Welcome back to the SME Marketeers guide to getting started online. In this article, we're going to look at the building blocks you need in place to create a website for a small business.
In part one, we built out your idea - its brand, its values and its proposition. We identified your competition and completed a simple competitive analysis. Finally, we defined your target audience and created personas.
Now it's time to begin building your website.
Digital empowerment for customers
Before you embark on any activity, whether that's a website build or marketing campaign, it's good practice to begin putting the customer at the heart of everything you do. This will help you tailor the experience of your complete brand and also how you select and implement the channels that you use to drive a customer to your website.
Let's start your website build...
We're going to look at four key areas to getting you online and trading effectively: -
CMS v bespoke build
For most small businesses getting started online, a CMS solution will provide more than enough functionality to meet your needs and all offer plug-ins or 'apps' which can be added to your website if you need something a little extra - some plug ins are free and others come at a fee.
There are lots of CMS tools available that you can choose from – Wix, Weebly, Squarespace, WordPress, Shopify - and with the meteoric growth of online courses since Covid, there are course specific platforms like Kajabi, Teachable, Mighty Networks, Thinkific - and the one you choose would depend on your level of technical knowledge, requirements and budget!
With all CMS tools you are buying an 'off the shelf' solution, which means that all modules/plugins are 'templated' and by this I mean (in the example of online courses, online booking systems and online payment) the journey is pre-defined. Whilst you can adapt the design or content, the actual steps are fixed.
When would you need a bespoke coded build?
A bespoke coded build comes into its own when you need to create a website that needs functionality that is ‘off the beaten track’ . For example, I had one client whose requirements were for a website that could ask a series of questions with multiple answers per question. The output of which would recommend a product and produce personalised documentation based on their answers.
This type of process needs 'logic' applying and whilst plugins could have delivered some of this functionality - it came at a compromise to the journey (with a more ‘clunky’ work-a-round), at a pricey monthly cost and still couldn't be customised to the level this client needed. In this instance they needed to turn to a bespoke build. A bespoke build is naturally a more costly option because you need to pay for the time it takes a web developer to code your website. It also means that you will not be able to make amends yourself which could mean incurring additional costs and having to get back in to the developers 'schedule' to make amends - although you may have a 'front end' to make minor changes (it's worth asking the question if you go this route).
CMS v bespoke summary
The tool you choose will depend entirely on what you want your website to do. Before you set out, consider you key goals for the website - what is the main objective for the user? how often will you want to update the content? how unique is your journey? how easy is it to add new pages or tracking tags for marketing purposes?
Your final decision will come down to flexibility of functionality, design, control of updates and budget. However, be reassured that it’s not really the minefield it appears to be. For the majority of my clients we use Wix and it produces more than sufficient functionality. But for those who choose to add courses through Kajabi or teachable, we can set those to appear on subdomains - e.g. courses.yourdomain.co.uk.
Which brings us to the next key consideration:
Responsive design and the importance of mobile
Responsive design means that your website adapts to being viewed by any device, whether that's a laptop, tablet or mobile.
Is your site mobile friendly?
But there's more to a mobile friendly website than just responsive design. You should also make sure that your website has a quick load time - so don't use large image files or data hungry video clips. And it also needs to have good usability – so have larger easy to hit buttons, for example. Someone once called this ‘fat thumb syndrome’, basically describing it as "if I have to hit something on your website, design it so that I can hit the right button easily and not hit 15 things in my attempt!" Website design that is ‘mobile optimised’ is really important for both the user experience and for your SEO - in particular, your Google ranking. It's probably no surprise to you that the majority of searches start on a mobile phone with Google's mobile first indexing that went live on the 1st of July 2019. You cannot afford your website not to render (adapt) to mobile.
But why is mobile important?
Well, put simply, if people are searching for information from their phone, they will land on your website from your phone. Google owns the lion's share of the search market and it wants to keep it that way. It aims to deliver the best possible results for its searchers. If it sends people to websites that they can't read on their phone, people would start to use a different search engine. So, it searches the mobile version of your website for indexing and ranking.
But it's not just for Google
Remember, right at the beginning we said focus on the customer. So when you are designing your website and thinking about your optimized customer journey, you must consider how it appears on mobile and consider the journey from landing to purchase for the user. It's no good creating a beautiful website for desktop viewers if 80 percent of your traffic is arriving from a mobile.
How do I make my website responsive and mobile friendly?
You are probably now thinking that you understand the importance of responsive design and being mobile friendly. But you're asking yourself, how do I do that? The benefits of using a CMS tool is that the template systems automatically render to mobile. And as you create your website, you can switch between the views, desktop and mobile, to make sure your website design looks great in all sizes. CMS tools are also continuously adapting for new technologies, so the onus is on them to ensure that their websites render correctly for each new phone or device launched.
We now move on to probably the most important step:
How to plot your customer journey and design your site layout
When you begin to plot your customer journey, have clear in your mind the main purpose of your website. Is it for the customer to: purchase a product?; attend an event?; download information?; or call you for a quote?
You then need to think about how you will take your customer on a logical journey from landing on your website to achieving this goal. But you need to do it in a way that meets their needs. Think about the information you will need to provide at each point of their journey.
Designing the page layout
When designing the site’s structure and page layout, you want to make this as simple as possible, design the structure and navigation around your customers main purpose of their visit to your website. It helps to sketch this journey out, group your website information into logical bite-sized chunks. So avoid having endless options in the top navigation. And finally, prioritise the products and service information on your website, and each page, according to the customer’s needs. This may sound obvious, but I do visit sites where the top navigation is crammed with services offered rather than grouped into sensible headings. In these cases, priority has been given to the Web owner's latest fad and not to the user's need or experience. Often the website is confusing, the messaging is unclear, and combined with poor navigation means your website visitor has to work too hard to find what they need. The outcome? They exit your website, search again and go to one of your competitors.
And now we come to the final element of building a website:
Measuring, monitoring and improving your website
Using a tracking tool to understand how visitors to your website interact with it is absolutely essential. You will have plotted the journey to the best of your ability based on your knowledge, the competition, the market and the customer information. But having website usage tracking allows you to manage these assumptions and make improvements. It will show you where the website excels or falls down. And most importantly, allows you to continuously review and improve your web journey, ultimately leading to more sales for you.
Google has many free tools that allow you to do this, in particular Google Analytics and Google Search Console.
Putting Google Analytics onto your website is simple and gives you great insights into who is using your website, how they get to you and what they do when they arrive. We'll be doing an in-depth ‘how to’ into using G.A., including how to read the data and how to integrate with Search Console to maximise the information you need to optimise your customer journey.
The Digital Universe
Hopefully you now understand the importance behind the website basics and you have a plan of who you are talking to, what they will want to get from your website and how you are going to deliver this. But before I sign off, I want to show you one more thing.
Yep, that's it, folks. That's all the ways in which your customer can try and reach you in their digital universe. We have created a series of videos describing each channel, the benefits, the pitfalls and how to get started. Simply go back to our getting started guides page to access all our video tutorials about how to reach your audience through the many channels in their digital universe.