The first thing to consider when considering a new or updated website is the purpose of your site. Most small businesses and other organizations have a website and virtually all medium and large enterprises have a website. It is intuitive that a nice-looking website helps makes an organization look legitimate, helps them get found in search results and often is the first impression someone has with a company. These are now table stakes for conducting business. Building out a website doesn’t stop there and it’s important to consider the goals of your website from the earliest stages. As this will have important implications throughout the entire website design and development process, it is worthwhile investing time into articulating these goals. There are many goals that may be considered, but they often boil down to a few high-level categories. Not all categories are relevant to every business, and often a business will have multiple goals – the primary goal and supporting secondary goals. For high level goals consider the following:
The Branding Website
The primary goal is to get your name out there. A cornerstone of marketing is that familiarity helps form purchase decisions. Consciously or sub-consciously people are more inclined to purchase from or conduct business with businesses which are familiar. In this way, a website functions similarly to, or alongside other marketing initiatives (such as print, radio or television advertising). In many cases new businesses can only afford to spend a limited amount on their marketing initiatives, making a website the first and one of the most cost-effective steps in their marketing plan.
Goals for this type of site include achieving high rankings in search results for particular keywords. Other supporting goals that are based on metrics such as time spent on a page or unique visitors can help you gauge the effectiveness of the site.
The Lead Generation Website
Most businesses want to see a large volume of traffic on their websites; it shows the business is getting attention and awareness. If you’re not selling directly through your website, consider what you want your potential customers to do once you have them as a captive audience. Often the answer to this will be for them to initiate their customer journey. This is often represented by the interest and consideration stages in the sales funnel model. A powerful call to action may be to sign up for your email newsletter (and thus allowing you to collect a list of qualified leads). A recurring stream of pre-qualified and self-selected prospective customers can be a very powerful tool for closing sales. If your business’ success depends on people coming to your business in person, such as a restaurant or hairdresser, the call to action may be to view the hours of operation and book a reservation. Each business has a unique set of needs and it’s essential to determine which actions are most valuable for your business at the beginning of a website design and development project.
A common primary conversion goal for this type of site is a number of users who sign up for a newsletter, submit a contact form or call the sales team. A supporting goal may be the number of people who start to follow you on social media.
The E-Commerce Website
Many businesses offer their products and services for sale on-line. This may be as a supplemental sales channel to a conventional storefront or may be their exclusively sales channel. There are two main drivers which set electronic commerce apart from their non-virtual counterparts.
The first advantage is the potential to reach many more clients over a larger geographic area 24/7 without needing to expand your physical footprint. A larger market represents more opportunity and more potential customers.
The second advantage with an online shop is reducing the cost associated with a physical store front. A physical store typically costs a much higher amount than running a virtual store after considering rent, insurance, staffing and products. Some products or services will not be ideal candidates for ecommerce, but many will. There can be a strong synergy of having customers visit once or infrequently at the beginning of the customer relationship, and later moving to the convenience of online purchasing once they are comfortable and confident in the business.
High level goals for this type of site include traffic and conversion rates, cart abandonments and much more. In this case the conversion rate would be percentage of visitors who end up making a purchase. Years of analysis have gone into refining e-commerce goals, best practices and reporting has become sophisticated for large ecommerce businesses. A secondary goal for this type of website may be the number of signups to a newsletter.
The Publishing Website
This is a class of websites which have had tremendous impact since the world wide web being widely adopted. They are responsible for disrupting many long-established industries such as newspapers, televised news, magazines, entertainment and more. If you have a publishing website, that means you are generating revenue from selling ad space or subscriptions to visitors. These websites rely on highly engaging content to drive large amounts of traffic, or making people feel a subscription would have value. There are several ways to monetize a website and it is important to decide which method or combination of methods will be used early in the design stages.
Remember when pursuing a publishing website that there is a seemingly limitless supply of content on the Internet. It’s important to establish yourself as a reliable creator of quality content, and one thing you’ll need to keep in mind is that you will continuously need to generate content to attract and retain visitors.
High level goals for publishing sites are total page views. Simply put, the more views a page receives, the more ad impressions and click throughs will occur. For subscription models, goals will include how many registrations have occurred and the growth or contraction of subscribers. A Secondary goal for both of these models could potentially be the number of shares that a piece of content gets on social media.
The Support Website
Post-sales support can be time consuming and expensive. Having customer service departments can be expensive and in the case of smaller organizations customer support may distract people from other responsibilities. At its simplest, this can be a Frequently Asked Questions website. For a small business, answering simple calls may take away from servicing other customers, and in many cases, questions can be answered by providing support information. In larger and more complex situations, there can be large cost reductions by providing detailed support sections on a website. Product specifications or user guides may help answer questions without contacting customer service or sales. Although some people prefer to talk to someone in person, many are happy to find what they need, at any time of day and on holidays and have the reference material on-hand.
It can be difficult to determine if presenting information has achieved the desired outcome because the objective is to have customers not be required to contact you. Good proxies are number of support page views and soliciting customer feedback, asking if the content was helpful. Secondary goals may include website visitors contributing to site forums for user-generated support content.
