There are a million different reasons why business owners decide to undertake a new website design. Some sites are simply used to experiment with business models, other sites are used to share information about family or friends, but many sites are designed to help a business grow.
Many business owners, however, don’t understand the vital details of designing a business website that really boosts business. Usually, it’s not enough to have information about your company, a few pretty pictures, and a contact form. Business websites must encourage the user to act. Here are twelve solid tips for anyone who is interested in building a better business website.
1. Define the Purpose
Before sitting down to design a site (or hire a web designer), all business owners should ask themselves, “Why am I building this site?” Imagine the details of site design for a company who does most of its business on the web versus a brick-and-mortar company. On one hand, the purpose of the site would be to increase online sales, while on the other hand, the purpose would be to generate foot traffic. Each tactic would be approached in a completely different way. Exploring the reasoning behind your site will help you determine budget, style, and if your company even needs a website at all.
What is your purpose? Perhaps you hope to educate potential customers. Maybe you desire to provide useful information. Most likely, your hope is that your web site will increase sales and generate awareness of your company. Defining the purpose of your site should be the first real step in moving toward a successful online strategy.
2. Consider Your Audience
The second most-important aspect of building a better business website is to heavily consider the target audience for the site. Who are they and what do they hope to get out of their visit to your site? You should ask this question before you do anything else! Understanding the answer to this question will help you make vital decisions about colour scheme, navigation, organisation, font size, and more.
A few other questions you may want to consider asking about the audience include:
- How old are they?
- How tech-savvy are they?
- What are they looking for on your site?
- What are their screen resolutions, browser types, operating systems, etc.? (We’ll explore this more when we discuss the importance of site analytics)
3. Keep it Simple
Many business owners who decide to build a website want to include dozens and dozens of pages about the company. Unless you are in the business of providing information for people, or your research has shown that including lots of information will draw visitors to you site, it’s probably safer to keep it simple.
Only create the pages that are absolutely necessary and will help achieve the site’s purpose as defined in step one. Don’t add something to your site just because “all your competitors are doing it”. Every single action you take when building a company website should reflect your purpose and should tailor to your specific target audience. Anything thing else is just waste.
4. Use a Contact Form
You might be asking yourself why this tip appears so high on the list or if it’s really so important to use a contact form on your site. While the answer to those questions should ultimately be determined by your purpose and target audience, experience has shown that almost all sites should include a contact form of some sort.
Let’s examine an alternative option and why a contact form is the best way for customers to reach you.
THE ‘EMAIL ME’ LINK
Many business owners prefer to have a simple link that users can click to email them. These links generally utilise the default email client on the computer (such as Entourage, Outlook, Mail, etc) by opening a new email message and inserting the email address automatically.
Why shouldn’t you use this method? There are multiple reasons.
- What if the site visitor is using a public computer or one on which the email system is not set up properly?
- What if the visitor prefers to use Gmail, Hotmail, or some other online email service?
Under both of these circumstances, the ‘email me’ link will not suffice and will, more than likely, frustrate the user, discourage them from emailing you, and send them away from your site. In addition, ‘email me’ links usually expose your email address to spiders and bots who collect this information and sell it to internet marketing companies. If you want to avoid spam email, don’t use a simple ‘email me’ link. Contact forms keep your email address private and hidden from online scavengers while still allowing for your customers to email you with ease. Also, you can collect additional information by creating fields such as “company name”, “position”, etc.
5. Make Sure Your Website is Responsive
What are responsive websites? For a website to be responsive, it means that the same design will fit any screen size from computer monitor or television, down to mobile phones, just by resizing appropriately to always make the website readable and navigable to give the best experience.
When you look at your website on your mobile phone, does it resize at all, and if so, does the whole site shrink down to fit the whole page, making it unreadable, and the menu links hard to see or use accurately? If this is the case, then your website is not responsive, and responsive websites always bring the best user experience, with more and more people surfing websites on their mobile devices these days.
6. Don’t Just Settle
Let’s face it, many business owners are cheap. Frankly, if they weren’t cheap (for goodwill, we’ll use the word ‘frugal’), they wouldn’t ever be able to run a successful business. Every good business owner knows that the essence of running a successful company is to ensure that revenue outweighs expenditures. When it comes to building a website for a business, it’s important to avoid settling for whatever is the cheapest, fastest, or easiest. If you run your business from a brick and mortar store, you wouldn’t settle for a run-down, back-alley, closet-sized building to do business from. Location is everything.
It’s the same on the internet.
Don’t settle for a free website builder that bombards your site with advertisements or tacks their name to the beginning of your site name. Having a site like the following ones can decrease your credibility and hurt your business.
A business web site is an investment so treat it like one. Invest in some good hosting, register a unique domain name, and hire a web designer to design and code a web site you can be proud of. If you can’t hire a designer, at least find a quality DIY website builder you can work with.
7. Slow Down and Take Your Time
Building a website can take a long time. Many business owners are under the impression that a good website can be built as quickly as a company flyer. Try to avoid phrases like “it should be pretty easy and quick” or “that shouldn’t take too long” when talking with your web designer. Remember, a company website is an investment. Invest your money and your time in a final product you will be happy with.
8. Include a Search Form
While this might only apply to sites that are content-heavy, it is usually a good idea to include a search option on your site. Depending on the purpose of your site, most visitors will already have a goal in mind when they arrive at your site. Make it easy for them to find what they are looking for by including a search form in an easy-to-find location.
9. Invest in Search Engine Optimisation
The most common way for people to find content on the internet is to search for it using Google, Yahoo!, Bing, or similar search engines. If you want to be found when people are searching for the services or products you provide, make sure you take some time to invest in professional search engine optimization (SEO).
Of course, keep in mind the purpose of your site as discovered in step one of this process. If the only reason your site exists is to cater to current customers who have already visited your store, perhaps all you really need is a business card with your site name printed on it.
10. Keep Things Consistent
Customers like consistency. Just because you like the look of other websites doesn’t mean it necessarily best reflects your company. Again, let’s return to the first two steps in this Build a Better Business Website guide. Step one: Define your purpose and Step two: Consider the audience. The site design should be consistent with the needs, styles, understanding, and lifestyle of the target audience.
Once you decide on a specific look for your site, make it consistent throughout the site. Don’t change colours, fonts, organisation, or other vital elements unless you have a solid purpose behind the changes.
11. Analyse Your Website
Once your new business website is up and running, you should begin to analyse your site’s traffic. There are thousands of great analytic tools out there for website owners (many of which are free) that will help you see if you are achieving the purposes you defined in step one of this guide.
12. Be Patient, Good Things Take Time
Having success on the internet is not an overnight occurrence. After your site is up and running, be patient and watch closely. Remember that to achieve success, you must first define it. If you have done everything according to plan and have followed the steps in this short guide, you will begin to see success on your business’ website.