Digital marketing

Creating an Effective Website

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Marketing is based on the notion that if a prospect knew the truth of your business, what you’re really good at, that they’d want your service, your product, or they’d want to work with you.

So many websites I see say little more than ‘I’m just like my competitor, just with a different name’.

Boring is invisible. Or at least forgettable.

Stand out. Be Remembered.

Remarkable businesses get talked about. They get their marketing done for them by their happy customers.  

Marketing has changed. It used be all about outbound messaging, it used be where the big companies could afford to play. There has been a seismic shift in marketing whereby TV and print advertising is not as effective as it once was. People are spending more and more time online. New marketing tools are now available to SMEs, who can now use targeted, cost effective, measurable means of communicating to their chosen audience. So instead of interrupting people with ads for things they don’t want, SMEs can now present their businesses to potential customers at the very moment they are considering that product or service area. There has also been a shift from attention bought to attention earned. This is all based on the concepts of Inbound Marketing and Search Marketing.

Websites act as hubs for companies of all shapes and sizes. It’s your shop window. As a small business, your website can be THE MOST CRUCIAL (sometimes the only) means of marketing or branding your business.  One homepage flaw may turn away a valuable potential customer.  A poorly designed website could cost you thousands of euros upfront, but more concerning is the loss of potential revenue you may experience from its poor design, function and copy. These are losses SMEs sometimes never become aware of. So here’s some tips I’ve collated to help you avoid the pitfalls.

Top 10 Tips to Creating an Effective Website

1. Time – make sure you make some

Busy, busy. It’s the new black! The day-to-day is relentless for SMEs. I know, I run one too. Busy pays the bills. But to grow your business to the next level you need to work ‘on’ your business as well as ‘in’ it. How will you know how much better you can do if you don’t make the time to stand back from the daily operations. The website development process can (at times) be tedious and time consuming. It can take anything from a week for a super urgent job (be prepared for pay for a very speedy turnaround!) to a number of weeks. I normally say to clients that if they apply themselves to creating some time to work on it, from beginning to end they should allow 4-6 weeks to be realistic. How many hours it will take in those weeks depends on the type of site, the ‘readiness’ of the content, the number of pages, the layout, sophistication of design etc. Even if you are not ‘building’ the site yourself you need to research the market, create the content, proof it, plan the layout etc. The copywriting and proofing will always take longer than you think it will. Your web developer usually won’t take responsibility for this. Some even look for ready-to-go content for the price quoted (especially if rock bottom). Even if they do work with you on developing the content, they are not paid to know your business, research your market etc. You’ve heard the phrase ‘what goes in, comes out’. Whilst some developers are more business-savvy than others, they are not usually marketers and they are often keen to get the job completed within a timeframe. I meet enthused clients time and again who run out of steam, time and focus at crucial stages on the project. Strategically ’bully’ this time into your diary. You’ll end up learning so much. At the very least don’t plan to engage 3rd parties when you’re not ready or at key busy periods.

2. Do your Research

Not doing enough research in advance of creating a new or redesigning an existing website is the most overlooked aspect of creating an effective website that I come across in SME marketing. Use every means at your disposal to understand the market you operate in. The customers AND the competition. The longer you are in a business, the more assumptions you might make and they can cause you to miss something really significant. These long standing assumptions can be a major barrier to real progress in marketing SMEs. When planning or rethinking your website, come at it fresh, almost like an outsider who knows very little about your business. To really do this you might need to get other people’s opinions. Best if you can get the potential customer. Actively do some investigative work to get into this mindset. Carefully research your target audience or the specific niche you’re trying to reach. Try not to fall into the trap of thinking everyone is your audience. By trying to target everyone and please the masses leaves you end up reaching none properly. Use your research as a foundation for the web design process. Use the internet, contacts, networking, friends, check out stores, and especially look into getting feedback from the potential customers groups you are aiming to target. If you’re looking to reach Mums or women then check out the blogs about what they are talking about, design and branding is often important, consider colour schemes and imagery, if its teen you want to appeal to ensure you cater to mobile compatibility or look for a responsive web platform. As for an older target market, perhaps have larger font sizes and simplifying the user experience to help with faster navigation. Goes without saying that the content and key messages need to resonate or have meaning to your target market. They need to say, ‘that business is for me’.

3. Try to find a decent budget for the website

I’ve come across far too many small businesses who ended up with a horrible or clunky website after hiring a cheap designer. You may have had a fraught relationship with your developer or they didn’t have the expertise to deliver what you need. Branding and perception is important. Some developers may think it’s ok to have lots of different fonts, garish colours and clunky layout, but if you are targeting a niche that doesn’t think that meets their standard, then you are taking yourself out of the consideration set. When it comes to launching a new website or redeveloping your current one, do your research. Get 3 quotes at the very least from 3 types of developers. Get an education on what’s available. Some developers have great design capabilities, others are SEO focused. Choosing the right web designer or developer could make or break your website. It’s also best to keep in mind that being too ‘money-focused’ can skew the whole process in the wrong direction. WordPress ‘ready to use’ templates have been great in levelling the design playing field so check these out before making a decision on look and feel of website.