Other Types of Websites
There are other types of websites such as those run by hobbyists or single-serving-sites that don’t fit any of the categories listed above. While interesting and sometimes popular most business-related websites will fall into one or more of the above categories. While the branding website may stand alone in its purpose, any of the other website types would, by necessity, include some elements of the branding site. Remember to think what you’re looking to accomplish and set goals with your website as the first step in your website design journey.
Calls to Action
An early consideration for any website is determining the calls to action that will be required for the website to achieve its goals (which we discussed in the previous section). While site goals are extremely important, you have to put a plan in place on how to achieve them. You should have a minimum of one call to action for every single website goal that you have.
It is an easy mistake to assume people will intuitively know what you want them to do upon arriving at your website. For example, one of your secondary goals may be to get website visitors to sign up for your newsletter, but if you only plan on including a newsletter subscription link in the very footer of your website, you aren’t going to convert many visitors to subscribers. Instead, you’ve got to plan out how to effectively prompt a visitor to complete one of your website goals.
In physical world interactions you see calls to action all the time; a cashier asking for your email address, a server asking you to follow them to your table, a salesperson picking an item off the shelf and asking you to have a look.
Assuming a visitor will passively and on their own perform actions and goals you want is a mistake and will never achieve the results of a compelling call to action. By providing guidance you will greatly increase your conversion rates.
Calls to action do not need to come off as pushy or off-putting. Your business offers something that your current customers find valuable. Your visitors have expressed interest in your products or services as they are actively engaging with your website. A call to action guides the potential customer to the next step in the sales funnel, whether that’s getting them on the email list so you can begin targeted promotion, asking for the sale or having them to speak with a sales representative.
It will be up to you to determine how much of the sales process is performed on the website. At the very least you should try to get their contact information so you can pursue a warm lead. At the other end, a fully automated ecommerce store may guide a user all the way through to pulling out their credit card and submitting an order.
How to Properly Word a Call to Action
A call to action works best when it involves action words (“Buy Now”, “Sign Up”, “Contact Us”, etc.) and avoids vague phrases (“click here to read more”). The vaguer a call to action is, the less likely someone will be to complete it. You want to be as clear and precise as possible.
What are some really good calls to action?
- Sign up now to receive our free newsletter
- Buy in the next hour and save 10% at checkout
- Fill out our survey for a chance to win
- Call us today for your free consultation
If you’re still unsure how to phrase a call to action, take some research time and watch the shopping channel or some infomercials. These have perfected the call to action, and even include some extra incentives to prompt speedy reactions. Take, “only 20 left – order now!” for example. This is very action oriented, and also plays on a person’s fear of missing out.
What If My Calls to Action Aren’t Working?
After time you may decide to change your calls to action. Perhaps the sales process is too complicated, or perhaps you are missing out on the opportunity to cross-sell and up-sell. Tinkering with the wording is an excellent and highly recommended way to refine how many of your visitors successfully perform the actions you have identified as being important to the success of your business.
Site Architecture: The Sitemap & User Journey
Have you ever been to a website only to get confused about where to go and what to look at next? There were so many things vying for your attention that it took what felt like a lifetime to find what you originally went there looking for? Chances are that this website wasn’t created with a look at site architecture, of information architecture. This is the way information and content on a website is organized in a logical and meaningful way – usually in a way that makes it as easy as possible for website visitors to use. It looks at all website content types and categories and determines how it interacts with each other.
We build the sitemap and user journey at the same time because they are so intertwined in a website’s architecture. A sitemap defines what pages will be included in your website and their relation to each other, while your user journey defines how we want visitors to travel through your website in order to complete each of your primary and secondary goals.
These steps need to be completed before moving into the design phase of the website because they help us know what pages we need to create, and which calls to action should be on each page. The structure you determine here should be organized in a way to make it as easy as possible for someone to navigate to their website and find the information they are looking for.
Steps to Defining Your Sitemap
- Review Your Website Goals and Calls to Action: Knowing your goals and calls to action will help you categorize content in a way that drives visitors to complete your goals.
- Define Categories for Your Content: These categories are high-level categories and are how you generally want information to be defined on your new website. For the majority of websites, there will typically be “About Us”, “Our Products/Services”, and “Contact” categories; different industries may have additional categories but the general rule of thumb is that you don’t want to have more than 7 content categories.
- Evaluate any Current Content: Whether it’s on an existing website that you’re replacing, existing marketing materials, original business plan, or even possibly your financial statements, take some time to review what content you already have available to use. All different content can represent different pages on your website.
- Organize All Existing Content into Your Categories: Take all of the good and needs-to-be-adjusted content from the step above and place it into the different categories you’ve already defined.
- Determine Missing Content Pages: Look at each defined category and determine if there’s any additional content that should be included that you’ll need to create for your website launch – we’ll be helping you create some of this content in later chapters.
- Determine that Pages that Complete Your Goals: After reviewing your goals and calls to action in step one, take a look at all of the content that you’re going to have on your website and determine which of these can be used to complete your goals. For example, if one of your goals is to fill out a form to contact you, do you have a page in one of your categories that represents a form that can be filled out to get in touch with you? If not, be sure to add a new page to the category it best belongs to or create a new category specifically for it.
The categories and pages that you’ve laid out here is your general sitemap. This will be used to craft your navigation structure; the easiest option available is to have your categories as your top-level navigation pages, with each page as a subpage for that navigational menu.
