- Start with a strategy, not design
Because websites can be very eye pleasing, it is easy to think of them as a design project. In reality, a website is essentially a product that has to be managed accordingly. You need to understand who the users are, how they arrive to your site, and what they are looking for. Based on this analysis, you can come up with your website strategy, messages, calls to action, and conversion paths. Only then is it time to get down to the design.
Practical tip #1: if your website company is not asking you these questions before starting your website project, that's a red flag.
- Don’t fall into the SEO trap
The most common statement I hear from companies that are looking to build a new website is that they want to improve their search engine positions. While this is a commendable goal, it is not necessarily the one that will get you the most for your investment. This is especially true if you sell a new solution that doesn't fall into a well- established category, which means that you can expect limited search volume. With that in mind, getting the visitors that come to your site to take action (most of them will get there because you have directed them) is probably more important than search engine optimization. See an excellent explanation of the tradeoffs between website conversion and SEO in this Marketing Experiments article (page 68).
Practical tip #2: don’t count visitors that search for your company name as “search traffic”; it’s just another form of direct traffic.
- Measure everything
A business website should be judged by how well it helps buyers engage with your company, not how “nice” or “cool” it looks. The only way to tell how well your website is working for you is with ongoing measurement of site performance against your goals. Google Analytics is a must and a good starting point, but truly measuring your website's impact requires that you integrate the site with your CRM and/or marketing automation solution.
What you really care about is how many of your target buyers visit the website and take action on it. Some of the things you would probably want to measure include:
- Which pages are most visited by target buyers?
- Which pages lead target buyers to take action (download material, request more information, start an evaluation, etc.)
- Which offers and content assets lead target buyers to take action?
Practical tip #3: ClickTale is a nifty service that will help you understand how well your pages are structured. It will show you how visitors interact with each page—where they click, scroll, and hover. You can see some of this information in Google’s In-Page Analytics but it's not as detailed.
- Build it for change
Don't expect to get it perfect the first time. Even if you do, things will undoubtedly change, with new products to promote, new messages to communicate, new competitors to battle… so make sure your website architecture and back-end are agile enough to allow you to make modifications quickly and inexpensively.
Practical tip #4: Open source Content Management Systems (CMS) have come a long way, providing top-notch functionality and the benefits of a large developer community that continues to improve the system and create new templates and plug-ins. WordPress is my current favorite and seems to be getting a lot of traction with many website developers.
If you have any other thoughts or experiences you can share on building a website, I would love to see your comments! And if you need help with your new website, just drop me a note.