July 2, 2019
By
Paul Hogden

here are so many reasons why it is vital to have a website in 2019. Here's some things to consider before you start building your web site. planning your website design, development or maintenance and don't know where to start? Maybe you're a small business and it's been left to you to get a site up and running? I've created a set of 11 easily actionable steps that will help anyone - from a start-up to an established business get on the right track during the website planning process. I am a massive believer in strategy holding the key to success and the importance of website planning. Remember that your website can take a while to develop (see my post on how long it takes to develop a website)

Following these steps will ensure your website stands the best chance of success. Most of these steps can be carried out by anyone. I'm going to share these 11 steps that are going to put you on the road to website dominance. Changing from a good website to a great website.

Number 1 - Be Clear On Your Offer - Will It Sell - Will People Take Action?

It's the single thing businesses are normally not very good at. Often this is completely overlooked. Being targetted and making sure that you are clear on what you are going to offer on your website. Before embarking on your website creation, I would suggest starting, by creating something like a mindmap to get the idea of what your site structure might look like.

For those who have never created a mind map before, it is simply a way of organising your idea into sections that allow you to digest it more clearly and allows for more ideas to be simply added.

website design

Make sure that you literally dump all of your thoughts into the mind map. From the products and services, you offer to the bundles and the incentives. Work out how you're going to arrange them to make it intuitive and informative on your site and correlate together with your website structure.

Number 2 - What Is Your Website Is Going To Achieve?

It is vital to remember that your website is being developed for your audience - not for yourself. Unless it is an intranet.

Brainstorm what function you'd like your website to perform. Is it a brochure site (yawn!). Could it be a repository for documentation and special prices for your supplier base? Could it have downloadable content and video?

Consider creating your own mission statement that encapsulates why you're creating a website in the first place.

For example:

[MY COMPANY]provides [GOODS and SERVICES]to [TYPE OF CLIENT]in a [HOW]manner. Giving them [USP]and providing [BENEFIT].

Maybe, as with other business websites, you need your site to provide 50 leads a day? Or make the phone ring. Any of these are valid reasons for wanting a site created and moreover to be working through a digital marketing strategy. It is vital, however, that you keep in mind your intention all the way through. Make sure that you don't deviate from your core objectives - if you do, it is highly likely your visitors will deviate from your intention too. Just like my article on why having the right type of business card- being clear on what you want to achieve is really important.

Number 3 - Who Are You Selling To? - Create Personas

Think about who your audience is. What's their name? What is their pain and how are you going to address it? Sounds a bit mother earth doesn't it? But creating personas that allow you to establish who your target audience is could be the difference between a successful implementation and a complete failure. Creating two to three persona's is a great way to understand the traits of your target clients.

web design

You can also make a clearer vision for a design team who is going to create a design and content that will bowl over any new visitors to your planned website.

The Person Behind The Persona

The way we would normally work this is to take a sheet of paper and divide it into four sections. The top left would be the background of the persona, you may decide to give them a name, age where they live, their background. Making them as rounded as possible.

Their Background Story

Take some time to write down in the top right-hand quadrant, the things that happen during their day to day that make them an ideal candidate for what you are promoting. Things like: The boss is sure that we should be getting leads from our website but wants to know how we can do that.

Their Needs

What are they looking for in a relationship with your business? What do you need to demonstrate or show that is going to make this a worthwhile two-way?

Think about how you might connect with them. What is going to make them come to your website in the first place? Think about the benefits you can demonstrate to personas needs. They normally fall under one of three benefit categories:

MADE, LAID or PAID

MADE: Will it make me look good to my colleagues, boss or people in general. Will it make me feel good. Will it demonstrate my success? LAID: How will this interaction make me look to the opposite sex. Is it going to make me feel desired or desirable (less likely in a business environment).PAID: Is it going to make me more revenue, make me more profitable, get me a pay-rise or save me money.

Number 4 - Who Are Your Competitors? - Make The SWOT

Have a good look around at your competitors. Look at what they do well online and also what you'd do differently. If you can know your competitors and understand what they are doing  - you can build a fantastic, award winningsite that is going to outshine them in every way. Research is simple these days. Ideally, in your industry, you're going to know who your adversaries are. There are loads of tools out there that can help you find out about your competitor from an analytical point of view.

