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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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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9 Steps To A Better Business Website

08 Dec 2011
Written by MJ Meyer
Better Business Website

Business owners get a website to help grow their business, and more often than not it doesn't succeed! Why? Because business owners (and most web designers) don't understand the fundamentals of designing a website. So read these ten steps to a better business website and tell us where your website went wrong...

1. What Is The Purpose?

Before you even think of hiring a web design company, you need to determine what is the purpose of your website. Be specific! Just to grow your business is not a purpose.

Educating your current customers, gaining new customers (leads) via a contact form or email signup form, selling your products online, or generating more awareness (branding) about your company. Those are all purposes.

If you don't have a purpose (goal), you won't know if your website is succeeding in growing your business. You need something you can measure and a purpose is your yardstick. Make sure you have one.

2. Who Is Your Audience?

You need to consider who your target audience is. What are they looking for and what do they expect when visiting your website.

By determining this you will be able to make vital decisions on what features need to be included on your website, what colours you need to use, what font size and how your navigation should be structured.

Questions you can ask yourself are:

  • How old are my customers?
  • What gender are they?
  • What are they looking for?
  • How tech-savvy are they?
  • What devices will they use to visit the website?

3. Simplicity Is Key

I'm sure this is probably one of the most preached terms in business. Keep it simple! Many business owners make the mistake of creating endless pages about their company that just never gets read. Unless your visitors expect endless pages of information and your research proves this, just include the basics.

If you determined the purpose of your website, as in step 1, this will be an easy process to follow and help you eliminate any clutter. Don't add content and features just because your competitors are doing it. Stick to your purpose and make sure every action you take on your website is aligned with it.

4. Have A Contact Form

Yes a contact form. Not just an "email me" link and your contact numbers. People often don't realize the importance of this, and how your regular old contact page actually makes your life a lot more difficult.

There are a few problems with an "email me" link. By clicking the link it launches your default email client. Handy yes, but what if you're on a public computer or a friend's computer? Your email address won't be configured with that computer which just creates frustration. Also, what if your customer prefers using an online email client like hotmail, gmail, or yahoo? More frustration.

An "email me" link also exposes your email address, so any spam bot can come capture your email address and spam away. But the most critical flaw with an "email me" link is you can't easily capture necessary details from the customer.

A contact form makes sure you capture the right details the first time, and increases your conversion rate! Don't be caught without one!

5. Don't Settle For Less

It's a common fact, business owners are cheap! But you wouldn't be in business if you weren't. Every good business owner knows that a successful business requires its revenues to outweigh its expenditures.

There are however some exceptions and building a website for your business is one of those. It's very important not to settle for the cheapest, quickest or easiest website. After all, how many deals would your best salesman close if you dressed him in a cheap, dirty suit that portrays the opposite of what the customer expects from your company.

Dress your website for success. Make sure it's aligned with your purpose and make sure it's done by professionals!

6. Take Your Time

 A website isn't like your company flier. It takes time, research and a whole lot of effort. Avoid using terms like "It shouldn't take long" and "It should be easy and quick". Remember that a website is an investment. Invest your time, patience and money in something you'll be happy with.

7. Invest In Search Engine Optimization

This step is optional, but depending on your purpose is absolutely critical to making a success online. If you're looking to gain new customers through the internet, then you can't skip this step.

Any one looking for a service on the internet uses a search engine, like Google. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) helps increase your visibility in the search engines for certain predetermined keywords.

Be careful though. There are a lot of people that try to sell you SEO that just doesn't work. (We'll save this topic for another blog post). If you need help feel free to ask us about this.

8. Keep Things Consistent

People like consistency. It prevents confusion. Try to keep your website's colours, navigation, layout and marketing message consistent. Just because you like the look of another website doesn't mean it's going to fit in with your purpose (step 1)!

9. Analyze Your Site

Have a good analytics program installed on your site. A recommended analytics program would be Google Analytics. It's quick and easy to setup and it's free.

By using an analytics program you'll be able to analyze where your visitors come from, what they're interested in, and determine any roadblocks that prevent conversion on your website. This also helps you measure whether you are achieving the purpose you set out for your website.

In Conclusion

This is not a be all and end all list of steps to follow, but it definitely lists some of the most important things to think about. If you follow them you'll be sure to make a success of your website.

Tell us what you think? What steps would you add? What's your experience with your website?

 

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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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