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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Choosing A Domain Name For Your Business Website

14 Nov 2011
Written by MJ Meyer
Choosing a Domain Name

A domain name is probably the most critical component of your website. It's how people find you. Whether its via word of mouth or a search engines like Google. But are all domain names equal? Have you chosen the right one for your business? Or will your wrong choice in domain name even cause you a loss in business? Below I've listed some tips on choosing a right domain name for your business!

 

Be Relevant

The best advice we usually start with is stick to branding. If you have an already established client base, they know you by name. So if they wanted to find out whats hip and happening with your business, they'll more than likely search for your business name. Simple, but it works!

Branding is not just a random combination of words like realestate.co.za or plumberjohannesburg.co.za, unless that is your actual business name (not likely but there are exceptions). Often people choose domains like these for "SEO (Search Engine Optimization)" purposes, but there is more to online business than SEO (we'll leave this topic for another day).

Rather opt for something like, joeplumber.co.za or sallyrealestate.co.za as these describe who you are, as well as what you do. For more established businesses this would not be necessary–as we said before–a simple brand name will do.

Identify Your Target Market

This always applies in the web design process, but even more so when choosing a domain. You need to make sure you choose the right domain extension like .com or .co.za.

This is a simple one, but often forgotten. Who are your customers? Do you serve local markets, international markets, or both?

If you serve local markets, it would be better to have a .co.za domain. This indicates you're a local business, and your local market would much rather do business with you knowing this. On the flip side, international markets almost expect a .com domain. If however, you serve both local and international markets, it would be better opt for the .com as your main extension and have the .co.za domain redirect to your .com domain.

Avoid Hyphens, Numbers & Funny Spellings

Hyphenated domains are hard to convey and often mistaken for a competitors domain, as people tend to forget the hyphens. So rather opt for johndoemarketing.co.za than john-doe-marketing.co.za.

Numbers in domain names are really bad. It's hard to remember and creates some serious confusion. Something like marketing4you.co.za is terrible! Don't do it. Phone a friend quick, tell them to go to marketing4you.co.za. I'll bet you you'll have to explain whether it's for, four, or the number 4.

Then there's funny spellings. Once again, having to explain something like xcited.co.za instead of excited.co.za is not ideal.

In Conclusion

A successful domain name is easy to remember, easy to convey, avoids confusion, and not mistaken for another. You want to make it as easy as possible for potential customers to find your website–and having a 5 minute explanation on spelling your domain right is just going to cost you business.

If you absolutely have to have one of the above domains for whatever reason it may be, at least make sure you have every variation of the domain! Preventing potential customers from ending up in the wrong place.

Your Turn

Have any other examples people should stay away from? Ever chosen a wrong domain for your business? How did you fix it?

Tell us about it in the comments below!

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What is a CMS and How to Avoid its Common Headaches

09 Nov 2011
Written by MJ Meyer

CMS is an abbreviation for Content Management System. It is basically what it says. It helps business owners and web designers manage content. But more often than not, it is exactly this obviousness that creates confusion amongst web designers and business owners.To make sure there are no hiccups in managing your content, both parties need to have clarity on what content means to them.

 

The Content Illusion

Content in this context is a very ambiguous word. For web designers, the role of a CMS is to easily manage HTML, CSS, and Javascript files. As well as to help add functionality to a website like a blog, eCommerce store etc. without having to custom program each functionality (saving you time and money).

For business owners however, a CMS means being able to manage/edit/create content on the fly, without any (or limited) technical knowledge. So the content we're looking at here, is in the form of normal text, images, and maybe some other media, like videos.

So where's the problem here?

Web designers are always looking for a CMS full of features so they can provide a full service offering without needing to custom program a CMS for each website/client. Why? Cause they usually don't have the skill/knowledge to custom program what they need, or it won't be financially viable for the client to custom program a CMS for their website.

With all the features included to help web designers provide extra functionality, it makes it more complicated for the business owner to manage the website. On the flip side, the more client focused and easy a CMS is, the more it restricts creativity and overall functionality. So in essence, it is imperative to find a balance between the two.

The problem of preference

Web designers also tend to fall so in love with a CMS, that they use it for all their clients. One can understand this, as it is usually quite complicated to learn the ins and outs of a CMS. So, their chosen CMS becomes the preference, and they wrangle the CMS to fit every client.

Why is this a bad thing? Well, every client and website is different and have different needs. Every CMS is also different, and caters for different needs. So you can't (or at least shouldn't) always use the same tool! Instead, you should rather use the right tool for the job.

