This post is inspired by my own struggle over years to get my website right. Having tried popular CMS’ like Wordpress, modern web builders like Weebly, theme marketplaces like ThemeForest, high-end SEO training from people like Tommy Griffith, building Webmastery from Google, and having tried countless tools like Mailchimp, Google Analytics, Adwords, I wanted to distil my learning into this blog post. This should help a business looking to take off with a brand new website, as well as an established enterprise to validate an existing website.
I’d break the journey of getting your website right into Five parts:
Weaving the experience like a spider
I like to take the literal meaning of the web when it comes to building your website. Like a spider that weaves it’s home carefully placing traps, making each string stronger with time, growing the web as it grows, you too should consider building and growing your website.
Only in your case you are looking to convert your visitors into buyers or subscribers to what you have to offer. The success of your business through website boils down to how effective you are with attracting traffic to your website (social media, ads, SEO), get them to browse through what you have to offer (browse the website), part with their contact information (fill forms), and then, hopefully sign up for what you have to offer (conversion).
Understanding the audience and creating a blueprint for the website
Your web starts with an understand of your prey. The biggest mistake I always made was to assume that I knew my audience well enough. Turns out we see a reflection of our own beliefs and problems on the customer side and suffer from attribution bias. We end up believing that a certain class of people, with a specific set of demographics (age, education background, gender, location, etc) is the audience we are catering to. Try drilling this belief; shake it up a bit and question yourself. Try and come up with lists of very specific descriptions of your target audience. Facebook ad manager is a great tool to get this right. After logging into your Facebook account go to the campaign creation page and choose a marketing objective and see the amount of detail available to segment your audience. Using the Potential Reach count on the right bar quantify your audience and keep identifying pools of audience. Beware of the fact that not everyone is on Facebook sharing all their info, so take these numbers as indicative.
Once you have identified your audience, start thinking about what works for them. Do they like long pages with layered content, or would they rather feel comfortable with upfront messaging running into many pages? What sort of navigation would help? What color scheme goes with your brand etc. Come up with a high-level site map - Homepage, menus, sub-menus, various pages, how they link to each other, etc. You can create one and then improve it over time. A typical site map looks like this when put in a visual form. Of course, you will need a text format of the same thing to share with search engines, more on that later.
Options for building the website
When it comes to building a website for their business, entrepreneurs are spoiled with choice -
Most people ask their friends or experts (pun intended) and zero in on one of these choices. Whatever your choice is, you would want to make sure your objectives are clearly defined before starting the project so you are not going to be disappointed by the results.
If you are working with others make sure they understand your objectives too. Don’t fall for good looking templates and end up fitting your business to the template. The website should be a reflection of your business, not the other way around. Remember, it is you who knows what is good for your customers. No one knows that better than you. So, trust your instincts and get the right experience for your users.
Writing great copy
You don’t have to be a master of writing to get your copyright. Like I said earlier, you know your customers the best. You know what language they speak, what examples they can relate to, and what puts them on or off!
In case you are still not sure or are just starting out, there is help. A simple option is to Google the problems you are looking to solve and see the results. Unless you are planning a mission to the neighboring solar system, I’m sure someone if not many are already solving the problems. Yes, your solution may be new, not necessarily the problem. So, open up to some competition. Get inspired. Write like you are the boss! Like you are the authority! Shower your copy with the confidence of someone who has what it takes to solve the problem.
A tip for you! When it comes to headlines Keep it short and sweet. When you have to describe something use some visuals - icons, photos, whatever works for you. Avoid writing too much text! Save all that energy for blog posts. You will need it big time there :)
Peer review, SEO and Go Live
All of us are human so we have to keep erring. Sadly, it is difficult to spot our own mistakes. Too deep? Well, websites are no different from anything else we create. I remember doing umpteen number of rounds of checking for errors and still get a friend to point some. So, don’t be shy. Ask a good friend to review your website posing as your customer. You’d be surprised by the quality of the results.
Your assumptions would be challenged, traps would be exposed, and if you are lucky, errors that are otherwise obvious are uncovered.
Before you go live, check you are covered from a basic SEO point of view. I know SEO is an ocean in itself but you would help yourself by making sure you are at least covered from an on page SEO angle. Read this post on what is included in on page SEO.
As soon as you are live, check the whole website again and make sure the experience is intact. No offense to developers, but I got caught myself more than a handful of times.
Bonus - Migrating an existing website
If building a website was hard, migrating a website gets harder. There are only a zillion things that could go wrong and each may cost you dear. To begin with list down all the URLs by making a sitemap of the existing site if you don’t have one. Even if you have one, I suggest you update it to make sure it is accurate. Links come in two forms - internal and external. Internal links are those that are originating from within your website and the External ones are the backlinks that you earned over time. Contrary to what people say, both are equally important.
Make a spreadsheet with all the links and use this guide to check for the validity of the links as soon as you are ready to go live. Perform this even after you go live. If something breaks, fix it on priority.
Another part about migration is checking user logins if your website supports that.
Lastly, don’t migrate just for the sake of technological reasons. A migration should give you one or more of the following benefits. If not, don’t waste money and time.