Plan your website!
As with most aspects of design, the planning at the start of creating a website is essential. Spending time thinking about what you want the website to achieve will ultimately bring you nearer to achieving that goal! Careful and considerate planning at the beginning can help with avoiding pitfalls and extra work further down the line. If you’ve decided to design and build the website yourself, it will help you when making key decisions in the process. If you’re opting to hire a professional web designer then having a clear plan can help ensure they are on the same page.
Search engine optimisation (SEO) is also a main aspect of creating a website. You need to make sure potential clients/customers can easily find you. If you have an SEO strategy from the start, this will make things much easier for whoever is designing and building the website.
What do you want your site to do?
Write down the reasons you feel you need a website. What are you hoping will happen once that site is up and running for all to see? Do you want people to visit your website and be able to buy things? Are you hoping to increase brand visibility? Do you have a message that you want people to hear and respond to? Having a goal for your site will mean you can begin to look at how to achieve that.
Who will visit your website?
Will your website be for a younger generation? Will it be gender specific or need to appeal to people with a specific background or belief? Will the visitor to your site be looking to read information and learn, or will they be looking for a service they need? What visitors will do on your site will be closely linked with who they are. Thinking about your potential visitors will help you create a site they like and that will succeed in achieving your goal. For example who you are aiming your site at will affect the choice of colours to use in your website design.
Begin to think about how people might reach your website. Will they be searching for a service or your business name through Google? Knowing who your potential visitor will be will help you to think about potential keywords they might type into Google to find you. Brainstorming some keywords at this stage can be very helpful.
It’s a good idea to think about the number of pages you want from the start. If the aim of your site is to simply be visible on the internet then a basic website might be enough, such as a ‘home’ page, ‘about us’ page and a ‘contact us’ page. If you offer a lot of different products or services then you might prefer to have a page for each of them. It’s important at this stage to think about the person visiting your website and what they might be looking for when they land on your home page. Ensuring they have as few clicks as possible will increase sales and enquiries. In general people are lazy and impatient when it comes to browsing online so the sooner they can see what they are looking for the better!
The better your site structure the more chance you will have of SEO success. If your website’s hierarchy makes sense to the visitor then the more appealing your site will be to search engines. If Google notices that people visiting your site stay longer and don’t bounce away quickly then Google will view your site as having more value to searchers and you are more likely to rank higher. A good structure will also make it easier for search engines to crawl your site and index each page if requested.
Writing content for your website
The website text should be clear, concise and take into account the purpose of the site and the profile of the target visitor. Hiring a professional copywriter who specialises in writing text for websites will ensure they think about the site’s SEO strategy. In general a visitor to your site won’t want to read pages and pages of information unless your website is intended to inform and teach.
Make sure your text focuses on what you can do for the visitor to the site and how your business or organisation can benefit them. It’s also important that you have clear calls to action so the person reading is prompted to get in touch or find out more.
Make sure your keywords are dotted throughout your content without spoiling the readability or flagging up suspicion with the search engines. Also, think about page content structure and the use of titles which are valuable when it comes to highlighting what the page is about.
Design it yourself or hire a professional web designer?
There are many enticing website building packages out there which have made it much easier for people to create their own website. If you have the time and knowledge then this can be a suitable option. However it’s important to check the small print and the hidden extra costs. It’s not always cost effective and choosing this route can slow things up and cause problems further down for SEO or ownership issues should you need to change hosts. If you decide to build your website using a content management system such as WordPress or Joomla it’s advisable to buy a paid theme as these often come with support as well as being a securer option.
When it comes to hiring a professional always check out their portfolio and find out if their style of design fits your brief and taste. Ask about domain registration, hosting, SEO and management costs once the site has been created. You might prefer to update the site yourself, in which case you will need to ask if they will offer support and the costs involved. Finally make sure the website will be responsive and work across different devices. Having a website which will change according to the size of the screen etc is essential, as more and more people use their mobile phones to browse the internet.
Always ask potential web designers if they offer SEO. If they do, find out what they offer and how much any ongoing SEO work will cost. It’s a good idea to read up on SEO before approaching a web designer so you know what to look for. There are plenty of books and internet sites with helpful information to give you a basic knowledge of SEO practice and the terms used. This knowledge will better equip you when deciding on a designer and can help you communicate what you are looking for and what work you need them to do.
