- Should a Startup Website Have a Strategy?
When a company decides to start a website, they face a plethora of choices. Choosing a web designer can mean employing a nephew who puts a great site on Facebook or MySpace or employing an elaborate, expensive .net site that promotes all the bells and whistles as well as quotes a high price tag. Some deals work and others somehow lose the business’s focus in the process. Overall, when planning its first website, a company should consider three items: 1. Search engine usage, 2. Domain name choice, and 3. Business tools
During my 14 years of website design, I often hear that search engines should not be considered when putting up a new website. In one sense this is true because search engines robot the website only every few months. So, even with a good strategy, a website might not show up for a couple of months. Instead of search engine strategy, a web designer might promote branding and image as the focal point for a new website. Sending the right message combined with the right look is important, too.
However, if search engines are not being considered from the start, the best looking site with an appealing message will rarely get to potential clients. Consequently, we will see businesses wait and wait for presence on the web and never see it happen. A good search engine strategy developed from the very beginning works best, even if the strategy needs to be fine tuned as the website or company grows.
A strategy begins with the domain name. Your domain name will stay with your company for a long time and will become established and recognized by the search engines. Carefully analyzing and assessing a domain name can add to the success of your website.
Consider a company’s website as an important business tool. The website of a company should be aligned with the business plan or the entrepreneur’s big business idea. It is a marketing tool, but it also can serve a company in other ways. A website can have an extensive database and it can store valuable information for a company. Aside from promoting a company’s products, services and events, it also stores a company’s history of growth, innovations, and expertise. Newsletters and press releases record these for viewers and also you. Additionally, websites can help realize an entrepreneur’s “big idea” possessing the functionality that realizes it. A good website plays an important, active role in a company.
- How Important Is the Domain Name
A strategy we recommend involves using your company’s name as a domain name as well as registering a generic name. For instance, if you own a plumbing company in Arizona, but plumbing.com and plumber.com is not available, you could buy AZplumbing.com or 4AZplumbing.com. But, also purchase the domain of your business name like Smithplumbingcompany.com, and point it to AZplumbing.com where your site is. You’ve successfully created a website based on words people would use when looking for a plumber, but you have also helped people who know your company’s name find you on the web. Be aware, though, that just using keywords doesn't guarantee that your site will receive a high page ranking.
Choosing a domain name is similar to choosing your company’s name – keep it short, but more importantly, keep it memorable. Your name might also suggest what you want your company to be Names that are easy to use in marketing campaigns work well. For example, Lotsofgifts.com is a good name because it reveals what your company offers and is easy to say. However, if lotsofgifts.com were taken, do not recreate it with hyphens as in lots-of-gifts.com. Hyphens are hard to spell out on a keyboard and difficult to remember. Lotsofgifts.com involves no thought when entering it.
In my case, in 1997 I registered my company’s name as my domain name. And, now I am completely in charge of this domain name. If I had only purchased a generic name such as websites.com, a competitor could have registered a domain with my name - transNET Media® LLC. Over the years I’ve made my own website into a robust search engine optimized site, and it is a valuable tool and asset to my company. If a website is carefully strategized, another company might buy the site because it has become a successful marketing tool that provides a reliable revenue or client source.
One question we are asked often is whether or not someone should change his/her domain name. Over time your old domain name has become a presence on the Internet. Consequently, the search engines will not discover your new domain name for several months. So, changing your name is similar to starting a new website. Take the time to choose your company’s domain name –and you won’t have to change it later on.
- The Strategy of a Website
There are three parts to the strategy of a website.
1. Communicating to the search engines
2. Communicating to existing clients
3. Communicating to new clients
When a site is first being built many business owners see it as establishing credibility for their business. They’ll state: “If we have a website, it is proof we are in business. Let’s just get a website up.” Once the novelty wears off, the question becomes where are we in the search engines. If this consideration was not addressed from the beginning, then the chances are the website is hard to find.
Communicating to the search engines means picking the keywords that users employ when they begin a search and then aligning the website with those keywords. If your site is not using the keywords that your potential clients use, then your website will most likely not appear on the first page of the search results. Many companies rank high when their name is used in a search. But, when users search with keywords normally associated with the type of business they want to find, the companies fare poorly.
For example, if you owned Moses Landscaping in Phoenix, your customers could key in your business’ name and Moses Landscaping website would probably appear first in the results. However, if a potential client is using the Internet to find a local landscaping service, she would most likely key in the words: yard work, phoenix. Moses Landscaping may not even appear on the first two or three search result pages. Your website is not optimized for searches for yard work and phoenix – the two terms most important to you and your success. So communicating to the search engines also means understanding your clients and their needs so that your website strategy is effective.
