As if it needs to be said anymore, getting a website for your business should be the NUMBER ONE priority as of right now.
Your website is your fort, your flagpole, your bedrock. Without one you’re either limiting your reach or leveraging a third-party platform that has all the control. Not smart.
It has been approximated that only 64% of small businesses have a website.
What year are we in?
Depending on how you look at this statistic you can either be depressed or see it as a huge opportunity.
Because if you haven’t got a website yet and you think it’s too late you couldn’t be more wrong. The opportunity is still there, and it’s still huge…
Still on the fence?
Read on to learn about the 20 things you must consider before you start developing your website.
1) Start with the end in mind
In the 7 Rules of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey, one of the very first insights is, to begin with, the end in mind. Now, this doesn’t mean you have to start at the end and work backward. Instead, build up a vision in your mind (or on paper) of what you want your website to look like and what you want it to achieve. If you haven’t got a clue where to start you could take a look at some competitor sites or makes notes of the things you admire across the web. Brainstorm, plan and steal – yes, steal – the best bits and put them together to build a rough image of your ideal finished product. Then, when you are ready, either employ a developer or an agency to bring your vision to life.
2) Choose your domain
Once you have pictures in your head about what you would like to achieve it’s time to purchase a domain that complements that vision. Often this will just be the name of your business, which is perfect. As a rule, .com domains still have a certain authority with the public, as does .org for more philanthropic and educational ventures. However, with that said, variety in domain suffixes has become more common in recent years and sites ending in .co, .co.uk and even .agency are no longer seen as an issue. Use a tool such as GoDaddy to check availability on your domain and pick the one that works best. Also, bear in mind (especially if you are just starting up) a domain that does not clearly state what you do will require more marketing to build awareness – a small point but worth considering if you are on a budget. The Content Marketing Institute, for instance, changed its name from Junta42 so that it was clearer for its intended audience.
3) Pick the right host
A web hosting service allows your site to be viewed on the internet. It is essentially the ‘home’ of your site on the web, where it is stored in something called a server. Choosing the right company (and package) to host your site can be the difference between a slow, frequently crashed the site and a sleek, professional one.
Speaking in simple terms, there are two types of hosting package you will want to choose from: dedicated hosting and shared hosting. Dedicated hosting means you have a server to yourself. This offers benefits such as increased security and performance but can come with a hefty price tag. Shared hosting, on the other hand, means you and other website owners use one server together, which splits the cost (yay), but also means performance is likely to be slower (boo). Budget constraints and overall business plans are important to consider here but there is no harm in going shared and then upgrading to a dedicated server later on when site visitors demand it.
4) Know your tech
5) Think brand
Now that the tech talk is out of the way and you have a good idea of where your site is going to live you need to think about what your brand stands for. Not just in a mission statement, spiritual journey way, either. We’re talking cold, hard design here. What colours will the site have? What imagery encapsulates your message? Have you thought about a logo or what your customers respond best to? Now is the time to lay out the facts about your brand. Remember, your website is going to reflect everything you represent so you need to get it right. If you value simple functionality in your work, show it here. If you like busy, fast-paced craziness this is the place to highlight it.
6) Think Audience
In his book Content Inc, successful entrepreneur Joe Pulizzi implores start ups to build their business models around specialist knowledge, passion and a defined audience. The latter of this powerful trio is probably the most important. When you know your business and you know who you are selling to you can make all kinds of web design decisions you wouldn’t be able to make otherwise. Do your customers share your products/services on Facebook? Make it easy for them to do so on the website. Are they a vocal bunch? Make a review/social proof feature a priority. Build a complex profile of your core customer. Step into their shoes and consider their motivations and desires. Then build something for them.
7) Map out the flow
Still with your core audience in mind you need to start thinking about the nuts and bolts of how your website will function. How will visitors navigate from A to B? What content takes priority in the hierarchy? Take a top-level view, with maybe a pinch of inspiration from successful competitors who are ranking in Google, and see how they do things. Do they have one main navigation bar? Do they have submenus? How does it all look and fit together? What keywords are they using to represent specific categories? Take out a blank piece of paper or a clean slate on some project management software and scratch out a simple flow chart of how you think it should be. This will often be all a talented designer needs to take your idea to the next level.
