Before the days of WordPress, I built websites for clients who couldn’t be bothered with HTML or CSS. Today, site building is as easy as sending an email. With easy to use free and affordable CMS (content management systems) programs, like WordPress, you are the web designer and programmer. Today, my clients hire me as a site consultant and ask me how they can build a better site. With so many other open source and free CMS programs, plugins and other tools that require very little knowledge of coding and programming, many of my clients have asked me, “which CMS is best?”,”how do I keep my site professional, while staying with the trends?” and “how can I drive traffic to my site?”
To better answer these questions, I recently revisited a great article that I found last year by Lauren Hockenson, a writer at Mashable.com, she offered some valuable tips on how to build a simple site that will attract visitors and have them coming back for more. Here are a few tips that I’ve come up with along my journey in site building, some of which were inspired by Hockenson’s article.
Finding a Host
To get your site started, you will first need to sign on with a reliable hosting company. Now, I know that you are running a business and trying to cut back on your overhead expenses, but having a free “blog” will do little to attract clientele, who are willing to pay for your services. To build a professional site with any CMS, you will want a hosting service that will support your online presence. There are many VPS (virtual private server) companies that charge small monthly or annual fees to offer you multiple email accounts and allow you to store and archive large files of data. The average fee for a Windows VPS hosting service is between $30 and $50 per month, which is a smart investment considering the amount of traffic that a well-made site will bring to your business’s front door.
The Right Look
In the early days of website building, a small business owner might hire a web designer or programmer to create their website and would have to badger the designer of the site to update or revise any of the site’s content. With CMS programs you can update, create or revise all of the content on your site with the greatest of ease. Hockenson recommends that you try out some of the free templates that are offered by WordPress that will project the look and feel that your business is going for. As Hockenson says, don’t be afraid to take chances and be bold in your template’s style. If you don’t like what you see there and want to take your chances with another CMS, two that I like are Weebly and Jigsy. Both are free and easy to use and have hundreds of professional templates to choose from. Weebly also offers cool extras like HD video and audio players, animated slideshows and an iPhone app, so you can post updates to your site while you’re away from your main computer.
Get Rid of Unnecessary Widgets
This bit of advice is for anyone who is building their first site: don’t go widget wild. Meaning, if you don’t have a current updated Tumblr account and you are not sure when you will find the time to update it, don’t place a widget for Tumblr on your site. I’ve seen clients who didn’t have a Twitter account, install a Twitter widget to their site. If you aren’t using the widget, take it off of your site.
This last piece of advice will help you if you are having trouble getting visitors to fill out those dreaded contact forms. Neil Patel, owner of two Internet companies that measure the conversion metrics for companies, Crazy Egg and Kissmetrics, advises small business owners to create contact forms that are easy to fill out with a limited amount of required fields. Limit your fields to name, email and message and you will see how quickly you get the information that will get your client-relationship ball rolling.
There is so much information that you might believe is necessary to have on your site, but the more sparse and simple your site is, the faster you will reach your audience. Be bold, simple and logical in all of your design and content ideas and you will do fine.
In the early days of brilliant web design, Flash was all the rage. Now, with content and optimization being king, having a flash-based website or just using flash elements on your website is becoming a thing of the past. True, there are some that still think it’s worthy because of the “excitement” it seems to bring. So if you still are on the fence about it, here are some things to consider…
- Flash can make your pages load slower and slow loads can make visitors leave before they get to see what you’re all about.
- Flash pages are not indexed properly by search engines so it’s bad for SEO (search engine optimization).
- There are no linking or bookmarking capabilities for flash pages.
- There is limited or no viewing capabilities on mobile devices which is huge considering that is where people do most of their information access these days.
Hmmm… not really making a great case for flash, right? Well, here’s a bit of a silver lining. Creative things can be done with images and templates to give the look of flash elements on a website without compromising function.
Do you want to jazz up your website but don’t want to lose your audience in a “flash?” Contact us today for a consultation!
Whether you are starting your website from scratch or doing a redesign or upgrade, an important element to consider is what the other guys are doing. Yes, that’s right… your competition. It’s important to know what you are up against when you enter or re-enter the playing field.
First, start with the obvious… the aesthetics of the website. Take off your company hat for a moment and pretend you are a prospective customer. Looking at your competitor’s website through that lens will give you perspective on what works and how you can do it your way… and possibly better.
Okay, put your company hat back on and look at the overall digital presence of your competitors. How they use video, blogs, and social media to spread their marketing message. We mentioned a few posts ago about a handy little tool from our friends at Hubspot called Marketing Grader that will allow you to analyze how your website presence stacks up to the others in your marketplace.
As you are browsing through the websites of your competitors you will most likely see a lot of things you like and want to implement. But DO NOT copy! That’s the worst thing you can do! As I said above, do it your way… but do it better. That will make you stand out above the rest.
How does your website measure up to the competition? Is it time for an upgrade? Let us help!