4. Ensure your content isn’t stale

Getting everything up on the site factually and grammatically correct can feel like a major achievement. But it’s only the beginning. The website content needs to really earn the attention of your prospects in order to be a success. It needs to be fresh. Stale is grey, forgettable.  If nobody has cared to update the site in months or years how is it deserving of your targets time? An enticing and effective website should contain the latest information about your products, services and company as a whole. To be a results-focused marketing tool, your website needs a fresh feel in terms of content, your customer may assume you’re not innovative enough. Update frequently if you can with new products, updates, blogs and trends. If you have a blog on your website, aim to update it a least once a month – even once a quarter to begin with – to help drive visitors to your website and improve your search engine optimisation. Only 6% of businesses in Ireland blog, if you do it at all you are getting well ahead of your competitors. Another interesting point to note on content is that 70% of what we remember is from stories. You can inject some effective storytelling into your content to make it memorable. I’ve written more about using video, images and customer stories here to use online content to connect better with your customers.

5. Craft your key messages

So many websites have cluttered websites. In trying to say too much, they end up not saying anything at all. Lots of businesses don’t say upfront on their homepages what it is that they do – succinctly, simply and with meaning. They often bullet a list of features, or services using too much industry jargon. They might have tons of copy on their site but no key messages that stand out. The design of your website should allow you highlight key points and the content needs to speak with impact to your target market. The content needs to demonstrate the types of problems your targets have. Or the needs you can satisfy. Can your targets really see themselves in what you’ve written? With messaging and communications less is often better.

6. SEO  ‘Build it and they will come’ doesn’t apply to new websites

There’s absolutely no point in having a great product, a lovely website if nobody ever sees it. I’ve met a lot of clients who said they have paid for SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) but have no idea on what they got for it or how to improve it. Take my advice, getting found on Google is an area where 3rd party expertise is required. If you don’t want to pay advice, get trained on it. Take a course, online or offline. If you want to get to page 1 on Google for your chosen area, there are 2 ways to do it

1) Organically which takes commitment, planning (keyword phrases), trial and time.

2) Paid Search is quicker but can be expensive (eg Google ads etc).

This is an area deserving of it’s own blog which I will pick up on again.

7. Think twice about doing it DIY

Web design in my opinion is better left to the pros. I’ve seen so many sites with amateur looking mixed fonts, garish lettering or shouty primary colours and a layout that simply doesn’t look professional. It’s because the business owner is learning on the job, doing something he or she isn’t a specialist at. While a DIY initiative may seem necessary to accommodate your small budget, you’re probably not going to do your small business justice on the web. Your website will be the first chance many of your customers have to interact with your brand; presenting a DIY experience may turn them away. Your time is valuable and should be treated as such. If you are going to invest an inordinate amount of time in learning web development, put a value on the time. If you are determined to do it yourself, then use WordPress. They have a range of templates that are ready to go.

8. What’s the customer journey on your website? 

There’s nothing more frustrating for a customer making a purchase than a shopping cart that crashes. Or attempting to click through links or social buttons and finding error messages. This may leave your customers wondering what’s going on with your website. Not to mention, you also missed out on a chance for your customer’s sales at the last hurdle, or to learn more about your company. First impressions matter, targets don’t have the patience or time for slow or badly planned websites. Don’t allow your customers slip away when you have them interested. It’s a mortal marketing sin. You can get really tired of re-reading your own site so get some honest friends to feedback to you. Ireland’s Smartphone penetration is approaching 70% but so many websites are not designed for viewing on anything but a PC. Again WordPress have ‘responsive’ designs for PC, Smartphone, Ipads etc. The layout of the site changes and responds to the size of the screen it’s been viewed on. It’s real progress as in the past developers would charge extra for creating mobile compatible websites.

9.  Have you neglected the ‘about us’ page?

The ‘about us’ section is one of the most visited and important pages on your site. Put more of ‘you’ into it. How did you get into this business, what inspired you? What you are passionate about, what are your values, your vision for the business. The ‘about us’ section is the next best thing to the person meeting you.

10. Have you a clear ‘call to action’?

A potential customer has come across your website. What do you want them to do once they hit your homepage? Show them the next step, which may be buying your product, subscribing to your newsletter, or contacting you. Ensure your content answers your user’s question of “What’s next?” so that you can help them navigate accordingly. The most effective call-to-action takes place immediately on the homepage or in a centralized point on every page on your website.

