personal Information and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA), and Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). Any or all of these regulations could apply to your website depending on factors such as what information is presented, what personal information is collected, how that information is used, and the size of your organization. Many industries also have regulations or restrictions relating to marketing that must be adhered to.
Intellectual property rights are also a hot topic online. It is becoming easier and easier for copyright owners to discover infringing use of their images, graphics, and documents, and those infringements can end up costing you hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars.
If you are searching for stock images and free graphics online, be sure to save a copy of a page if it indicates “free for commercial use”. If the license allows “free for non-commercial use”, it is always better to err on the side of caution and skip over that image for your business website, or contact the copyright owner and see how much a commercial use license would cost. Using a stock photo service, where images can be purchased inexpensively, also protects you by providing a “paper trail” showing you have the rights to use the images you purchased.
Where budget allows, an authentic photo of your business is always preferable to a stock image (see Tip #5 above). If budget does not allow, you can start with inexpensive stock images, but plan on replacing them with original photos showing your business and your staff, not models.
If you are going to host images and documents (such as catalogues) from a supplier on your website, send them an email asking for permission instead of assuming it is okay. Some suppliers will have a blanket license agreement for you to sign and submit, others will simply email back with a quick okay.
Clear Writing means your reader never has to say, “what!?” when they see your message. Clear Writing involves clear, easy-to-understand language presented in a clear, easy-to-read format.
While some industry jargon may be unavoidable, you want your content to be clear and easily understood by your prospective customers. A side benefit of Clear Writing will be a lower “bounce” rate for your website, as visitors will quickly be able to determine that your site offers what they are searching for. If your site is too cluttered and takes more than a few seconds for the visitor to understand “who”, “what”, and “where”, they will leave and move on to the next search result.
I’ve heard authors say that no matter how many editors and proof reader go through a book before publication, there will invariably be errors. To present a professional image you want to proof read, double-check, triple-check, and ask friends or associates to proof read your site as well. And when the invariable errors are pointed out, correct them quickly.
Making sure your visual presentation is consistent also helps present a professional image. Mis-matched fonts, header colours, white space, and so on can make your site look “thrown together”. A good content management system should allow you to override the standard text, link, and header styles set by the template, but on a well-designed site you should never have to. “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.”
Contact Internet Advisor today to discuss your web strategy and make your website work for your business.
Russ Jackman is the principal of Internet Advisor, a web design and internet marketing firm located in St. Thomas, Ontario.
The concept of the "Internet Advisor" is that the designer becomes a partner or trusted consultant, who can simply provide advice and direction, completely implement a solution from start to end, or any degree in between. This insures that the strengths of a client are utilized, to minimize the investment required and maximize the benefits to their organization.