Yesterday I talked about the importance of your website as the digital, online hub of your business. Also, there are still many businesses that either don’t have websites, or have old school websites that are merely static online brochures. And I’m also amazed that there are still web designers creating these old school websites, and sadly many small businesses don’t know any better because they are looking for a “cheap” option.
But whether you have a website that you’re looking to improve, want to replace your website, or are considering your first website, here are a few tips on things you need to consider as you develop the site.
1. Not a brochure – Your online presence is no longer just an online brochure. As Gini Dietrich said in a comment on yesterday’s post, it’s a living breathing document. Previously, a website was just another form of advertising or marketing, like a billboard along the highway, or a brochure on a table, or a print ad in the paper. You create them, and then you never touch them again. Stop thinking like that. It’s better to think of your website as the online version of what goes on daily in your brick and mortar presence. Customers and clients go in and out. Transactions happen. Questions are asked and answered. Phones ring and they are answered. Products and services are exchanged. That is how you need to be thinking about your online presence.
2. Good, customer-centric content – Gini also mentioned this in her comment: while your website needs to have important information about you, make sure it’s the information your customers want, not just what you think they want. It’s less about promoting yourself, and more about meeting the needs of the customers. Now, in many cases that might be a matter of semantics, but make sure you’re positioning yourself in the right way: customer-centric, not business-centric. And of course one aspect of creating such content is…
3. A blog – I make no apologies for my belief that one of the best things any small business or non-profit can do online is to blog. If you have a website, or are getting one built for you, even if you don’t plan on blogging now, make sure that the content management system (CMS) being used allows you to easily add a blog at a later time.
4. Who are you? – When I’m researching a business, one of the first places I go on their site is their “About us” page. Tell me who you are, and be specific. Broad generalizations won’t cut it. What I really like to see are names and faces. I’d love to see pictures of the people I might be dealing with, and real pictures. Not some generic stock photo of people working in an office. Trust me, stock photos scream, “I’m a stock photo!” This is the social web we’re talking about, as well as socializing your business. If you want to be social, let us know who you are.
5. What do you do? – I come away from a lot of web sites with no clue what they really do. In their “What We Do” section, or “Services Offered” I often find a lot of buzzwords as they talk about how they will “work with you” to “develop innovative solutions” to “effectively negotiate your marketplace”. Yes. But what do you do???
6. Think social – Your website does not exist in a vacuum. In order for it to be a living, breathing entity, it needs to be connected across the web via various social channels. If you have a presence on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, or any other social networks, that should be reflected on your website in a prominent place. Additionally, make it easy for your customers to share your content and products across the web. Simple sharing plug-ins are important and can be used in a lot of ways to help your customers spread the word.
7. Contact page – If I look at your website, and I like what I see, or I have a question, the next step is that I might want to contact you. I shouldn’t have to search high and low to find out your contact information. Whether it’s your phone number, address, or even email address, make sure it’s easy to find, and not hidden in the small print in the footer. And if you’re business is such that you’re not so keen to give out a phone number or physical address, at least have an easy to use contact form. I recently went to a website for a specialty product that I really like because I wanted to connect the company with one of my clients. Sadly, there was literally no information at all on how to contact them, so they lost out on a potentially profitable partnership. That should never happen.
8. Easy to navigate – As you build your website, talk to a lot of people, including your customers, to find out how they use your site. What areas of the site are most important to them? What information should be right on the home page, and what information can be placed elsewhere? Every area of your site should be easily found from the home page with a minimal number of clicks. I’m a pretty patient guy, but if navigating your site is like navigating the fun house at the carnival, I might just walk away.
9. Searchable – Even if your site is easy to navigate, offering a site search bar is important. Visitors can type in what they’re looking for and get a list of the pages that meet their criteria. This is especially important if you decide to start blogging. Every blog post becomes a new page on your website. As your website grows, the ability to search your content becomes more important.
10. Easy to update – In this day and age there is no reason why a small business or nonprofit shouldn’t have complete control over the content on its website. That means having the ability to add, delete, or change content at a moment’s notice, without having to call and pay a web designer. This is one reason that I’m partial to WordPress, but that’s not crucial. What is important is that your website is built on a strong content management system (CMS) that you can control, and you don’t have to rely on your web designers to make any content changes.
One note: Understand the value of an effective website.
Small businesses often seem to spend their money in the wrong places. Remember, your website is permanent. It’s not just an ad that will run for a short time in the paper. If you’re willing to spend anywhere from $400 – $2000 for an ad that runs one time in a magazine or newspaper, or a short flight of radio or TV commercials, why wouldn’t you be willing to figure out the value of a website that is accessible 24/7 and will last you years. Again, think of the money you spend on your brick and mortar facility to make it presentable, accessible, and user friendly to those who come through your doors. Isn’t your online presence worth a bit of money and effort? After all, more people will probably find out about you online than will find out about you in any other way.
What other elements do you feel are crucial for an effective small business or nonprofit website? And what drives you nuts about some of the websites you’ve visited?
- 4 Common Web Design Pitfalls & How to Remedy Them (grasshopper.com)
- Some Small Businesses Are Making One BIG Mistake, And Other Hot Topics (blogs.constantcontact.com)
- 10 Reasons Why WordPress is Great for Small Business Websites (simplybusiness.co.uk)
- Five Ways to Improve Your Local SEO (spinsucks.com)
- Social Business Intelligence: Key to Integrated Marketing (v3im.com)