If you’re thinking about creating a website for your new business, there’s a lot to know about how it all works and how it fits into your online marketing plan. Regardless of how smart or motivated you are, the technical side can be overwhelming if you have to learn the new language of domains and hosting and databases and try to figure out what’s what. And even if you’re tech savvy, hiring someone else to do that work for you can save a lot of your valuable time.
If you’re thinking it makes sense to hire someone to build your new website for you, there are some things you can do to set your new website designer up for success. First and foremost, you need to have a clear vision of what you want for your site. I’m not talking about branding or look and feel at this point (that comes later), but the strategic purpose of your website – what you’re trying to achieve and why. A well-planned website is an effective hub of your online marketing, making the most of the opportunity to convert a casual visitor to an eager customer.
The three big-picture questions below are a thought exercise to help you articulate the purpose of your website. These questions ensure you’re ready for the next step of engaging a web designer or developer to build your site. When someone comes to me about building their website, I make sure we have all these answers before we start work, so we create something together that’s right for them and their goals.
#1: What is the purpose of your website?
Do you know what you want your site to accomplish? This is one of the most obvious questions, but you’d be surprised how many people don’t really think about it. They know that a website is an important part of their business presence, but aren’t really sure why. You can have more than one purpose for it, but there should be one driving reason behind why you want a website in the first place. What do you want it to do for you? Here are a few examples of the most common reasons to have a business website.
ONLINE BUSINESS CARD: A brief, concise online presence.
Just like a business card you’d hand out at a tradeshow, or a physical sign that helps people find your business on the street in the real world, the most basic website is a single page that simply shows people you exist. It doesn’t tell much more than the bare essentials, but if someone goes looking for you, they can find you and see how to get in touch with you. These are hands-down the most affordable sites to own and manage, because many domain registrars will include a basic one-page website for free, and give you some decent templates to choose from.
ONLINE BROCHURE: A multi-page site that quickly sums up the business and what you’re offering.
Just like a print brochure, this website tells you the essentials about a business and what they have to offer in a clear and concise way. If you want to show your expertise and experience, have a variety of services, and are primarily focused on gathering prospective client leads or custom goods with an offline ordering process, this can be a good fit.
Even though you can have unlimited pages on your website, I often recommend keeping your content as simple as you can. Just like a print brochure has limited space to get your point across, a website also needs to be brief and to-the-point in order to keep your visitor’s interest. A small business with a well-defined target market and services will often need no more than 4-6 pages on their site. Depending on the business you’re in, you may want a portfolio or a blog to be one of those pages so you can showcase your work and your knowledge… which also dovetails into our next objective.
ONLINE PUBLISHING: A place to publish online content that you create, like blogs or videos.
If you are a writer or content creator, you may want the ability to publish your work on a website that you own. Even if you also publish your content elsewhere, your website is a place to keep everything under one roof. That way if people want to learn more about you or your work, you have one web address to give them rather than a bucketful of links. (“Here’s my youtube, here’s my Instagram, here’s an article I wrote for Forbes, this is my Facebook page and oh I sometimes publish articles on LinkedIN…”) That way when you share content that uses your URL, the web traffic leads back to you and you can capture information about your site visitors (via signup forms or tracking cookies) so you can remarket to them later.
ONLINE STORE: A place for people to not only learn about your products, but to actually buy them online.
If you’re planning on selling goods or services online, there’s a bit more legwork involved to set up your e-commerce platform (or at the very least, an online payment processor). If you’re selling physical products, or even downloadable items, you’ll need to figure out how you’re going to fulfill orders or securely deliver digital goods. These websites require the highest level of security and investment in your site infrastructure, which is why many startup small businesses choose a standalone storefront somewhere else like etsy or cafepress, rather than hosting their own e-commerce website.
#2: Who are the people you want to reach?
Put yourself into the mind of your ideal visitor to your website. Just like when you’re writing an article or giving a speech, you need to know your audience. Who is the audience for this website?
Are they consumers?
Are they businesses?
Are they students, academics, or researchers?
Are they here to learn, to be entertained, or to shop for goods or services?
Are they in a hurry and looking for information fast, or are they taking their time here and want to stay awhile?
Get into your customer’s head and imagine what they want to do or accomplish on your site. Put some thought around how you can organize your site to make it easy for them to do that.
#3: What action do you want visitors to take?
A clear call-to-action is the biggest thing that most small businesses miss when they’re creating web content. It’s not enough to just show them what your business does and hope that they come to the conclusion that they want it badly enough to go look for the page with your contact information and actually reach out to you. Tell a story, leave a trail of breadcrumbs, offer something that they will find valuable enough to take the action you want them to take.
What do you want your visitor to do before they leave your site? Do you want them to subscribe to your mailing list? Do you want them to submit a form to email you about your services? Sign up for an event? Buy a product? Share your content on social media? You may have different pages on your site that are focused on different objectives, but you should have some key recurring actions that align with your purpose for this site’s existence in the first place (see #1).
Stay focused and keep it as simple as you can. Pro tip: Landing pages are great for this because they focus on only one objective per page and can give you very clear conversion metrics so you can tell how well your marketing campaigns are working. Even if you only have a simple one-page “Online business card” website, you can use a service like MailChimp to create additional landing pages using your domain so you can focus your marketing efforts on targeted products and services you want to promote.
To sum up…
This short list of questions should get you pondering what matters most to your business, so you can create a website that will represent you well and help you connect to the right people. If you’ve got the answers to these three questions and want to engage a WordPress designer/webmaster to bring your vision to reality, send me an email here.