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Tips for building a successful website September 10, 2009

Posted by Australian Business Marketing Services in Uncategorized.
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Whether you run a fish and chips shop or a global business, it is becoming increasingly difficult to get away with not having a website. And once you do invest the time and money into getting one, the next step should be how you can make it work for you.

The other day, my friends and I wanted to order takeaway from a chicken shop. Our first reaction was to look up their website for a menu and contact number, only to find they didn’t have one. Much to our annoyance, we had to faff around with business directories to look up their number and guess at what we wanted to eat.

Yes, we assumed that this chicken shop would have a website and why wouldn’t we?

My friends and I are no different to other customers out there who rely heavily on the net to browse and assess their choices. Indeed, 97% of consumers surf the web for information on products and services before making a purchase.

If your business doesn’t currently have a website, then the fact is, you are missing out on many sales opportunities. And if you are planning on getting one, then here are some tips for building a successful website:

1. Research
A little can go a long way. Spend a few minutes browsing the sites of your competitors and any other websites that you enjoy frequenting to make a note of layout, features and content that impressed you. These notes can then be taken into consideration with your planning and your discussions with your website developer.

2. Plan ahead
Why is this important? Because it helps you to cement in your mind exactly what you want and to ensure this aligns with your business vision. By doing this, you are less likely to be sold unnecessary “guff” by website developers.

Start by writing down your business objectives and what you want your website to achieve in specific and measurable terms. Write down who will be your target markets, their characteristics and what sort of features and content would they be expecting from your website.

You will then need to focus on the specifics of your website in terms of what content you would like on the site, what sort of content it should have to appeal to your target audiences, who will be responsible for updating content and when.

Consult your staff to identify what website features or content could make their lives a little easier. For example, I recently met a seed supplier who used to produce weekly price lists that he would fax out to his client base. Not only was this a cumbersome activity, but his customers and sales staff often got confused with which was the latest price. Thus, he created a special login section to his website, where customers and staff could view the most current and up to date prices.

Finally, look at any future business directions or initiatives and how this might impact on the needs of your website. This is quite important because it will save you time and money in the long run. It is better to have flexible website structure and functionality that can adapt to your changing business needs upfront, than to find later that your website can’t do what you want it to, in which case you will need to start again.

3. Select the right website developer
Many small businesses overlook the importance of this step. Instead, they get their neighbour’s kid or a friend to quickly knock up a website for them. If this is possibly you, then warning bells should be ringing! Trying to cut costs by doing this usually results in more money being spent later to correct mistakes, inflexible website structures or poor functionality.

Firstly, understand that whilst they are a dime a dozen, not all web developers are created equal.

Next you’ll also need to understand that you generally get what you pay for. There is a broad pricing spectrum for websites, but this usually depends on what technology features, etc you want.

At the cheaper end you’re probably going to get little more than an electronic brochure that has few features and requires the web developer to make the simplest of changes for you. This means you will have to pay them every time.

At the more expensive end, you’re going to get a website that looks fantastic and has every feature under the sun. This too can be a mistake, because you don’t want to pay for what you won’t use.

You’re best bet is to get a few quotes and choose the middle ground. You want something that looks great to reflect the reputation of your business, you want a few features such as a content management system so that you can easily make changes yourself and you want to be able to “turn on” any additional features with little effort or expense should you choose to in the future.

Finally, warning bells should sound if your web developer doesn’t have a set process outlined, whereby they take your business objectives and website objectives into consideration with their “brief”. This process should also outline specific points at which you can review what’s been done and have your say. In many cases where this review process is left open (ie. you can review it as many times as you like), you are actually being charged for this additional time, unnecessarily blowing out the cost of the project.

4. Properly explain what you want to your chosen web developer
This is where your research and plan comes in handy. Use these to explain to your web developer what it is you want your website to do as well as what it looks, feels and smells like.

You don’t need to know the technical “lingo” to know what you want – you’re web developer will interpret this for you. You just need to be specific and don’t leave things open ended, or you could end up paying for things you don’t need.

5. User testing
The development process should allow you at least a couple of opportunities to review and test the site before it goes live. To keep your costs down and prevent the need for any costly changes in the future, you should use these review opportunities well.

Basic rule of thumb is, the fewer times you need to go back to your website developer with changes, the lower your development costs. So make sure you properly review your test site in the first review round towards the beginning of the project. Use your family, friends and staff members in doing this and then provide your developer with a comprehensive list of changes. This should result in there being fewer changes or improvements to make when you next review the test site.

When reviewing and testing the site, don’t just look at the aesthetics. The technical testing should be done by your website developer, however, you will need to make sure that the look and feel is consistent with your brand, contact details are easy to find, the site is easy to navigate around, there are no spelling & grammatical errors and that any instructions or actions required are easy to follow.

In addition, check that people can easily find what they are looking for, information is clear and easy to read and that page download time is not excessive.

6. Actions for success
Once you have your new website, you will need to work out how you will promote it and encourage people to regularly come back to it to increase your chances for success. A good starting point would be to review your marketing plan and seeing how you can include your website into your promotional activities.
Websites can increase your opportunities for sales, but the process of getting one can be difficult. Don’t just jump in the deep end! Make the process easier on yourself, minimise the risk of mistakes and reduce cost blow outs by planning adequately, selecting the right web developer and developing actions for success.

By Vanessa Tsui

This article is brought to you by Australian Business Marketing Services, giving you no nonsense, results driven marketing at a price that you can afford. Contact us today on 1800 505 529 or via email for assistance with your marketing needs.

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