If you’re at the stage in the process of seriously considering a website for your business, it’s distinctly possible that you now know enough to be a little freaked out at the apparent complexity of it. Try not to be put off; it’s getting the basics right that’s important in the first instance.

On that subject, let’s take a look at the Blackbox ‘Top 10 Tips’ for Business Websites.

1. Be clear about your objectives

Make sure that you understand what you want your website to achieve, and be ready to explain your objectives to your designer, if you have one. They will usually include one or more of the following:

  • To attract new customers/visitors via search engines such as Google;
  • To create a professional image;
  • To make it easy for customers to contact you;
  • To provide information for new and existing customers;
  • To showcase your skills and previous work.

Being clear about your objectives is important in two ways – firstly, it should guide the way the website is planned and constructed (in particular if your key objective is to be discovered via search engines). Secondly, it helps you to look back and review to check that your site is delivering what you wanted it to.

2. Keep it simple

There can be a temptation to go rather over the top when creating a website for your business. Common mistakes include trying to cram too much information onto the homepage and opting for some crazy, highly coloured ‘eye-catching’ design.

Rather, I would suggest ensuring that you get the basics right first. A simple, clean, well-constructed design will usually be a far better advertisement for your business than a multi-coloured casserole of ideas. Make sure that every component on the page is there for a reason.

3. More ‘you’, less ‘us’

It’s very easy to fall into the trap of allocating far too much time and screen-space telling your website visitors all about you, your company history, and what you do – and not nearly enough talking about your customer, their needs, and (crucially) how they can benefit from the products/services you provide.

There’s nothing wrong with a bit of business background (after all, we’ve all got an ‘About Us’ page) but it’s always worth challenging yourself to see if you can be more focused on the customer, and less on the business.

4. Keep it updated

It may be a cliché, but you only get one chance to make a first impression. Having a visually appealing site is important, but so is keeping the site looking fresh with up-to-date information. How many times have you visited a website’s ‘News’ section only to find that the last entry was 2 years ago? And what impression did that give you about the site? Visitors are far more likely to trust and engage with a site that is being actively ‘managed’.

5. Be prepared to put the work in

Possibly the single biggest misconception about operating a website is founded in the ‘build it and they will come’ mentality. It’s not enough to simply build a website, and wait for the visitors and customers to come rolling in – a website is a great business tool, but it’s not a magic wand.

But importantly, it’s not a dark art either – provided you’re prepared to plan what you want to achieve, regularly review your site to make sure it’s current, and keep the site fresh with new, useful information, then you can be assured that your site will work for you.

6. Use social media to help

Whether or not you’re a devotee of social networks in your personal life, there’s little doubt that they can play a very beneficial role in marketing your small business. Amongst other things, they can be used to reach out to potential new customers, drive visitors to your website and provide an effective, personal communication channel.

7. Planning – keyword analysis

If the objectives for your website include attracting new customers via search engines such as Google, then you should make sure that you perform a keyword analysis as part of your website planning process – or at least get someone to do it for you.

At their most basic level, all search engines use a technique of matching the words that people search for against the content of known website pages. The better the content on your site matches your ideal search terms (your ‘keywords’), the better your website’s chances of being ranked highly in the search results for that particular search.

The trick is to spend some time to understand what words your customers are most likely to use when searching for your type of business/product/service, so that you can proactively tailor your website content to create the best possible match.

A keyword analysis will give you an indication of how frequently people actually search for your keywords and what level of competition there is for them. Why bother? It can help you avoid both ends of a particularly frustrating spectrum:

  • Creating a website that focuses on keywords that nobody ever searches for;
  • Creating a website that uses keywords that are so generic that it is nigh-on impossible to get anywhere near the top of the search results.

8. Use analytics to track visitor behaviour

Once your website is live, use tools such as the excellent Google Analytics to track visitor behaviour over time. You can get a wealth of insight – not only the how many people visit your site, but also the route they took to arrive there, their geographical location, technical information (operating system, browser etc), how long they spent browsing your site and so on.

9. Combine ‘online’ and ‘offline’ marketing

Many business owners are attracted by the concept of promoting their business and attracting new customers online – after all, being ‘discovered’ via search engines is free, right? Well in many ways yes, but successfully marketing a business online using ‘organic’ search engine results (as opposed to paid online marketing) takes time and effort – and search engines are only one way of getting visitors to your site.

So, don’t be too quick to ditch more ‘traditional’ marketing and promotion techniques such as printed ads, radio/TV advertising IF you have had success with them in the past.

By the same token, don’t be afraid of trying new methods, particularly social media such as Facebook and Twitter.

It’s a matter understanding what works for your business and what doesn’t, and using a combination of different techniques that gets results. To paraphrase the American psychologist Abraham Maslow: if the only tool you have is a hammer, you’d be surprised how all your problems start to look like nails.

10. Be prepared to share your expertise – be useful!

It may go against your better judgement as a business person, but sometimes you need to give stuff away for free.

Not products or services, necessarily (although of course this can work) – but you do need to be prepared to share your knowledge and expertise online if you are to build trust and encourage people to come to your site.

Blogging is perhaps the best example of how this works. If you blog regularly, with interesting, useful and informative content, a number of things happen:

  • You’re creating textual content in both quality and quantity. Search engines LOVE textual content because it is easy for them to interpret and use within search results. Provided you’re smart, and you write your blog posts in such a way as to include a healthy scattering of your keywords, your search engine rankings will improve over time;
  • You will begin to establish yourself as an authoritative author on a particular subject, which can encourage visitors to come back to your site in the future;
  • You increase the opportunities for visitors to share and create links to your content – and inbound links to your site are an extremely valuable commodity – not only do they provide additional routes into your website, but they are one of the key measures by which search engines rate your ‘authoritativeness’.

A lot of businesses will share their expertise via ‘how to’ guides – for example, if you’re a plumber or heating engineer, you might publish an ‘expert guide’ on how to drain and remove a radiator.

Sounds a bit counter-intuitive, doesn’t it? Why teach someone how to do something themselves? Aren’t you just talking your way out of a job? I doubt it. For every person who actually fixes that radiator themselves, I suggest there will be several others who will decide that it’s a job for the experts – and who better than the expert whose video ‘how to’ they’ve just watched online.

Oh, and finally – I’d say it’s important to be realistic. Website success doesn’t come overnight, and different types of businesses and organisations will have different levels of website engagement and success. As with everything in business, planning is key – if you plan what you want to achieve, how you intend to get there, and how you will measure whether your efforts are working or not, you’ll be much better placed, and less prone to unpleasant surprises.