Top 10 Tips for a Successful Small-Business Website

Just about every company wants an attractive website that performs well, attracts visitors and converts them into customers.  Good design is important, but there are several other factors that make a successful small business website.  Today we’ll explore the top 10 tips for creating a web presence that satisfies customers and delivers a real return on your investment.

1. Strategy

Like many of life’s endeavors, proper planning and strategy for your website will make your chances of success much, much greater.  You must have a plan.

First, start by asking yourself and your business partners some basic questions: Who is the website’s target audience?  What is the goal of the website?  Starting with these simple questions will go a long way in determining the scope and nature of your project.

Second, it’s important to have a detailed project profile, in order to help keep strategic focus and set proper expectations.  In the earliest stages, this planning is critical because it will set the stage for great graphic design, compelling copy-writing, and overall website effectiveness.

Good planning and strategy in the early stages of your project will not only save time and money, but will also be a strong foundation to build on in the future.

2. Domain Name (Registration & Management)

One of the primary goals of your website should be the simple act of making sure that customers can find you.  Search engines are important, but the right website address is crucial to online success.

Quite simply, the ideal website address is short, simple, and incorporates the name of your business.  xyzcompany.com is great, since that’s how your customers know you.  If your business name is too long or doesn’t read well as all-one-word, another option is to use your company’s location and the industry you’re in.  For instance, tampadrywall.com would rank well in search engines for customers searching for drywall in Tampa.  Sometimes, businesses choose to buck convention and go with a name that isn’t immediately memorable or easy to type into a search engine.  On occasion, with a lot of hard work and a little luck these unique, non-traditional domain names become a brand name in themselves and become quite recognizable by their uniqueness.  See: hotbot, google, or 39signals.

Another consideration is the management and administration of your web address.  You’d probably be in quite a panic if you found one day that your website address had expired and been picked up by a “squatter” or worse, by one of your competitors.  Look at iPad.com, someone snatched the domain name and Apple is simply out of luck.   Making sure your records are up to date and that your web servers point to the correct web host is a job that’s sometimes best left to the professionals who design or administer your website.

3. Website Hosting

There are cheap web hosts and there are good web hosts, but there are very few cheap and good web hosts.  This advice can be applied to many industries, but when your website isn’t available, customers look elsewhere.

Look for a host that gives top-notch service and can answer and/or fix problems.  Some “low price” hosting services don’t even provide basic technical support or respond to issues such as outages or hours of unexplained downtime.

Most small business owners don’t want to spend hours on the phone trying to figure out why the company’s new website won’t load, and relying on your web team to take care of this is almost always the best bet.  Make sure your web team keeps you up to date about any hosting technical issues, outages or downtime.  Again, if your website isn’t available or functional, your customers will look elsewhere.

4. Professional Graphic Design

Customers have choices.  The way your company is perceived is what motivates the relationship that your customers have with you.  When a customer sees that you’ve spent some time considering their needs as a visitor to your website, and have provided a thoughtful web experience, they will also perceive that you’ll deliver that level of professionalism in future dealings.

Don’t skimp on your branding efforts, especially the graphic design, and don’t micro-manage it or give advice on color combinations.  You know what you like, but the designer is a graphics professional and knows his craft.  Give the designers some room to work, they were selected by you for a reason!  It’s very important to convey your ideas regarding the identity you’d like to express, it’s your business after all.  It’s best to make sure that the design team understands your ideas.  Good graphic designers are able to refine your ideas  into an advertising campaign or identity package that can work wonders for your small business.

5. Simple, Intuitive Design / User Interface

In some ways, consumers today are like 5 year old children.  They want what they want when they want it.  In other words, they spend a few moments searching for the products or services that they want and then expect to have their needs met without a lot of hassle or confusing run-around.  Designing your small business website with the needs of the customer in mind is perhaps the most important thing that your professional website can accomplish.  Making customers work for information or search for a buy button is a fast way to lose a sale.  Make it easy for them by insisting that your website be clean and intuitive.  Readability and navigation are crucial, so make the text legible and try to narrow customer choices when possible.