8) Plan your content strategy
It doesn’t matter how easy your site is to navigate; if there is nothing to engage with people will leave as quickly as they arrived. The key word here is value. Don’t be stingy with what you share with your site visitors. Let it all out! Create a goal to be the number one informational resource in your niche or industry. Consider the use of multimedia to tell a story no one else is telling. By planning content publishing in advance – either via a simple spreadsheet or a platform such as Basecamp – you can ensure the wheels keep turning and there is a method to the madness. If you are from a traditionally ‘dry’ industry (manufacturing, insurance etc), reach out to loyal customers and ask them what they would like to see. You will be surprised at the answers you get and will probably come away with enough ideas to fill an entire year.
9) Make it mobile responsive as a priority
Did you know that almost half of all web searches now come from a mobile device? And this preference towards mobile browsing is meant to hit 70% by 2020?
The truth is, especially if you operate in a B2C market, the days of the desktop are numbered. That makes it absolutely crucial that your new website is mobile responsive from the off. Don’t even consider a site that doesn’t work on mobile (and maybe tell that designer to look for a new job).
Fortunately, most site designs are responsive by default nowadays and everything should reshape according to the screen resolution. But, you know, make sure you ask.
10) Will it work cross-browser?
Whilst you’re fretting over mobile responsiveness you may as well consider cross-browser functionality. It’s one of those sneaky threats that is easy to forget about when all you and your colleagues use is Google Chrome, but it is very real. Having worked in web design for so long we can’t tell you the amount of horror shows we have seen where a site looks A* in Safari only to fall to pieces in Firefox. Make sure that your site can be viewed properly, and functions correctly, on all of the major modern browsers, and that includes: Google Chrome, Mozilla, Firefox, IE and Safari. Try it on both mobile and desktop through the different stages of development. Report anything out of shape early.
11) Dive deep on SEO
It’s no longer the search marketing ‘wild west’ and ranking in the SERPS for terms representative of your business is much tougher than it used to be. Saying that, don’t let the naysayers put you off. Despite what many might say there is still a huge opportunity for small businesses to gain a slice of the Google pie. Local, more personalised searches are becoming increasingly common so if you are running a small business with a defined customer base in a certain area make sure you have made it clear where you are based and what you do. Consider the metadata and ‘use factor’ of your content. Strive for value – to be the best – and Google will reward you in time.
12) Choose your bells and whistles
When you have a good idea of what your website is about and how you plan to deliver your message to visitors you can start thinking about what features you want to include. This is meant to be fun so really let your imagination go here and jot down everything that would a) serve a business purpose b) increase operational efficiencies. Do you want a chatbot to automate (kind of) customer service? How about a map plug-in so that people can find you? Choose wisely and within budget and see how useful features can be major players as your business scales.
13) Social media
Facebook, Instagram etc. are so big these days it’s almost a no-brainer to add them to your site layout, right? Well, that depends. How do you acquire your customers? Do you have a social media strategy in place where each profile is regularly updated? If you are a service-based business and harvest most of your leads from social media then it makes sense to have a functionality on-site where people can follow you and receive information. If you have a robust content strategy in place and are going to post interesting articles or videos it makes sense to give people the option to share them. On the flip side, if you don’t use social very often and have little in the way of a following this lack of social proof may do more harm than good in the short-term.
14) Back-end services
The back-end of your site is the ‘engine room’ so to speak. It is where content gets uploaded and published for public consumption. One of the most common of these services is a content management platform, or CMS (WordPress is the market leader as of this writing). This will allow you to update your site and keep everything looking sharp.
If you are an ecommerce or service-based business there are other considerations to take into account. For instance, how are you going to collect payments? A basket service such as WooCommerce will allow visitors to make purchases and save products for later. If you work in a complex industry and need to offer constant support an AI chatbot might be an excellent addition to save on manpower (Zendesk and LiveChat are both popular options).