Creating Your User Journey
Once you’ve developed your sitemap, you’ll want to start taking a look at how people will be travelling through your website. The user journey shows the best paths for website visitors to travel down to complete the goals that you’ve set for your website, and will help you know which pages to link to from each page when you’re building your website. (Using the same example as above, if your primary goal is to get someone to fill out a form to contact you, you would want to consider including some way to get them from an About Us page to the Contact page.)
To start the user journey, you want to look at how someone first gets to your website. There are typically a few ways that someone can get to your website – going there directly from punching the link into the address bar, finding an interior page of your website from a search engine or social media, going to a campaign-created landing page, etc. From this point, there are typically a few reasons why someone is on your website: to learn about you, to learn about your product/service, to read something (i.e. a blog post) that you’ve published, etc. When creating a user journey, you’ll want to look at each entry points, and look at how you’ll drive website visitors to information for every possible journey you’re creating, and then look at how you’re going to drive someone to complete one of your website goals.
For example, if someone is coming to your website to learn about you and your company, but they enter on an internal page through a search engine, how are you going to get them to learn about you? And from that point, how do you get them to complete your website goals?
Choosing Your Domain
This will be an important part of starting your website. Many desirable domains that you would like may not be available, especially those that are short, use common English words, are descriptive and end in .com. Think about how local businesses scoop up easy to remember numbers, or how popular business names may already be trademarked. Although there may be the opportunity to buy one of these domains, they often go at a high premium and are frequently auctioned when the become available. A good strategy is to choose something that is easy to remember, relatively short, and appropriate to your business. If you serve a particular region or niche you may have more luck finding a site with a domain extension other than (dot)com. For example .ca is the Canadian country code, while .tv implies a television related site. It will be up to you to determine the best domain name based on a mix of all these factors. There are many registrars you can choose from to register your domain. The following is a short list of some of the most popular options. It is also very likely your host overs a domain registration service as those two website components go hand in hand.
- Domain.com (domain.com)
- Bluehost (bluehost.com)
- Namecheap (namecheap.com)
- GoDaddy (godaddy.com)
When building a website, along with choosing your domain one of the first considerations is what hosting platform you would like to use. Hosting is the server space and computer power you need to serve your website up to all your visitors. If your website will be very big and/or handle a large number of visitors you will need a larger package, much like how if you make more phone calls, you will want a package that includes more minutes with your wireless phone service. Very few companies operate their own servers today, instead opting to use a web host, or hosting service. These companies can also scale with your needs, so if your needs change in the future, your plan can be adjusted.
WordPress (Self Hosted)
If you’re looking for something extremely custom, you’ll most likely want to go the route of a self-hosted WordPress platform. For all of our other options, hosting is built into the platform, but for this option you’ll need to price hosting separately. Hosting can cost anywhere from $5/month to $100/month, depending on what you need for sizing. The good part is that once you have website hosting, the actual WordPress software is free.
If you liked the WordPress.com option, but want more customization, this may be the choice you land on. There are hundreds of more available templates that you can purchase, as well as thousands of plugins.
For this option, you will need more technological know-how to get everything installed and set up properly, however it does provide the highest level of customizability.
Primarily geared towards bloggers since 2005, WordPress.com uses the popular WordPress software (more information is available on the self-hosted version in the WordPress Section) as a content management system. Since it’s inception, WordPress has moved from a blogging platform to one of the largest content management systems in the world. The WordPress.com option does provide free packages as well as paid ones when you need more features (analytics, custom design, ecommerce, etc).
If you’re looking for a free website (with a yourname.wordpress.com address), this is a good option as long as you are quick to pick up new technologies. The backend can sometimes be overwhelming to someone who is new to building websites. There are a lot of customization options in the backend that aren’t necessarily intuitive, however, these customization options allow you to do more with the website once you start to feel more comfortable with the system.
There are a large number of website templates available to choose from when we get to the designing stage of your website launch within the WordPress.com, and if you have one of their paid plans (the Business plan, as of this writing), you also have the ability to extend the functionality of your website with the use of plugins (a small software component that adds specific and separate functionality to your website, such as ecommerce).
We’d recommend this for someone who is a little technologically savvy, who will want to have some sort of blogging component to their website.
Founded in 2004, Squarespace is one of WordPress’s biggest competitors. It far exceeds WordPress as far as usability and user-friendliness goes and has a drag-and-drop editor that makes laying out pages extremely easy. Their blogging capabilities aren’t as good as some of the others on this list, but the ability to visually see what is going on a page while you’re creating it makes it stand apart from the others in this list.
With very professional looking templates to choose from, you can be sure that a Squarespace website will reflect your business’s professional image, while still being very easy for you to maintain.
For more advanced users, there’s also the ability to add in custom scripts, code and styles to make it even more customized for your company.
The pricing for Squarespace is about mid-range, with different tiers of plans so you’ll be sure to find one that suits your needs. There is ecommerce available in for every plan, however transaction fees are lower for the ecommerce-optimized plans.
Shopify is one of the two front runners when it comes to ecommerce-oriented platforms. It is one of the most expensive options we’re suggesting, but if you plan on doing a lot of ecommerce transactions, this one is the easiest to use.
With a large number of free and paid templates available, there’s definitely the availability of something that will reflect your company’s brand well. There is also the ability to customize all themes, so they use your colours and imagery.
