A Guide to Getting Started
In the ever-changing digital age, Internet presence has become a major MUST in business visibility. But, let’s face it, we don’t always know where to begin with the complicated ins-and-outs of building a company website, let alone optimizing its visibility and usability. The following are basic steps toward launching an effective website.
Determine Who You Are
Before developing an elaborate website with flash, videos, music, etc., determine what your business is, how you want to be seen, and what your actual needs are. According to Kimberly Kozar, Internet marketing expert and marketing specialist at Cora Italian Specialties, the best way to see if your website fits your need is to perform the following: Have a random person (friend, family member, coworker, client) look at your website for ten seconds; after the ten seconds are up, ask them, “What does this business do?” Your company and its function should be crystal-clear and easy to understand. Confusing a customer with flashy accessories hurts your profile and can potentially drive customers away. No matter who you are, keep your company profile clear, clean, and easy to understand.
Make It Easy for People to Find You
You only get one first impression, and the same holds true with your website. Make sure that your website is attention-grabbing, but not overwhelming. Flashy images and music can add great visuals and ambiance but can also become bothersome quickly. Kozar says one key to successful marketing is tapping into the five senses, and sound can really work if you are marketing to a specific crowd. However, please include an on/off function so those who are not interested in being serenaded have the option to turn it off.
Your homepage should also include information such as your location (integrating or linking to Google maps is a big help for end-users), phone number, and (often overlooked but extremely critical) hours of operation. Often this information is found at the bottom of the website. While this is acceptable for large manufacturers and b2b companies, customers of restaurants want contact information quickly. Make sure to include contact information at the top of your homepage for easy access.
If you’ve ever been to a website where it takes a lifetime to get where you’re going, you know it can be frustrating. Navigating a website should be simple. Kozar says that any user should be able to get to any page within your website in three clicks. Again,
your customers are busy; don’t make them work for what they need. They are coming to you for help and information.
Start with the Basics
While it is true that more content will help your search engine ranking, don’t feel overwhelmed by your website. A simple, one-page website can be very effective. As time permits, you can add more sections such as history or a blog. Make sure to remind your web developer to set your website up using a platform that can be altered, as well as what you might include in your website later on. This helps the web designer know what platform will be best for you.
Designing a website can also be tricky. What’s too much? What’s too little? Kozar suggests having no more than five tabs within your website. These tabs include things like “Products,” “Services,” “Contact,” “History,” “Ordering,” etc. Again, keep your website simple for customers to see what you are offering. Too many tabs can become difficult for the user to quickly understand what your business has to offer.
Make it as easy for users on the go to find the most essential information about your shop. When working with a web design company or choosing a template for your website, look for a mobile-optimized template. This is simply a template or website that is flexible and will adjust to smaller hand-held screen sizes.
Remember, Adobe products are not always compatible with Flash products, and Flash doesn’t always work on all mobile devices. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t include these applications; just be aware that when using them you might have to troubleshoot a few issues down the road. Speaking of mobile, users of mobile devices are often connected to social media outlets, such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Yelp. These sites can be linked to your website for free, for more Internet exposure.
Avoid PDF Menus
If your website will include a menu, try to avoid putting your menu into a downloadable PDF. Most users will skip over PDF downloads, especially mobile users. If your menu changes often, look for a template that you can update yourself. WordPress (www.wordpress.com) is an example of a user-friendly system that will allow you to make simple updates to your own website. If you are working with a web designer, have them build a custom CMS (Content Management System) for the opportunity to update and make content changes often.
Know Your Limitations
Starting a project is exciting, and we often forget the reality of the project once it’s completed. If you plan to have content that is constantly changing (videos, pictures, menus, blogs, Twitter, Facebook), make sure you, or someone designated, has the time to actually engage your audience with targeted and well-written content. One thing many users look for is how often content is updated; if you boast that you have a blog but you haven’t posted in a year, users get the impression that you aren’t actually on your own website or that you aren’t interested in their needs.
How to Save a Buck
Earlier we spoke about simplicity in terms of design. Simplicity is also key in terms of budget. While you may be steered in the direction of how important Google ads are, remember they are costly and only one part of the equation for a searchable website. Your website will be found if you employ the right search engine optimization (SEO) plan and utilize the right keywords within your content, meta tags and meta descriptions. If you aren’t familiar with any of these methods, talk to your web designer and make sure it is included as a part of your package. Make sure that your website is linked to search words that help customers quickly find you. Google and other search engines love clean, organic sites.
A lot of web designers advertise for moonlighting gigs. This is a unique opportunity because they get experience and you get a great website for a discount price. A word of caution: If a new web designer tells you they cannot put a particular application into your website, insist that they figure out how to do it. Coding is what runs websites behind the scenes, and any application is doable with the right code. Just because this option is more affordable, doesn’t mean you have to cut corners on what you want.
Designing and launching a website can seem like a daunting task, but it is imperative in today’s market for businesses to have visibility on the Internet. Keeping your design and content simple and user-friendly will keep you and your customers from being overwhelmed. Websites are meant to be dynamic, and changeable depending on your needs, so don’t worry that you are making a mistake; they are a great platform that will evolve over time.