A Guide To A Successful Business Website - Part 1

20 Mar 2012
Written by MJ Meyer

What makes a website successful? How can you get more website visitors? How can you get more leads? Those are all common questions we're asked and today we're going to share some advice. But, a successful business website depends on two major things, the actual website (the topic of today's post) and your online marketing strategy (which we'll cover next week).

Your Purpose

Like many things in life, if you don't have a purpose, it's pretty much like running around in the dark. This is pretty simple but so crucial.

Any successful business has a defined target market. Your target market consists of age groups, gender, interests, demographics, abilities etc. For your website (and business) to be effective, you need to have a clear picture of who your market consists of. All of this will help you determine your purpose.

With your purpose in hand, your website can be created and the message crafted to sell your ice-creams to Eskimos. Which leads us to the next point...

Content is King

Sure you've heard that a lot but it's pure truth. Any piece of marketing is nothing without some good content. And no, content isn't just text, it's your images and CTAs (Call To Actions) as well. Content is your entire message. What are the key elements of good content?

  1. Your content needs to be created for your target market. With the information you learned about your target market, craft your message for them! If your message can interact with them the same way they interact with others, you'll instantly have their attention!
  2. Your content needs to be informative. If people visit your website and they can't tell within seconds what kind of service/product it is that you're offering, your website will fail! Also, once they want more information, it needs to be easily available and informative but in the simplest way.
  3. Your content needs to be unique and fresh. In this age of the internet, your competitors are no longer just those in your immediate surroundings. So your message needs to be unique and updated regularly, or you'll lose your potential customer very quickly.

Loading Time

The internet has conditioned us to want things immediately. If it takes too long, we'll find another solution. This applies to your website as well. If you keep users waiting you'll be sure to find them on your competitor's website. Make sure:

  • You optimize your images. This is the number one cause of slow websites. Make sure you don't use unnecessary images, save them in the right format, and compress them with tools like Smush.it, JPEGmini, and PunyPNG
  • Optimize your website code. Another usual culprit. Your website code matters a lot. Not just in terms of loading time but SEO (Search Engine Optimization) as well. Make sure you (or your web designer) don't use Tables for the layout of your website or any type of code generator. Well written hand coded websites go a long way!
  • Remove unnecessary elements or code. Some times we chop and change a lot of things, but don't always remove pointless code or content. Make sure you review your website every few months to tidy up "the house".

Navigation

Your website navigation is a key part of your website. Without some good navigational structure, your website will feel like a black hole. It's always nice to be unique and different, but when it comes to navigation nothing works as good as common practices. Top or left navigation works wonders, as it's found on nearly every website. If a user needs to learn how to use your website you've definitely failed!

Good navigation helps your customers get where they want to, tells them what's available on your website and makes it real easy for them to reach you or purchase your services/products.

Usability

Usability involves making it easy for your visitor to understand and navigate your website. The two points above, Navigation and Loading Time, falls under usability, but are far from the only factors of it.

The main thing to remember is people have short attention spans. So your success hinges on the following:

  1. Make your website load fast
  2. Immediately grab their attention (this doesn't mean you need flashy elements or text that scrolls!)
  3. Tell and show them where to go (this is commonly known as a CTA or Call To Action)
  4. Provide more information for those that don't follow through on your CTA and provide secondary CTA's
  5. Keep consistent page structures. If you're using a left sidebar, stick to it through your entire site don't chop and change on every other page.

The clearer your marketing message is, the easier it will be for customers to understand what you do and how to find what they're looking for.

Design

The Pièce de résistance of your website. It's the layout of the content, the colour scheme, and all the imagery. It's difficult for your average person to point out the exact elements of a great design, but amazingly, we can all tell what it looks like. People know what looks professional and what looks cheap. So maybe you should think twice before getting a website done for a R1000.00!

