Keep Cousin Frank Away From Your Website!

If you own a business, large or small, you need a website. This should not be a huge front-page news item for anyone.

There are an estimated 2.3 billion people online. This is a population that has grown accustomed to easy access and instant information. And because this huge number of people are choosing to do most of their interacting online (including shopping and commerce), a website it vital to any business.

But why, exactly? Don’t face-to-face meetings and handshakes mean anything anymore?
Sure they do…but in small capacities. A website is much more resilient and can meet the needs of a population that are used to having information directly at their fingertips. So why do you need a website for your small business to truly succeed?

2.3 billion people…that’s a lot of people. It stands to reason that you need to be online if you have any hope of growing your audience. Actually, it’s about much more than simply growing your audience; having a website opens doors to you in other parts of the world that a simple physical storefront and a phone number just don’t generate.

According to stats from the Small Business Administration, businesses that have websites draw in nearly 40% more revenue than businesses without a website. This is a figure that increases annually and is one that businesses without a website should really take note of.

More than that, social media makes it easier than ever for interested parties to find your website. Sure, people can Google you and maybe find you if you don’t have a website, but being linked to social media allows people to find your website with just a few clicks.

Forget about cold calling and printing up flyers that will go in a weekly periodical and get tossed in the trash. A well designed website allows you to reach out to customers like never before. Interact, engage, and get your message out there. In most cases you can do this for free, thanks to social media.
When you get right down to it, the best sort of advertising you can get is word-of-mouth advertising. The internet takes word-of-mouth advertising to a whole new level. Things can go viral on the internet, spreading your message to hundreds of thousands, in the time it takes a traditional newspaper to approve your ad and send it to be printed.

When you have a professionally designed website, you provide your current customers with an incredibly easy way to spread the word about your business. By simply sharing your link with a friend or family member, your current customers can get your site more traffic and, in turn, more customers.
Of course, it’s now positive mentions on Facebook and Twitter that really get the job done. If you can manage to get retweets or shares on these platforms by the right people, you’ll be amazed at just how much traffic your website will get.

You Need to Establish Modern Credibility
If you’re a small business owner, you’re going to eventually find yourself in situations where people are going to ask for your website. If your reply is “I don’t have one,” then chances are that you are going to see less credible to most people.

This is a fact that has really only come to light within the last ten years or so. It’s also a great example of how a website has become the nexus for most small businesses. People no longer ask for your phone number or business card. Now people ask for your website address.

To succeed in today’s competitive markets, a professional website is crucial in order to maintain credibility in your field. Your website is a great way to introduce yourself and tell potential clients about your business. It is the pitch to end all pitches and it is there, online for all to see, on a rolling 24/7 basis. In today’s business environment, many people become suspicious if they can’t find a company’s website. It makes many believe that you are trying to stay anonymous and raises several trust issues.

First and foremost, customers want to be able to easily get in touch with you. By having a an online presence, your customers and potential customers get a sense of security in knowing that you’re just an e-mail or mouse click away.

It Helps to Establish and Grow Your Brand
Nothing will establish and grow your brand better than a website. A website serves as a static portrait of your company and gives people a visual representation of what you’re all about. A website also allows just enough customization and flexibility to allow you to change and evolve the site as your business grows. By placing relevant copy on your site that potential customers want to see, you build your brand effectively and easily. There is no other medium out there that allows you to engage so openly with your audience.
Your brand stands a significant chance to grow when you have a robust online presence. You can go from a few hundred in your local community knowing your name to millions all around the world—and all because you finally decided to put up a pro website for your business.

In building your brand, the word-of-mouth advertising we discussed above becomes a huge part of your platform. Without a website and ties to social media, your chances of benefitting from this decrease dramatically.

Through networking, both online and in face-to-face environments, we all know someone that works in websites. Or if we don’t know someone directly, we know a friend of a friend that dabbles. While it is certainly admirable to reach out to up and comers or someone you know personally for website creation, this is the one area where you really need to shy away from family and friends. Of course, if they are actually good at what they do, use them by all means.

But your cousin Frank, who took a course on Dreamweaver at the community college three years ago, should not be contacted. You want to have a pro build your website—someone with a stellar portfolio and a long track record of satisfied clients. If you can find a website designer that has specific experience within your industry, that’s even better!

Above all, make sure you are working with a designer that understands the message you are trying to convey and the sort of brand you want to grow. These are things that cousin Frank just won’t be able to translate.

Unlike your cousin Frank, a great web designer knows that building a website is about more than just making your page look pretty. Instead, a pro designer will also think of the layout and functionality of your site. Even if you can manage to floor your audience with your site’s appearance, you also want them to be able to find the information they are looking for as quickly as possible.

Even if you’re a novice at the world of web design and running a successful website, there are a few general guidelines to follow when speaking to web designers as you try to find the best one to fit your needs.

The following are items to think about and ask your potential designer.

Ask how long it will be before your site will be up and running. Working with a web designer is no different than working with any other company that is providing a service. They should propose timelines based on your needs and be able to stick to it. At the same time, you need to understand that building a quality website can take some time and effort; therefore, don’t ask for unrealistic goals. Come to a consensus over an agreeable timeframe, based on when you would like your website to go live.