It might seem like a small thing when compared with something like choosing a domain name but the font you use is extremely important for the long-term success of your site. Obviously you don’t want visitors squinting to read your content but you don’t want to blow it up so it looks like a children’s book (unless it is a children’s book), either. Traditionally, bold serifs have been used to emphasise important page areas such as headlines and call to actions, with sans used to add lightness to long pieces of copy. Keep this in mind when you begin playing with pages on your website. How does it look? Does something not quite feel right on the eye? Use your intuition and gut as well as the expert advice of your designer. After all, you know your customer better than anyone.
16) Capturing leads
Why do you think all of those multi-millionaire Youtubers ask you to ‘click the button’ at the end of every one of their videos? It’s because they know having a subscriber is far more valuable to their business than just a passing visitor. When you subscribe to something you are essentially given a business permission to market to you and, as a result, you are far more likely to convert (whether as a sale or something else) at some point in the future. Seth Godin calls this permission marketing.
With this in mind, how are you going to get people to subscribe to your site? Is your audience going to be so tailored and your content so good that they can’t resist? Or do you offer a valuable newsletter that industry people want in their inboxes?
By making subscriber growth a priority you take the power away from social channels and essentially ‘own’ your audience, separate from any external control. Then you can sell to them what and when you want.
17) WordPress or not to WordPress?
We touched on WordPress for a moment when we were talking about back-end services but it is such a digital juggernaut that it deserves its own spot.
As of right now, WordPress is powering 26% of the web. It almost has 60% of the CMS market.
Huge businesses and small businesses alike use WP to power their digital presence and provide scale and distribution to their content strategies.
And the best part? You can get started fairly cheaply by using an out-of-the-box template that you can either customise yourself or get a designer to do.
18) Budget constraints
Someone had to rain on the parade, didn’t they? Well, better now than later.
Before you get too carried away it’s important you consider the financial commitment of the website you have in mind. The good news is, in today’s world, they can be as cheap or expensive as you want them to be.
Of course, you get what you pay for.
Remember that your site is going to be up for a long, long time. A lot of people are going to see it. Don’t cheap out now and regret it later. Make the investment and think long-term. The internet is not going anywhere!
19) Keep it secure
Digital security can make or break a business on the web so don’t take it lightly. Make sure you exude trust and responsibility by acquiring an SSL certificate (the thing that gives you HTTPS://). This means that all communications between the website and the server are secure and, as an added benefit to you for being so security-conscious, Google will give preference to your site over those that do not have a certificate.
Also, if you use forms to collect leads or enquiries from customers, add ReCaptcha. You have probably seen these before: generally, you have to choose three photos of fire hydrants or something similar before you can submit your message. Whatever it is, adding ReCaptcha minimises the number of bots and spammers that get through the filter and will significantly cut the amount of junk mail you receive.
20) Ensure tracking is working correctly
You’ve probably heard the phrase “data is the new gold” and if you haven’t you probably will soon.
That’s because the more information and knowledge you have about your customers the better you can market to them. They, in turn, receive better, more personalised service and you receive more sales for the added value. It’s a win-win.
Also, you’ll want to keep an eye on key metrics such as unique visitors, pageviews and also what content is being engaged with the most. With this knowledge you can see trends of growth, customer preferences, and iterate/add to your offer depending on what they want.
There are tons of products out there that allow you to do this but the cheapest (free) and arguably still the best is Google Analytics, which can be implemented into any site with ease.
Phew! We’ve come a long way since we started this journey several thousand words ago. Here, at the end, is the perfect time to take your best laid plans and put them in the bin… Only joking! Collect all of the inspiration and ideas you have brainstormed (hopefully) and take the highest view possible. Stop being the owner and be the customer for a second. Do all the moving parts work out? Do those rough sketches exemplify your brand and your company mission?
They do? Excellent!
Now you just need a brilliant design agency to bring it to life.