This blog article is intended to give you a high-level overview of how to create a website from a business owner’s perspective, not a web developer’s. There is much to think about before you get to the point of even thinking about hiring a web developer or web design agency.
Let’s get started.
Before anything else, Define your End Goal
Goals will inform the design of your site. Without a clearly defined purpose, your site can fall victim to the dreaded feature creep: numerous features or pages that don’t actually add any value. As a result, you may struggle to launch on schedule. That’s time lost that could have seen your website already securing new leads or making new sales.
Despite being project-based, websites are like any other ongoing marketing activity and are typically measured using Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). These are numbers you’ll use to determine if your web strategy is working. This data will also tell you where to increase or decrease your marketing spend.
Your website’s health is usually signified by two variables: engagement and retention. But these elements often look different to each business. Obviously, an e-commerce website will want to track the number of visitors or enquiries. Websites focused on engagement and lead generation will want to look at resource downloads and the number of subscribers.
Ultimately, website performance cannot be separated from search engine optimisation and it’s crucial that you factor that into the design stage from the offset. There is a lot to think about when it comes to optimising your website for search and the more you can get right at the build stage the easier it will be to optimise going forward. There is a lot of information on our blog on SEO but a good place to start when it comes to web design would be this article on website architecture.
When it comes to measuring traffic you should use Google Analytics to help you measure these. Most ecommerce platforms like Shopify also have built-in analytics. If you’re hosting on WordPress the platform has a large library of plug-ins that can convert user behaviour on your site into actionable data, with minimal to no coding needed.
Identify your target audience
Much has been said about audience targeting, but the point can’t be stressed enough. The Internet is a perpetually noisy and distracting world, and that’s where your site will be trying to compete. The more you can narrow down who your customers are, the better your chances of getting heard by the right people.
- The best place to start is by creating client profiles
- Write a list of your key clients that you want to target over the next 2 – 3 years via the website or other marketing tools
- Pick the top three that have the highest importance and value to the company
- Visualise each person by giving them a name and a persona:
- Interests & hobbies
- Websites most visited
Define your High Value Leads
So now you know your audience. But the work doesn’t stop there. Not everyone who will visit your site will do so with hands already in their wallets. In fact, most will be browsing or may even be coming into your site looking for information, say through your blog or cornerstone content.
It’s important to realise then that customers will visit your site at different points in the consumer journey (what we like to call the marketing funnel). On one end, you may have those coming into your site looking for information, say through a blog article you wrote that they found through Google search. You will also have your digital window shoppers, people who are poking around to see what you have to offer. At the other end of the spectrum, you will have individuals who may know your brand or have visited your site before and are already mentally imagining your product arriving on their doorstep.
Creating a website that serves all these individuals is the key to good website design and good SEO.
Knowing how to identify where website visitors are in the funnel will help inform your marketing and sales campaigns. For instance, you may want to take a more proactive outreach approach to visitors who go beyond your homepage and check out your service or product pages. For those who are simply browsing your blog your call to action might be better off offering them the chance to sign up to a newsletter rather than ringing your salespeople.
Understanding why people are on a certain web page is crucial to maximising engagement and user experience.
Again, behaviours will change based on your business or even the type of pages on your site. What’s important is setting parameters so you avoid wasting resources on leads who aren’t quite ready to buy yet.
Craft Valuable Content
In 1996 Bill Gates prophesied that content would become the king of the Web. And now, nearly 25 years later, content has taken over the Internet. People are simply swamped with all the content they could ask for–endless social media feeds, podcasts, and articles.
The problem today for business owners is not the lack of interest, but too much self-serving, poorly crafted content. Content is king–but only when it’s actually useful for your audience. We’ve all met people who can’t stop talking about themselves, and nobody wants to be around that person.
The same is true of online businesses. If all you do is self promote and don’t offer any valuable information to people then those people will start bouncing right off your site to find sites that do. It’s as simple as that.
To ensure that every page and resource you craft is actually useful for customers, challenge yourself to find the value of each page. Here are some points to help you sort through the noise:
- What problems do you solve for clients and what benefits will that bring to them
- What services do you offer to solve those problems
- What related supporting material and resources can you share
- What proof can you use to demonstrate you can do what you say
Visitors will usually look for key types of content:
- Services and or product descriptions
- Niche sectors and specialisms
- Blog posts
- Testimonials and case studies
- Lastly…Contact details
Choose a Content Management System
A content management system (CMS) is the software you’ll use to build your website. It’s where you’ll be creating and posting content from, and where you’ll be putting together the design templates and changes.
