8 Things You Must Know To Create An Outstanding Website

Last week, we discussed how a poor website can do more harm than good for a business. Several emails were sent to the column’s author requesting the secret to creating an effective business website. I responded with the same response I always give: defining what constitutes an effective business website is a simple matter.

Prior to drawing the first graphic or writing the first line of code, you must determine the website’s budget, purpose, target audience, design, navigation, and content. And finally, you must define the marketing strategy that will attract visitors to your website.

It sounds simple, but you’d be surprised at how many truly awful business websites exist. Yours could even be among them. If so, pay attention. Since nearly a decade ago, my company has designed and redesigned websites for every type of business imaginable, from sole proprietorships to multinational corporations. We’ve designed (or redesigned) several hundred websites, and I’ve concluded that the majority of business websites perform a pitiful job for their owners.

What, you didn’t know that your business website should serve you? You believe it should simply sit on a server somewhere, consuming digital space and accumulating digital dust?

Every website, business or otherwise, must serve a purpose, and this is where the majority of websites fail. They are useless because the website’s owner never gave them much thought. It is not the fault of the website. A website is lifeless. It is whatever you make of it. A website’s only existence is determined by its designer and owner. If the human element fails to adequately define the building blocks, the website will serve no purpose and perish in cyberspace.

Building an effective business website is not brain surgery, thank goodness, because that is how I earn a significant portion of my income.

Definition is the key to creating an effective, well-designed website that works for its owner and actually serves a purpose.

Establish the Budget

Every website, regardless of size, must have a reasonable budget, with “reasonable” being the operative word. I cannot count the number of times I’ve sat with a prospective client as they listed the eight million cool things they wanted their website to do, only to discover that their budget was only a few hundred dollars. I always have the urge to say, “Well, you just wasted $300 of my time, so here’s your bill…”

Define the Objective

Every website must serve a specific function. Everything is driven by intent, including the target audience, the design, the navigation, the content, and the marketing. I could write an entire column on purpose, but suffice it to say that most websites have one of five purposes: to inform, to educate, to entertain, to generate leads, or to sell, or a combination of these. If you do not define the purpose of the website, all other efforts are wasted.

Specify the Intended Audience

Your target audience is the segment of the population you wish to attract to your website. If you sell shoes, for instance, your target market would be anyone with feet. Further, if you only sold women’s shoes, your target demographic would be women (with feet) Why is identifying your intended audience so crucial? How can you design a website that will appeal to your audience if you do not know who your audience is? Your intended audience may consist of clients, investors, job-seekers, information-seekers, etc. Define your intended audience before determining how to serve them.

Specify the Plan

Over the past few years, website design theory has evolved, primarily because search engines now ignore graphic-heavy websites and favor those with a minimalist approach to design. If you visit the websites of major corporations such as GE, Oracle, Raytheon, HP, and others, you will notice that the company logo is frequently the only graphic on the homepage. Search engines now prioritize websites with keyword-rich text over those with flashy graphics. Do not oppose the current design trend. You will not win.

Specify Navigation

Ineffective navigation is the leading cause of website abandonment. Navigation is the series of links that a visitor uses to navigate your website. Problems exist if your website has an illogical navigational hierarchy, too few or too many links, or is impossible to navigate. We live in an age of microwaves. We stand in front of the microwave tapping our feet and staring at our watches while wondering why a bag of popcorn takes so goddamn long to pop. Why can’t you cook an egg for three minutes in thirty seconds? If it takes a visitor more than three clicks to reach any page on your site, you need to improve your navigation.

Clarify the Content

Content refers to the information on your website, including images, text, and downloads. Since the leading search engines no longer use HTML Meta tag data to index websites, it is imperative that your website’s content is text-heavy, concise, and well-written to attract search engine spiders.

Describe the Build Procedure

Next, who will create your website? Will you do it yourself using a point-and-click website builder, or will you employ the neighborhood kid? Are you going to hire an independent designer or a professional firm? Budget typically dictates the construction method, but when it comes to web design, you get what you pay for. Sure, the kid next door will create a website for you if you buy them pizza or force your daughter to attend the prom with them, but the website will look and perform like it was designed by a child.

Describe Marketing

If you construct it, will people come? Certainly not, at least not without an effective marketing campaign. Your website should be integrated into your offline and online marketing efforts.

Include the URL on your business cards, brochures, letterhead, and other marketing materials. Include the address in your print, TV, and radio advertisements. If you prefer online marketing, determine where your target demographic surfs and advertise there.

If marketing is unfamiliar to you, do yourself a favor and hire a professional. Many businesses fail because they are unable to effectively market their products and services. This is also the weakness of the majority of business websites.

Best wishes on your success!

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