Posted: 11th May 2015
Before you start planning your website, it’s important to think about your objectives, because these should underpin everything that you do on the site.
Think about how the website fits into your overall business plan – are you relying on the website to be your main sales channel, or is it just a place for people to go for more information about you, having met you at a networking event or spoken to you on the phone?
Think about setting targets for the site – how many enquiries it needs to generate, or how many sales it needs to make, in order to be considered a success. This will help you decide on your budget.
By defining your objectives carefully in advance you should find that the subsequent planning process is easier, and that you end up with a website that does what you want it to do!
Having defined your objectives, you then need to think about what kind of site you need.
Think about how many pages you need, what information needs to go on them, and how they need to work. Do you need an online shop? Do you need a form which people can use to make an enquiry? If you’re trying to create a sense of community on the site, do you need to include some facility for your visitors to interact with each other?
If it is important to you to get a lot of visitors to the website, think about including a healthy amount of content on the site which the search engines can access – for example, do you have any articles you could publish on the site? If it is important to you that search engines can access the site, be sure to specify this to your web developer at an early stage, as this could influence the way the website is built.
Having decided roughly what you need, the next step would be to find someone to build your site. You will probably find that your web developer has lots of additional ideas for your site. Take advantage of their expertise and knowledge of what works, but remember to bear in mind your objectives for the site and make sure that whatever final specification you end up with, it meets these aims.
As mentioned above, take into account the objectives of the site – if you are expecting to do most of your business through the site, you will need a budget to match. When getting quotes for your new website, map it out so you know the number of pages. Decide what’s essential, what’s nice to have and what’s optional, and have a look at some other sites and make a list of the ones you like. Be prepared to tell your developer what your budget is – honest people won’t rip you off.
You’ll also need to buy a ‘domain name’, or web address, either yourself or through your web developer. Your developer can often buy names quite cheaply but make sure they are bought in YOUR name. If you own a domain name, you should be able to get email at that domain too – it looks more professional than a Gmail or Hotmail address.
Similarly, most developers offer hosting packages but some will be happy to work with externally hosted sites too, if you want to get your site hosted elsewhere.
One important question you are sure to be asked is whether you want to have the ability to change the site yourself. This is called ‘content management’. If you want to be able to edit your site yourself, without going back to your web developer each time you want to make a change, then make sure your site comes with a content management system. Be prepared to learn how to use it (most are pretty easy to use), and make sure you do use it once you have purchased it – many site owners pay extra for content management and then never use it.
Make sure, when working with your web developer, that they are planning for expansion – you may want to add new pages, and therefore extra buttons to the menu bar at a later stage, so make sure this can be changed later on. Make sure that the important pages on the site are obvious and not buried – don’t make people work to find what they are looking for. Few people will buy your product if they can’t find how to buy it!
If it is important to you to get lots of visitors to the site, you need to think carefully about how you are going to do this from the outset, and may wish to speak to an internet marketing specialist at a fairly early stage to make sure your plans for the site are not going to make it difficult to attract visitors.
One of the most commonly used ways of getting visitors to your site is to attract them through search engines. Most websites which get lots of traffic through search engines are not there by accident – they will probably have put in a lot of work to get to where they are today. If you want your site to join them, be sure to specify to your web developer that your website needs to be ‘search engine friendly’, and if you’re in any doubt, speak to an internet marketing specialist. For more information on search engine optimisation and pay per click search engine marketing, see the relevant articles in the WiRE website Business Help section.
Links from other websites to yours are of key importance – try to get as many quality, relevant websites to link to yours. Listing your website in the WiRE Rural Marketplace is a good start.
You could also consider running an email marketing campaign to drive traffic to your website. Make sure too that you take every opportunity to promote your website by traditional means too – print your web address on all your stationery and marketing materials, add it to the footer on all your email communications, and so on.
This is often forgotten but it is a key part of running a successful website. In order to develop your site further, you need to understand where your website is working well, and where it can improve. Make sure when you set up your website that you will have access to statistics such as:
Use this information to guide you when taking the website forward. For example, if very few people are visiting your ‘enquiry’ page, perhaps it is difficult to find. Or if no-one is finding your site via a banner advertisement you purchased on another site, this may tell you not to renew your listing when the time comes.
Like so many things in life and in business, the secret lies in the planning. Get the fundamentals right and the outlook is good!
Don’t stint on research – speak to others about what has worked for them, take advice from those who’ve been there before, and make sure you learn the lessons from any difficulties you have along the way.
Good luck with your new website!
This article has kindly been provided by Anna Wilde of PerfectArc (www.perfectarc.com), and Helen Culshaw of Ascendancy Internet Marketing (www.ascendancyinternetmarketing.com), and is based on a workshop run at a WiRE conference.