There are many CMS platforms available today. Some are for very clear niches, like Shopify and Magento for e-commerce. But for simplicity’s sake, we’ll briefly touch upon seven of the most popular and flexible softwares on the market:
Initially starting out as a blogging platform, WordPress is now one of the largest open-source publishing platforms in the world. The platform can support anything from small, dynamic websites to powerful ecommerce marketplaces.
We recommend WordPress as a platform for most of the businesses we work with. That’s because it is the most flexible and customisable platform out there, which lends itself perfectly to SEO and siloing content. It also works well as an ecommerce platform with the addition of the WooCommerce plugin.
Read more https://wordpress.org/
Drupal is another free open source CMS, although this one has more of a reputation for enterprise level websites. That said, it’s still fairly easy to use, and can be set up and administered with little technical knowledge. But things can get complicated pretty quickly if you’re looking for more bespoke functionalities.
Read more https://www.drupal.org/
Like WordPress and Drupal, Joomla is free to use and offers many templates and plug-ins for use, albeit fewer than WordPress’ considerable library. In terms of editing, Joomla has some powerful and flexible tools available for anyone who knows their way around PHP. With regard to this last point, Joomla tends to be a harder platform to use than WordPress and is more suited to professional web developers or those with coding experience.
Read more at: https://www.joomla.org/
Magento is to eCommerce as WordPress is to blogging. As the largest open-source platform for online sellers, it offers near limitless customisation options: from easy integration and support for a variety of third-party apps to over 5,000 paid and free plug-ins. Like Drupal, anyone from beginners with no coding expertise to established brands like Nike and Canon use Magento.
Read more at: https://magento.com/
Business owners looking for a more user-friendly and out-of-the-box ready site creator may want to consider Shopify. Unlike Magento, Shopify is an all-in-one service, which means that you can start building without worrying about the technical nuts and bolts of hosting the site on your own. However, while both are free, users looking for relatively advanced features like coupon generators will have to pay extra.
Read more at: https://www.shopify.com.ph/
Along with Squarespace, Wix is probably the engine behind half of all websites created through drag-and-drop platforms. Between the two, Wix is more beginner-friendly and has a free plan. Unlike Squarespace’s structured editor, you can lay out your site however you want with Wix, although this also creates more space for design errors such as poor alignment.
Read more at: https://www.wix.com/
Squarespace bills itself as the “leader in website design”. And the templates available on the platform brook little argument. Everything is sleek and modern. Even if you don’t have a background in design you can make a professional-looking site, thanks to the structured system of the page editor. Unlike Wix, you’re only allowed to move pre-made content blocks that snap into rows and columns around the page.
Read more at: https://www.squarespace.com/
Building your Website
Creating a professional-looking website now is more accessible than ever. Many platforms allow you to build your own site by simply dragging and dropping elements in place–no coding or design experience is needed. However, this can be pretty limited for businesses with an extensive catalogue, or organisations looking for something more than an ecommerce site.
Most CMS platforms allow you to purchase pre-made templates, with many available for free (although some knowledge of coding may be required to tweak the settings to your preferences). When in doubt, it’s best to hire a specialist who can properly set up and optimise your site.
Go Bug Hunting
Seeing your website live, even on a limited preview, is exciting. However, so close to the finish line many trip over one very crucial step: testing. Just like any product, your website needs to go through a stress test before you release it to the general public.
- Sites don’t behave similarly across browsers and devices. Load your website on different browsers and on a sampling of commonly used gadgets like laptops and tablets.
- Fill out all the forms to see if they send properly and reach the right person in your team; the same goes for payment methods
- Check if images are optimised and load correctly
- Navigate to all pages to see if all your URLs are working
If you have the resources, you may want to conduct beta-testing. A beta-test involves external testers, these can be another department of your business or even a few of your customers. The goal is to evaluate the flow of the site, as opposed to technical issues. Beta testing typically comes before the final testing stages and can uncover points for improvement that could make your site more user friendly.
A Couple of Tips for the Road
Your website is built. You’ve tested it and you’ve handcrafted some great content, you’re ready to go!
We have two final recommendations to leave you with…
- Make sure to build buzz around your launch at least a week before the day to maximise traffic on your first few days
- Never make anything live on a Friday. Where will all the developers be when problems start coming up the following day? Better to wait until Monday.