6. Accessible & Compatible With All Operating Systems/Browsers

This one is easy.  The website must look the same in every browser and on every operating system.  Just because your designer uses Safari and the site looks great there, doesn’t mean that it looks or works the same in Internet Explorer or Firefox.

Finally, the site must be functional.  Can you imagine if a customer spent time researching your product, comparing options, and was convinced to buy, only to realize that the request for quote form they just filled out delivered an error message upon submittal?  They would leave, probably never to return.  Cross-browser and cross-platform usability testing is simple, yet it’s often overlooked by developers who are in a hurry to complete their task.  Test the site in all browsers as it is being built and before the site launch; it will save time, money, and headaches in the future.

7. Compelling Content

In the field of web design, and especially SEO, the term “content is king” is well known.  There are two reasons why the content (the words on your website) must be compelling and relevant.

The first and most obvious reason is the websites users, who are seeking products, services, or information, and rely on words to guide them.  To your website’s users, the words on a specific web page are often much more important than the images.

The second reason for relevant content is search engines like Google, and the importance that they place on the reliability and authenticity of a website.  In the old days, a website could put 500 keywords into the meta tags and get a top listing on Google for “widgets” or some such thing.  It didn’t even matter if the website sold widgets or not, just that their keywords were set up for the term “widgets.”  Today all that’s changed.  Google got smarter, thank goodness.  Today, it “sees” the real content of the page and makes decisions about the websites authenticity.  It then decides things like page rank and placement.

8. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and Search Engine Marketing (SEM)

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is not complicated.  Neither is Search Engine Marketing (SEM).  However, each must be fully understood before real results can be achieved. In fact, doing it wrong can lead to real problems.  For example, in SEO, keywords are important.  However, “keyword stuffing” is frowned upon by major search engines like Google and Bing (see above.)  Most search engines penalize sites for trying to rig the game, and even major web sites and retailers are punished harshly for using so-called “black hat” techniques.  The key is to build your small business website with search engine rank in mind, and build it slowly and over time to maximize your efforts.

Search Engine Marketing (SEM) is a viable form of internet marketing that is designed to further increase your visibility in search engines.  SEM shouldn’t take the place of optimizing your web pages, but paid-inclusion services like Google’s AdWords and Bing’s Ad’s can be cost-effective ways to advertise your site and market its content to potential customers.  Used in conjunction with organic SEO and Social Media marketing, it can be a very effective tool to boost traffic to small business websites.

Finally, SEO (and SEM) should be started before the website is designed and developed.  It should be built into the site- through title tags, image names, and relevant content.  It should be researched thoughtfully and implemented deliberately.  It should also be an ongoing project that drives traffic to your site. After all, if no one finds your website, what good is it?

9. Tracking & Analytics

All the hard work of designing, developing and optimizing your website is done, time to sit back and watch the orders or quote requests roll in, right?  That would be ideal, but you need to track several factors to make sure the site is performing as well as it can.  Google Analytics is the best-known and most often used tool to track a web sites performance.  It generates detailed statistics about visitors, traffic sources and can even measure conversions and sales.  It can tell us where our visitors came from, what they clicked on while they were on the site, and even track how long they stayed.  The free service provided by Google features multiple dashboards and generates custom reports for users seeking to optimize their websites.

Performance matters.  And it’s important to remember that even the best-looking, most thoughtful websites can be improved.

10. Updates & Maintenance

Keep your website fresh. Not only will you gain new visitors, you’ll impress search engines, too. Update the content, the layout, the color schemes.  Keep adding new articles, features and functionality.  Every time you update your site, you’ll gain credibility online and bring in more potential customers.  People won’t visit your site tomorrow if they saw the same content yesterday.

Keeping your website online is a no-brainer, but we’ve all seen sites that give error messages, have broken links, or simply don’t work as expected.  When visitors experience problems, they rightly attribute them to you and your company.  A flawed website, in our customers minds, equals a flawed company.  We must keep our websites working properly, in all browsers and on all computers.  Maintenance isn’t just a matter of checking the site every day to make sure it’s online, but also submitting forms, clicking links, and actively searching for issues.

Remember, our websites are reflections of our company.  If our sites don’t work properly or fail to impress, we can be sure that our competitors will be ready to pounce on our short-comings.

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2 Comments

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