Nowadays web sites are as cheap as chips. It seems that everyone, and their sixteen year old son, can build them for next to nothing. Very tempting when budgets are tight. The trouble is that, on the surface, many websites look very similar. They all fit on the same screen and have some attractive graphics, a little bit of Flash animation and a navigation bar. So what is the problem?
There would be no point in buying a Porsche if all it had was a lawnmower engine under the bonnet. It would look great on the road but be overtaken by cyclists and pedestrians. Not quite the image.
The same applies to your website, it is not the chrome bumpers that matter, but the engine that drives it and the functions it can perform.
If you are in business, then the whole purpose of a website is add value in a number of specific ways. Not just to be the screen equivalent of a nicely designed leaflet online. In these competitive times, that won’t achieve what you require.
So instead of worrying about the colour of the paintwork, the first things to think about are the needs of the business, and what your website absolutely needs to deliver.
Firstly, a website is capable of giving immediate credibility for you and the business. When you are speaking to a prospective client on the phone, they will probably by looking up your website during the conversation. It reinforces what you are saying, and at the same time projects your brand image and the quality of your offering. You will need to decide what you need that to be and whether an obviously off the peg template website reflects the quality of your business. Never forget, you only have one chance to make a first impression!
But the look of the website is only a relatively small part of the picture. Getting it found is entirely another. Search engines these days are very sophisticated at the way they marry up a problem with a solution. They also have very specific ways of rating a website and ranking it in order of relevance to any particular search phrase.
It is all very well for some people to rashly promise “We can get your site to the top of Google!” The question is top for what? The more you clearly understand what you customers are likely to search for, the easier it is for you to focus all the content towards that subject or problem. If your content is really well constructed with a search in mind, you will have done half the job of optimising your site yourself.
Search engines do like site that always contain fresh content. Sites with static content may start strong but will quickly slip down the rankings. Build in from the beginning a news feed, an RSS feed, and a content management system which allows you to post new information yourself on a regular basis.
The search engines also look at all the basics. Not just the Metatags that everybody used to speak about, but having the right page descriptors, text associated with every graphic and every photo. keywords turned into links, a site map and many more.
This should all be done as part of building the foundations of your site, so working with a web design and build team that understand this is essential.
As they say in management consultancy-speak, “You cannot manage what you do not measure.” Right from the date you switch it on, you need to keep a close eye on the number of visitors to your site on a daily basis. Visitors, not hits! They are not the same thing, although many people wish they were. In the same way that to pilot a boat towards the port, you will need to make constant tiny changes of course, so it is with a website. A good website is never finished. It is always growing and evolving, as indeed the market place is also changing day by day. With your finger on the pulse of this change, you can make sure that your website is total relevant to the changing needs of your customers.
The most important thing to work on is the “call to action” on your site. What is it that you want people to do as a result of their visit? It they visit, look round for a moment and then leave without a trace, you have missed the point!
If your visitors find you site because they are searching for a particular need or to solve a problem, why not offer them the gift of your knowledge on the subject, in the form of a free ebook download? If it is really relevant to their needs, and not a thinly disguised advert, they will download it and read it. But before that can do so, they have to put their email address into a box to enable it to be sent to them. A perfectly reasonable transaction, which then gives you the opportunity to follow up with a “thank you“ email, and start to build a relationship with them. To leverage your time, there are many simple programmes you can inexpensively bolt on to your site to manage this process for them.
If your business has multiple offerings, solving many problems or addressing many different needs, then one website – no matter how well constructed – is going to rank highly in the search engines for each one of them. To overcome this, many smart businesses are putting up a series of microsites in orbit around their main site, attract traffic to each separate niche.
Search Engine optimisation is not a life raft to be thrown at a drowning website which is not achieving its objectives. Build the site with clear objectives in mind and put down strong foundations right from the start. Of course, you will need to fine tune it on a regular basis, and that need should be discussed up front and build it to your budget.
Yes, this will cost more to do than the average sixteen year old neighbours son’s friend will charge, but better that than to have to start again in six months time when it hasn’t worked.
Websites may well be as cheap as chips, but there is a law in business which stares that you always get what you actually pay for. And in business, when the chips are down, you need a professional to deliver results you can rely on.