The internet has levelled the playing field. Even the smallest and newest of enterprises are able to generate the impression of a much more sizeable business by investing in a professional and credible website. And that’s the key word – investing. Most companies sell – either directly or indirectly – through their website.
First impressions matter – think about how you react to a business based on the perception created by their website. Of course, if you are dealing with the same customers day in, day out, or if you’re strongly recommended through word of mouth, or if you have a hard-nosed sales team, you can get away with having a lousy web presence. But most businesses need a strong website – and all businesses would benefit from having one. A business is worth what the value is perceived to be in the brand – and one of the key indicators of brand value (and that means what the company stands for as an entity) is generated through the website, as well as through social media channels and via content marketing.
The way we use the internet has changed forever – it’s no longer just when we sit at a desk with our computer. It’s on our phones, tablets, laptops – and soon via what are called “wearables”. You’ve only got to walk down a busy street to see how many people you need to dodge because they’re too engrossed with their mobile devices to watch where they’re going! A responsive design means that it will adapt to all screen sizes, no matter what device it’s displayed on. It’s crucial that yours is designed this way. And it’s relatively simple to achieve, if you use the right technical solution. We recommend WordPress for most SMEs. See point 6 below.
Who wants to visit a website that’s difficult to navigate, stuffed with irrelevant information or visually unentertaining? Don’t just populate it with bland corporate content – dull, dull, dull! Think things through from your customers’ point of view; what would they be looking for, what do they need help with, what questions would they ask, and how can you make things easier for them? Create content that’s relevant and easy to digest – and make sure you keep it updated regularly too. Use engaging videos to demonstrate your goods or services, add a blog and post to it frequently, create infographics to explain things visually and publish tips and advice that people will find helpful and are more likely to share. If you don’t know what to put on your website, why not ask your customers? Focus groups are best, and need not be hugely expensive.
Our user experience is now multi-faceted. We watch videos, read reviews, share infographics, follow links from social media, and so on – so employ all of these techniques to gain an advantage on the competition – you can bet your bottom dollar almost none of your competitors have a great digital marketing strategy, so there is no better time to steal a march on the rest of the pack. Deliver a much more rounded user experience and appeal to all the senses. Not everyone likes to read a long article, but some may be prepared to watch a short, informative video (that does not need to cost a fortune to produce). And best practice changes frequently. Content below-the-fold used to be a no-no. Now it is more likely to be a must-do.
4. Get Found
If you’re going to spend all this time and effort on your website, then you need to make sure people know about it. SEO, both on- and off- page, will need to be considered, and you really ought to bring in an expert – it really is worth it. It’s not difficult to do, but it is difficult to do well (and avoid anyone who promised instant win results or offers a price that seems too good to be true; it will be and you’ll pay a heavy price down the line). The key thing when it comes to SEO is to work out which are the best keywords to focus on. This is determined by a combination of two key factors – volume of traffic searched each month in your region of interest, and the relative level of competitiveness in your industry sector. The most effective campaigns take these factors into consideration to use your resources (i.e. time and money) as effectively as possible.
Make it a great experience for visitors to your website – make everything easy to find, easy to read and easy to use. If they want to contact you, are your details on every page? If they’ve watched a video introducing something, how do they get to watch another one next if needs be? If they want to sign up to your newsletter, is that easy and quick to do? Work out how you can build a relationship with site visitors. Encourage them to follow you on social media, or to read reviews on a credible third-party website. Build their confidence and they’re more likely to see you as someone they want to do business with. Remember, the first visit may not be the sales visit. People like to research, but that does not mean it is ever too soon to start to build a relationship.
One of the best website design and development software systems for small and medium businesses (or large businesses looking for project-specific microsites) is WordPress. It’s extremely flexible, with a wide selection of designs and features to choose from. It has “plugins” for almost every possible function – simple tools you can add to your website offering useful additional features, like e-commerce, SEO, form building, newsletter sign up, social media icons, online chat, etc. The best WordPress templates are fully responsive, with a great content management system (CMS), and it’s all open source too, which always leads to the best technical solutions.
There are various tools you should consider – Google Analytics, Lead Forensics and A1 Web stats to name but three. All help you to understand the data behind the visit – how long people searched for, how many pages they visited, where they came from, what keywords they used, how many left after viewing the home page, what was the source of their visit, and so on. It’s an over-simplification to say that if you cannot measure it, you should not do it, but it does suggest a strong truth. If you can measure it, then make sure you do.
We really do recommend that you get an integrated marketing agency with digital experience onboard to help you out – and do ask for examples of website design and development experience. Be wary of working directly with web designers or web developers – they do not necessarily understand the marketing process properly – which means you might get something similar to what you have asked for, but not necessarily something that works and that you need. Do not underestimate the importance of ensuring your strategic position is laid out in advance as part of the planning process. A properly consultative approach will understand your business plan inside out, develop your brand proposition where necessary, research your marketplace and customers, and understand the need to ensure a good experience at every single touchpoint in the customer journey and provide the correct navigation to ensure the best possible sales pipeline process.