Word of Warning

The figures are not always entirely accurate, but what will help is that you can analyse trends and get a feeling for what pages they have, whether they are running paid for ads etc.

You can see here that these guys are doing a great job. They're getting fairly consistent organic search traffic (organic search). They've got a boatload of backlinks and just underneath that - their all-time trend is upwards.

This SEMRush report also shows you what search terms they're being found under, which is invaluable. Interestingly, they have a LOT of pages. Many people feel that quantity is superior to quality. However, whilst it is good to have several posts of a good size on a website, it is about how deeply you understand and how useful your blog is to others.

How Long Does It Take For Google To Index A Blog Post?

Properly and thoroughly? Around 35 weeks. So this is not a quick fix. but it is a long term, stable and to getting found for the right reasons.

website development

Number 5 - Check For Domain Availability - Buy Your Domain

Be careful with your domain name - it's for life not just for Christmas - choose wisely. It may sound strange, but so many people get carried away with naming their company before they've checked what's available as a website domain.

A Word About Domains

Try and keep the domain as short as possible. Keep non-alpha-numeric characters to a minimum or, ideally don't use them at all. The harder it is for someone to type in your domain, the less likely it is that you will receive the traffic.

I use LCN as my domain provider of choice, but there really are thousands to choose from. I've chosen my company name as Jones Engineering. I'm now checking the availability of the domains. Ohdear:

search engine optimisation

As you can see jonesengineering.com is not available, but simply adding a hyphen means that you could buy the domain below. Sounds great, doesn't it? Well, not really. Because that hyphen could cost your business hundreds of visits per month - as it makes the domain less easy to find. Anything that could be missed or someone could use the wrong character spells disaster. Of course, you may have no choice. but be assured that the hyphen - or any other character that could be mistaken for something else could cost traffic.

web development

Important To Remember Your Credentials!

One of the single most frustrating things we have to deal with is clients who can't find their log in details. It is so important to make sure you can locate them. Or, to make sure you have them ready before your website goes live. Otherwise, there will be long delays whilst you are trying to find them or get the passwords to reset.

Number 6 - Create A Paper Sitemap or Menu

Know your website plan before you start. Try some different configurations and don't bamboozle your visitors. Before you touch that website design software or commission your development team, consider this. It is the website navigation comes from the core of your business. Some proper planning. Only you and your advisers can know your business inside out. It's important to group your company into intuitive groups and consider each page of your site. Start with the home page. I normally use post-it notes to make it easy to move categories and pages around to get the right site map structure. You'll see part of a planning session with one of our clients.

creative strategy

There are certain things that you NEED to have on a website. Sometimes it is tough to convince a client that they are needed. For example, who knew that an about web page is actually beneficial? Did you know that it is very likely Google Rankbrain algorithm uses this information to check off information inside your website and to understand what it is your business is about.

Number 7 - Images Speak 1000 Words Video Is More - Where Are Your Images and Video?

If I see that lady with a headset on one more website homepage - I will do nasty things with a hammer to it's designer. If you've ever looked at a website, as I have and played - find the call centre lady with the headset on - you probably, as I do, need to get out more! One of the single biggest giant killers in website development is the quality of the photos, the graphics and the omission of video content.

bad stock photos

Pictures Grabbed From Search Engines

I cannot understand why any company would prefer to have photos that they've nabbed off Google - yes people still feel it is acceptable to nab images from Google and use them on their own sites - despite the copyright warnings. For clarity: unless you have obtained explicit agreement from the person or company to use their images, you stand a chance of being pursued for a breach of copyright. I personally know of companies who ignored the warnings and ended up with a bill for thousands! As a photographer myself, I have also been a victim of this, and whilst I chose not to sue, it left a really bad taste in my mouth. Not only this, but they are often lower quality than you need. A bit-mappy, blocky, pixel ridden image is a friend to no one. Least of all your website visitors.

low resolution images

A Quick Word On Image Licenses

Even photographs you have commissioned are not actually yours to do with as you choose - unless you have written agreement. You also cannot give them to other people to use without the consent of the photographer - or if you do - beware. Most creative companies will grant you a license for your business to use the imagery for the agreed purposes it was taken for. Even using it on another form of advertising may not be granted - so beware. Make sure you know who owns the images and ensure that you have been granted a license by paying for it.

