Launching your own website may seem like a daunting task, especially if it is your first one. You might worry that you do not have the expertise needed to build an effective site that will attract consumers. How do you market your services or products and ensure your business will launch successfully? How do you build traffic and how do you attract the right customers? As well as this, you need to know about copyright information and domain names. You also need to know about your competitors.
Many people rush the planning process of websites because they are anxious to launch their business on the web as quickly as possible. This is a mistake that will cost them.
There are many website design software packages that are free and available online, making it easier than ever before for new businesses to create websites within a matter of minutes. The temptation is there for many users to create sites without planning them in depth beforehand.
However, a hastily concocted website will not be as durable or eye catching as a well considered one; in simple terms if you plan your website first, you will stand a much better chance of making money from it.
By planning your website carefully and thoroughly and by conducting all the research you need before you begin, you will find yourself at a distinct advantage when it comes to launching it on the world wide web and you will attract the right kind of clientele from the start.
So, how do you prepare your website? This can be done by thinking about and answering a series of questions about your business and what it offers, as well as who your site is aimed at. Take the time to understand what your aims and goals are and how you might go about achieving them. This will identify your business strengths and the area the website needs to be created in.
Who is Your Target Audience?
Your marketing strategy for your business needs to reflect your target audience. So the first thing to do is to understand who they are.
Your audience is out there and they are waiting for your product/service but they do not know who or what this is yet. Your goal is to make your audience find you. But first you have to find them.
Who is it that will be looking for the information you will offer? This is an easy question to answer if your business involves selling collectible teapots. Your target audience is teapot collectors. However, if your business wants to offer a service that is not quite as niche as this, you will need to conduct research into the type of people who think your service or product is just what they would buy.
Do not rely on search engines to find your target audience for you. If your website is slightly ambiguous and what you offer is not what you say you offer, search engines will not be able to connect your customers to your business.
To make your site searchable and desirable, you have to have an understanding of who your target audience is, so that you are able to write for them. It is only then that you can deliver what they want.
By planning this process carefully, you can discover who the customers are that you need to market for and begin doing so.
Firstly, network through family members, friends, peers and acquaintances. By asking them questions about your business idea and what they would look for and what they wouldnâ??t want, you can find out an invaluable wealth of information about audiences.
Research your business/topic idea thoroughly. Read magazines about it or trade papers, or online articles. Find out what is hot in the industry and what the current buzzwords are. If your business idea is constantly evolving, consider subscribing to a trade magazine to ensure you stay up to date with trends.
The internet is a valuable resource for sourcing trends and following industry patterns that relate to your business idea. You can search for discussion groups with many members and find out which topics are most popular and why. This is an ideal method for discovering if the idea you have, or the general area it fits within, is current and might be a commodity or service people want.
Making time to research the marketplace for your business idea will serve you well when the time comes to creating your website and getting it up and running. You will be able to apply some of the buzz words you have read about or heard friends and family mention, and this will help the search engine match you to your potential customers. There are tools online to assist you when it comes to thinking up keywords and phrases that your audience will search for, such as the keyword suggestion tool from Digital Point. Choose succinct words that have a clear meaning, or use word play to make your keywords memorable (such as phrases that have other meanings).
Donâ??t assume that your audience will search for the same thing that you do. This is a rather relaxed approach that will not lead to the best exposure. You are marketing your business and need to ensure that your audience will click on their search results and find you.
Researching your topic thoroughly makes sure that you remain focused, that your business idea is clear and concise and that your target audience will be able to find your website easily and will value the work that you have put into it.
Your Domain Name
Getting a website running online is relatively simple. Naming it appropriately may be more of a challenge.
Domain names are necessary for all websites. They are paid for on an annual basis and you may receive a discount if you pay for multiple years.
Your Domain name is generally the same name as your business or you might choose a keyword that relates to your area of expertise. It should be short, easy to spell and memorable.
There are a few simple steps to consider before naming your website, and searching for that nameâ??s availability.
