Painting the perfect website picture

It’s hard to think of a company that doesn’t have a website. Even the local plumber, café, library, and doctors have got their own websites or at least a presence on someone else’s. Is it really that easy? Is beauty only homepage deep or is there more to it than that?

Yay, you have a website!

There are hundreds of services offering website templates that you can personalise or if you want something more bespoke a quick Google search in your local area will reveal hundreds more web designs agencies. If you’re feeling adventurous Wordpress and Drupal offer easy off-the-shelf operating systems that you can custom build from a template by yourself.

For anyone considering set setting up their own website or thinking about updating an existing online presence, go back to basics. Why do you want a website? Is it to sell to customers or is it to engage them in conversation? What functionality do you need to be able to do this? How much time can you spend on developing this? What budget do you have? If you’ve answered these questions you’ll be a step closer to working whether or not you have time to build something yourself or you need some help. How much budget you have and the complexity of the services you need, will decide between a website template service and a design agency.

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Now what?

Getting a website might take time, money and patience but it’s the easy part, what you do with it is trickier. We’ve set out a few things to consider below, to help you keep your website on track:

·         The boring stuff

Services like Wordpress and Drupal are great as they are easy to use and have hundreds of developers around the world working on bugs and updates. If however you decide you want to use these services but plugged in to your own web address you’ll need to think about what happens if the system needs to be updated, or there’s a bug that causes it to crash. It’s not as exciting as choosing the design and layout but choosing the right maintenance package for your needs is just as important. Some agencies will offer set-up, hosting and maintenance services from as little as £30 for the year where some of the template services have this included in their initial fee but it’s worth checking.

·         The fun stuff

Every bit as important as the not so fun stuff. Have you ever searched for a company found their website and thought again about using them? Your website is your customer’s first point of contact with you, if they arrive to find Comic Sans and Clip Art they’re probably going to assume that you got your 13 year old son to make it, and therefore maybe won’t offer the most professional of services. Consider a design that is in keeping with your brand, uses a type face that is easy to read, background colours that are easy on the eye event if your brand colours aren’t, and where to place photographs and videos that add to rather than detract from the content.

·         Structure your content

People are there for a reason, they don’t want to spend hours searching for your content so don’t hide it. Think about what people will be looking for when they come to your site and what the next logical steps are for them. Think about your headings and how you label them, what makes sense to you might not make sense for your customers. If they are looking for a price list it’s easier for customers to see prices in one place rather than spread across the site. However some customers may also want pricing information next to details about that service. Whilst you’re structure has to be sensible it doesn’t have to be rigid.

·         Be a storyteller

The corporate world is a serious business, whether you’re selling financial services or fashion accessories, but it doesn’t have to be dull. People relate to people so use case studies, include recommendations, tell stories about your services, when people might need them and how your business can help. Often the most interesting thing about a small business who the people who created it, their vision, their story and what they hope to achieve. Don’t forget to tell your story as it’s the thing most likely to set you apart from the crowd.

·         Minimal disruption

Depending on your line of work sometimes it’s necessary to collect information and pop up boxes can be a great way to do this, but they need to be managed. Too many interruptions and people will switch off in favour of an easier less intrusive brand. Consider what information you need to collect and at what point in the customer journey it fits best. Map pot how you would buy that product and service, what you would want to know before buying and at what point you’d be ready to give your details or ask for more information. Mapping a customer journey could help you to realise that whilst it might be your best deal to date, advertising it in a pop-up window that flashes up at 40 second intervals possibly isn’t the best route.

The journey

Website design and functionality changes over time, new services become available making it easier to incorporate social media and video content, and your content can outgrow your existing structure. Websites aren’t static endeavours that mark a specific period in time. They need updating, maintaining and developing on a constant basis.

Set aside a little time each week, make a plan for what content you’re going to add from handy tutorials tips and guides for customers, to blog posts, new product updates and new work in your portfolio. An hour a week makes a world of difference to your online presence and helps you stay current in an ever-changing market.

 

This article was first published in The Professional business magazine in September 2014.