In today’s Internet age, having an online presence is essential for most businesses. A website can be a valuable business tool for conducting sales, contacting current and potential customers, promoting products and building brand loyalty.
But getting your business online isn’t a quick process and there are a lot of important considerations when setting up a website. This guide will outline the seven stages of building a website for your business.
Step 1 - Form a strategic plan
Before you jump in and start organising your website, you need to have a detailed strategic plan. You need to know exactly what the purpose of your site is before you start because this will affect every aspect of your site, from the content to the navigation.
A good strategic plan contains the following:
- What are your business objectives?
- Who is your target market (specifically define your ‘best’ client)?
- What makes you stand out from your competitors (your USP)?
- Why do you need a website (its purpose)?
- How will you achieve your objectives?
- Budget - how much you can afford to spend?
Step 2 - Choose a website developer
This is the most important decision you will make throughout the process of getting your business online.
If you choose a good developer the process will be easy and hassle-free and your website will meet all your business needs.
The first step in choosing a developer is to research. You should visit some of your favourite websites and find out the name of the company that developed that website. Once you have found a company that you like, browse their website and read their testimonials from clients and case studies of their work.
It is also important to make sure that the company is reputable, so visit Website Standards Association to see if they are members, or even contact some of their clients and ask them firsthand. Once you have decided that this is the developer you want to work with, you need to contact them and set up an initial meeting.
Step 3 - Prepare a creative brief
Once you have contracted a developer to create your website, you will need to prepare a creative brief. In this brief, you describe all the creative aspects of the website design that you want, from colours, to logos, to flash designs. Your website developer will probably have a creative brief form that you can easily complete and it is a good idea to work with the graphic designers on staff to get their expert opinion on the creative side of your website.
Step 4 - Secure a domain name
Once you have a website, your most valuable business asset will be your domain name, or web address. This is how your website will be identified on the Internet, so it is a very important consideration. Here are five useful strategies for choosing a domain name:
- Consider your target market – are they going to find your website through a search engine, or by guessing your address? What suffix (.com, .net, .org) will they associate with your business?
- Protect your business – you need to purchase variations on your domain name in all your current and future countries of trade to ensure that you always have access to the domain name you want
- Don’t be too clever – use a simple domain name, because if you try to be clever, you might just confuse people and make it hard for them to find your site
- Don’t make it too long – make your domain name something short that is easy for people to remember and won’t be misspelled
Step 5 - Add value to your site
Depending on the purpose of your site, there are particular products/features that you will need to have on your website to achieve your outcomes. For example, if your website is designed to:
- Provide information to users – you will need tools on your website that showcase your business and your products, such as photo gallery, product catalogue and RSS feeds.
- Improve brand recognition – you will need to build and maintain your brand image using products such as a flash header, case studies and testimonials.
- Interact with users – get customers to return to your site regularly by making it interactive with features such as competitions, quizzes, a forum and a blog.
· Make sales online - you need to facilitate the sales process with certain software, such as a shopping cart, classifieds manager and affiliate tracking software.
All of these website products should be available through your website developer.
Step 6 - Make your website live
After your website has been thoroughly tested, your website development company will set it live. This means that your business is actually online and your customers can start using your site.
Step 7 - Market your website
Once your site is live, you need to promote it so your prospects know where to find it. Here are four ways to market your website:
- Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) – many people will find your website through search engines such as Google, so you need to get your site ranked high in their search listings. To do this, you need to include keywords that your prospects might search for in important places throughout your site, like the page title and bold headings. You should also get as many reputable websites as possible to link to your site, because the more sites link to yours, the more important Google will think your site is and the higher it will rank it. Thirdly, you need to have an .xml site map of your website easily available so Google’s ‘crawlers’ can find it and determine the content of your site.
- Email marketing – a great way to promote your website is to send regular email campaigns to your database of contacts. You can give them updates and special offers to encourage them to visit your site and to tell their friends about it. You can also have a sign-up form on your website to add prospects to your database.
- Offline advertising – you need to include your website address in all your offline promotions to ensure that your prospects are aware of it. Mention it in all your print, radio and television advertising and on all your business documents, such as brochures and invoices.
- Pay-per-click advertising – this is an online marketing technique where your business places an ad on a website, such as Google, and only pays when a user clicks on the advertisement. You bid on keywords related to your business and then when a user searches using those keywords, your ad is displayed at the top of the search results. This is a great way to promote your website because many prospects can be exposed to your ad, but you only have to pay when someone actually clicks on the link.