A website is essentially a home base which supports everything else you do – both online and off. Whether a company needs one or not is no longer up for discussion. Every website will have completely different needs, depending on a huge range of factors defined by audience, service and industry. Bigger brands in particular may be able to use their websites for completely different things, thanks to the full extent of their other resources taking some of the pressure off. Smaller business, on the other hand, will need their website to do a bit more legwork. There are six key things that it will need to achieve.
Establish your brand
Your website needs to offer visitors a clear picture of who you are. More than any other space your business operates in, your own site provides complete control over how you position your company. This positioning takes two key forms:
- Aesthetic positioning – what your brand looks like. Colours, fonts, logos, styles of imagery. These need to be immediately apparent to users, and also need to be used consistently across all areas of the business, from social media accounts to business cards to van decals.
- Message positioning – who you are, and what your company stands for. Your core values, your unique selling points. These messages need to be front and centre.
Establish your products or services
When it comes to the services you provide, and the things you sell, your website shouldn’t leave anything to the imagination. Make sure there’s plenty of detailed information about what you sell – and why you’re the best person to supply it. This can include:
- Written descriptions
- Technical specifications
- Photography and video
- Case studies and testimonials
- Frequently asked questions
Generate leads or sales
The information above is all in service of encouraging customers to click the “buy” button – or persuading potential clients to enquire for a quote. Website visitors should have as few barriers as possible to initiating or completing these transactions – useful (even essential) features include:
• Online storefront
• Pricing information
• Customer baskets
• Secure payments
• Automated quoting tools
• Targeted contact forms
• Clear contact information
Appear in search results
A website is all-but-useless if no one can find it. Websites need to be designed and built in a way that search engines can read, index and serve up to people in search results – this is called search engine optimisation, or SEO. There’s no on/off switch for making a site appear at the top of Google – instead, it’s a combination of a large number of factors, including (but not limited to):
- Identifying relevant search keywords that relate to your business
- Ensuring each page has a unique title, ideally using one of these keywords
- Writing enough unique, relevant content for each page to give a clear picture of what it’s about
- Creating a logical site structure that bots can move through easily
- Making sure the site loads quickly, and is useable, on all devices
- Ensuring correct details are listed in Google Business
- Updating the site regularly so that Google recognises that it’s an active business
You’ll notice that many of the elements favoured by Google’s bots are also incredibly useful to human users too. Creating a site that is easier for people to use means they’ll spend more time on it, rather than clicking the back button straight away. These metrics of human behaviour are recorded and considered by Google, and the better your stats, the better you’ll be able to rank. When SEO is done right, it’s almost like a snowball effect.
4 essential things every business website needs
Technology moves fast, and the internet in particular is always changing. A website that met every technical standard and best practice even two years ago could now be completely out of date. These standards range from boxes to tick to pretty essential user functions, to legal requirements that can cause trouble if not met. Here are a few key requirements:
- Responsive design
Responsive web design means that websites are designed and built to work effectively on a number of different devices (desktop, tablet, mobile), and in any browser window size. If you make your browser window smaller, or look at your site on a smaller device, does it stay put, forcing people to scroll left and right to read anything, or shrink down until the text and images are illegible? Or does it adapt, subtly adjusting the layout to make sure everything remains readable, and on one screen? The latter is called responsive web design, and it’s increasingly becoming a factor that’s valued by Google – as well as by users, as mobile web browsing overtakes use of desktops.
This one’s fairly simple - no one likes a slow website. Human users are less likely to stick around and wait for your pages to load, and search engine bots may not be able to crawl through your entire site in the time allotted. Technical considerations to improve page speed include finding the balance between high quality images and small file sizes, optimising code to be as efficient as possible and compressing certain files.
Protecting the privacy and integrity of the data your website handles is essential, particularly if the site allows people to make payments directly through it. If your website runs on a certain type of software, such as WordPress, it needs to be kept up to date with the latest version, as security issues and new vulnerabilities will be fixed with each release. Making sure your website uses HTTPS instead of HTTP as the method for which it transfers data is also essential – the secure version (hence the extra S) encrypts the data that your website sends around the web, protecting it from hacks. It also adds an essential badge of trust for consumers, who are increasingly keeping an eye out for the secure identifier on the websites they use to make purchases.
- Data protection
If you have contact forms that collect data from users, you have a responsibility to make sure that data is actually relevant to your business, and is kept securely. You may be aware of recent changes to the law, with the introduction of General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR for short. This stipulates that you have to make your visitors completely aware of the data you’re storing on them, as well as why and how you’re storing it. You’ll also have to go to greater lengths to get consent for storing this data.