Domain extensions, such as .com, are becoming more and more limited because of the millions of websites already in existence. If the name you want to choose is unavailable with the domain extension you want, you need to rethink.
Extensions ending with .com are still recommended because they tend to perform better in google search engine rankings. The .com extension is instantly recognizable and it is the one we are most familiar with, so this forms our search most commonly.
Your website name will feature the domain extension on the end. You should choose a name that reflects your business name or what it does (for example lawncare.com).
Before researching to see if your website name is available with the extension you want, it is an idea to draw up a list of preferred names to choose from, to avoid disappointment.
Always try to opt for a short company/website name, as longer names often result in spelling mistakes and therefore lost traffic. Similarly, avoid very short three letter website names as these have gone out of fashion; be careful of using acronyms. Do not hyphenate your website name, as visitors will often forget the hyphen. Avoid difficult spellings to prevent lost customers.
You have the option of owning several domain names if you choose, as domains are inexpensive and you donâ??t yet know what your business might grow into. This could lead to flexibility for your business in future years if you want to expand or change direction.
There are various domain registration providers online such as Domain.com and Networksolutions.com. You can alternatively search on Google for providers. Your search will be free and you can see what names are available and whether you need to go back to the drawing board to rethink your website name or not.
Once you have selected the name you want, a simple click and payment will ensure that it is yours. You should opt to have the domain automatically renewed each year to avoid losing it.
Your Website Landscape
Taking time to consider what you need to put on your website and how it will be laid out is essential. Depending on your business or topic, you will need certain features and might discard others. If you are planning to sell products, you will most certainly need a shopping cart feature and the ability to process credit cards. Many website providers offer these features, but you need to budget for them because they will cost money.
Think of the customer experience, first and foremost. Put yourself in their shoes. Different website providers will offer different customer experiences, so choose the one that suits your business the best, at a cost that suits you.
You might need a gallery of videos or photos for your site. If so, consider the file sizes needed and if you might need to stream videos or music (in which case the file sizes will be larger). Once your files reach a certain size, you might be charged an extra fee by the website designers. Bear all this in mind so that you avoid unwanted surprises once your site is designed.
A blog is often a useful addition to a website, as it can follow current trends and give you updated content so that your site will perform well in online searches.
Your goal is to increase the traffic to your site as well as giving visitors the best website experience you can. If they enjoy what they see and find usability is good, they will return again.
How your website looks is crucial to its success. There are many design templates to choose from today, making the process much simpler than a few years ago.
Templates should be studied carefully; how professional are they? Do they suit the industry you are going to be a part of? For example a vintage style design, with printed flower borders, might not suit an IT website particularly well. The template needs to closely reflect what you are selling. This includes how conservative it needs to be (without appearing boring), or whether it would suit a creative design.
A good way of understanding what the right template is, would be to research your competitorsâ?? websites. You need to ensure your site is bolder, fresher and more attractive than theirs but simultaneously you shouldnâ??t veer too far away from their aesthetics, as you will be offering similar products or services.
Ultimately, your website design should make your business stand out amongst its competitors, in a very positive way.
Aesthetics are very important when it comes to enhancing the visitor experience on your site. An unappealing looking website will make visitors click away as quickly as possible, as will a site that looks good but is difficult to navigate.
Each aspect of your website needs careful consideration.
Images help visitors to identify with your services or products quickly. You can use your own pictures or download photos for free or at a small cost online. Images are an important feature, and corners should not be cut with the appropriating of effective visuals. Visitors like to be enticed with attractive images, so it is worth spending the money to give them what they want. A website that features no images will appear dull, when compared with competitorsâ?? sites.
Similarly, colours are important when you are designing your website and should reflect the type of business you are running. Highlight important areas with colours that are pleasing to the eye but that stand out from other areas. Web pages are international, so the colours you use will be viewed by people around the world and you should keep in mind symbolism of colours at all times.
In the marketplace today, you need to be a cut above the rest in order to survive. If you plan the aesthetics of your website carefully, you will reap the rewards when visitors click onto your home page and are happy to browse through a site that is attractive in its layout.
