Tips for creating a website that really stands out

If you're running a small business and planning to launch a new site or perhaps redesign your existing one, then invest some time up front getting the basics right.

Author: Mr Jonathan Russell

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Building a website is easy. The proliferation of tools - Wordpress, Joomla, Wix - mean that having a professional online presence is no longer the preserve of the few but the many.

Yet it is easy to do your brand and your business more harm than good by blundering into building a site without having a clear idea what makes a successful digital proposition. Look around - there are still thousands of sites littering the web packed with keywords but lacking any meaningful content, design or strategy.

If you're running a small business and planning to launch a new site or perhaps redesign your existing one, then invest some time up front getting the basics right. And if web marketing and design are not high on your list of business priorities, then consider hiring the services of experts who will help you through these steps:

1. Planning

Forget the design and Google for a moment. Without a clear marketing strategy, your attempt to attract new customers and cement relationships with your existing ones is doomed to failure. Any time you spend on the planning stage will be time saved on the inevitable relaunch later on.

What differentiates your brand and your business? Why do you stand out? It doesn't matter what sector your business is in. Search engines have made bargain hunters of us all and the only way to rise above this and attract new customers is by being clear about what you offer and not being ashamed to celebrate it. Let your audience know how you can solve the issues that your competitors cannot.

2. Plan on building authority

You've got your marketing nailed so it's on to design, right? Wrong. Until fairly recently, you could publish any old site, pack it with keywords and sit back and watch it climb slowly up the Google rankings.

Those days are gone. Search engine algorithms are now so sophisticated that sites that don't have high-quality, regularly updated content are actually penalised compared with those that do. While SEO (search engine optimisation) is still important, building a successful online presence that makes its way onto the first page of a Google web search is much more about authority.

That means well-written, unique and newsworthy content tailored to your target market. And you will need it from the start - the moment your company's site goes live and you submit its sitemap to the search engines, their robots will start indexing it and may may not return for weeks.

You should plan to regularly update your site with articles of interest - be that through blogging or in a news centre. Every time you publish something unique - something in your areas of expertise - it will be indexed and is more likely to be shared on social media, increasing the number of backlinks and thereby improving its search engine ranking further.

3. Map out your site

It may not be as critical as it once was but SEO is still very important. That means your website must have a logical and clear structure that gets the basics right: a proper xml sitemap, clear title tags, meta descriptions and content that marries up with popular search terms and keywords.

Your potential customers will also appreciate a website that is easy to navigate and doesn't have scores of nested menus. Attention spans are short and most people simply don't have the patience to drill down through multiple layers to find what they are looking for.

4. Design

You don't need to spend a fortune building a site but a small investment in design can reap rich dividends. Most businesses now use one of the main content management systems (CMS) with more than 50 per cent of last year's new site owners choosing Wordpress.

Yet the power of these CMS means that eye-catching sites are now the norm, not the exception. Good design is a sign of quality and trustworthiness and complements the authority that your brilliant content strategy will deliver. Think about hiring a web designer to take an existing CMS template and reworking it into something bespoke.

5 Think mobile first

A recent piece of analysis by Goldman Sachs found that within three years the number of purchases made on smartphones and tablets will have grown from 535 million to 1.09 million. Google has rewritten its main search algorithm to reflect this change in consumer habits and the move from desktop to mobile browsing.

On April 21 the search giant announced that it will start penalising websites that are not mobile friendly or, in technical terms, responsive. Market research firm Portent ran a series of tests using the new Google criteria and found that 40 per cent of all business websites failed.

Mobile friendly means having text that can be read without pinching and zooming, pages that resize for different screens and not relying on applications like Flash that are not supported by most smartphones.

Our busy lifestyles mean that we are on the move more than ever before and it is critical that your potential customers can find your business on a mobile device and read it just as easily as if on a desktop.

These are the basics, the fundamental blocks that go into building a successful website for any small or medium-sized business. None of them are rocket science but investing time and money on these before you begin will save you frustration and lost business after you launch.  

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