Ask any website designer what the most important consideration is when building a site to represent a business and their answer will always be the same.
It's not cutting edge design, great images or even responsiveness (although all these things are important): the key to a successful website is a real understanding of your target market.
It sounds obvious, but all too many websites fail to deliver because they are merely representing the business online, rather than addressing its core aims and customers' needs.
You may have very clear ideas about the design and ‘feel’ of the site you want, but remember that ultimately, your website is a likely to be your most powerful marketing tool, and, for some, the primary point of sale.
Follow these simple steps when building your site, and you will have a proactive means to better business, rather than a pointless cul-de-sac.
1) Keep focused
It is vital when first approaching a web-designer to be clear about what you need. What, in particular, is your business lacking that you want this website to provide?
Do you want to increase sales and conversion rates, generate more leads, reduce overheads and accelerate awareness of your brand?
Yes? Then forget about the pretty font for a minute (although this is important) and get the basics sorted.
A good designer can create a site that works for the specific requirements of your business.
2) Address your target audience
Whatever the nature of your business, you will have a specific customer base, covering a number of buyer personas.
Before you decide on your website’s design and content you will need to research their tastes, how they consume and how they tend to operate online. If you try to accommodate every possible type of visitor, you will probably end up losing custom in the long run.
If your business caters to the younger demographic, then bright colours, responsive design and slick imagery/headlines will draw them in.
An older audience will respond better to a more conservative design, larger font and uncomplicated navigation.
If your product is functional keep your site simple and practical – customers browsing a tool suppliers' website are unlikely to be impressed by the latest web design trends!
It’s also worth knowing the percentage of your visitors that will use mobile devices to access your site. If the majority of your customers use their phones or tablets, you might want to consider building a separate mobile version of your site – or an app.
3) Brush up on SEO
Not all businesses can afford an in-house SEO expert, but you will need to know about search engine optimisation if you are keen to have a strong presence on-line.
SEO, approached correctly, offers huge return on investment and is a powerful marketing tool.
4) Build ergonomic navigation
Bear in mind that visitors to your site want information, and they want it quickly.
Make sure that your homepage clearly presents who you are and what you do, and that relevant information is organised coherently – i.e. not broken up on separate pages for no reason.
Potential customers won’t stick around for long if they get caught up in confusing navigation.
Lazy maintenance, such as leaving dead links on your site, will not impress new visitors. Nor will an over-embellished site that takes too long to load.
Remember that your website is an experience and your punters want to enjoy the ride.
5) Guide your visitors
A clear ‘call to action’ is the most important feature on each page of your website.
Every page should have a button that takes the potential consumer a step closer to buying your product or employing your service.
And remember - whether it’s a link to sale products or to signing up to a newsletter, always explain why the customer should click.
A tab which says ‘Sale’ will have less click-rates than one which says ‘Sale now on – click here for 50% off’.
Don’t just invite your audience to ‘Sign up to newsletter’ – tell them why they should: ‘Sign up to our newsletter to get our weekly special offers’.
6) Borrow ideas
There are likely to be a lot of businesses doing exactly what yours does – and they will have websites.
Before building yours, look at your competitor’s sites and note the things you like and that seem to work well.
There’s no harm in a little appropriation as long as the end result has your stamp on it.
7) Keep content fresh
You are not going to attract and keep loyal visitors to your site if the content is stagnant.
Customers will be more inclined to re-visit your site if they know that they will encounter fresh updates about your products and services, as well news and ideally blog posts and articles that address interesting aspects of your business.
If you set up a blog or a forum on social media platforms, it is vital that these are updated at least once a week.
Content that doesn’t change gives the impression that you (and by association, your business) are sloppy and ineffectual.
8) Listen to your web-designer
Finally, you are paying a web-designer for a reason.
If you go in, all guns blazing, with rigid ideas about what you want, you may miss the value of their expertise.
Take on board any suggestions, and if necessary adjust your vision accordingly.
An open-minded approach, as well as a clear understanding of the needs of your business, will lead to an end-product that not only meets your aims, but exceeds them.
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