There are also many plugins (or apps) that are available to extend the functionality of your website – allowing everything from providing tax receipts to charity donations, to adding order trackers, allowing cross-selling on Facebook.
Having a professional looking website adds credibility to your business – it reminds your website visitors that you are legitimate and helps to build trust that you are who you say you are. The way it looks helps reinforce your brand image and voice. And most importantly, it can influence someone to buy your products or services.
Today we’re going to be looking at the design of your website. Don’t worry – we won’t be designing this from scratch; instead we’ll be selecting a pre-coded theme that has already been designed for you. There are so many predesigned themes available that can give you a head start to creating a professional looking website, while allowing you to customize them to properly reflect your business.
Where to find themes
The platform that you chose in the previous chapter is going to dictate where you look for your website theme.
- https://wordpress.com/themes provides both free and premium themes
- If you have a Business or eCommerce plan, you can use themes purchased from https://themeforest.net/category/wordpress
- https://www.squarespace.com/templates has a large selection of free themes
- https://themes.shopify.com/ provides both free and purchasable themes
- https://themeforest.net/category/ecommerce/shopify has themes that you can purchase
- WordPress (Self Hosted):
- https://themeforest.net/category/wordpress has the most extensive selection of purchasable WordPress themes
Of course, for (almost) any of these platforms, you can select your theme from other locations, but these will have some of the best and widest variety of themes available. Squarespace is the only platform where you cannot choose your own custom theme and have to use one of their in-house developed ones.
What to look for in a theme When you’re looking for a theme to use, there are some things you want keep in mind and evaluate:
- Does the theme look okay on your smart phone? Email yourself a link of any demo you view to see how it looks on mobile.
- Does the theme look too much like one of your competitors? Remember, you want to stand out from competition.
- Does this theme have the features that you want included? For example, if you need an ecommerce website, make sure the theme supports ecommerce.
- Are the fonts easy to read? For some themes you can’t change the font – if the demo fonts aren’t easy to read, make sure you can change them when customizing the theme.
- Is this something that will appeal to your target customer / client base? Remember, you aren’t necessarily your target audience, so what appeals to you may not appeal to them.
Remember, not all themes are made equally. In cases like Squarespace and Shopify’s theme stores, you know that the quality of the theme is going to be up to par. In cases where you may be looking at an external theme store, even themeforest.net, you may find that some are more robust than others. When possible, review the theme to ensure it has enough customization ability to make the theme your own, instead of looking like every other website that uses the same theme.
Selecting and Customizing Your Theme Once you’ve selected a theme, it’s time to get your hands a little dirty.
First – you’ve got to add your theme to your website. You can do so by following these instructions:
- If you’re using a theme from https://wordpress.com/themes : navigate to the theme and click the “Info” button. Then click the “Activate this design” button.
- If you’re using a theme from https://themeforest.net/category/wordpress : Once you’ve downloaded the theme’s .zip file, navigate to My Sites -> Design -> Themes and click the “Upload Theme” button. From there you can select the zip that you’re uploading and activate your theme.
- For both cases, once your theme has been activated, navigate to My Sites -> Design -> Customize to adjust the colours, fonts, main imagery, etc of your new theme.
- Once you’ve found a theme that you like, click the “Start with this design” button. You’ll be guided through a wizard to start the customization process. Once the wizard is complete, you’ll want to navigate to the Design tab on your left-hand side of your website menu. This will allow you to change fonts, colours, buttons, etc.
- If you’re using a theme from https://themes.shopify.com/, click either the “Start with them” or “Try Theme” button (depends on whether it’s a free or paid theme).
- If you’re using a theme from https://themeforest.net/category/ecommerce/shopify , navigate to Online Store -> Themes, and under Theme library click “Upload Theme”. From there you can select the zip that you’re uploading and activate your theme.
- Once your theme has been chosen, hit the “Customize” button beside the theme title. Click the “Theme Settings” tab to adjust the colours, fonts, buttons, etc.
- WordPress (Self Hosted):
- Navigate to Appearance -> Themes. Click the “Add New” button at the top of the page, and the “Upload Theme” button that comes up on the next page. From here you can select the zip of the theme you purchased and click the “Install Now” button.
- After clicking the “Activate” button there may be a couple of places where you can find the area to customize your theme. First, try looking in Appearance > Customize. This brings up the out of the box WordPress customizer that allows you to change your logo, tagline, etc. Some WordPress developers place their theme customization in this area. Alternately, you may find a new menu item in your left hand sidebar that includes your theme name or the word “design”. Once you’ve located the customization area, you should be able to adjust the colours, fonts, etc.
What to do if you want a completely custom theme that no one else has
Your business is unique and sometimes you just want a website that is as unique as your business is. Sometimes you can’t find a theme that has all of the functionality that you require. And sometimes what you want your website to do and look like just isn’t available in a premade theme or template. These are the times that you’ll want to reach out to a website designer to create something custom for you. You’ll want to remember, though, that this process is typically quite a bit more expensive than purchasing a premade theme and will often take quite a bit longer than the 14 days we’ve broken things down into in this book.
Some quick customization tips:
- Choose colours that complement with your logo and other marketing materials for the major colours used throughout your website, and some contrasting colours for important buttons or calls to action. If you need help selecting colours, there are some great tools to choose colours, including www.coolors.co and color.adobe.com/create
- Choose a font that is easy to read but still feels like your brand. Avoid something trendy because that gets dated quickly and your website will look like it is older quicker.
