Being online is no longer something that businesses should just think about, or put on a list to do ‘one day’ – it is now imperative. Your customers are turning to the net many times a day, looking for the types of products and services that you offer. If you’re not online, you could be left behind.
Evaluating your website
It’s easy to get lost in the technical stuff when it comes to websites, but if you understand a few key areas and can use these to judge how well your site is performing you’ll be able to maximise the effectiveness of your site. Use this quick test as a starting point. Once you’ve completed this questionnaire (honestly) you will see which areas of your site could do with improvement, and which are working well for you. If you find that your site is rating low across most of these criteria, it may be easier to build a new website from scratch.
Rate your site against the criteria on a scale of one to ten (where ten means it couldn’t be any better)
- Does your website reflect your brand? /10
- Is it easy to find your business hours and contact details? /10
- Is the site simple to navigate? /10
- Are your product and service offers shown clearly? /10
- Are people actively encouraged to sign up to your database? (this is not relevant for all businesses) /10
- Can you see at a glance what this business is all about – your point of difference? /10
- Do you change content regularly to reflect new products/services/specials/news etc? /10
- Can customers easily make enquiries? /10
- Does your website feel like an extension of your business environment in terms of look, branding etc? (this is especially important for retail and hospitality businesses) /10
Building a new website
The cost of building a website can vary greatly depending on the amount of content you want, how much of the site you want to be able to change out (text, images etc), how unique you want the design to be or what ‘clever’ elements you want to include in the site. Sites can start in the hundreds of dollars for something with a few pages made from stock template designs, through to content managed sites that allow you huge flexibility but come at a cost that can run into the thousands. When you are thinking of building (or re–building) your website, we suggest you keep the following criteria in mind – we believe they are the most important issues to consider and will affect the kind of site you will end up with.
Are you clear about all the elements you want covered on your site?
One of the key areas that holds up a website from being completed is having the content ready. Make sure that when you start building your site, you have clear ideas about which sections you want on your site, what you want to say in each section and how you are going to keep each page interesting for your customers. Photography is one area that can add a huge amount of value to your site – if you’re a restaurant, and your signature dish is Smoked Duck Nicoise, text alone won’t necessarily leave diners craving one, but a photo of the dish would make a world of difference. To get a feel for what you want (and what you don’t want) from your website, it pays to look at a lot of websites (and not just sites of businesses in your industry) and find the sections that will work for you.
Does your site design reflect your business?
Every businesses should have a personality and a style that makes it unique, and your website should be no different. A good website design will carry the look and feel of your business into the online world. It should also maintain simple navigation so that it’s easy to find information.
Will the site convince customers of what you’re famous for?
Every business should be famous for something. This is the one thing that all your best customers know to be true about you. A good website will be able to bring your ‘famousness’ to life and remind customers what they love about you.
Will your site be content managed?
A good website will use a Content Management System or CMS. Simply put, a CMS allows you to change sections of content including pictures, text, videos, calendars, specials, add products and services, news items etc. While they cost more to set up, a CMS will save you in the long run as you won’t need to go back to your website developer every time you want to change something on your website.
What kind of content?
When building a new website, it’s tempting to want to include every little bit of information about your business but you need to be realistic – too much information, or too much detail can put customers off. Always assess your content by asking yourself two important questions (and again, be honest with your answers):
- Would my customer care about this?
- Would I bother reading this if I were visiting this website?
- How will people find your website?
Creating your website is important but making sure people can find it is equally as important. This is where Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) comes in. SEO sounds complex but, simply put, it is something that helps search engines (like Google) find your site easily. A well–built, optimised site will ensure that your business gets listed higher on Google search results than some of your competitors. Talk to your web developer about how to best integrate SEO into your site.
Monitoring your website’s traffic
Once built, it’s important to monitor your site’s performance. Google Analytics is a free web application that provides you with all sorts of valuable information including:
- How many visits (hits) it receives by day, month, year
- Where visitors to the site are coming from
- How long visitors stayed for
- Which pages they viewed
- This information allows you to tweak the content of your site to ensure your customers are getting the right kind of information quickly and easily.
Will your site also act as a customer database?
On most websites you can find a call to action – something along the lines of ‘join our mailing list’ or ‘join our loyalty/members club’. These link through to a customer database, which for many businesses is a key part of a good website. With a good database you can quickly and easily promote your business and build a loyal group of customers who will spread the good word. See our article titled ‘Making the most of databases and loyalty programmes’ for some best–practice ideas.
Will you have an email template?
Building a great database is only helpful if you communicate regularly with those customers with content that they will enjoy or get value from. It’s good to make all your communications look the same – like an extension of your business – and an email template is one way to achieve this consistency. Again, we go into more detail about emailing customers in the article ‘Making the most of databases and loyalty programmes’.
Are you active on social media?
Social media sites (like Facebook and Twitter) are a cost effective way to communicate with your customers, and can be less intrusive than sending emails.
Facebook is likely to be the most popular choice for most businesses, so we’ve focused on that here. A quick Facebook overview:
A Facebook page quickly shows customers what’s going on in your business, and allows you to communicate with your regular customers daily (you should never send emails this often).
Be warned, truly successful Facebook pages require a lot of time and commitment – they are best managed by the business owner, or at least a good manager who knows your business intimately.
If you think Facebook is for you, then you will need to allow between 30 and 60 minutes per day to keep it operating as a well–oiled machine.
Facebook, Twitter and Linked-In, and many other social media sites can be valuable tools in growing your customer base. As a starting point, these sites offer sections on how to make the most of their services, so it’s worthwhile reviewing their advice on how to use the site effectively.
Have you defined a timeline?
It always pays to have a launch date in mind when you start a website and you need to let your web developer know as soon as possible. If the dates are looking too tight, work with your developer to define a reasonable timeframe of events, and a deadline for completion. Always remember that there are parts of a website build that you will be responsible for delivering, so make sure that you know these, and allow the time to get this work completed.
Have you checked your website developer’s credentials?
Unfortunately not all web development companies are created equal – many will promise the world, and then leave you disappointed with the outcome. It pays to talk to previous customers before you contract any business with a development company.
After going through the information above, you can take the next step and start discussions with website development companies about your very own website.