Website navigation refers to how your pages are laid out and how the links between them work. Navigation is as important as the aesthetics. If your website looks visually appealing, but the links to products/services and other pages are overly ambiguous, your visitors will click away to another site that is user friendly.
Usability is the key to website success.
Consider how your want your page to operate. Where do you want your menu on your homepage: along the top bar or down the left hand side? How many images will you need and will visitors click on these to access further information or products themselves?
Navigation goes hand in hand with website design, each being equally important. For your site to be as effective as possible in the public domain, you need to plan each stage carefully.
Researching competitors is again handy for the navigation process. Which sites work better and why? Which navigation techniques are more effective? There are in-depth guides online about how to keep visitors engrossed in your content and clicking through your pages and these are worth browsing through before you create your website.
Pages that contain less content, but content that is well communicated, are more popular than pages cluttered with icons and writing. Unless your website needs to be informative (for example one that explains how to use something or what medical symptoms are and how your product can alleviate them), keep it to a minimum. Avoid the necessity of your visitors scrolling down the page, if they are looking for how to purchase a product or access a service. Simply make sure you stop at the page break. You can always continue on a new page.
Remember to keep your links current and unbroken. Broken links are a sign that a website is poorly maintained and this will dissuade many visitors from clicking around the site. This is known as â??link rotâ?? and may happen without you noticing it for some time. You can use a link checked and HTML validator to make sure older pages are free of link rot.
Links should also be labelled clearly, to explain to the reader where they are going and what will be there. This makes website visitors want to click and to enjoy the experience of browsing your site.
Create a site map before you create your website. This neednâ??t be a complicated document, but simply a guide to your site and the features you want on it. You will need certain features such as â??About Usâ?? and you will need to have a â??Productsâ?? page and â??Contact usâ?? details listed. You can then break down the features you want into categories and add other features and images that you think would work well on that page. Drawing it all out as a plan is an ideal way of seeing how it will look, as well as how easy it will be to navigate through and anything that doesnâ??t work will become apparent, allowing you to re-work your map.
Once you know how many pages you want on your website, you are prepared for the website providers, who may charge you more money after you exceed a certain number of pages. Once you have the number in mind, you can shop around for the best deal on your website creation.
You also want your website to be visible and accessible to different internet browsers, so HTML must be formed properly for this to be achieved. Consider too the use of Flash, and make sure that as wide an audience as possible can see your site and all its images.
With smartphones and mobile devices being increasingly used to browse the internet today, it is useful for websites to incorporate a mobile-friendly version of itself or to at least make sure that the site can be displayed properly in the smaller display area so that mobile users can have the same accessibility as other visitors.
A study recently showed that over half of small businesses created websites and then updated them less than 0.5 times each month. Basically, these small businesses did not take the time to update content or change details as they believed that once their website was up and running, the job was done.
It was found that small businesses who took the time to update content each month (more than 5 times) had over 300% more traffic passing through their websites than those who did not update.
Search engines favour websites that constantly update themselves, leading to search engine optimization (SEO).
Social Media can help to attract new visitors to your website. Many small businesses are still not using this powerful tool as much as they could be, to increase traffic. By engaging with social networks, you could increase visitors to your business by 400%.
Facebook, in particular, has quite an impact on business traffic online. By creating a Facebook fan page and building a fan base, you will ensure that your business receives optimum exposure online.
Twitter can also be incorporated easily for your business and linked to your website. There are many tips online for how to network effectively and get more followers through Twitter.
Blogging is a very cost effective way of attracting visitors to your website. All you need is a bit of time each month to dedicate to the writing of your blog. Unless you need a design to go with it, or a professional writer to pen it, your blog neednâ??t cost you a penny.
A blog will help you gain SEO and has many other benefits too.
It can provide the basis for a discussion between small businesses about products or services and the industry itself, in a clear and readable way.
A blog can provide businesses with information about useful, current events and industry goings on that people might not know about, making it a great promotional tool.