Why Should You Commission Your Own Images

Firstly, it makes your website unique. No one else can have your images, because well - you own them. Having your own photos really gives a personal touch to your creative output. It is distinctively you and your brand. Having images of your work, your team, your business is a great way to start the on-boarding process and getting buy-in from clients at an early stage. Often before they've even spoken to you.

What About Video

Over 80% of bandwidth on the internet is used by video. Ignoring this as a medium is quite frankly commercial suicide. It would be like having a book with blank pages. You're missing an opporunityto reach people in a way more personal than ever before.

Videos are an amazing, affordable way to communicate your personality to your clients. By being seen, people can make a better judgement on how the fit will be between your businesses. It's a great way to convey complicated ideas quickly and concisely. Not to mention showcasing your business in the best possible light. Videos are ideal for case studies, testimonials, step-by-steps and general business promotions.

Add-In Captions

Don't forget that a lot of videos are now viewed with no volume. If you're talking - make sure that your video is captioned to ensure that you are getting the most from your videos.

Number 8 - Who's Writing The Content? The Importance of Copywriting

Copywriting is an artform. Don't be glib. If you're good at writing - then write. If you're not - embrace it and get someone in who is. Much like images and video, the written word on your website is vital. It provides clear sign-posting as to what to do next. It gives people the opportunity to quietly understand what you're all about and it draws in your visitors to stay a while longer. The idea of compelling copywriting as far as I can tell is this:

Positions You and Your Business As The Authority

Compelling, content will help to project the best about your business. It will have all of the answers. Great copy is consistent and always right. It doesn't change it's mind halfway through.

Shows The Pain and Then Takes It Away

As you probably know -  getting buyers to feel the pain is a way to highlight what you do and how you can make someone feel better after they've used your product or service. With clever text, you can get people to go through the gamut of emotions to allow them to feel compelled to take the next step.

Get's Your Attention

It's a websites way of yelling "Oi!". Getting your attention in the first place requires great copywriting. Getting people into your world is vital to the success of any website. Having a clever smart and succinct copywritten text will help visitors to understand that.

copywriting

Makes the prospect feel like you’re talking to them only

Skilled copywriters know you don’t write for the masses. You write for one person, a singular reader, using benefit driven statements that show you're about your clients and not about yourself. I have said this many times. So many companies concentrate on "we'ing" and not enough time "you'ing".

Number 9 - Do It Yourself or Web Designer?

If you're time rich and money poor - have a go at designing yourself. Otherwise leave it to those who can do it for you. Business owners up and down the country - especially start-up businesses ask this question every day. Should I pay a web designer to create a website for me, or should I sit down and learn it all myself?

The honest answer is - it depends. If you are a new business and can afford it - it is probably better to let someone else do your web development - pay for the expertise and knowledge of what works and why. It's also important to understand what doesn't and why. Why? Because you need to be spending your time getting the customers you need to support your business. Most people don't put a value on their own time in a newbusiness. Fact is it's that time which is so precious and a resource that will run out - if you don't attract buyers to your door. If you simply don't have the money, don't dream that a web designer is going to do you a favour and create the site of your dreams for peanuts. It's just not going to happen. Or rather if it does it would likely happen for one of these reasons:

1) They're doing it as a sideline

2) They're new too and are learning on the job

3) They're your friend and want to support you

4) They're learning on the job

Can I Develop A Successful DIY Website In Moonfruit, GoDaddy, Wix, Weebly Etc?

Yes, you sure can. If you can dedicate the time, learning and energy into doing so - you could end up with something really quite presentable. Let's face it WIXhost of 135 million websites - so they must be doing something right - and kudos to them. You can end up with some excellent results - IF you can source decent images, do a little design work yourself or have access to stock images and learn the platform. It is also important to note that there are some quite large menu limitations on some platforms like Wix that make it more difficult to develop once you've exceeded around 30 pages. So if you're looking to keep growing your website - keep that in mind.

