A website is typically the first experience a reader has with your brand and first experiences count. If your website does not quickly convey the information your reader is searching for, loads slowly, and is not visually appealing you’ve probably lost a prospect before you knew you had one! To make matters worse, if the website is not properly indexed with internet search agents and optimised for discovery there’s a good chance your customer won’t find it amongst the other 1.8bn websites!
Designing and maintaining an effective website that delivers results is actually a complex process involving many disciplines including marketing, copywriting, graphic design, SEO and website coding skills. We have found a number of clients that “just want a website” and don’t understand the intricacies of building something that will deliver value. There’s no point in building the world’s best mouse trap if potential customers cant find it, right? In this article we’re going to look at some of the attributes that are needed to deliver your website objectives. Given the wide range of skills and knowledge required, we partner with local website experts, Oliver Hill from The Website Space, so you’ll hear from him in this article.
Now, as we go through this remember you have two audiences: your human prospects and the search engine algorithms. Your human visitors will only appreciate your content if the search engines such as Google and Bing lead them to your site. Search engines these days are pretty smart, try to interpret the content of your site and make sense of user search terms. So as a general principle you need to present clear and simple content that your readers will find interesting, but there are some guidelines to follow to hit the search engine “buttons”. This activity is commonly known as search engine optimisation, or SEO and is not a one-off activity. Although the bigger chunk of work is up front and in the first few months, it requires constant attention to ensure your site is being found. As we progress through the stages of website development, we will meld in the SEO requirements.
1. Your starting point – define your business objectives
The right place to start with creating a website is your business objectives and how your proposed website can help fulfil these objectives. Naturally as you embark on any venture it’s always good to know where you are going and what you seek to achieve. Consequently, when we start work with a client our discussion includes topics such as what makes them special, their unique selling proposition (or USP), their market positioning, target customers and their primary competition. After all, your website is another lead funnel / sales channel for you and needs to appeal to and convey the right messages to your target customers. “This is what we’re about”, says Richard Paterson the Managing Director of PAAC IT, “providing supportive IT leadership to growing businesses”.
We then move onto the objectives of the website itself. Is it to be online “brochure ware” conveying information or an e-commerce shop with online sales or perhaps you are a local business with the objective of generating footfall? People generally make three different types of search which the search engines attempt to recognise and respond to. These are obtaining information (such as how do I …, orientating themselves online (to visit a specific website such as Youtube), or to perform a transaction (eg to buy something).
Tied in closely with this are the key words or key phrases you will use to help search engines index your site. Research shows that 95% of people only look at the first page of search results, and even then, the 7th listing on a page only gets 3.5% of search traffic – so you need to get them right in order for your pages to be presented and found. What we are talking about here is using the right words and phrases (key words) that the search engines will use to determine how relevant your content is. Identifying the right keywords is not surprisingly known as keyword research and involves brainstorming the words your customers might use to find you, looking for related search terms on Google that show at the bottom of a search page and using online tools such as Google Analytics or Ubersuggest. Read our case study to learn how we worked through this process with Angles of Art.
2. Designing your website for both humans and bots
Effective website design brings together four key disciplines – the aesthetics / psychology of design, copywriting, SEO and the technical aspects of the website software. SEO is impacted by all of these disciplines but “No one outside of Google, really knows how Google’s search algorithms works, says Oli Hill of the Website Space, “However over time we have built a good understanding of what works and what doesn’t”. So here’s our cook book of key things to address as you commence your website design:
Design for mobile first. 53% of traffic today is mobile and expected to reach 60% very shortly. Hence, design with mobile at the front of your mind;
- Site load speed. Research shows that mobile device visitors will leave your site if it takes more than 3 seconds to load, so a top priority is to optimise the site content and code to load quickly.
- Colour is one of the first thing that hits you when you look at a website. Right? People make up their minds within 90 seconds of their initial interactions with either people or products with about 62‐90% of the assessment is based on colour alone. Colours can convey different meanings: for example red creates a sense of energy, while green associates with peace, tranquillity and the environment with orange and yellow promoting optimism, but also caution. So think about the message you want to convey and the associated colour. Colour can also have a big impact on people with disabilities – red and green for example. Also people with dyslexia find reading a dark font on a light background easier than vice versa;
- Whats next? Space. A crowded website seems chaotic and disorganised, while “empty” space makes your site look clean and organised;
- Layout is next. Research going back to printed newspaper days show people read in a “Z”, starting top left and down to bottom right. It therefore makes sense to organise your content in the way the eye moves with important message and contacts near the top of the page. Putting key information “above the fold” is a commonly used term – the part of the website you see when you first land;
- Who are you? This might seem surprising but some websites don’t include clear contact details. It is important to have the same name, address and phone numbers (commonly called NAP) your website and all on all online directories;
- Simple navigation, seems fairly obvious but provide clear menus to help visitors find their way around your site.
