The early days of a new business website can often be likened to self conscious kids taking their first steps into adolescence. At first, the primary goal is just not to look stupid. Make sure the basics are there, everything looks ‘normal’, nothing gets singled out, no one gets hurt.
A few months in and familiarity with the environment has led to growing confidence and the realisation that, being part of a slow moving herd isn’t going to make for future filled with a lot of excitement or any success. It’s time to show some personality and make a mark.
Differentiation is tricky though. If done right, you are remembered for being a trendsetter, the one with coat tails worth grabbing and, without question, the one to stay close to and do business with. If done wrong, you just stand out as one to steer well clear of.
So when it comes to creating a business website that is going to engage, excite and give visitors what they’re after, the names of the game are below;
Keeping things simple is imperative, especially when you’re a fledgling start up or small business with no brand following or awareness. Remember what the aim of the site is and keep that in focus at all times throughout the development process.
Whether you’re choosing to enlist the services of a designer or building the site yourself using a web platform, it pays to have a clear understanding of who your core customer is and create a website with a look and feel that will appeal directly to them.
The Home Page is where first impressions are made and inevitably it is here where visitors decide on whether your business is one they want to find out more about. The key with a homepage is to deliver an attractive, uncluttered and clear message that will provide just enough information though text and images to assure a visitor they have come to the right place and that your business is worth further investigation.
Online consumers are a fickle and agile bunch. Why would you take a chance on turning them off before they’ve really got to know you? Yes, great functionality is essential but style is hard to beat. Don’t cheap out on images. Make sure they reflect the best things about what you do. Also there’s beauty in space. Don’t fill every last inch with some semi redundant piece of information. Be concise and leave as much space as is possible so visitors can assimilate the important stuff.
The reason large companies pay web designers and IT specialists to work on their websites is not just because they can, but rather because they know the tricks of the trade. Although start up and small businesses might not have the budget to pay industry professionals to do the same, they can and should always take notes from their handiwork.
It stands to reason that if the larger, better known brands follow certain design protocols, so should your business. Users expect clearly headed pages for ease of navigation along with crystal clear descriptions and simple pricing structures. It pays to look at what the ‘Big Boys’ are doing and don’t be afraid to ‘borrow’ some of their ideas. Also, always keep a close eye on your rival’s sites. Watch how they evolve, and make sure your site is better.
All the same rules apply in online as they do to good old fashioned face to face interaction. Happy and satisfied customers will return to you again and they will tell their friends. Ensure that the entire experience is a satisfying one. For e-commerce, the holistic sales process from browsing to selecting to checkout through to ownership should be seamless.
Being able to monitor a business’s progress is an integral part of success. Analytics tools such as Google Analytics are easy to install and will help businesses measure performance and monitor site traffic. Understanding how customers are behaving when they’re on the website, how long they are staying on specific pages, which pages that are causing visitors to exit and whether there are traffic surges or dips during specific days of the week or national events will help in improving the website itself and also spending marketing budgets more effectively.
Returning to the school child analogy, how would you find an individual in a sea of sameness? Of course: firstly by name, secondly by description and thirdly by some key random qualities and attributes displayed.
The same goes for a website. With all the most aesthetically pleasing design, without discoverability on a search engine it will never be found or viewed. This is SEO and the first of the optimisation processes. The second is mobile and this is one of the main reasons why simplicity is pivotal.
It is being predicted by some of the world’s most influential commentators that the mobile web will be bigger than desktop internet use by 2015. Having a mobile optimised version of a business website is no longer an option but a necessity. If a website is responsive, meaning it will render to whatever screen it is being viewed on, then keep in mind in the overall design that many people will be viewing it while on the move. Alternatively a bespoke, mobile optimised site can be created which visitors using a mobile device will be redirected to. For mobile optimised sites, make sure the information a mobile user is most likely to want, i.e. contact number; address, simple product listing or menu, etc are all easily accessible.
Like it or loath it, social media is beginning to form the backbone of global communication. The phrase ‘News travels fast’ has taken on a whole new meaning as images, news, comment and opinions fly around the globe faster than ever thought possible.
Managing these news streams is increasingly important and as the saying goes ‘you’ve got to be in it to win it’ Whether Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest or any of the other emerging newcomers, without a social presence, a business runs the risk of being left behind by their social savvy competitors which are joining the conversations around a given industry and becoming the most recognised faces within it as a result..
In conclusion, being small is not necessarily a disadvantage in the rapidly expanding online economy, being unaware is. With considered planning, a watchful eye for detail and an awareness of the power of highly connected consumers, a new business can, like never before, actively and almost instantly compete online.