In this digital age, creating a web presence for your small business is a given. Before you start, here are 10 critical steps to build a website that will hit the ground running and immediately begin converting visitors into clients and customers.
1. Set appropriate expectations
If you’re planning to knock out a quality website for your company in an afternoon, or even a few days, you’re not yet prepared to put together a quality website. Think of it like building or renovating your home: plan that it will take longer, cost more, and involve more experts than you think. But like a home, your website needs to be built with a good foundation, and will be worth all the time and money you put into it. Doing it right the first time will save you many headaches down the line.
2. Identify your goal
What is the primary goal for your website? What do you absolutely want users to do? Sign up for your mailing list? Make a purchase or appointment? Call you? This information is critical. A website that tries to do too much can overwhelm users and cause them to leave too soon. Every page on your site — and all content, photos, and design elements — should be planned out to direct users toward your goal and help them get the basic information needed to complete it. Until you have this goal set, do not pass Go, do not collect $200. Stop here and keep working on this step.
3. Know your users
Learn as much as you can about your target customers. How old are they? What appeals to them? And a big one: How are they viewing your site? If your potential clients are under about 50 years old, they’re probably primarily viewing and navigating your site on a mobile phone. So your new site needs to be designed and optimized with that in mind.
4. Plan out your site
Just like a home, where you wouldn’t want users to open the front door into a bedroom and then have to walk through a closet to get to the kitchen, your website should have a solid home page and logical, simple flow toward your goal. Whether you use a spreadsheet or Post-It Notes™ on a wall, spend some time determining your site map and ask for feedback from others acting as “average users.” If you have a current website, install Google Analytics to gather hard data about how your users are traveling through the site and where they leave the site, so that you can improve the flow in your update.
5. Secure a URL
Your URL serves as your site’s address on the web. It needs to be memorable, succinct, and easy to spell. If your company’s name is long, consider if there’s a way to shorten it while still retaining its uniqueness. For example, if your company is Bob’s Fantastic Hot Dogs, an URL like BobsDogs.com would help your clients reach you faster on the web. And because an URL doesn’t recognize capitalization, make sure your company name doesn’t run together into something awkward: Is “choosespain.com” asking you to Choose Spain, or Chooses Pain? Once you’ve decided on a URL that’s available, purchase the domain name immediately.
6. Study the competition
Before putting time and energy into your own site, review 3-5 websites of similar businesses. Take detailed notes about what you like and dislike about their sites: look, user friendliness, navigation, readability, etc. Save these ideas as a jumping off point as you develop your website.
7. Identify SEO keywords
You want to capture search engine users looking for what your business has to offer. Pinpoint 3-5 target keywords related to your products or services that you will sprinkle throughout your website copy. Start by thinking about what the average person would type into a search engine if they were looking for information about your services. Then consider using a keyword tool to drill down into popular keywords that will boost your website’s organic search results (i.e. your website will show up higher in search results when users Google that phrase). If this part is starting to sound like gobbledygook, that’s OK! There are many professionals who can do basic keyword research for your company for a modest fee.
8. Write killer copy
Get all your content written prior to creating your site. Refer back to your sitemap to ensure that content includes all the information potential clients or customers need without repeating yourself. Copy should be as short and concise as possible, and important information about what you offer and what sets you apart should be easy to find near the top, so users don’t get overwhelmed and leave the site prematurely. If writing isn’t your professional gig, strongly consider hiring a copywriter. And it is absolutely a must to proofread the copy — typos and poor grammar will turn off site visitors and make potential clients think that if quality isn’t important on your website, it may not be in your service model either.
9. Update your logo
A strong, consistent logo will solidify your brand image. If your logo isn’t up to snuff, consider putting your website on hold and hiring a professional to create a logo that will go the distance. It will be confusing to customers and site users if you change your logo after site launch.
10. Invest in professional photography
Again, quality images are another “must” for presenting a professional brand image. Hire a pro for photography or purchase quality stock photography that represents the “feel” of your business, if shots of your actual location/products aren’t necessary. All images on your site need to be high quality, high resolution. Use your sitemap to make a list of all photos needed (location, products, staff, etc.) and gather all needed photos before beginning to build your site. Here are a few great reasons to consider video, as well.
Like building a house, building a website is a big endeavor, particularly if you intend to sell products online. And as a small business owner, you’re probably already wearing a whole lot of hats. Your energy may well be spent on other important aspects of launching your business, and the money you spend hiring a professional to design your site, create strategic content, and navigate the world of web hosting and development will likely pay great dividends in the form of an easy-to-find-and-use site that converts web users into paying customers.
See you on the web!