- Don’t make the font too small for people to read – remember that people will be reading your website who may have problems with small text, and text can often look smaller on mobile phones.
- If you’re selecting images to use in the customization area, be sure they are high-resolution images that don’t look low quality. Remember, pictures are worth 1000 words, and they can easily communicate your professionalism across to your website visitors.
Creating the Home Page
Although you may see visitors come to your website in a variety of ways, the home page is typically the first thing users will see. As the face of your website, and often the face of your organization, it is critical that your home page provides a positive, professional and engaging first impression. In fact, there are several clichés often associated with the home page: it’s the front door to your virtual presence, the electronic equivalent of a book cover, and your first and only chance to make a first impression.
While we know there is more to a website than the home page, because of the importance it plays, designers pay significantly more attention to the content, the speed and the visual appeal of a home page.
When creating your home page, it’s good to keep in mind that people will be accessing your website using a variety of methods. Reports suggest we have hit the tipping point where most website traffic comes from mobile devices and tablets. Of course, that may be different depending on the industry that you are in, but what this means is that you can’t exclude creating a home page that looks good on any device.
In previous chapters, discussed calls to action and guiding the user through their journey. Nowhere else is implementing this more important than the website home page. When creating your home page, you’ll want to review closely your user journey and calls to action in order to place elements that help reinforce these steps. Additionally, the visitor will want to know about the site their visiting, what they can do, how to easily navigate and will want to be presented with useful information.
Your logo, a captivating image, and an appealing aesthetic will be important to grab and retain the attention of your visitors. In addition, a fast load speed is important to make sure users don’t bounce or abandon your website. Bounce rates are typically characterized by visitors coming to your website and leaving before 30 seconds and without any further interaction. Although there may be situations that this is an acceptable outcome, in most situations a lower bounce rate is typically preferable to a higher bounce rate. It indicates that a user is engaging with your content. If your website takes a long time to load; and this can be depended on how much your page tries to load or the speed/volume of traffic of your web host. Many experts typically suggest a load time of under 3 seconds to avoid having large numbers of visitors leave your site before they can have meaningful interaction with it.
Some Options to Include on Your Home Page
- Calls to action to any of your internal pages
- A large header image to grab attention
- Your contact information to make it easy to get in touch with you
- A newsletter signup form for people to keep hearing from you
- Your image to help build trust with the person visiting your website
- Testimonials from happy clients or customers
- Logos of media companies where you’ve gotten press
- Recent updates or blog posts
How Can You Keep Your Website Under 3 seconds load time?
- Limit the number of scripts and images that are loading from an outside source to a fairly small number (ie Google analytics, Facebook pixels, YouTube videos, Instagram feeds, etc)
- Resize your images in an external photo editing software to the size you want them displayed before adding them to your website
- Use only the number of pictures that you absolutely need – more pictures equal more calls to the server, making the website slower
The About Us Page
The About Us page is available on nearly every website. What makes it surprising is that this page is often misguided and does not actually add any value to your website visitor. The reason for an About Us page seems to get lost from time to time and is sometimes only there as an afterthought because everyone else seems to have one. This is one of the hardest pages on your website to write, so we’re dedicating a whole day just to it.
The purpose for the About Us page should be to continue building trust with a website visitor. If someone is not already a customer, they are trying to understand who you are and what you do. In this respect, you should look at your About Us page as an opportunity to convince them why working with you or buying from you is the right move. The general rule of thumb is that your About Page isn’t actually about you – it’s about how you can help the website visitor.
While it’s important to meet with the expectations of the page being about your company, you will want to ensure that you continue to promote what you can do for the website visitor. This is a great opportunity to tell a story about how you are able to assist with their needs, address pain points and the success you’ve had in your field. Humility can be charming, but don’t shy away from posting your accomplishments, success stories and dazzling recommendations. This section makes for the ideal place to let people know that you excel at what you do and that conducting business with you will be beneficial for all involved.
An old adage in sales is facts tell but stories sell. Try and engage with your visitors on a personal level by providing anecdotes which bolster the point that you would make an excellent company to do business with.
When writing your About Us page, remember that you are writing for your target client or customer. It’s okay to turn people away who wouldn’t be a good fit to work with, as long as you are drawing in the people that you want to work with. For example, if you were a piano repairman, you wouldn’t want to write an About Us page that attracts someone looking for a someone who does tennis racquet restringing. Keep this in mind and remember to answer any questions that your clients or customers typically ask you in the beginning of the sales process.
Some questions you should answer on your About Us page:
- Who are you?
- How long has your company been in business?
- Who do you work with?
- How do you solve your website visitors pain points?
- How are your target customers biggest concerns about working with you not true?
- What does your business do that no one else can do?
Some other things you may want to include on your About Us page:
- Headshots of you and your team members
- Your mission and vision statements
- Fun facts about you and your company
- Testimonials from some of your favorite clients
- A timeline of your company’s biggest highlights
- Most importantly: a call to action to work with you!
The Contact Page
It is easy to overlook a quality Contact page. Put up your phone number, a contact form and perhaps a map to your location – after all that would be exactly what is being advertised by the link.