A blog can also allow you to become viewed as an expert in your field, for your product or service. People can turn to you for advice and you can use this to your advantage, by highlighting your own products. All you need is the knowledge about what it is you offer and you have this already. The ability to know how to use it is optimised by a tool such as a blog.
Blogs are interactive, meaning that comments and posts can be left there and questions can be asked (although this tool can be turned off by the administrator if desired). The blog author can then answer questions and respond to comments made, giving the blog and the website added credibility.
Blogs offer you the opportunity of becoming acquainted with your customers, thus giving the impression of your accessibility, as well as allowing you to hear exactly what your customers want, what they like and what they donâ??t.
Blogs tend to be informal, unlike other website content, and friendly. You can address your customers directly, letting them know news that you want to share, in a very relaxed, conversational way.
The most important thing to remember about your blog is that is needs to be added to and updated regularly, in order for it to receive search engine attention and therefore customer visits. Keep your blog vibrant and compelling. Whether you write it yourself or employ someone else to do so, a blog is a fantastic way of promoting your website and your business and of attracting visitors on a steady basis.
Writing Copy for your Audience
No matter how well written your copy is, if it doesnâ??t capture your target audience and hold their attention, it has not succeeded. Copywriting for your website is an essential marketing tool and you want people to take action from your words. So how do you do this?
Copy for websites should be in an appropriate tone for that particular business and its services offered, without appearing too dry and uninteresting. For example, a website offering medical products will require a professional tone that is reassuring and confident. Copy for a web design site will opt for a more creative flair to the tone and words; drawing visitors in with keywords to reflect whatâ??s on offer and keeping the writing fairly dynamic.
At all times, check and double check your spelling and grammar. Simple typos such as â??tehâ?? instead of â??theâ?? will turn many customers off. Good spelling equals good quality for most people, and copy writing should not fall at this obstacle.
The audience is at the centre of everything you write for your website. If they do not understand what you are saying, they will leave fairly quickly. You can never know enough about the target audience for your business and because they are so important, you need to make sure your copy is up to date, engaging and that it has a spark to grab their attention.
By researching into your target audience, you will be able to collect data on demographics and other insights and you should study these carefully. Buzz words used in industry that are current and relevant should be incorporated into the copy you write, where possible, and also into headings.
Addressing the audience directly is a good method to employ to get into their heads and to show that you understand and empathise with them. Tell them things that they need to know, update them and answer questions you know they want to ask. If you know your field intimately, you will be able to share this knowledge in an informed but accessible way with customers and they will appreciate this.
Research is the key to writing good, relevant copy.
Try to read what your target audience reads. Also read what your competitors write. This will give you an edge when you come to create your own copy. Make what you write stand out, above all else.
Blogs and forums are also a good way of discovering the topical issues and who is discussing what and why. You can then create your own blogs that are up to date and 100% relevant to your industry.
Websites are global, and you should bear this in mind when writing your copy. Make facts clear as well as currencies, dates and measurements so that national and international readers will understand you.
Copy should be edited; it should be economical with words so that it doesnâ??t clutter your website pages unnecessarily. It should contain valuable information that readers need to know. Establish an objective to the copy you are writing; what is its purpose and how will it achieve this?
A call to action is often an effective way of involving the reader in your words. Invite them to try your produce or service, or tell them that they need this and why.
Keywords can bring content to life and keep it focused. Your audience will understand your copy more if it contains familiar words and phrases. Avoid overusing keywords; they can lose their meaning if you over stuff your copy with them.
Good headlines are crucial to good copy. Your reader will generally make a snap decision on whether the title grabs them or not. If it doesnâ??t, they will simply move to another site. There are two types of headlines that tend to work; one is to clearly define what the copy is about, the other is to entice the reader with humour or make an impact through word play.
If your headline works, the reader will read on. You then need to make the copy flow and to be persuasive, without turning them off. By focusing on the reader, you may earn a level of trust as you make promises. Make sure that your copy has a main idea and purpose to keep them engaged. Do not digress from this purpose or the reader may begin to question why they are reading your copy. Give reasons why they should try your products or services. Stick to specific facts, not unsupported statements.
