Wednesday 31 July 2013

Small Business Website - 5 critical questions

Five key questions to ask yourself before committing to a pay-per month or 'one-off' website service for your small business website.

More often than not with a little research you can can secure a near free small business website- without the monthly overhead.

Before we explore the 5 critical questions it's important to identify the expectations of what a website should do for your business. What do you want your business website to achieve?

By identifying this,  you can relate to why the critical questions are so important.

Generally a business website comes in two forms: e-commerce, and lead-generating websites. For example, a beauty clinic may not sell products on its' website but does want to 'sell' enquiries'.

Thus the high-level expected outcomes of a website for your typical business website include:

  • Attracting customers (think about what would attract you, as a customer)
  • Generating leads (ask yourself: How many leads do I expect a month?)
  • Generating sales (ask yourself: how many products do I expect to sell per month?)
It's very easy to over estimate your monthly sales; Google your main competitors reports to gauge their success (bare in mind this will be over-hyped).

"Many entrepreneurs make the mistake of taking a large market and multiply by 1 % and saying 'how hard could that be'...getting 1% of any market is not that easy". - Guy Kawasaki - The Top 10 Mistakes of Entrepreneurs (source)
Without routinely updated content, nobody will find your website!

1. Have a plan for content

This cannot be stressed enough- we see  evidence of this all to often; Clients whom focus to much on the design of their website, and forgetting what really gets customers there in the first place. Copy-writing for this reason is a growing business. Without this, your website becomes stale and loses it's footing on search engines. After all, nobody wants to be directed to a website with out date, stale information.

The reason copy is so important is simple- this is how people find your business on search engines. Customers do not find a new business by searching for 'professional looking design'. Instead, build your website around the topic areas your target market would be researching before making the commit to buy.

How to address content- practical steps you can take

Think from your customers perspective- what questions might they have before buying product or enquiring about your service? Your website needs to be one answering these questions. For example consider a local garage wanting to promote it's MOT servicing. Questions perspective customers might be asking include "Cost of MOT", and "Can I drive without an MOT". If your website answers the questions perspective customers are asking, your more likely to win their favour.

Free Book From Google
The process we're describing here is known as 'ZMOT' which sands for 'Zero Moment Of Truth' a term coined by a Google employee which is available as a free book and well worth the read. It explains the buying process of people on-line including the importance of content, and is especially useful for local businesses which target their surrounding areas. 

2. Secure your business name online

This is simple but easily forgotten: register your business name on all the various social media websites to secure ownership of them. This does not mean your business should be active on every social media site there is, but is does give you the opportunity to use your own name should you chose to do so in the future. 

A free tool to check if your business name is still available on all the social media sites at once, you can use services such as 'Knowem' to check your business name availability.  This also avoids the PR danger of a another person impersonating  your organisation on-line by using your business name.

3. Quality Photographs

Just like window shopping in the real world, we buy with our eyes. Don't go half-hat on your product photos. Simply ask yourself if you were the customer, would you appreciate a small, unclear picture? Probably not.
For less than £40 it's worth the investment for professional looking photographs.

What's more, it's increasingly easy to take your own professional product photographs;  Affordable  photo studio white boxes are available on-line. For example this photo-box (left) achieves professional looking photos for under £40.

4. Ability to update website yourself

It should never take a call to a company or web developer to be able to update your own website; today tools known as content management systems (CMS's) allow the average Joe to login, and edit the content on your own business website. The latter is vital, so your website can be kept up-to-date and relevant to your consumers.

'Wordpress' is the ubiquitous, free CMS most commonly used to day. Typically, a web development service will use Wordpress (which is free), and build a custom template over it to math your branding requirements. - Be cautious of web design services which try to sell Wordpress as their own creation, remember it is the design service you are paying for, and quotes should reflect that.

Whichever CMS your website uses, before committing, ensure this choice does not lock you into your supplier (vendor lock-in). The key question to ask is:
-Can I export by content in a common format (XML, csv, sql, latex, text)?
Without this ability your site would be locked into whatever proprietary content management system your supplier give you. With the ability to export data from your CMS in a common format, however, this give you freedom to move to another CMS in the future should you need to.

5 Content Strategy

"Lets start at the very begining, a very good place to start"- Sound of music

Is your content:

  1. Relevant to your business?
  2. Helpful?
  3. Does it include calls to action?
 After reading the book "Content Strategy for the web" by Kristina Halvorson, which largely promotes a change in attitude towards content for your website which useful resources (questionnaires, example spreadsheets) to better organise the management of content on your web site and beyond (social media is also content, lest we forget).

The problem, however, is quite simple-  we're often "too busy" or "cannot see the value" in content which leads to websites going stale, being lax in content quality. It's no more complicated than input = output. Invest in content, make it measurable by using free analytics tools (such as Google Analytics) and soon one can measure the effectiveness of your content.

Set yourself a goal today to either
  • Identify existing outdated content on your website
  • Draft an article which is relevant to your target market and helpful
People are very passive when it comes to reading content on the web, we scan we don't read. Bullet points and use of graphics is of paramount importance to keep engagement. Give your visitors an action to take else they will just leave. Typical calls to action are "Book now", "Don't miss out", and of course "click here".  All sound terribly rudimentary but not having at least some form of call to action will loose you leads.
Nielsen, J. (2009), Eyetracking heatmap. Retrieved July 31, 2012, from, Eyetracking

Research undertook by Worcester Polytechnic Institute found
"Generation Y may prefer pages that include a main large image, images of celebrities, little text, and a search feature." (Djamasbi, S. et al 2010)

The research, used eye tracking to gauge where visitors looked first, and which areas of the page won the most attention producing 'heat maps' of interest. Taking advantage of the findings that most people from western society begin their focus in the top left, and  only 'skim read' toward the right should be considered when placing important calls to action.

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