Key points to consider:

  1. Add some of your personality. Whether it's your business's personality or yours. This will set you apart from your competition. Business should be professional, but it doesn't mean you need to be cold and boring. It also doesn't mean you need to be a clown. Just be you!
  2. KISS. We all know it. Keep It Simple Stupid! Sure, we all like being creative but don't overdo it. Too many "creative" elements may actually distract from your marketing message and ultimately affect your conversion ratios. 

A great design is one that's pixel perfect, but enhances your marketing message, not distract from it!

Analyze

Lastly, analyze analyze analyze. Your website will never be complete! Nothing is ever perfect. But if you analyze, you can move closer to perfection. Using visitor analytic tools, eye tracking tools, and split testing tools you can make sure that your website is as usable as you think it is. If you don't measure your website's performance, you won't know if you're reaching your goals.

So make sure your web design company or designer can perform these tests and implement the changes when needed.

Conclusion

As you can see, a successful business website can be pretty complicated. Although this may not be an exhaustive list of tips and guidelines, not many web design companies follow even half of these, and this is only part 1.

Next week we'll be discussing the marketing strategy of successful business websites.

Does your business website follow some or all of these guidelines or not at all? Tell us about it in the comments below...

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Friday Favourite Website #5 - Keith Homemade Cakes

09 Mar 2012
Written by MJ Meyer

 

We always receive questions about good web design, and what it looks like. So we decided to start a new series of posts, our Friday Favourites! Showcasing what we believe is the best web design around the world...

About Keith Homemade Cakes

"Established for over 50 years, Keith Home Made Cakes still delivers a range of speciality cakes that is ideal for entertaining guests, a family treat or a little self indulgence. Our full team of chefs and friendly staff take pride in providing attentive service while discussing your needs for your special cake. While small we are big in service and satisfaction."

View Keith Homemade Cake's Website

What We Love About Their Website

Once again, it blows me away to see what people can do! What a beautiful site. It's perfectly designed to their business, and you just get the bakery feel when looking at the site.

The homepage slide show has some beautiful high quality images that just make my mouth water. If I was located in Australia, I would probably be on the phone right know ordering some cakes. That's what powerful and professional design does! It captures you from the minute you land on the site!

Also, their use of gradients and textures just finish everything off brilliantly!

What do you think? Like their website? Don't like it? Tell is about it in the comments below...

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Friday Favourite Website #5 - Hello Somebody

02 Mar 2012
Written by MJ Meyer

What's Friday Favourite?

We always receive questions about good web design, and what it looks like. So we decided to start a new series of posts, our Friday Favourites! Showcasing what we believe is the best web design around the world...

About Hello Somebody

"Moving forward as an organization, we are committed to more than feeding. We believe education is the key to put an end to the poverty and hunger cycle. Our Mission is to feed and educate children, by providing an avenue of knowledge, in order to break the cycle of poverty and hunger within their generation."

View Hello Somebody's Website

What We Love About Their Website

This website is just beautiful. I really love minimal designs. It's amazing how something simple can be so beautiful.

Lots of times we get clients that want to go over the top and want to really try and squeeze in every bit of possible detail (don't worry, we still love you), but this is a stunning example of how simplicity can really portray a message! And what a good message to portray!

The use of images is also stunning. But once again, this is what a minimal design allows you to do. You can use beautiful high quality images, without any other background or website elements distracting from it.

Go and have a look at their website and tell us what you think. Maybe you can even support their good cause...

What do you think? Like their website? Don't like it? Tell is about it in the comments below...

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Template Based Web Design - Good or Bad?

28 Feb 2012
Written by MJ Meyer

Many web designers use templates for their clients instead of designing the website from scratch. Others strongly advise business owners to stay away from templates and belittle any web designer that does. But is template design good or bad? When and for whom is it acceptable? Why does it have this stigma?

The Stigma of Template Websites

Whenever the word "template" gets mentioned to any professional web designer, the most common thought is of some sleazy guy selling websites for under R1000.00 a piece. To be honest, this sends shivers down my spine.

