How to build a better website
Creating a website from scratch can be a liberating experience for a business.
I recommend doing this every three or four years. The digital environment changes so much that websites reach their use-by date much faster than they did a decade ago.
To approach this task, here are some tips on what it takes to develop the best website — no matter when you are doing it.
Talk to your customers and prospects to understand what they want and need.
Understand how they use offline and online channels to reach your website, and the importance of mobile, search and social media in their overall journey to purchase.
Review competitors — and look further afield than your immediate competitors, as that’s where new ideas can come from.
Get an expert to review your Google Analytics, as there’s bound to be valuable data from current user behaviour that can help determine what’s important and what’s not.
Use research data to set quantifiable goals for your website in terms of visits, revenue, downloads, shares, page views, and more. All this information will help you decide on site structure, navigation, functionality, content and a host of other small things that can make a big difference to the success of a new website.
Comparing websites designed five years ago to more recent sites reveals a huge difference in form and function. The changes are due to the rise of smartphones that are now used to access the web more often than desktop PCs.
Smaller screens on mobile devices are influencing web browsing in numerous ways. Continuous pages requiring more scrolling and ‘above the fold’ is no longer obsessed over. Dynamic navigation that appears or disappears as you browse is important, as are more dominant visuals and shorter text. Be sure to take into account the widespread use of video and universal social sharing options.
Engage a professional designer/developer to guide your selection of a platform on which to build a website. They will advise on choosing a platform like WordPress, Weebly or Squarespace; to understand their differences check out this review.
If you’re building an eCommerce store, this comparison table will be helpful. There also many eCommerce solutions that integrate with your MYOB software. More sophisticated websites typically run on content management systems like Drupal or Joomla (and even WordPress); Rackspace published a good comparison.
The era of static, ‘brochure-ware’ websites is rapidly coming to an end. Customers are looking for more interactivity and engagement with websites that can be delivered through techniques such as blogs, 3D animation, online communities, and virtual experiences.
Decisions about the type and complexity of your website’s functionality must be based on customer research. But don’t ignore functions that benefit the business such as web forms, e-newsletter subscriber prompts, personalised messaging, sales offers, and live chat.
During the build process, make sure someone writes a brief clearly outlining what functional requirements the website must meet. This also serves as a benchmark for testing the site before it goes live.
Search, social, mobile
These are the big three factors that will have a huge influence on any new website development. Each must be woven into the framework of the website so people can find, share and follow your business anytime and anywhere.
While each is critical in its own right, it’s the inter-relationship between them that is the secret ingredient of a successful web presence.
For example, search is not limited to Google and Bing, as people search Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram for company and product knowledge.
Social media isn’t just an app on your phone; it can be linked to the website so social content appears there too. And content on a desktop version can be selectively omitted from the mobile-optimised version of your website.
Understanding the drivers of customer behaviour regarding search, social and mobile will set your website up for success. This is classic situation where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
Choose what your business is good at, and focus your efforts communicating that in just a few interesting ways.
Sometimes low-budget productions suit the brand. Perhaps a more visual approach is best through photos and video. Or use long-form copy to tell stories.
Choose how you want to engage with audiences, and find good practitioners to help you bring it to life.
Synchronise online with offline
People don’t experience companies purely through their website. There are many real-world touchpoints that impact on customer experience and brand identity.
It is critical to demonstrate alignment between these experiences so that one builds upon the other. One of the most important is after-sales service, where customer satisfaction can quickly be eroded if the online support doesn’t match the efficiency and delight of the offline purchase process.
Measurement is essential to manage website performance. Whether it’s leads, sales, followers or subscribers, there must be targets to report outcomes and trends. Critical decisions are based on these reports.
As well as back-office solutions like Google Analytics and Alexa that provide actionable data on website visits and usage, there are customer-facing tactics to measure more qualitatively. These include on-page surveys or feedback forms, dedicated email address for customer feedback, or formal surveys using one of the various online survey tools. Don’t make it hard for customers to send feedback, good and bad.
A new website is like flower seeds in the garden — it needs continual watering in the form of new content, back-end tweaks and plenty of TLC to get the most out of it.
If left to stagnate, customers and prospects will soon realise it’s indicative of the company’s weaknesses.
Remember: your competitors are just a click away.