New Year, New Website? Get It Right First Time

As the world moves increasingly online, websites have never been as important as they will be in 2013. A recent survey, carried out by startups.co.uk, revealed that the majority of new business owners (73%) are unhappy with their website and change them within the first year of trading and just 12% still use the same website after two years.

 Having an online presence is one of the major necessities for a business and to avoid wasting time and money it is important to get it right first time. With more and more people using the web to search for products and services, it is one of the most effective ways to win new business. Think of your website as your online shop front, even if you are not selling products directly.

Getting online is surely among the most essential, but daunting, parts of starting a new business. As phone directories pile up in hallways, still wrapped in their cellophane bags, the reminder that the web is the first port of call for suppliers of business services is there every time you leave your house. And unless you’re well-versed in the ways of web development, design, and content creation, you’ve got a challenge on your hands to get your business noticed.

 Merely having a website is unlikely to be enough. Whether you’re looking to make sure your site is discovered on a search engine or set up to receive direct traffic, first impressions and usability count – and could well seal a sale. So, you need to make sure that you’re getting the most out of it. Take a look at these top tips to help your business get the best head-start online.

 1. Get the right website designer for you

 For your first website, the two most popular options are a DIY builder or a website designer. DIY builders can provide a professional look, but only if you’ve had previous experience in web and graphic design. Learning how to use these programmes can take up valuable time, and you may not get the results you want. Your website is an extension of your brand, so may damage your image by having a semi-functional website that is poorly designed.

 Getting a professional web designer takes the pressure off, leaving you to focus on developing your business.When looking for a web designer, the most important place to start is their portfolio. Make notes on the difference features each designer can provide, for example, image galleries, social media feeds, or contact forms. Each designer has different strengths and weaknesses, so when it comes to making the final decisions, make sure that your designer can satisfy your needs.

 2. Know your business inside and out

 As a reflection of your business, your website needs to fit into your brand image perfectly, and who knows your business better than you do? Make sure that you let your designer know what you’re all about. Describe your business to them in the same way that you’d explain it to potential customers, so they know what your key selling points are.

Is there anything unique about your business that your competitors don’t do? The more you tell your designer, the more accurately they can create a website to suit your business.

 It is essential that you discuss your target audience with your designer. Your business is out to attract a certain type of customer, so it needs to be designed with those people in mind. Everyone has different tastes, but you can easily appeal to the right target audience by using the right colours, layouts and writing style. As you’ll already have your business plan in place, you know the kind of people you’ll be attracting. Let your website designer know who you are targeting (and how you’re already doing so in other business practices!) so they can create a site that will appeal to them.

3. Before you pay, look into the package you’re purchasing

To get online, you need three basic things: a website design, hosting, and a domain name. Some packages may look like you get a great deal on the design, but don’t include the essential hosting to get you online. Don’t just go for the cheapest option, as you may end up paying a lot more than expected for the additional necessary services. To save yourself time and money, invest in a web designer that offers you a package deal which includes the launch and hosting for your website.

Even when your website is finished, you need to make sure that it’s running smoothly at all times. If your site goes down or part of it stops working, then you’ll need someone who can fix it fast. The best people for this would be the website developers themselves, so check that your package comes with after-sales maintenance. That way, if you do encounter any trouble, you can ensure you have the support of your designer.

 4. Collect a few of your own ideas

Although you’re not expected to know the exact layout and design of your new website, it helps your designer considerably if you have an idea of the style you like. Look at websites that you often visit to get some ideas on what you do or don’t like, which can range from colour schemes to button placement.

Some of the more important websites to investigate are your competitors.

Not only will it give you a better insight into how they operate their business, but you can see what their website does and does not offer their customers. Is there something you can do better? Is there a feature that you want on yours? Letting your designer know about your main competitors can help them to design a website that stands out.

 5. Consider the purpose of your website

 Depending on what you want your customers to do on your website will affect the layout, content, and site structure (meaning the layers of content customers can reach from the homepage and how many clicks they are from what you want them to see). Consider the objectives of your business and how your website will help you to achieve them. Do you want your customers to:

  • Locate your store and visit you?

  • Buy something online?

  • Download a brochure?

  • Contact you via phone, email, or contact form?

  • Find out more information about your products or services?

It’s normal to want your website to do more than one, but focus on what is important to your business goals. Whatever the main purpose of your website is, let your designer know. This means that they’ll be able to come up with a design that focuses on your objectives.

 6. Make it easy for your customers to use

 Keep your navigation simple. Only have as many pages as you need, with all the helpful information clearly displayed. Unnecessary images and large blocks of text can put potential customers off, as they can’t pick out the key pieces of information easily. Keep everything relevant to the customer and the business. Don’t forget, once your website is completed, keep it regularly updated. Customers expect the most up to date information and websites are the easiest way for them to find it. They also expect a high level of continuity, so if something has changed in-store, it needs to be changed online.

Websites are complicated, but the right designer will help to guide you through the process, every step of the way. Breaking the whole process down into manageable tasks will help you get your ideas and content ready at the right time, and talking everything through with your designer will mean you will get your perfect website as soon as possible.

Written by Lucy Smith, director of Small Business Websites, which designs, builds, hosts and launches websites for start-ups and small businesses who are on a budget. www.smallbusinesswebsites.co.uk

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