A confident voice will give you a tone of credibility. If you use statistics and testimonials (if they are appropriate) your copy will read effectively and its tone will be authoritative. After all, if you donâ??t know your field, why would your reader trust you?
Above all else, keep the reader at the heart of everything you write for your website. Whether you are creating articles or blogs or conversing with visitors, the audience is the key to your business and its success.
Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)
How do you ensure that your site is better placed on search engine results than your main competitors? The providers who determine this are Google, Yahoo and MSN. Google has such a large share of market searches that SEO tips are aimed towards them.
You will find that there are two types of SEOs; natural or organic searches and paid ones. All businesses desire to be placed on the first page of search results; studies show that most visitors wonâ??t click on further pages to find what they are looking for. Placement is therefore critical.
Pay per click advertising is a way of climbing search result rankings, if you do it through Google AdWords, for example. You need to outbid competitors in order to be placed on the first page of results.
Organic, or natural results refer to when your website achieves its ranking without paid adverts. If you manage to have your site placed in the top 10 searches, using your carefully targeted keywords, you will benefit from increased traffic to your site and subsequently increased sales.
SEO works by understanding search engine formulas that determine how sites rank and which keywords are best to target in a search. Search engines do not like to divulge their algorithms and techniques however, and these are constantly changing. So what can you do to optimise your website exposure on the search engine?
Researching keywords is a useful exercise in discovering the terms and phrases visitors are using to find you. Try to choose a balance between the number of times a keyword is used and how many of your competitors are using them and how they value them. If you can find keywords that are used frequently, but that few sites are targeting, this can be rewarding.
You can, if you choose, employ an SEO firm who will do all this for you for a fee, or you can optimise your site yourself.
There are a number of tips to help you achieve good SEO for your website, including selecting the right keywords for your business, and selecting the right domain name, which is critical. Try to use your keywords in your page titles and this text in your navigation between pages. Create content that is useful and uses keywords, which you can repeat (but be careful of over stuffing keywords in your content).
Try to secure links that are high quality, rather than those sourced from dubious websites. High quality links will give you more credibility for SEO. Whilst lower quality links are a temptation because they are easier and quicker to secure, they could ultimately drag your website down in the rankings because of their lack of relevance to your services/products.
By being aware of search engine rankings and knowing how keywords and quality links from outside sources can help your website position in a search results list, you should be able to move up the rankings and benefit from increased traffic to your website as a result.
Establishing your business identity online is a great way of marketing your services and of reaching a broad audience. Once you have considered search engine marketing, through organic or pay per click ads, you should consider other options for making your business as visible as possible to customers.
Email marketing can be effective if you target existing and prospective customers through their addresses. You might send out regular newsletters or offers that are relevant to customers. The advantage of this is that you can make direct contact with a number of people without waiting for them to come to you.
Banner advertising refers to the placing of adverts on a website, usually for a fee. You are able to advertise your products or services in an online environment and encourage people to click on to your site to browse further.
Press releases are a way of telling a story about a business and its products through a wire service online.
Blog marketing, through comments, questions and opinions, can optimise a websiteâ??s marketing drive. Blogs have become a popular way of tackling marketing without paying vast amounts of money.
Article marketing involves business articles about your products/services being published online and these are often re-published, meaning that they can spread from site to site, as long as the original links are not disrupted. This is an effective way of reaching a wider audience.
Social media can be used as a marketing tool and this trend is increasing steadily among businesses today. Facebook is particularly effective in promoting your brand to many different people, but other avenues include Twitter and LinkedIn.
Providing contact information is hugely important for a website. Most contacts from visitors will be about the site and whilst you should not provide personal information that you feel uncomfortable with, customers do need a point of contact being made available.
Contact information tells your customers that you are there for them, that the site is maintained. It gives them a sense of trust. An email address or telephone number tells them that someone will help them if they have a problem.
Replying to queries establishes a valuable bond between you and your customers.