Okay, so you’ve got this website, right? You heard somewhere that you should have that “Analytics” thingy on it so it can track the traffic to your site. So, you (or the person who designed your website) installed it and now you’re all good. Right? Well, sort of. Yes, it’s great that you have analytics embedded into your website and it is steady tracking away, but you really should pay close attention to the data it is gathering. If you don’t, you could be missing out on very valuable adjustments that you could be making to increase the efficiency of your website. Analyzing your analytics can help shape your business goals and marketing efforts. Let’s look at what analytics measure and why they are important to you…
Visitors - It’s pretty common knowledge that analytics tracks the number of visitors to your site, but more importantly, it shows how many unique visitors stop by. Unique visitors are the NEW people that check you out. You are able to see and distinguish between new and repeat visitors and monitor how your site is performing from that perspective.
Traffic Sources - Want to know where all of your visitors come from? Analytics will show you! You can see if they came to you directly… that is, they actually typed in your URL or they found you some other way, such as a link from another website or a search engine. You can also see what browsers these visitors are using. This all is very valuable information because you can place focus on these entities in your business and marketing strategies.
Keywords - Piggy-backing on traffic sources, you can also see which keywords visitors used to bring them to your site. This is EXTREMELY important! The ones that work are the ones you need to make sure are infused into your content and messaging.
Page Views - Which pages are getting the most attention? Your page views will tell you. Now you’ll know what information is most important to the people visiting your site.
Time Spent - Analytics also shows how much time (on average) a visitor spends on your website. The longer they hang out with you, the more engaged they are with your business and content.
So, you see… analytics are not just some website thingy left to run in the background. They should be checked and checked often so that you employ the best practices for optimal website and business performance.
Imagine you woke up this morning and your website was gone. Like literally gone. Disappeared. Vanished into thin air. POOF! Flatlined. Yes, that can actually happen. How? Well, there are a ton of reasons… your web hosting company went belly-up or they got hacked or somebody just pressed the wrong button… who knows. In any case, you need to back that thing up! Ahem… your website, that is.
Contrary to popular belief, it is NOT your hosting company’s responsibility to create and maintain a backup copy of your website, it’s YOURS. Some hosting companies do backup sites for their own protection but rarely make the copies available to their clients so it’s best that you do it yourself for your own peace of mind.
Here are a few tips for your backup plan…
Choose the Right Backup Method: There are many different ways to backup your site. It’s best to choose a method that works for your budget and schedule
- Manual backups in which you download your website to a file on your computer.
- Panel-based backups where you use your website’s control panel to save your files.
- Cloud backups allow you to save to services like Amazon S3 or Dropbox and you can access your files from any computer.
- Special backup software and/or automated solutions that you can pay for to have the ease of scheduled backups.
Determine a Backup Schedule: Whether it’s once a day or once a week, the idea is to backup as often as your website changes…or more. It’s better to be safe than sorry.
Check Up On Your Backups: This is a step that is often forgotten. You may think that if you are backing up your site, that’s all you need to do. Every once in a while, it’s good to check your files just to be sure they are all there and there is no corrupt data or any weirdness going on. You just never know.
With a good backup plan you can ensure that if anything ever goes wrong, your site will return to its full, uninterrupted glory in a matter of minutes.
What’s your backup plan? Let us know how you are maintaining the safety of your website!
Now it’s time to give you something straight… no chaser! It’s about the quality and cost of a good and functional website, and you may or may not like it… but you need to know it, and you definitely need to know it before you hire a website designer/developer. You want your website to be good. You want it fast and you want it cheap. Here’s the thing… you can only have two. Having all three is impossible in this realm of existence.
Here’s an awesome little illustration that clearly illustrates how having the divine trifecta is a pipe dream. Yes, it says graphic design but the concept applies to your website as well.
But let’s break it down just a bit further, shall we?
First of all you have to define the “Good.” Good in website terms would basically be having an attractive and fully optimized website that does everything you’ve envisioned. Based upon that vision, you’ve got to determine how your schedule and budget fit into it.
Good and Fast will not be Cheap - To get the website of your dreams in a hurry, will mean that you hire quality designers that can drop everything they are doing to get you on the web, for a nice fee that will allow them to do so. What you want and how quickly you need it will determine the price, and “expensive” is relative. But know this, you will get what you pay for… in a good way.
Good and Cheap will not be Fast - Again, you will hire quality designers who will work within your budget but you will be threaded in with the other demanding clients. Not saying you’ll have to wait a long time or that your project will not be a priority, but the price will not allow them push you to VIP status.
Fast and Cheap will not be Good - Based upon the first two explanations, I think you can deduce that going this route will be a case of “you get what you pay for”… but not in a good way. It won’t be awful, but it won’t ideally be what you wanted for your website or business.
It’s your call. Is effectiveness important? or efficiency? Cost or quality? It’s good to be aware of your objectives and the time and dollar cost required to make those objectives happen.