- Content is king. Write for target users with language they will appreciate. A personal approach often works better – so use “you” and similar words where appropriate. Remember to write about what your readers want to hear, rather than simply what you want to tell them. Content also needs to be written for the search engines with appropriate use of the keywords you selected earlier both in the content and headings. The search engines look for depth of content so don’t be too brief. And finally use metatags – information about the content – for all your images, titles and page snippets. Above all, keep it fresh – the search crawlers look for new content to point readers at – so include a blog.
- We love images. A picture is worth a thousand words so they say. So pick image that help tell your story – if you are an artisan use images of your actual work not stock images, if you are a people business make sure you use images of your actual team. While images are great, they can have a negative effect on the load speed of your site. Hence the need to reduce the size and shape of images to ensure they don’t have to be repurposed by the website code. And ensure they are all tagged with appropriate meta data;
- Call to action. What do you want people to do once they have reached your site? Add appropriate call to action buttons such as “download here”, “Learn more”, “Book a consultation”, “buy now”. Whatever it is, steer your visitor to the action you want them to take. This looks like becoming an important issue with SEO – so ensure it properly addressed.;
- Typefaces. Often overlooked, but the fonts you use also help to convey a message to your users. For example, Serif fonts (such as Times and Baskerville) convey tradition and sophistication, while San Serif fonts (such as Helvetica and Verdana) are modern and neutral and easier for people with dyslexia to read.
- Links. The search engines love links as they help the search engines figure out how content is structured and how different pages and websites relate to each other. You should use links between the pages of your website so that when a web crawler hits your site it knows which pages to record and index. Pages with no internal links may be missed. More below on this below.
- Short descriptive URLs, also known as web address tell both human and “bot” readers what a website is about. A short domain name is good as it is easy to remember but since most searches are done through a search engine having a short URL after the”/” is not really important. Instead, a URL after the “/” should match your targeted keywords. For example, if I were writing a blog post called “4 steps to an effective website” I would set up my URL to be https://paac-it.com/4-steps-to-an-effective-website /.
- Security. Secure your website with HTTPS (or hypertext transfer protocol – secure). Its good practice to encrypt your website this way, but in addition, Google now marks down non-HTTPS sites.
- Regulatory compliance: Where would we be without regulations? Under the PECR you need to include a “cookie warning” and the GDPR recommends your privacy statement is included on your website.
Once you’re almost done get others to review your site – friends and customers. It is often overlooked as we treat our new websites like babies and to us they are cute and loving, but to others, they are the ugliest thing they have ever seen! Although brutal other peoples’ opinions matter as they are the customers, not you and I.
3. Website build – make it fast!
This turns out to be the shortest section. “We prefer to build our websites on WordPress essentially with our own code and minimising the use of plugins” say Oli of TWS. There are a number of website builder packages available that make developing a website quick and easy. Unfortunately, although the end product may look good they often take ages to load. “I’ve made my website coding pretty efficient and so building from scratch does not take me long and the end result is much better” commented Oli.
4. Making your website discoverable (SEO)
We talked above about making your site discoverable, but we have primarily discussed “on page” SEO and during the development process. However, in addition you need to think about “Off page” SEO and in-life activities.
Off page SEO as the name implies, are the things that you need to do outside of the website itself. The four most important actions are:
- Build links to your site – also known as “back links”. This is by far the most important off page activity. The search engines look to see how well your site is regarded and this is mainly through the number and quality of links to your site. A link from a recognised industry source to your site referencing one of your blog posts will count significantly more than a link from a small, newly created website. Good places to generate backlinks from are online directories – although most of them are “no-follow” links some are “follow” links and therefore help your websites backlink performance. It is a time-consuming process, but the effort pays off.
- Register your site map with Google Search. Google’s search bot will find your website eventually, but its much more effective to tell Google about your site. You do this by registering a site map with Google Search Console – essentially saying “hears some new content, go take a look”. Google Search Console also carries a great tool kit to help you understand the performance of your website.
- Link your site to Google MyBusiness. GMB is a free tool from Google that helps you manage how your website appears on Google searches and maps. GMB allows you to include your business name and location, products and services, opening hours, images and of course a link to your website. The facility is relevant to pretty much all business, but particularly to local businesses who want to rely on local searches;
- Social media activities. The search engines like to look at all your activities and try to include social media. Post on your social media sites should include a link to your relevant webpage along with the same picture that is on the page. Every time a link is clicked on a social media site it generates a “social signal” which is a ranking factor
The Mill for Business calculate there are 380 websites are created every minute which means that every 24 hours the number of websites increases by 547,200. Inevitably this means all the “environmental” factors you looked at as you created your website are constantly changing – keywords, competitors, search terms, search engine algorithms – all on the move all the time. The result being that you need to keep up and keep active with SEO constantly. Admittedly the heaviest activity is when you start off and for the first three months – but then you do need to keep going. And remember, you will keep adding content to your website – so that’s changing as well.
If you’ve made to here, thank you and congratulations. I hope you’ve now developed a good comprehension of the activities that need to come together to design, build and maintain an effective website that delivers value to your business. Of course, this is the easy bit – an article. The real skill is in our people here at PAAC IT and our partner The Website Space delivering effective websites.
We look forward to hearing from you – by phone on 01428 770 290 or use our website contact form on this page.