Optimising your site
Search engines are by far the most common way most people navigate and use the web. Making sure your website features in search engine listings needn’t be difficult, or expensive. Search engines are always on the lookout for fresh content and will recognise when your website is updated with new information. The more your website changes and grows, the more your ‘web footprint’ increases, the more likely it is to catch the attention of search engines, and the higher it’s likely to get in the search rankings. Get into the habit of changing your home page at least once a month to keep it working most efficiently for you- this could be a simple as changing a list of recent news, or placing new special offers on the front page.
Make your site an information resource full of sector news and knowledge; publish any presentations you make, case studies you compile or industry research you carry out; offer downloads including a map of your location and have a news section which is regularly updated; embrace the digital age and add engaging content such as blogs, podcasts, vidcasts and RSS feeds from your site.
All of these resources will not only make your site more attractive to search engines; they will give visitors reasons to return regularly and even add your site to their list of favourites.
Another practical way of making sure you get visitors to your site is to invite other businesses to link to your site. Links from the sites of business partners, associates or like-minded causes are often seen by search engines as votes for you – the more votes you get, the more popular you are likely to be regarded. These links can drive traffic directly to your site, which can make a huge difference to your website traffic, especially if you manage to team up with a popular site.
Perhaps the simplest tip is to harness every opportunity to feature your website address, including on letter heads, business cards, emails and liveried vehicles.
Images are a crucial way to make your website attractive to visitors. In the broadband age, the use of images on websites is no longer a problem in terms of speed and is an important way to set the theme for your website, and illustrate your products, services and people.
However, copyright theft is still a common problem and many business websites are using images that don’t belong to them without realising that they’re breaking the law. Using someone else’s images without permission could mean having your website ‘switched off’ by your host for breach of copyright, leave you facing a fine or even a legal battle.
Google Images are a common source of images used by company websites, but they are not owned by Google and it is illegal to use them on your website without permission from the owner. Buying high quality stock images needn’t be expensive though. You can buy good stock images on sites like www.istockphoto.com for as little as $1 with a single-use license, which means you may only use the image once.
Content is king
Layout, design and content management are central to the ease of navigation and effectiveness of your site. Too many companies make the mistake of thinking a website is an IT project – it’s not; it’s a marketing project and should form an integral part of your marketing strategy, which all comes down to promoting your business and selling its products and services.
Design your website with your customers in mind – instead of filling it with things you want to talk about; think about what your customers want to read and need to know.
Prioritise the information on your website to avoid annoying those people that don’t want to read everything but want instead to pick and choose the bits they are interested. A good rule of thumb is to consider the top four things that made your business money in the last year – your four most profitable areas of business – and make those most prominent on your site.
Avoiding the pitfalls
Don’t be tempted to put only a small amount of content on your website in the belief that you will intrigue and encourage visitors to call instead – you’re more likely to make yourself appear unprofessional and will of course be far less searchable. There’s no such thing as too much content; just the wrong place for it, so always archive rather than delete pages as they become less topical or useful.
This isn’t a license to stray from the point, however, or to pump out large volumes of ineffective text. Visitors can easily be put off by too much wording – they want to get straight to the facts quickly and easily.
Always get to the point in as few words as possible and start by telling visitors what you do in simple terms. One of the finest examples I’ve seen of a business that didn’t heed this advice is an ‘absorption solutions expert’ that actually sells paper towels!
Technical companies in particular too often make the mistake of filling their websites with too much technical information, overlooking the fact that many of their customers will not be technology minded people. If your company is really technical, add a glossary of terms and link to this each time you mention one. Avoid overusing links though – especially links to other websites – as you can easily lose visitors. If you are using a link to another website, make sure it’s programmed to open in another window so that visitors can easily navigate back to your pages. Another tip to ease navigation is to use a ‘pathway’ or ‘breadcrumb’ facility which works by showing the user the history of where he or she has been so that they can retrace their steps and re-visit previously viewed information.
Don’t assume that people will understand your business acronyms either – meaningless content quickly erodes the patience of visitors and the likelihood that they will buy from you. Always expand even the most common of industry acronyms and remember, most of the time, you’re not selling to people like you.
Managing your Content
More and more companies are now investing in content management systems (CMSs) or ‘easy edit websites’ which allow them to manage their own sites in-house without having to employ a full-time technical expert. The CMS software carries the website template and allows the site administrator to update wording, upload images and attachments, and create new pages easily. It also ensures each new page mirrors the last in style and layout, reinforcing your brand and making your site look professional.
A good CMS will allow you to streamline your day to day business tasks. You can use it as part of an e-commerce system to distribute letter-headed pdf invoices, or as a database management and membership communication tool. This can work by allowing members to log in, communicate with you and update their own information, and even post their own news items on your site, which will help to regularly refresh and therefore improve the searchability of your website. You can also send electronic newsletters to customers and prospective customers via an integrated CMS and e-newsletter system, which can be used to automatically pull together news items and send them out to a database of contacts.
A well-managed business website can give a business global reach and even put a small business on an equal footing with its multinational competitors by opening up new markets for relatively little financial investment. However, to be effective, a website needs to be nurtured, continually fine-tuned, re-targeted and kept bang up to date to give it a chance of succeeding on the worldwide stage.