We are all aware of the virtues of social media and how a successful Twitter account or Facebook page can boost sales, create contacts and drive in traffic. However, if those carefully crafted tweets and statuses lead customers to a confusing and badly designed website then all the effort put into promotion will be fruitless.
Without sounding too obvious, a great website is essential to a successful business. A functional website that reflects your business ethos is your best sales tool and a bad website can damage reputation and sales.
“With around 36 million Brits being online every day and 48% of people starting any sort of search for a product or service online, it’s almost at a stage that you can’t afford to not be online,” says Lynsey Sweales CEO of SocialB, a online marketing and social media business.
Where to start?
Before you begin building your website you should have a clear idea of exactly what you want and how you want to create it. Vanessa Austin Locke, partner of Austin & Locke, has just been through the process of creating a website. The company specialise in creating brand association strategies and come up with ideas that boost reputation, influence decision-makers and generate content.
Austin Locke chose to use a designer and said she was looking for “a combination of technical ability and creative vision”. “A strong sense of aesthetic was most important to us,” she added. She aimed for simplicity with impact when it came to the design of her website. “Simple and easy to use yet still engaging in a graceful way that’s not intrusive. We’re all constantly advertised to, and it’s irritating. We designed it with the client’s comfort in mind.”
Website designer or hosting platform?
Creating a website does not have to deplete your savings; there are myriad of hosting platforms such as WordPress, which allow you to develop functional and aesthetic websites. “If you know how to use WordPress already then don’t make things harder and more expensive for yourself by using a new designer or building a CMS,” says Austin Locke.
She continues: “If not, invest in a web designer but be careful, there are a lot of cowboys out there. We were quoted some absurd prices and had a terrible first experience with a ‘designer’ with a lot of technical ability to build a website but no aptitude for aesthetics or design.”
When deciding how to build your website, Sweales believes it doesn’t have to cost a fortune. “With the likes of WordPress there are some great templates you can use, but if you want something a little more bespoke then look for a website designer. But stress that you want to be able to update the website once it’s up and running, you must maintain that flexibility.”
The creative aspect of designing your website can be the most enjoyable part, but it is paramount you get it right and your online appearance reflects the essence of your business.
Digital designer Maria Withers, who designed the Austin & Locke website, believes that design trends are temporary but keeping up-to-date with them is essential when devising a website.
“Your design should focus around your user’s needs, if a website isn’t aesthetically pleasing or intuitive your website can become redundant and users will bounce from your web page.
“Content is key to your website. The heaviness of imagery on a website completely depends on what message you want your website to convey. Images should be relevant to your product or company so as not to confuse a user.”
When sourcing images SMEs can try image libraries such as signelements.com or ingimage.com – or team up with students as Austin Locke did for the Austin & Locke website.
“We shot our own and my advice is almost always to get creative, it’s fun and you’ll learn some new skills while retaining creative control. Find some up and coming photography or videography students or young pros, and they might be able to give you a good price on some original imagery as well as some priceless ideas.”
A few strong, key images that succinctly express the nature of your company, are more effective than many badly sourced images. “Attention spans are short online and one image can communicate 1,000 words,” says Austin Locke.
How to boost sales
Managing your website correctly can boost sales and SEO and social media play a key role in driving potential customers to your site.
“You can make money from a website in a number of ways. You could set up Google Adsense, which will show Google ads on your website,” says Sweales. “Or you could accept banner ads on your website; this is more time consuming and both can distract from your core objective. If you have a website that markets your business, I wouldn’t be swayed to accept ads if it affects business branding. It’s worth setting up your business on Google Places for free as well as key directory sites like Yelp and Yell as they can help in the interim,” says Sweales.
“If you do create a website a must is setting up your Google Analytics. This tells you how many website visits you get, where they come from and where your enquiries or sales come from. Setting up a website without it is like throwing your money away as you can’t measure any marketing you are doing.”Advertisement
Avoid creating a bad website
Building an attractive website isn’t enough to entice visitors; it has to be user friendly, easy to navigate and ensure customers return.
“A bad website consists of irrelevant content, which doesn’t represent the product or business you are advertising. A website that isn’t intuitive or doesn’t answer a user’s questions when they are on your website indicates that your website isn’t useful and a user won’t stick around. SEO should also be ensured in order to drive traffic to your site and have high rankings in search engines,” says Withers.
Austin Locke believes static content is one the worst website offences and companies should “keep it fresh and flowing, a website is like a room… it needs airing”.