Landing pages can be a very important part of your marketing strategy. Essential, even. They are, in essence, what turns a website visitor into a company customer. A landing page is where your potential customer lands after clicking a link from your website, an ad, or an eNewsletter. A landing page is usually dedicated to a specific product or service related to the content the visitor was just reading that caused them to click and find out more. The greatest thing about landing pages is that people arrive there because they wanted to… it was their choice to click the link; so there is a greater chance they really want be there, and do whatever it is you are asking them to do… buy now, request a demo, sign up, register for the event, etc.
Creating landing pages allows you to target your audience, offer them something of value, and convert a higher percentage of your visitors into leads, while also capturing information about who they are and what they’ve converted on. ~Hubspot
Getting them to land is just the first step. From there, you’ve got to make visitors want to take the next step to becoming a customer. So how do we get them to stick the landing?
Here’s a video from Ezine Articles with some great tips on creating effective landing pages…
A company’s brand is visible throughout all types of media. You see it in product packaging, TV commercials, print ads, and in-store decoration or displays. Of course branding also applies to web design. Earlier in this series we briefly touched on branding as it relates to general design, but now let’s dive in a bit deeper and discuss how your website can actually help build and boast your company’s brand from an overall business and marketing perspective.
We’ve already mentioned how keeping colors consistent on your site is important, but it goes far beyond aesthetics. Colors can trigger emotions and conjure up experiences in humans. We associate colors with particular subjects. What feelings and thoughts and associations do you want to evoke when people visit your website?
Does your brand have character? Giving your brand a little personality can help you portray what it stands for. Just like with colors, many people gravitate towards certain products and brands because they identify with them in some way. If your company is about financial stability, does your brand make people feel like they will be safe in your care? If your company is about travel adventures, does your brand make people want to get away from it all? Shape your brand’s character towards something which your audience will like to associate themselves with.
We’ve spoken extensively about content, and the way your brand “voice” brings the color and character all the way home. It’s not just about what you say, it’s about how you say it. The language you use on your website needs to reinforce your brand’s personality as well as directly speak to your target audience. The website of a hot new coffee shop may have a more hip, fun, informal tone than say that of a new medical practice specializing in Alzheimer’s care.
Effective branding will help set you apart from the competition and make your site and your business memorable. How do you use your website to make your brand stand out? Let us know!
Ah…the technology age. The era of “we want what we want when we want it.” And when do we want it? NOW! Hence the beauty of the internet. All the information we want at the speed of light… unless of course you have a slow website. There is nothing more frustrating then waiting for a page to load when you are in a hurry. Gone are the days of being held hostage by a desktop. We are on the move with laptops and mobile devices which makes the need and desire to obtain information quickly all the more urgent. To add insult to injury, Google is now factoring “performance” into its search rankings. With everyone in the need for speed, can your company’s website performance keep up? It starts with that funny little word “optimization.”
Well speaking of Google and optimization, they’ve got a handy little free tool on their developer site to see how your website’s performance measures up as it relates to how your site is optimized.
Fast and optimized pages lead to higher visitor engagement, retention, and conversions. The PageSpeed family of tools is designed to help you optimize the performance of your website. PageSpeed Insights products will help you identify performance best practices that can be applied to your site, and PageSpeed optimization tools can help you automate the process.
Are you delivering on your visitors’ need for speed? Let us know how your website performs!
(Sign up for your free website audit here)
In our last installment of this series we discussed happy homepages and how the digital “front door” should invite people in an get them to stay awhile. It is important to carry the concepts of the happy homepage throughout your entire website. According to Hubspot, most websites have a 30-60% bounce rate… meaning that a large majority of web traffic entering your website leaves without navigating to any other pages. And many times they may never come back. Why? Because, believe it or not, most people judge a company’s credibility by the looks of their website.
We talked about the aesthetic elements you should have on your homepage, but now we’ll take them a step further to apply to your entire website.
Colors - Just like with your homepage, your color scheme should match your brand and be consistent throughout the website. You definitely should use color to make things stand out, but be careful not to go overboard. You make too much “stand out” and nothing stands out. It just looks gawdy.
Text - Keep your text font and size consistent. Not too big and not too small. Titles, subtitles, and body text should be the same on every page. Same goes for tabs and links in the navigation and sidebars. Make sure the font is legible. There’s nothing worse than a “creative” font that nobody can read.
Layout - Just as with the homepage, the whole website should be easy for visitors to get around. Clear navigation. Avoid too much white space. Avoid too much “clutter.”
Gadgets, Media, and Other Stuff - Nothing “clutters” a website more than too many unnecessary elements. Flash backgrounds and automatic pop-ups, and music playing certainly gets attention but more often than not is flat out annoying. A few well-placed (and appropriately size) images, a video (not on autoplay) should be more than sufficient.
Keeping design elements and content style consistent is key in driving and keeping traffic. How is your website looking these days? Let us take a look at it! Sign up for your free website audit here.