These days it is not difficult to convince business people that they need a website to maximise the potential of their business. The point is that whilst some people still reach for the yellow pages to find a plumber, hairdresser or doctor, others go to a search engine on the World-wide Web. So to attract all potential customers to your business you need a presence on the web.
The problem is that if you haven't set up a website before, you probably find the whole idea rather daunting. You have plenty of questions, but don't know how to find out the answers. This short article provides plenty of tips and answers five of the most frequently-asked questions regarding setting up a website:
- How do I choose a domain name for my website?
- What should my website contain?
- What should my website's home page look like?
- How do I attract visitors to my website?
- How do I know how successful my website is?
If you have any further questions to ask or comments to add please post them on the discussion forum.
How Do I Choose a Domain Name?
A domain name is unique, so you cannot take a domain name that somebody else has already registered. Likewise, nobody else can take a domain name that is registered to you (there may be some exceptions devised to prevent cybersquatting, but provided this is not your intention, your registered domain name should be safe).
Most web hosting companies have a page on their website where you can type in a domain name and see whether it has already been registered. If your preferred domain name has not been registered, you're in luck and should probably go ahead and register it right away. (If somebody else gets there first you will have difficulty getting 'your' domain name back again.) Domain registration is not expensive and lasts for two years. You can keep the domain indefinitely provided you renew the registration every two years; otherwise it expires and becomes available for others to take.
Remember that the domain that you choose says something about your organisation. For example,
- A .com domain says that your organisation aspires to a worldwide presence (if it is not already a global organisation).
- A .co.uk domain is either for a business based principally in the UK or the localised website of a global organisation.
- A .org website is generally for non-profit making organisations
The domain name should also be closely related to your business brand. In most cases this means the name of the website should contain the name of the company. In other cases the website may be named after a product of your business or its benefit. In these cases the advantage is that your site is more likely to appear as the result of a web search because users are more likely to search for products and benefits than company names.
What Should My Website Contain?
Most important, however, is that the pages of your website should contain textual information that discusses your company's products or services and their benefits. It is the textual information on your website that Google uses to determine the subject matter of each page and for which keywords your site should be listed as the result of a search.
Your aim should be to appear near the top of a Google search for the products or services that your business offers. Many keywords are so competitive that you simply don't stand a chance to get near the top, so try to find something specific to your business that effectively targets your potential customers. The keywords also need to be something that people will really use, so you might want to ask a few people what they would use to search for your site. Once you have decided which keywords to target, make sure that you use them liberally on your website, and preferably in headings. Don't use synonyms; stick to your chosen phrases.
In the early days of the Web it was common to see "under construction" signs on websites. In those days there was some tolerance for this, but these days any evidence that the website is unfinished is seen as unprofessional and is a real turn-off for visitors. Also try to maintain the integrity of your website; in other words try to ensure that all links point to pages that still exist. If your site points to places elsewhere on the Web you have no control over their existence, but it still casts a bad reflection on your site if it contains many links to fictitious or expired pages.
What Should my Website's Home Page Look Like?
Your website should project your company's image and branding. Make sure that any logos, styles, images, phrases etc are consistent with other promotional material so that customers perceive the website to be part of the company's whole branded package.
Think about who will be coming to the home page and what their expectations are. What are they looking for and will they find it? Will a first-time visitor understand what your business is about from a quick look at the home page? Will a visitor return to your website after their first visit? What will keep them coming back? Also, once you have a website, test its effectiveness and usability. Sit a friend (or even a stranger) down in front of your website and ask them to think aloud about what they see and whether it meets their expectations. Watch how easily they navigate links in your site to find what they are looking for. Minimise the number of clicks to the most frequently needed information.
Avoid making web design mistakes that others have made. A great resource for designs to avoid is atwww.webpagesthatsuck.com
Bear in mind that your site's home page will not be the only 'landing' page for visitors to your site. Search engines may send users to any page of your site, so navigation around your site should also be easy starting from any page. Tempt your website visitors to explore your site further; otherwise they will very quickly hit 'Back' on their browser and go somewhere else.
How Do I Attract Visitors to My Website?
Apart from targeting specific keywords with the content of your site, you will benefit substantially from other people linking to your website. In the past, this led to the practice of link swapping, in which you wrote to the webmaster of another site and offered to add a link to their website if they would add a link to your website from theirs. This might have fooled Google for a while, but such practices these days are likely to damage your ranking in Google rather than enhance it. So, by all means include genuine links to others within your market sector, but do not adopt link swapping as a practice to manipulate the search engines as you will suffer in the long run.
Each page of a website has an associated set of so-called metatags, which is a list of keywords relating to the content of that page. The original idea was that search engines would have to read only the metatags in order to process and correctly index web pages, and would not have to analyse the content of the page. However, metatags were too easy to manipulate (far too many pages were using metatags such as "free" and "sex" to attract visitors), so Google decided to ignore metatags completely and inspect the textual content for itself. It is worth using metatags, however, as some other search engines still use them.
Provide useful information on your website to potential customers of your business and design your website so that it is easy to use. People will visit your website for the information and may return and buy from you later, particularly if they found the information useful.
Think of attracting visitors to your website as being like fishing. If you have a website with a single page of information, it is like dangling a single line into a vast ocean. Your single page may be very effective if you have the right bait, but generally you stand a better chance of attracting visitors if you have more pages of useful information. A collection of pages of useful information is more like casting a net into the ocean than dangling a single line.
Finally, be sure to include your website address on all promotional materials, whether it be on business cards, brochures, t-shirts or company vehicles.
How Do I Know How Successful My Website is?
Your web hosting company will make statistics available to you regarding your website. This will include the number of visitors to your website each month, the number of pages viewed (from which you can calculate the average number of pages per visitor), the number of requests for each page, which search terms were used in search engines to find your pages, the pattern of requests over a 24 hour period, and so on. Such information enables you to build up a profile of visitors to your site, which you should compare with your targeted customer profile.
Pretend that you don't know about your website and type in some relevant search terms in a search engine. Does your website appear in the results list?
Try to get users involved in your website. Encourage visitors and customers to register for information updates and encourage them to return to your site and provide feedback on how it can be improved.
There is a lot more to having an effective web site than just filling in an HTML template and getting it hosted. Your website needs to
- convey your company's image and brand,
- be easy to use,
- meet user's expectations,
- enable visitors to find what they are looking for quickly.