Building a website is the number one task businesses undertake after developing their brand. Once they dive in and start planning a site a slew of questions, choices, and mistakes to be made often arise. The following tips outline common questions and mistakes business owners make, which should help you build a site that will empower your brand with an strong and effective web presence.
Hire the Right Designer
A few years ago I received a call and the first words I heard were: “can you get me out of website hell.” As the conversation progressed, my heart broke for this woman. She had paid a web designer $8,000 to build her a website: SEO, Content, Images, Design, and eCommerce included.
Instead of creating something original and dedicated to her brand, they simply slapped her logo and business name on a copy of another site. The site was a technical mess of bad code, Google flagged it for duplicate content (ruining her SEO standings), and she had to close her business because she didn’t have the budget to fix the damage caused.
Make sure to vet your vendors before you hire them. Research them online, ask for references, check out work they’ve done for other companies, and keep this old adage in mind as well: if it sounds too good to be true, it often is.
Don’t Jump on the Tech Bandwagon
Technology is constantly in flow – moving, changing, and updating. This includes web design trends and site features. There are a lot of really neat ideas out there: new programs, better templates, nifty widgets, and a variety of other trendy options. These are great for web designers looking to improve their craft – and bad for small business owners just getting skin in the game. New is shiny, expensive, and doesn’t always work. If you can’t afford for it to fail, keep it simple and don’t do it.
Focus on Your Audience
This holds true for everything you do for your brand. Don’t select options, styles, technology, or even style your content to fit your personal preferences. Focus on your audience. If you’ve built a savvy brand, you should have audience profiles that outline what your audience needs, expects, and wants from your brand. Leverage that information to help build a site that will speak to them. You’ll end up with a site your audience is drawn to, and that they share with their peers.
Vet Your Platform
When choosing a platform for your site, you need to compare features, needs, and cost to find one that’s a good fit for your business. Here are some of the items you should consider when comparing platforms:
- Cost — which can include the cost of the core software (WordPress is Open Source / free to use), development cost, plugin costs, hosting costs, and ongoing maintenance.
- Ease of use — including initial setup, future expansions, SEO options, and content management (including blogging).
- Popularity — the more widely supported the platform is, the easier it will be to find a developer to support your site, and the more likely that new technologies will be supported on your platform.
While each business will have a unique criteria for their site, 9 out of 10 times WordPress is a perfect fit. WordPress is flexible enough to fit nearly any industry, brand standard, widely supported, very user friendly, and has a wide selection of plugins… including eCommerce.
What About Hosted Solutions?
Hiring a web designer can be daunting and the temptation to just go with a hosted solution site, like Shopify, Etsy or BigCommerce, is pretty strong. They offer quick set-up and bargain basement start-up prices. Keep in mind, though, that you won’t own your site. Your features will be limited to what their software can do, and you will be tied to a monthly fee (which often increases as you find a need for more advanced features).
Ask yourself, once you start adding on all the additional options and widgets you might need or want, have you really saved money? If one of these companies goes under, what happens to your site and your content? Better to build a custom site that belongs to you (and WordPress allows you to do just that).
Leverage Templates Wisely
Templates (called themes in WordPress) are popular because they, in theory, save time on both design and development with built in layouts and features. However, templates have their downsides as well…
Many sites end up using the most popular templates, which may keep your brand from standing out online. (And yes, I have had rebuilt a site for a small business that had purchased a template and discovered their consumers were confusing them with another company that was using the same template! This is the opposite of establishing trust with your audience).
The features in a template can be more than you need – adding confusion for both you and your audience. A template can be difficult to edit, leaving you limited to choices and features built-in. On the flip side, some feature-packed themes have way more than you need and can cause the site to slow down, impacting traffic and conversions.
But keep in mind, templates can save time and effort for including standard necessities (such as a responsive design). Newt Labs has a great post that discusses WordPress themes in more detail. I encourage you to give it a read. If you do use a template, be sure to customise the colours, fonts, and images to infuse your brand into the stock layouts.
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