These guys usually use free or low quality templates and take a few hours to implement it. It may sound like a viable option but often ends in disaster. Mostly due to the fact that websites really are more than just pretty pictures (something we preach often).

They barely change anything on the template, maybe a few colours here and there, but that's where it ends. So you end up with a website that looks pretty much the same as a few thousand others.

These "designers" also usually know very little about coding best practices (which is why they're using a template in the first place).

Why You Should Choose a Template Website

Okay, so templates can be bad. But they can also be the best option for a business on a tight budget. The key is to find the right template, with quality code, and actually do some good customization on it (something a good web designer will know how to do). Customization to fit the image of your business and to differentiate your design from the base design.

It's a lot easier, cheaper and faster to do lots of customization on a template, than to design something from scratch.

Obviously, if you have a decent budget, I would suggest you get a custom design done to keep branding 100% consistent and unique. But it makes much more sense to invest in a customized template and rather use the extra money you have on search engine optimization or some other form of marketing like pay per click advertising.

The Verdict on Template Web Design

For a small business with a limited budget, this would be the best option. Just make sure you get it done by professionals.

I can guarantee you, that a "customized" template based website design done by professionals, will outclass any custom design done by amateurs! And the pricing of each option will be in the same region.

Which option would you choose? Or have you had a website designed? Is it a custom design or template design? Tell us about your experience in the comments below...

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Search Engine Optimization vs Pay Per Click Advertising

17 Jan 2012
Written by MJ Meyer

So you've heard about SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and PPC (Pay Per Click) advertising, but what is it exactly and which is better for your business?

The Definition

The best way to define the two, is to show an actual example. Have a look at the image below. The red area indicates paid advertisements (PPC) and the green area reflects organic results (SEO, not paid for).

Now that you've seen what it looks like, here's a proper description.

PPC is an advertising model where you pay only if users click on your advertisement. These paid advertisements appear when people search for the term the advert targets. So you only pay when a visitor actually visits your website.

SEO is the process of optimizing your website for natural search engine results, without paying the search engine companies. So if you're on the first page of Google for a highly searched keyword and a few thousand people click on your result every month, you won't pay a cent to Google.

The Best Option - PPC or SEO?

Each of these online strategies have advantages and disadvantages. The one best suited for you is dependent on both your business and your own current position. Like any investment, sometimes you need short-term gains, and sometimes you're better off with a long-term strategy.

PPC Benefits

PPC is immediate. You log on to Google AdWords, create a campaign, choose your keywords and you're set. The moment you're finished setting up your campaign, your ads will appear. Depending on the quality of your ad you could immediately appear on the first page of Google for a particular search term.

This makes it easier to measure R.O.I. and see whether people searching for that term actually convert to sales. PPC is also ideal for business owners on a limited budget.

PPC is however, not a long term strategy. The more competitive the market gets, the more expensive you'll end up paying for your campaigns. Also, a PPC campaign needs to be consistently monitored and managed to make sure you're getting the best possible R.O.I.

SEO Benefits

SEO is a long term strategy, requires a bigger budget and does not yield immediate results. This sounds very demotivating, but the pros far outweigh the cons.

By consistently doing SEO you grow your online reputation and you get better conversions in the long run. In fact, organic search engine results can convert 20% and more than paid for advertisements.

Once you're in a good position, it's a lot easier and more cost effective to maintain it .

The Final Verdict

Now you know the benefits of each strategy. PPC to get quick short-term results, and SEO if you want sustainable long-term results and completely dominate your competition!

But is there an even better strategy? Yes!

Opt for both. You can focus on one or the other. At least you're getting returns immediately as well as ensuring your business's future is set and on the right course. The only downfall with this strategy is it would be more expensive to focus on both. But if you're serious about business, this is definitely an option for you.

Have you ever had a PPC or SEO campaign done by professionals for your website? What results did you experience? If not, why have you never tried it? Tell us in the comments below...

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