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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.

@Siodhna

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