The Digital economy in Ireland is going to double in the next 3 years. Don’t squander this opportunity to take advantage of one the greatest business shifts of our generation.


Female led businesses – a ripe opportunity for economic growth?


Let’s face it. Ireland needs all the economic upswing, enterprise growth and entrepreneurial talent it can harness at present. A recent UPC/Amarach report projects Ireland’s internet economy to double to 6pc over the next three years, translating into the employment of 18,000 if Irish industry is to keep pace our EU neighbours. So why does over half our population not even represent a fifth of our country’s entrepreneurs?

Women in Ireland continue be less entrepreneurial, tend to have lower confidence and aspirations when it comes to running their own business than their male counterparts who are are 2.5 times more likely to be an early stage entrepreneur than are women, (Global Entrepreneurship Monitor 2011)

The economy needs enterprise and start-up enterprise needs more women

It seems like a no brainer to me, if we are to meet our online projections, we need both genders creating quality enterprises … at pace. If more Irish women were encouraged and supported into running their own businesses it would add millions to the exchequer, contribute thousands to employment and make significant inroads towards economic recovery. Back in 2007 Mary McAleese stated that “If women in Ireland were to become entrepreneurs at the same rate as men in Ireland, there would be as many new entrepreneurs in Ireland per capita as there are in the United States.”. However, not much has changed since, and with an online gap to bridge (Britain has more than double our internet economy) there’s a risk that we feed economic growth to our international neighbours. Too much of Ireland’s online purchasing today is purchased over US and UK websites.

So, in light of this, and looking ahead to International Womens Day on March 8th, why is it that Irish women shy away from running their own business? Why do we have one of the lowest rates of female entrepreneurs in the developed world?

Why the lag in female entrepreneurship?

Yes, the high cost of childcare plays a role, and compared to the US some Irish ‘paid’ employment offers very compelling maternity pay in contrast with what you earn working ‘for yourself’. Add into the mix  that one of the prime motivators for women in starting their own business is because it appears on the face of it to offer more flexibility but the reality of the hours required often differs.

The issue of ‘family responsibilities’ is one where there is a major discrepancy between male and female entrepreneurs, the general thinking being that women are less likely to be willing to spend as many hours away from the family home as men may be. Not always a recipe for fast paced business development, but issues I understand only too well having 2 children myself under 3 years of age.

The GEM also reports that women are 5 times more likely to set up their own business as a result of meeting other women entrepreneurs. It’s well known that women naturally tend to collaborate, share information and support other female entrepreneurs. In a recent article Sheryl Sandberg COO of Facebook said ‘men tend to attribute their success to innate qualities and skills, women attribute their success to luck and help from others’. The local enterprise boards in Ireland have recognised this need and actively promote excellent business networks for women.

This is not meant as a sympathy plea and I wouldn’t describe myself as a feminist. But this drive for more female-led digital businesses is important. A lot of emerging female run businesses are microenterprises and don’t typically don’t fall within the profile for government support who focus on manufacturing, internationally traded services, high potential start-ups etc. Enterprise Ireland has recently launched a feasibility funding initiative … but more supports are needed.

For my part I want to do my bit.

An exciting new community of digital women

Enter #DigiWomen – a project I am supporting along with co-founders Rita Tobin of Asar and Pauline Sargent of Social Zavvy. It’s an exciting initiative that aims to create an interactive, online platform for women running their own digital businesses (ie any female led business with an online presence).

The premise is simple. I meet so many women starting out and there’s a common thread to the challenges. They feel they lack the expertise – be it sales, marketing, technical, communications, design, business development and so on. We want to play our part by starting a series of practical, visible projects to educate and inspire women to scale their businesses. We want to create a connected, educational community of professionals who are interested in supporting other women in reaching their potential, whether that be running a sustainable business, becoming thought leaders for others or becoming a higher performing SME.

DigiWomen will be a free to join, member based online organisation. We have been asking female led digital businesses to become part of the launch by supplying an image of themselves that shows their name, their website and a visual saying “I am a DigiWoman” to The official launch is this coming Friday 8th March, International Women’s Day, in Fumbally Exchange and a promotional video will be produced to feature businesses who responded to our #Digiwomen call out. We will also be speaking at Digital Dublin Day in the Mansion House later that evening.

Keep up to date on DigiWomen on Facebook. Or follow the Twitter hashtag #DigiWomen for further news and updates. Our new website will be live from Friday at

I’ve heard it said that China is not the next big superpower … and that it is, in fact, women. Strong words.

#DigiWomen – watch this space.



Will Digital Marketing become known as just Marketing in the future?

I read a piece in Marketing Week recently with this heading and thought it worth sharing. I think the topic and the informed comments on this piece (link below) make it all the more interesting.