If I'm Not Happy Can't I Just Move The DIY Website I Made Elsewhere

A little-known fact about these do it yourself site offers is that you have to pay every month - forever. Not just hosting, but to have the software updates that the company makes on that platform. Unlike a site that is developed in something like Wordpress, Joomla, Drupal etc, where, if you wanted, you could back up that website and take it elsewhere - you are stuck with who you've chosen - paying what you're paying - also the more functionality you want from these providers - the more they charge. Things like: e-stores, contact forms etc can be extra. Best to check with the platform you choose. This could be just fine - for some time and if you really have a drive or passion to understand how a website goes together - jump right in and have a go. If nothing else, you will be learning another skill. It is important to note however that web design is probably not why you've set your business up - it's a bit like accountancy, you probably have the capability to do it - but just don't have the time. Design, web design and marketing plans all fall into a similar category. They're important to the business, but should you learn the skills or buy them in? That's why many people hire an accountant to look after their interests - which is also where digital marketing companies come in - they make sure that a website works.

WIX is Free - So That's Good Right?

Free things are great, aren't they? There is, however, no such thing as a free lunch. Free lunches come with conditions. For example, the free offer that Wix gives is that you can build a website - with a reasonable amount of options and facilities and choose the template you'd like to use. The only issue is that you can't use a domain of your choice - you have to use a sub-domain of Wix; which, let's face it, doesn't look very professional. Think about what level of service you will need from your provider and how much it may cost you moving forwards.

How Flexible Are Do It Yourself Web Sites?

Those sites are quite flexible - and they offer quite a few options. Quite a few are paid for extra, but they are offered nonetheless. You normally have to choose a template quite early on in the design process and so making changes to that decision afterwards can be challenging (although not impossible). Because you are the judge and jury - you may change your mind several times as to what looks good and what doesn't. Keep in mind that the further through you go - normally the more time consuming it is to change a design.

Do I Need Anything Else?

You'll need a domain name like flok.marketing or mycompany.com. Make sure that you can use the domain with your chosen DIY website partner and if so, how much it will cost to do so. Some DIY providers offer an SSL certificate to prove that the site is who it claims to be - which is important for end-users - make sure your site is SSL compliant. It can also have a (small) positive impact on search engine rankings.

What About Search Engine Optimisation For A DIY Site Like WIX or Squarespace?

Sites like Weebly and WIX have made good progress in getting their sites well optimised on Google. In fact, WIX has gone as far as to seek endorsements from Google directly to prove how well their sites get optimised. SEO is not often, however, about how well or badly a site is built (although of course, it can be a factor). It is more about how the site is laid out and how well a client can navigate it.

What If I Want A Website That Is A Bit Different?

The issue with a DIY framework is that it can be quite constraining. Not just on your time, but also on future development. Because the code is not open source - i.e you can't have access to it, there are some parts of that site you will never be able to see or change. Therefore, if you need something to show in a particular place and it doesn't appear to offer that facility - you are probably stuck for a while. Before committing to a particular platform, check out some sites already developed in the system to ensure that you stand a chance of being able to get what you are seeking. Always check more than one option to see if one can do what you want better than the other. It sounds like common sense, but you'd be surprised as to how many people jump right in without considering the alternatives.

What Would I Get If I Engage With A Web Designer?

You're going to get web design experience - probably in bucket loads. Depending on the company you contact you may get contact from someone who has a marketing background who can advise you on the type of content you need to concentrate on. Also, what not to worry about. Depending on your industry there are some things that simply need to be included. The other thing is the layout. you'd be surprised how many own-developed websites miss out simple things like the phone number or email address. That's like making a cake and then putting it straight outside for the birds to eat. Although - if you've tried my cooking - you may say that is the place for it. The other thing you get when you pay for a website is straight down the line advice on what is and isn't possible and also what is possible and how much it would cost. The reality is that most things can be done - but they come at a price. It is for you to decide how important they are and whether it is worth spending that money so early on to achieve it. That is something only you can decide after listening to what the benefits would be.