The reason this is a mistake is the Contact page is often one of the most important pages on your website. Not only does it receive a large amount of traffic, but the visitor has actually expressed interest in reaching out to use. In fact, filling out a form on this page may be one of your primary or secondary goals! Take advantage of this opportunity to re-enforce your call to action and remind them of your value proposition.
Think about what your preferred method of being contacted is for any given period in the client lifecycle. How would you want someone in the pre-sale stage to contact you? Are your customers best served in person at a retail location or the place you perform the service? Are you hoping to attract new talent, deflect customer service calls or present yourself as a larger multi-office organization?
Depending on the variety of products and services you offer, you many even need to direct internal customers to the right place, or steer people towards multiple product lines. In these ways the contact us page can be quite unique, but stepping back and thinking about the user journey and how you want to engage with your visitors will help ensure this page is an integral part of your sales or support funnel.
Some things you may want to include on your contact page:
- A form to fill out
- A list of team members and their contact information
- Links to your social media accounts
- A professional email address and phone number
- Hours of operation
- How long it takes for you to respond to emails
That said, don’t go overboard with your Contact Us page! You want to keep it simple so that it is as easy as possible for website visitors to contact you – remember, they could be current or potential customers/clients!
Do you or do you not include a contact form?
Some people prefer filling out contact forms – others prefer to have an email address available that they can email directly. With that in mind, it may be best for you to include both on your Contact Us page – however, keep in mind that including an email address will result in receiving more junk mail! ‘ As far as website forms go, if you include one be sure to only make the bare minimum of fields required. The more required fields in a form, the less people will fill it out. Typically, the first name, email address and message are all that you need in order to follow up with someone.
Products / Services / Support / Publishing
In 1996 Bill gates published an essay entitled “Content Is King” on Microsoft’s website. He may not have been the first to utter those words, but he popularized the expression. His line of thinking draws parallels to when television emerged as the dominant media. He points to how content was the real money-maker in the television industry. Some companies found success in manufacturing televisions, but the largest success was found by those who created and delivered information & entertainment. Almost without exception, you produce information to be found and consumed – whether that means crafting a story around your brand to generate excitement and sales or writing an essay people find engaging and selling ad space alongside it. Or, you may want to publish frequently asked questions and user guides to prevent calls and emails to customer support. In all of these cases the content serves a purpose either in a sales funnel, offloading operating expenses, or as a vehicle to generate advertising (or better yet, subscription) revenue. Most search engines use content alongside other components in their algorithm to determine how prominently your website is displayed to people searching. A robust content strategy that performs well in SERPs (search engine results pages) is key to getting more visitors and achieving your website goals. Most websites that perform above average with SEO (search engine optimization) utilize high quality content that outperforms the competition.
Let us look at some popular content categories.
Product Pages If you sell physical goods, you are going to want product pages for your offerings. Descriptive language, quality images and appealing design all contribute to the user experience and helps your website visitors along their journey to purchasing your products. It’s not strictly necessary to sell your products online though a web store, although that’s a great option to have. Certain things that do not lend themselves to purchasing online (such as highly customized goods, big ticket items and perishables) may be researched online, but sometimes people like to finalize the sale in person or in store. Whether or not you sell your products through your website, it’s important to have quality pages with keywords that help you get discovered when people are searching.
Some questions that you may want to answer when writing product details include, – what pain point(s) does this product solve? – what person is looking for this product? – why should someone choose this product instead of my competitors’ product?
Service pages provide a similar function to product pages. In these cases, it can be even more important to have high quality written content as there may not be anything to take a picture of. An option for building up content here is to describe past work and provide case studies on success stories. Additionally, as you will often be the one rendering the service you may consider using your own portrait and some stock photography that depicts the services provided. There are also great opportunities to sell on a service page, such as scheduling either a complimentary or paid consultation.
Some questions that you may want to answer when writing service pages include, – who needs this service? – what pain point(s) does this service solve? – how has this service helped other people in the past?
While products and services pages guide the customer through the sales process, support pages provide a slightly different function. Firstly, they serve to delight the customer during their lifecycle. Providing on demand access to troubleshooting, frequently asked questions and user guides can convert someone from a paying customer to becoming an advocate of your brand, willing to recommend and refer business to you. The second benefit of well-constructed support pages is you will be freed up to work on more revenue generating activities and help control the opportunity cost of post-sales support.
Some questions that you may want to answer when writing up support pages include, – What should someone do if a product they purchased from you is broken? – How does someone sign up for your services, and what information do you need? – How does someone change their contact information in your customer system?
Some websites generate revenue by publishing content. This is also referred to as monetizing a web page. The two main components are developing the content and securing advertisers & affiliates (or potentially offering your work with a subscription). You may be an enthusiast who writes about your passion, a local journalist or publishing a story. The types of content you may want to publish are nearly limitless. Once you have your first page of content you can consider running ads on your site, either through direct agreements, or using a 3rd party such as Google AdSense. You may also choose to run affiliate links on your site, where you earn a commission if someone purchases the product by linking from your site. This can be especially effective in niche sites where a large percentage of your readership would likely be interested in those products. Keep in mind that in many jurisdictions you need to disclose affiliate links to your readers. These fall under the scope of the FTC in the US, Canada’s Competition Bureau, and similar bodies in most jurisdictions. In addition to it being mandatory, it is best practice to build and maintain trust with your readership by being fair and transparent with them.