Find out if they provide templates and/or customized designs.
The last thing you want is for your site to look like a carbon copy of other sites within your industry. For that reason, it is important that the web designer you select can create custom sites rather than churning out the same few sites based off of a basic template.

Don’t get us wrong—for some sites, a template design is all you need and it would be silly to spend more money that you need to. Some budgets only allow for the simplest of designs, many of which are, in fact, based on a standard template. However, for more complex designs your designer should be able to suggest a few customized designs based on your vision for the site. Customizable designs come in handle when you add e-commerce options to your site, so be sure that you communicate exactly what you want to your designer.

How often will you be able to make changes to the site?
In order to keep your site fresh and always standing out from the crowd, web designers are very much aware that the site will need to be changed from time to time. This can be from simple matters such as editing copy, to more complex issues such as adding forms or pages. Make sure you and the designer you are working with are in agreement to how often changes can be made and how those changes will be approached.

Will the site be adaptable to smartphones and other mobile devices?
Technology is evolving at crazy rates these days. The vast majority of website owners would argue that it’s not enough to just have a website up—you also have to have a mobile friendly site than can easily be accessed and navigated on smartphone and mobile devices. And while it’s a question that many forget to ask, you may also want to make sure the site will be compatible with all browsers.

Remember…you want your website available to the largest audience possible and that means being accessible through all platforms.

Will my site design be able to fully support e-commerce?
If part of your business involves selling things, then your site is going to have been equipped to support e-commerce. You also might want to add in some minor bells and whistles such as a PayPal button, a shopping cart feature, or a Shop/Store page.

Now that you have those customers coming to your website, what can you do to ensure that it remains a professional and attractive online platform for your small business? After all, you can drop as many links on Twitter or Facebook, but if your audience is being led to an unattractive web site, it’s all for naught.
Make sure you have the basics (and a few not-so-basics) covered before rejoicing in the birth of your website.
Is it easy on the eyes?

Make sure your background and text don’t clash. You want an attractive page, but you also want your content to be readable. Don’t make your reader’s squint or strain too hard just to make out what you’re saying. You also don’t want to overwhelm your audience with bright flashy colors that pull away from the focal point of the page—your message and service.

Make sure pictures are aligned and that text is lined up nicely. You want the text and pictures on your page to be laid out as neatly as possible. Think in terms of an attractive magazine layout as opposed to a child’s word search puzzle.

Have you incorporated Search Engine Optimization (SEO)?
SEO is all about making sure your page is going to be picked up by all of the search engines. Sometimes this won’t be the responsibility of the web designer but your very own. It comes down to keywords placed in the headlines, sub-headers, and page titles. You can certainly ask your designer to make these changes as you switch keywords and messages around, but most will allow you to do it when possible. Make sure you craft relevant text that search engines will pick up, but also stay away from blatantly loading down your copy with keywords. Your audience is smart by nature and can smell this sort of manipulative tactic from a mile away.

If your website designer really knows what he is doing, he will probably ask to work with you on a site map before any actual designing is done. A site map will give an accurate layout of how your site will be broken down into pages. This not only helps readers find their way around your site, but can also help with matters of SEO. Make sure your page titles are leading to the appropriate content and that readers will be able to get to the information they want within seconds of opening your site.

All business owners have dealt with the fear of not having their website reach the masses that they had hoped for. There are a few ways to increase the flow of traffic to your site; some of these solutions deal with social media and networking, but some of them can also be traced back to the very nature of your site.
If you’re not getting the results you want, take a look at some of these factors and see if you can change things up to make some improvements.

Your website address
You want to keep your website address as simple as possible, but you also want it to convey exactly what it is that your company does. If you are a construction company, it is important that you try to get “construction” to work within your website address. This not only tells people right away what you do, but it also helps with search engines recognizing you.

Sometimes, because there are so many websites out there, you’ll find that your first and even second or third choices for a website name are already taken. A website designer should be able to help you figure out a solution here; fixes usually include getting creative with name placement or adding hyphens.

Linking and networking
This is where social media comes in handy. These days, many people are using Facebook as a digital (and more user-friendly) phone book of sorts. Some go so far as to say that a Facebook account is almost as important as a website. So get on Facebook and look for members within your audience, and even competitors within your industry. Reach out to people via social media to build your audience. This will drop the link to your website in front of more people than ever before.

Don’t do this thinking that there is a quick fix and that you’ll have tons of traffic overnight. Building an audience through social media and writing blog posts tends to take some time. Remain dedicated and patient and your website will soon become the hot spot you always dreamed it would be.

Re-think SEO and keywords
If you think you have covered all of your bases and still can’t seem to attract much attention, you may want to look back over your SEO tactics. Are you using effective keywords? IS your content fresh and relative or just retreaded information that can be found in hundreds of other places on the web?
Remember, getting SEO success is about more than just rehashing the same old topics that have been discussed before. Think of new approaches to old ideas or try to come up with bold new topic and questions that have yet to be breached.

Once your website is properly designed, formatted and broadcasted, you’ll start to see just how detrimental a website can be for a small business. A website isn’t something you need to get just to cross off of a small-business checklist. You need to maintain it and keep it fresh. Your website is just as much an extension of your business as you are and it should be treated as such.

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