Who Designs My Website To Look How I Want It To

One of the most important things you get with a web designer developeris - the design. Sounds crazy to state it - but many people don't understand. Unlike off the shelf solutions and templates, many designers like to present something that is created especially for you - from their understanding of your business. It should make your business stand out a mile from the competition. people should be able to take one look at your website and know whose it is. A designer can advise on colour palettes and typefaces to ensure that your message is clear, engaging and makes sense in the way people visit sites. They should also make sure that your site looks different. After talking with you, they should have an understanding as to how "hands-on" you would want to be with the website, therefore adding in or adjusting the levels of design on a page. Normally the more "design-y" a page is the harder it is to change from a layman's perspective.

What is A CMS or Content Management System?

You've probably heard of people talking about Wordpress, Joomla or Drupal? These are all CMS's or content management systems. Which one is best? It depends on you, what you're seeking to achieve and also to some degree your budget, as some take longer to develop than others. The CMS is what allows you and your team to access the text and images inside your website to add and change the content. A website developer will design, create and place the template (the look and feel) into a CMS and then add the content. Systems like WordPress are quite user-friendly and have many different plug-ins (or widgets) that help you to get more functionality. Some are free some you pay for.

Number 10 - What Functions Should My Website Perform?

Your website is your best employee. Treat it well and it will give you years of service. Treat it badly and face the consequences. #loveyourwebsite.

This is quite a broad topic, but I'm going to write about this with a bit more of a helicopter view. What are you looking for it to do for you and your business? More importantly, what do you want it to do for your visitors?

Keep These In Mind:

Lead Magnet

When configured properly a website is a great lead magnet. You can get people to "reasonably do" what you'd like them to do - providing you make it clear enough. DON'T expect anyone to spend loads of money with you at the first touch point. Give them things to try and do that have no risk. Then build from there. Next level - make it something that might take a bit of time - or cost a small amount of money. Once they have confidence you can make the larger offers - but just don't expect too much too soon - or you'll be disappointed. The most important thing is to keep in contact.

Brand Advocate

A website is your best brand advocate. It never sleeps, never asks for a pay rise and never (rarely) goes sick. It is always on brand and always keeps to the script word-for-word. How can you best promote your brand on your website - to show the bestyou? Think about case studies, testimonials, video testimonials and whitepapers. All of those things and more show what a great business you are.

Slide Deck

As far as projects go - a website is the best place to showcase them! They're instantly accessible. Easy to edit and quick to create. Make sure you have a great place to put your work and send people to it. I'm a HUGE believer in making sure it is YOU who control the experience.

Experience Control

It is far better thatpeople get to the place that you control the experience - quickly. Why? To avoid distraction and inaction. The issue with other channels is that you can't tell what else they are seeing. On your website, you can. It's like being in a private meeting with them at your office. you can show them all the good stuff - worry free that a video of a fluffy animal will pop up and grab their attention.

Mailing List

Everyone groans when they read about getting a mailing list together. but hold fire. I love the idea of having a great big mailing list. Why? Because it is MINE! It isn't owned by a social media channel - it isn't owned by another company it is actually mine and it always will be. For those of us who live in a GDPR world. Do not be put off by this - it is still possible to send emails to business owners. Build your list and a drip-feed and keep in touch!

Number 11 - Life After Go-Live - Continuing The Process

Dontleave your website alone after you've gone live. Keep improving it. Add blogs, pages and useful things for your visitors. It isn't a paper catalogue - keep optimising it.

A lot of businesses feel that they can "tick the box" once the website content has been "finished". Truth is that web development is NEVER FINISHED. Why? Because it should ALWAYS be updated, reviewed, added to and analysed.

1. Redirects

Check your website regularly for broken links. Links generally become broken over time when off-site content moves or is removed, or if you edit or delete urlson your own site. It's totally normal. it must be said though, broken links breeds mistrust and make visitors question your site and credibility. How can this firm help my company if it can’t keep links working?

Broken links can also make it impossible for a visitor to complete a task. You may run a fabulous PPC campaign, drive traffic to your landing page and then lose the leads forever if the conversion links don’t work. Worse than that, you could be spending on a campaign that will yield nothing!

If you are using a content management system (CMS), plugins are available that will crawl your site and help to check for broken links. You can also conduct a manual review. When a broken link is found, either remove the link,or, if applicable, redirect it to newer content. It's more advisable to replace with a new link.

2. Meta descriptions

The meta description is a snippet of text, usually around 160 characters, that appears beneath the website address in your search engine listing. The meta description is free advertising. It is your chance to present a summary that encourages users to click on your listing rather than anyone else.