Some questions that you may want to answer when writing publishing pages include, – What does someone getting into your passion need to know?
Social media accounts
Tying in Social Media There are hundreds of social media platforms, so many come and go it is nearly impossible to keep up to date picture as new ones rise and older ones fall. Dozens of these have over 100 million monthly active users (MAUs) and about half a dozen have a billion or more MAUs. These platforms often cater to varying demographics, whether by age, location, interest and more. Even the largest companies with dedicated social media teams need to pick and choose where they concentrate their efforts. There are compelling reasons to develop a following on a few selected platforms. You can get your brand or message in front of more people You can funnel people to your website You can selectively target groups that may be interested in what you have to offer SEO likes social media – it provides valuable backlinks and it gets indexed similar to a webpage. When people interact with your brand or share links to your site it indicates to search engines that your content is what people are looking for. Social Proof – social media platforms have different engagements, whether that is likes, retweets, shares, comments, upvotes, views etc. The more engagement you get the more you appear to users and search engines that you are an authority and people value what you have to say. This drives people to your site, and search engines consider this positively when returning search results. For these reasons, many organizations and individuals choose to maintain and grow active social media accounts. In many cases links to share on social media are included on the top header or bottom footer. Some websites also bring their social media feeds in to display. This helps the site look fresh with new content and is an easy way to send out notifications and updates to users without publishing anything new in the backend of the site.
Ecommerce can mean slightly different things to different people, so for the purposes of this section we will define ecommerce as a component of the website used to sell products or services and accept payments. By this definition we will be excluding certain functions that may lead to a sale, but the transaction is ultimately completed in another way, such as in person or over the phone. You may have physical goods that you warehouse or fulfill through a partner. You may dropship, build to order or customize. You may be offering digital goods, downloads or booking appointments. All of these are valid and common ecommerce transactions.
Selecting an ecommerce solution can be a daunting task and the marketplace has many options, including most of the platforms listed in the hosting section. Of all the options, WooCommerce and Shopify have the largest market shares and are each very capable solutions. With WooCommerce being an extension of WordPress, it benefits from being open source with many developers. Due to this there are seemingly endless functionality add-ons, some free and others at a cost. It is the most flexible of the two options, but not every plug-in is sure to be of high quality. Shopify, while offering apps either free or at a cost has fewer options. The platform is highly optimized for ecommerce but slightly more restrictive in what you can do as it is a closed and proprietary platform. You may be able to develop new functionality by using their templating language “liquid”, but their strength is in their ease of use, all-in-one philosophy, not their flexibility to do custom things.
Some ecommerce options such as Shopify come with their standard recommended payment gateways. You will need to configure your bank account to process accept payments. When given an option to select a payment processor, Stripe and PayPal provide similar credit card payment functionality with similar pricing. Keep an eye on what your transaction fees are for your processor and how they will impact your profit. Standard rates are 2.9% + $0.30 per domestic credit card transaction. This can have a meaningful impact on your bottom line, particularly if you are selling lower priced items. The $0.30 fee may have a large impact on profitability if your items only cost a few dollars vs. a few hundred dollars.
When setting up an ecommerce site it is important to plan out your products ahead of time. Each product should be tagged with the appropriate category, so it is easy to find. Each product may contain any number of variables as well. For example, for a men’s shoe, you may have a variety of patterns or colours. In addition, you will have various sizes. As a result, what may seem like one product (a particular style of men’s shoe) will now have dozens of variables, each one having its own stock carrying unit (SKU). Putting proper care in your set-up may take some time up front but will result in a significantly easer time managing your orders and inventory in the long run.
“The goal is to turn data into information and information into insight.” – Carly Fiorina, former chief executive officer, Hewlett Packard.
A beautiful website optimized for your ideal client with strong calls to action is an essential tool to promote your business. What can be just as powerful if not more is the insight that can be gained through analytics tools. The ability to understand the demographics of your visitors (what they are most interested in, what they spend the most time looking for and how they are finding you) can be at your fingertips when you have analytics installed. The most popular software used is Google Analytics, which Google offers for free. You can even take analytics courses offered by Google to gain certification. Although there are other competitors in the market, for most businesses the standard version of Google Analytics provides exceptional insight and covers almost anything you may want to track and probably things you had not thought about. Enterprise users have more options and service level guarantees with premium versions available both through Google and other analytics software.
Some of the key metrics most analytics professionals track for most sites are:
1. Users – How many unique users is your site getting in a given period and which times are most popular
2. Bounce Rate – Do a high percentage of users leave quickly (typically under 30 seconds) without interacting. This may be an indication that visitors are not finding what they are looking for or the site wasn’t what they expected.
3. Sessions – sessions represent how many times a visitor has interacted with the website and has 30 minutes of inactivity. One user may have many sessions over the course of a couple of days or weeks. If you are selling advertising, you may want to see many sessions across your user base. If you are providing technical support, it may indicate people have to keep coming back to resolve their issues. If your website is qualifying sales leads, it may indicate something is not enticing the visitor to take the next step. Depending on your website goals, sessions can help understand user behavior.
4. Average Session Duration – tells how much time a visitor spends on your website. If your goal is to provide a content rich experience and have the user stick around for as long as possible, you will want to see an increase in this metric. In certain scenarios this may lower, like a restaurant website that provides directions and hours of operation.