Buying a domain name and web hosting
Having your own domain name and hosting is essential for any business or organisation. The domain name is basically a web address and the hosting is the place on the internet where your website will be seen. There are now many different domain extensions from .com through to .live and country specific ones such as .co.uk, .fr etc. If you are able to buy the .com then this is usually the best one to go for. You can search for domain names to find out which ones are still available to buy and there are many different domain registrars to choose from. Always check the small print and any extra costs when buying a domain as there can be fees for pointing a domain to another hosting company or transferring out to another registrar. If you are hiring a professional always check with them first as they might include domain registration when ordering a website design package. The cheapest option is not always the best!
There are many variables when it comes to web hosting to consider such as storage types (cloud, shared, dedicated, free etc), server types, platforms (Linux, windows etc), speed, email accounts, uptime guarantees and support. It can be overwhelming the number of companies offering hosting so it’s always a good idea to go on recommendations and reading current customer reviews. The support and speed of communication is crucial when it comes to hosting and so it can be worthwhile paying a little extra to ensure you’ll get the help if needed. You’ll also need to consider how many visitors will visit your site and if the hosting offers an upgrade should you exceed the capacity. Again, if you are hiring a web designer ask them first if they offer hosting and if they do make sure to ask them for the details and any ongoing costs. If you plan creating a much bigger website further down the line then find out now about the possibilities of doing this and make sure you are happy with the hosts speed and performance.
Whilst you ideally want a domain which contains your business name, it’s always a good idea to consider the SEO implications when purchasing a domain name. Having a keyword or two within your domain will obviously tell Google that those words are important and so you are more likely to rank higher for those words. Purchasing more than one year’s registration will also give you more kudos as search engines will know you mean business and you’re not just a pop up website!
Logo and branding
It would be easy to dive on in to making a website before designing a logo and building a brand identity. The creation of a logo should be one of the first things any business does when starting up. A logo is a cornerstone to any brand and it is therefore essential to have before creating your website. If you’ve created a logo and brand colours then this should be the starting point of any web design project. Convert any CMYK colours into web format (RGB) and make sure to let your web designer know what they are!
Before starting to design your website, do plenty of research. Look at competitors websites, businesses within the same field and make a note of any websites you come across that you love or hate! The style and design you might like is not always the best option to go for but it can be a good starting point and an area for discussion with your designer. Being inspired can enable you to start to build a vision of what you want your site to look like and can be helpful when directing a designer. It’s always a good idea to ensure you and your web designer start on the same page and they know the direction you would like your site to go in!
Look at keywords you would like to target and see which websites rank well for those words. From this you can begin to look at reasons why they rank so highly and how you can beat them in the listings. You’ll also be able to gather who you are up against and if their websites hit the mark once clicked.
Images for your website
One of the main factors in a website looking great is quality images. Including professional photos will enhance your website enormously. There are lots of stock photo websites out there, some paid and some free. Check out Bigstock.com (paid) and Unsplash (free). If you do use stock photos, try to be different and choose photos which are culturally and geographically relevant.
If you are selling products make sure you have professional product photographs. It’s worth hiring a professional photographer if you don’t already have quality product images. Having photos of your team, your building etc can also add a more personal touch to a website which can build trust and appeal.
Always re-size your images to the minimum size to help reduce page size. This will improve your website speed which Google will love! Be descriptive when it comes to naming your images. For example change file names such as img003.jpeg to red-shoes.jpeg or footwear.jpeg to white-trainers.jpeg.
Also make sure you write the alt tags for each image. These tags are read by search engines and if the image doesn’t show, this text is used instead. This text tells Google what the image is of and so the more descriptive the better.
Once your website is complete
Before publishing your website always test the whole site works and looks how you want it to. Check it displays well across different browsers and on different devices. Check contact forms and links are all working and there are no missing or broken links. Always include a sitemap and submit this to Google to make sure search engines crawl all of the pages you’d like indexing. Once you are happy it’s time to go live!
Installing Google analytics on your website is easy and a great way to keep a check of who is visiting your website and their behaviour on your site. The results can help you tweak your content and links to help improve performance.
Promote your website and keeping it updated
Once your website has been published make sure to tell people that it’s there! Submit your website to Google if you haven’t already. Use social media such as Facebook and Twitter on a regular basis and post links to your site where relevant. Include your web address on business cards, vehicle livery, email footers and on any printed promotional material. Monitor your site’s performance on search engines and be prepared to make adjustments where necessary to improve rankings and performance.
A well designed and successfully promoted website is invaluable in today’s market. Careful planning and research at the start will help to ensure a smooth process and a positive outcome. Hiring a professional web designer is not always necessary but in many cases an essential route to take. The key to a successful website is to not stop once it’s been published. A website is an ongoing project and keeping the content fresh, updating your pages and connecting with customers and clients through social media etc will help ensure your website works for you.