Small Business Websites: 10 Steps to Success
There are all sorts of websites out there, and clearly some of them are working much harder than others. How can you be sure your website will be a champion?
The key is website planning and strategy. Think of your website as an employee and make sure you hire the right one. If you approach this project with clear goals in mind, you will be rewarded with a lucrative asset to your business. What's most important? The questions below will get you started.
1. What are your specific business goals?
How could your website help you achieve them? Need to increase sales through cross-selling? Your website could educate customers about using your products or services together for greater value. Need to reduce time spent in customer service on the phone? You can promote your website as your primary customer service centre, helping to redirect queries that can be easily solved. A little time spent planning a job description for your site will result in a website that works harder for your money.
2. Who is your target market?
What are they looking for in your type of business? Your website will have to appeal to them and speak to their needs. If your site clearly addresses your customers' needs, visitors will spend more time there and will be more likely to become paying customers. How can your website add value for them? If you need ideas have a look at competitor websites and imagine you are their customer. Identify what they have done well and capitalise on their mistakes. Look at other websites that you like. How did they make such a good impression?
3. What do customers like best about your business?
Is it your high quality products? Your value for money? Your speedy customer service? Your friendly staff? Whatever it is your website should reflect those aspects of your business. They are what sets you apart. If you're not sure why people come back to you consider undertaking a customer satisfaction survey to find out.
4. Do you have identifiable branding that represents the unique personality of your business?
If not, develop a branding identity that will set you apart from competitors, starting with a logo that communicates the character of your business. The visual design of your website is an extension of your brand identity. Be sure your website is dressed for success and represents your business as nothing less than credible and professional.
5. Do you have the time and skills to prepare your own content?
Be realistic here. Your written text should be concise, focus on customer needs, and use language that your customers understand. If writing isn't your thing, consider hiring a copywriter to massage your copy or even write it for you. Make use of images and video where it will be useful to customers. If you don't have quality images at hand, consider hiring a photographer or buying stock photography. Don't be tempted to cut corners and compromise quality just to save a few bucks. The impact of your content is critical to your websites success.
6. How can you take advantage of interactivity?
There's no substitute for experiencing your product or service in person, but as this may be your only chance to make an impression, make the most of it! Establish what your customers are interested in, give it to them and lead them to action through the interactive nature of the internet. Engage them with online competitions, printable discount vouchers, product demonstrations, live help, customer feedback surveys, etc. Interactivity can also be a great way to build your customer database or gather market research about your visitors.
7. What is a realistic budget for your website?
To plan and implement a website strategy you'll need to invest upwards of a few thousand dollars to do it right the first time. Think carefully about your budget. Does it seem reasonable given your business goals? Think about the bottom line benefits in terms of potential cost savings as well as revenue potential.
8. How can you promote your website?
First and foremost, put your domain name on everything! Letterhead, invoices, signs, sales tags, whatever you can. It's much easier to remember a website address than a phone number. To attract new customers via the internet you'll need to harness the search engines. Search engine marketing involves optimising your website so it's visible to customers searching for your type of business. If you are in a competitive market, you may need to budget for comprehensive search engine optimisation for your site. If you're looking at search engines as a major source of new customers you may also consider adding pay-per-click advertising to the mix.
9. Will you manage your own updates?
Keeping your website fresh provides a reason for visitors to return to your website. If you plan to make regular content updates, consider investing in a Content Management System costing as little as a few hundred dollars. It makes more sense to pay your website developer for ongoing development rather than simple changes to content that you can make yourself.
10. How do you know if your website is a champion?
After your site has been live for several months, quantify the gains generated by your website and identify the impact your investment has made on the business. Using software tools you can establish which parts of your website are performing well, and which parts need tweaking. A website strategy is never really complete. You can always improve on the status quo. Set a regular schedule for review and don't forget to budget for strategy changes and ongoing development.
Now that you have the key elements, concentrate on the area that you know best in your business. Whatever your goals, make sure you work with a web developer who can help you fine-tune your ideas and turn them into a profitable website strategy.
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