Communicating to existing customers might mean providing them with valuable information related to your area of expertise. If you are a business consultant, your blog can provide a weekly marketing tip. Or, your website could offer links to legal information, business articles and upcoming events or seminars. Even if you are not involved personally in the events, you are enticing your clients to visit your website. This type of communication appeals to potential clients, too.
New clients will find your website through search engines, but they also can find it by referrals or your efforts. While networking, you might meet someone interested in your business, so you should send them to your website. If your site is well set up and informative, you may get a new client. A good practice is to give them a call to action. Ask them to fill out a form and give them a free 15-minute consultation.
These three website strategies play a large role in website development. Future plans for your business should view your website as a valuable business tool. Adding a blog, a newsletter or email list through your site are important considerations. As you use your site more and learn more about websites, you will come up with ideas, too. A well-designed, flexible website makes for a useful up-to-date website. We call that a SAMsite.
- The Look is the First Impression
When websites give the right visual impression to visitors, it can create a loyal user. Once you have developed a strategy for your site and a clear message, it is time to build a look around those two items – strategy and message. First, identify your audience. Who will be your target market? Some marketing gurus suggest that you have a clear mental picture of your potential customer because every target customer has different needs, likes and dislikes. Business-to-business websites will look very different from websites that are targeting parents of young children.
The website content or marketing information visible to your visitors has to communicate to search engines and to customers. But, the look of the site communicates directly to your customers. Sometimes a look is purely functional. Craigslist is a good example; it really has no eye appeal, but its ease of use and simple layout are critical to its universal nature.
We know that the WWW was built on information. When we do a search, we are seeking information. If we want to buy something, we are probably going to buy from the best price. But, other factors might influence a purchase. Does the site look secure? Does the look make a buyer feel comfortable enough to put in personal, private information? A corporate, official look often helps motivate this decision.
Overall, to compete effectively, a website needs to look established and convey information. The standard for a high profile website, like Yahoo, often seems to be information overload, Yet, sometimes simplicity is the best rule. Google lives by this dictum; in fact, one Google employee’s sole job is to protect its search page look. Once everyone wanted to use flash for a website introduction, but now most people find it annoying. Audio was once highly touted, but it too can be irritating to some visitors. They are fun and effective accessories to a website, but they should be used discreetly and always in good taste.
A website’s strategy and look needs to be aligned with your audience. And, once the right visitor is at your site, your purpose and expertise needs to be evident. However, a great look can entice that visitor to click to another page and maybe make a purchase or bookmark your site. Look at our portfolio of websites and see if the look counts!
- Who Decides Good Website Design?
The approach to web design is set by the schools. The programmers develop a website and the art department designs the website. This process is carried on to the industry where the art or graphic people in the company are given the task to design a website. But, website design is a misleading phrase and it is often thought to be the ‘look’ of a website. That ‘look’ might include good animation with a little sound or music and perhaps a discreet video. We need to understand the phrase website design as it is applied to building a business’ online presence.
For businesses, websites serve as marketing tools. On the web, the best way to market a site is to use the search engines. Consequently, Search Engine Marketing (SEM) needs to be the first consideration when building a site and it is dictated by a strategy. Neither the graphics person nor the programmer should be involved in setting the strategy. Strategy must come from the marketing department; unfortunately, most marketing people are not equipped to create a web strategy.
Second, a business needs to consider what else their website will do. Will it sell products on the site? If it will, then a shopping cart needs to be built to fit the business. A packaged shopping cart assumes one size fits all. After a company gets all the products into a packaged shopping cart, it often starts breaking down. Frequently, attributes of the shopping cart that just don’t fit your company start to create problems. For instance, your company doesn’t ship overseas, but the programming only offers a drop down menu listing all of the countries in the world. A shopping cart is a tool and should be designed to meet the needs of the company. As the programming is being executed the look should be designed to work with it along with copy.
The look of the site is definitely defined by the business’ message, but the message is affected by two things: SEM (Search Engine Marketing) and the website tools (blogs, newsletters, shopping carts, etc.). As the programming is being executed the look should be designed to work with it along with copy.
So, the website’s look needs to define all the content necessary to make it work and then the ‘look’ can complete the project.
Look at sites cited as examples of “good website design” and decide if the site is doing the best job for the company. Once you begin evaluating a site’s design from this perspective, then you are thinking “Beyond the Look.”