It's an important part of good housekeeping to keep your meta descriptions updated. Make sure they are relevant and address a visitor need. If you can, add an emotional hook. Avoid throwing in too many keywords and instead talk directly to your potential clients. As far as SEO goes meta descriptions don't hold massive power at the moment.

3. Working navigation

Navigation can suffer the same fate as text links. Pages move or become obsolete, and navigation must follow. In addition to making sure your navigation works, check regularly to ensure that your top links still take visitors to your most relevant pages. You may need to add, redefine or remove links in order to take visitors to your best-performing pages. Simplicity in navigation is key. Don’t throw everything at a visitor at once. Instead, direct visitors strategically to your most valuable pages and work it out from there.

4. Image optimization

Images need to be optimised in two ways. Always analyse for:

4a) Compression: All images should be exported for the web and compressed to the smallest usable size. Large images can negatively affect page load times, which is unsatisfactory to both Google and your visitors. They shouldn't be any larger than they need to be. For this blog, I normally max out at 1000 pixels wide and then the relative height. JPEG is a good format and PNG for transparent backgrounds, although like for like they are larger. Make sure the dpi is set to around 100dpi. Much more and you're starting to waste space.

4b) Alt text: Alt text provides the browser with descriptive (alternative) information about an image. Alt text should explain the image and its function on the page. For example, if you use an image as a link, your alt text should tell visitors the image is a link, and to where. People with visual impairment who use screen readers will have alt text read to them, which enhances your website’s accessibility.

5. Don't Forget The Calls to action

Website calls to action are critical to lead generation. Each page should contain a clear call to action to keep the visitor moving.

Each page should have a limited number of calls to action - maybe 1 to 3. If you give a visitor too many options, they may become overwhelmed and not make a choice at all. Be sure that each of your calls to action is clear and specific and directs visitors to make the choice that is most valuable to your business.

6. Up-to-date contact details

As a user, one of the most frustrating oversights is a lack of easily accessible contact information on a website. Some visitors will welcome filling out a form, but others will want to talk to you directly. Your phone number should be visible on every page, in text and not in an image. This is especially critical for smartphone visitors. Ideally - it should be a call link whcihallows you to press the number to call up. If you're advertising a number - put it at the top of the page.

Other visitors may use your website as a resource for an address, directions and parking options. Are you taking them to your current office or an old one? Contact details should also include information about hours and whether office visits are by appointment only.

Use schema markup on your contact information. Schema markup describes your content to search engines. Google looks for this markup when creating local listings - it can also help in your placement in Google maps.

7. Working forms

Can visitors actually submit the forms on your website? Sometimes errors — particularly captcha errors — can prevent a form from being submitted. Are submissions going to the correct email addresses?

Always test forms regularly. Also, make sure any required input fields are clearly marked and that error messages for incorrectly filled fields are obvious. Make sure that the forms don't end up in your junk mail. It's an occupational hazard these days. Getting a good SMTP service will help.

8. Analytics

Every professional website should monitor visitors. Google Analytics is the leader in this field; it is free, relatively easy to use and highly customizable. Google Analytics provides a wealth of data about your visitors. You can see who is on your website in real time, and the data help you understand what advertising campaigns and individual pages are performing. I also use Lucky Orange - which can heatmap and also record sessions - which helps identify good and bad spots on your website.

9. Readable content

Quality content is important. It must answer questions, offer benefits and be clearly directed at potential clients.

Technically, however, visitors need to be able to read your content. Is the font big enough? Is the space between lines large enough to make the lines easy to read but not so large that paragraphs have massive gaps? Keep colours plain - black or white is good. Light colours otherwise.

To accommodate online readers, your content should also be broken into short paragraphs and separated with subheads and bulleted lists. Website readers scan, so your most important information should be at the top — in your headlines and the first sentence of each paragraph.

10. Information about you

Believe it or not, about pages are quite important for the Google Rankbrain algorithm. It matches what you blog about with what is in your about page. Also, make sure that you keep it up to date with staff hires and fires too.

I hope that you've found this useful. Leave a comment below to tell me which of these steps you are going to implement to bring you closer to the website that is going to change your business.

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