5. Percentage of New Sessions – tells how many of your users are new. This can be used to see if most of your traffic comes from a dedicated base, or if a new marketing campaign successfully generated traffic.
6. Sessions by Channel – Social (media), organic search and referral are at the core of this metric. It will tell you if your visitors are coming to your site through social media, through a search engine, or if visitors are bookmarking/typing the domain name straight into the browser. From this you can determine which channels are doing well and which ones may need improvement.
7. Pages Per Session – As the name suggests this metric tracks how many pages a user will visit in each session. If your goal is to have a lot of immersive content a high number may be good. In other scenarios this may reflect the user having difficulty navigating and finding the information they are looking for
8. Goal Completions – These are unique to each website. You may want someone to fill in a form, to download a PDF, to watch at least 5 minutes of a video, or nearly any other thing that can be done from a web site. If your primary goal is to get people to sign up for a mailing list, but not many people are completing this (converting) there may be opportunities to improve the flow and call to action
9. Pageviews – this will show you how many times a page was viewed during a given time period. This provides insight to what people are doing on your site. It can also help identify popular content which allows you to
10. Device type – find out how most of your users view your site. Knowing if your users primarily use phone or desktop may help inform key design decision.
11. Geography – this will allow you to know where your visitors are coming from. Depending on if you operate locally, nationally or internationally you can see where the majority of your users are coming from.
Once your website has been designed and developed it is important to go through a thorough round of quality assurance. By performing testing across the entire website you are able to identify any bugs or issues before a user encounters them. Depending on what is contained on your website, this could be a relatively simple, or very in-depth process. At a minimum it is important to check how your website appears across a series of browsers and operating systems. Most commonly tested are Windows and MacOS with various popular browsers (Chrome, Edge, Firefox, Safari and others as identified). In addition to traditional browser testing on computers and laptops, it is increasingly important to dedicate time to mobile testing, including Android and iOS. With hundreds of phone screen sizes the practical approach is to test the most common devices and browsers as the permutations of devices, operating systems and browsers get very large, very quickly.
Testing the various plugins and extended functionality will also be important. Realizing a form is not submitting correctly and not delivering leads is best caught immediately rather than months past the launch when business is lost. Keep an eye out for typos, misaligned photography and general usability issues that may make the website difficult to navigate. As part of the user experience (UX) keep an eye on load times, as long waiting periods for page loads can have a significant impact on visits and bounce rates.
Ecommerce sites add an additional layer of complication. You want to make sure from the beginning orders are being processed properly. Fortunately, most payment processors have a testing mode ability. It is best practice to keep a close eye on real world purchases during the early days of the website being live. Although we can put a website through vigorous testing, there is always the potential for an error to occur during a “real world” transaction. Pay attention if taxes are applied properly, if shipping information is entered correctly, if the inventory changes to reflect the sale and if special instructions display properly. A lack of sales in the early days of a website launch may be the result of the shopping process being difficult, or worse, broken.
For some, testing becomes an afterthought as the excitement of a new website launch draws closer and, in some cases people don’t frequently visit their own website as they know most of the information already. This can result in a sub-optimal, or even broken site that goes unnoticed for years until a visitor brings it to your attention. If one person encountered problems, its possible others have as well before it being identified. Quality assurance measures ensure you are getting the full benefit from the website from day one and have not missed out on any opportunities.
Admire your hard work and dedication. This is a great opportunity to take a breath and admire how far you’ve come. That being said, this not the end of your journey, as setting it and forgetting it usually not a good path to success online.
Remember Your Analytics
Since you took the time and effort to install analytics on your site, this is when you start to really use them to figure out what is happening on your site. Look at where your traffic comes from, which pages they visit, how long they stay for. Even a high-level overview can lead to valuable insight on what’s working and what’s not. For those who are eager to unlock the full potential, or just enjoy analyzing data, there are many courses both free and paid, plus many companies that help you understand the activity happening and how to improve the goals you have for your site.
Promote your site
Any boost you get from social media, paid advertising. search results, offline advertising, and word of mouth to friends and family helps. You’ve planted something you have put thought and effort into, while a plant may require sunlight, water and nutrients to reach it’s full potential, there are many methods you can use to get attention ranging from free to aggressive (and potentially expensive) campaigns.
You Barely Mentioned Search Engine Optimization?!
Although only mentioned by name a couple times in this article almost everything that has been touched upon in this article has been presented with SEO in mind. SEO is an extremely important discipline and is multi-faceted. From domain selection, making quality content, improving page speed (through both programming and host selection), responsive design, intuitive domain name selection each of these is a piece to the complicated and ever evolving discipline SEO. Following the principals laid out in this guide will give you a solid SEO foundation without the need for shortcuts or tricks. Websites built with a solid foundation are inherently better at getting better search results, and the fundamentals go further than optimizing a site that wasn’t built with the core concepts in mind.
Thank you for taking the time to read some or all of this article. I genuinely hope you felt it was useful and provided you with some information you may not have already known. MoonSoar Services is dedicated to helping your website reach it’s fullest potential because we believe that helping other companies succeed makes us look good and helps us succeed. We enjoy doing it and a rising tide lifts all boats. If you would like to speak with us about your specific needs or go more in depth about anything you’ve read today, please don’t hesitate to reach out, we will always be happy to help.