Being desperate for business, most web designers try take on every project using the same CMS or tool if you will. This almost always ends up with an unhappy business owner, as it either takes to long, or the wrangled solution is not what they really wanted.

By all means, web designers should use their favorite CMS, but they should also recognize and inform their client that a different CMS fits their requirements better. Then either use that CMS, or if they're not familiar with the CMS, refer them to a company that is.

The Solution 

By asking the right questions at the right time a lot of headaches can be prevented.

By doing a simple needs analysis, you and your designer can determine what CMS will suit you best, how much editing freedom you really need, and what content should be managed by your designer to preserve some creative freedom. At the end of the day, this will save you money, save your designer time, and cultivate a great relationship between the two.

What experiences have you had with a CMS? Tell us about it in the comments below...

 

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5 Reasons Why Your Business Needs a Website

06 Oct 2011
Written by MJ Meyer

This is some textMaybe some things have held you back from getting a website. Fear of the costs involved, of being done in by shady web designers, because you're only a small business, or of it being to late. Whatever your situation is, you need a website and I'll tell you why.

Before we go further, answer me this. Why would you open a new office or outlet in a well thriving area? To expand your business of course! Tell me again why you don't have a website yet? Ok, so maybe it's not that simple, but lets go through some reasons you need a website.

1. Your Customers Expect You To Have One

Sooner of later, your customers or potential customers are going to search for your business. Are they going to find you, or your competition? To some customers you may as well not even exist if you don't have an online presence. Not having a website is like working from home, sure you can do it, but what happens when a customer wants more info? Will they come for a meeting at your "home"?

2. Websites Are Cost Effective

To be honest, it's the cheapest form of advertising you can get. It's hard to think of it that way when you are staring down the barrel of a R10k - R30k invoice, but what can that website do for you? In comparison, what can traditional media do for you? Can it inform your customers in detail? Can you measure how many customers read your flier / billboard? Most importantly, can you quickly fix a spelling mistake or your change your marketing message? Undoubtedly the answer would be no.

3. 24 Hour Customer Service, World Wide!

How valuable would an employee be, if they could work 24 hours and deliver the exact same result every hour? Even when you're sleeping, your customer can visit your website, learn more about you, pay invoices, buy products, or even contact you. Your business is open at all hours, even if your physical office isn't.

4. Your Competitors Have One

This is not a keeping up with the Jones's thing. People like options, they like to compare, find the best deal, or the best quality. If they don't have anyone to compare your competitors to, then you are loosing business!

5. Increase Your Customer Base

Most businesses are confined to their geographical area, but the internet knows no bounds! Sure, you probably can't service or provide products to people in the North Pole, but instead of being confined to your city, you now have the ability to service or provide products to customers in neighboring cities or the rest of your country.

In Conclusion

You need a website. Period.

Just remember, not all websites are created equal. Websites do fail, and don't always provide a good return on investment. This is not because the internet is flawed, but because websites are more than just pretty pictures, and not all web designers understand this concept. We'll leave this discussion for another day.

Why do you not have a website yet? What has been holding you back? Tell us more about it in the comments below...

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What is a Browser

19 Sep 2011
Written by MJ Meyer

Web BrowsersA browser is where it all starts. Yet, little people know what it exactly is, which one they're using, and that there are many different types of browsers.

To make life a little easier and provide you with a basic understanding, you can watch the video below.

So which one are you using?

You should have recognized the little blue 'e' icon. That is Internet Explorer, or IE for short. But if you're still not sure, you can visit whatbrowser.org

If whatbrowser.org says you're using IE version 6, 7, or 8, you need to update your browser! Like yesterday!

Most people use IE as this is the default browser that comes bundled with Windows. This however, by no means makes IE superior to other browsers. IE has tended to be a pain in the back for web designers, as they generally don't update IE to keep up with new best standards and practices.

Which browser should you be using?

If you are using the latest version of your browser, it really doesn't matter which one you use.

Old browsers are bad. They're slow, make websites look funny, and are usually not very secure. So as long as you are running the latest version of any browser, you are good to go!

In our experience however, we have some preferences. We would advise, Google Chrome or Firefox. They are both super fast browsers, secure, and generally don't give you any problems. They also automatically update when a new version is available.

In Conclusion

Old browsers bad, new browsers good, Google Chrome and Firefox even better! We hope this has opened your eyes, and you'll see how awesome the web truly is! Happy browsing :)

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