I’m not a big fan of wordy definitions but it helps to set up a context here. Marketing is everything you can do to understand your target market, and it is using that knowledge to grow your business by telling your business story better to your customers … in a place they can find, a language they understand and a style that has impact. The place is the only difference whether communications online or off.

Your marketing – whether online of offline – should consider the following.

  1. You as business owner being insanely curious about what segments of the market convert better to what you sell and why.
  2. Cultivating that never-ending curiosity for what’s really working in your market, what your target market wants/needs/loves/hates. Trying new things, measuring their impact, adjusting, trying again.
  3. Generating interest from your audience.
  4. Even better, becoming ‘remarkable’. As in, ‘worth making a remark about’.
  5. Being clear about what it is you do, so they understand how you can help.
  6. Getting your message across quickly and in a way that has impact. This may not always be written copy, it could be expressed through customer service standards, staff training, product range etc
  7. Allowing them identify with or see themselves in your communications – getting them to think, ‘that’s for someone like me’.

Digital can’t fix bad planning. Nor can it hand you the strategy to make decisions.  It can, of course, do the communication in;

  1. a highly targeted way
  2. can do it quickly
  3. with great impact
  4. and – rather compellingly for SMEs – in a reasonable, affordable way, making it the popular choice it is today.

I predict the Digital revolution to continue to morph, disrupt and take a disproportionate amount of business’s planning time over the coming years. It is the media of the future and, however unhelpful, the distinction between online and offline options will most likely continue.

There are more important points, however, for business owners and managers to mull over. Less about ‘the where’ or communications form and more about ‘the what’ are you talking about.  Stephen Covey was a great business leader and once said ‘the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing’.

Can you explain what you do in a meaningful way in less than 60 seconds? Do you explain the problems your business solves for your customers in your communications? The benefits it can deliver them? Do you try to tell your story in a memorable way that your potential customers might notice? Do you say how you are really different from those who say they do what you do? Do you spend time thinking of how to connect more meaningfully? How could you make your messages more trustworthy, believable or authentic?

After ‘the what’ …. then it’s about ‘where’ and ‘how’ you do it. Digital marketing descriptions are broad and each lever can work differently or require different time/money investment from Paid, Search, SEO, Email, Content, Blog , Video, Audio, Social Media etc.

My background is FMCG marketing and I know that traditional marketing has peaked and had its glory days. It had become a numbers game with the bigger companies winning out due to sheer investment and oftentimes innovative businesses got left by the wayside due to lack of funds. One big positive from the digital revolution has been  the gift to every small business of its stage and it’s voice. This has been, on one hand, revolutionary …a great leveller and extremely positive for Irish industry. But on the other it has been its undoing in terms of poorly planned marketing. So many businesses clamour for a piece of the digital pie for no better reason but than that ‘my competitor is doing it’. Better for SMEs to focus less on the fact that it’s inexpensive and more on what they want to say.

Strategy, customer understanding and business story need more focus. The smoke and mirrors and mystifying wizardry of digital marketing should settle soon so that all that’s left are the basic questions of communication; who, what, when, where, why.

Online or offline marketing needs less distinction and debate, and your simple business story a lot more.


Irish SMEs need to harness the digital revolution

As Irish consumer move online will small business benefit?

It was estimated that €420m was to be spent online over Christmas in Ireland, half of which was to be spent on non-indigenous e-commerce sites such as eBay and Amazon.

Irish businesses need to be reaping more of this ever growing online spend. To do that they need to have their website designed properly, SEO optimised, mobile friendly with slick checkout facilities if payment required.

Traditional Irish SMEs have failed to pay attention to digital economy and less than 21pc of Irish businesses having the ability to pay online on their website. Visa Europe say by 2020 they expect half of all Visa transactions to be made on a mobile device. Carat Ireland say that those using smartphones to check or source product information stood at a whopping 81 per cent! We know that well over 50% of Irish mobile users have a smartphone and this is predicted to go to 70% in coming months.

According to a recent Amarach report, the internet economy accounts for 3% Irish GDP and this is set to double to 6% by end 2016. So online spend will move from €3.7bn in 2012 to €5.7bn (that’s 7pc of all consumer spending).

Our nearest neighbours are bounding ahead of us and claim 8% of its GDP comes from the online economy. According to BCG by 2016 the UK’s digital economy will represent twice that of Ireland’s (12.4% GDP).

The Amarach report predicts this ‘catch-up’ could mean jobs – and predicted increased employment of 18,000 – if Irish society can keep pace with the digitisation levels of UK or Scandinavian counterparts.

One thing’s for sure, the Digital Revolution is here … and here to stay. The question for you – is your business positioned to reap the rewards?