“If you build it, they will come.”
This may be true of baseball diamonds, but it is not true of websites.
A lot of marketing folks think of the 1950s as the golden age of advertising. Why? Because it was relatively easy to turn your product into a household name. All you needed was a creative advert and a good distribution strategy.
The internet went through a (very brief) phase like that. In the 90s, all you had to do was put up a website. It didn’t have to do anything, it didn’t have to sell anything; literally, it didn’t need to serve any real purpose. If you simply had a website, you could enjoy a lineup of investors jostling to throw money your way.
As we all know, that bubble burst in the year 2000. The dot com bust gave techie folks a reality check that digital products must be connected to stable, measurable value.
Enter the 2010s, when the phrase “Every company must become a tech company,” was buzzing amongst media outlets. This was in response to a great shakeup that had occurred in the market. Consumer behaviour had changed seemingly overnight. People were spending more and more time on their smartphones, ordering food, furniture and transportation over apps.
We all know the story. The internet is the new arena of commerce. This presents a simultaneous advantage and disadvantage for businesses:
We can cry about it, or we can make a plan.
This is the most important phase to spend time on in order for your website to be successful. Answer the following questions:
Example of too many nested links:
Don’t design your web pages or create content for them just yet. There are still a few more planning steps.
This ties into your ideal customer journeys, but gets into greater specificity. What conversions should your website achieve? Here are some examples:
Website conversions come from solving a problem for the customer. If someone has sought out your website, they are in the market for what you provide. So, what problems do your customers typically experience? What questions do they often have? Use their motivations to set up a conversion oppourtunity that will serve their needs.
“Do you have tree roots in your plumbing? Watch this video on how tree roots can be removed with trenchless technology.”
“Are you interested in French tips that will have French natives mistaking you for a local? Sign up for our mailing list to receive a free 7-day intensive course.”
“Latest business apparel styles, priced from low to high.”
What conversion are you hoping to drive? Your website must be set up so the visitor is placed front and center to that oppourtunity. If you are hoping for people to contact you to inquire about insurance services, don’t bury your contact information in your bottom footer while displaying a blog post about climate change at the visitor’s initial eye level on your homepage. If you want people to fill out a Contact Us form, present the form somewhere on the homepage, ideally after a clear description of your business, a short value prop, and a testimonial.
If you skip this step, don’t be surprised when your website doesn’t convert well. There are a LOT of websites out there that are set up for no particular goal. This begins a cycle of the marketing failing to hit their targets, sales being frustrated by the lack of leads, and executive leadership becoming dismayed that their investment into digital marketing isn’t paying off.
Building a website is like sitting down at the restaurant of life. If you want to eat steak for dinner, you have to order a steak. If your website is effectively ordering a side salad, or ordering nothing at all, you can’t be disappointed when you don’t get that steak dinner you wanted.
This ties into one a fundamental component of User Experience design: if the website visitor has to struggle to achieve their task, they’ll simply leave your site. “Don’t make me think.”
Alright, now you know what conversions your website should deliver. What technical integrations will you need to make that happen?
For example, for e-commerce you might need:
You might also want a live Twitter feed displayed on your homepage, or a pop-up prompting the visitor to sign up for your email newsletter. For all of these you’ll need access to an API, or specialized software.
If you have a CRM, you’ll need to look at integrating it with your website. This will allow you to collect advanced customer data. If possible, look for a CRM company that also provides marketing automation software. I’ll write a more in-depth article on CRMs and marketing automation tools at a later date.
Now that you have your website skeleton, your conversion goals, and your integrations all lined up, you can actually start designing your web pages.
If you’re using a template, the basic format of the page is already taken care of for you. That might work for now. If you want ultimate customization of your website, however, you need to design and code from scratch.
Here are some basic rules to follow:
Your (SHORT) company description
A CTA that leads the visitor to your ideal conversion
Plot out where the nav will go, each page headline, any pictures, and how the main body of content will be displayed. You can easily do this by using a wireframing tool like Figma, Frame Box and UXPin. This article lists 25 free wireframing tools to help you get started.
Now is the time to create your written content, photos, graphic images and videos. If you’re a services-based business, start by writing the copy and then plan your visuals around that. If you’re selling products, let the images inform your words.
Let’s start with the homepage. Think back to the number one rule for online written content: be clear!
Be clear about what your company is. What it does. What it offers the customer.
Writing clear content is deceptively difficult. Many websites put a clunky paragraph at the top of their homepage about the vague benefits they offer, their grandiose vision for revolutionizing their industry, or a loose description of their services. This is sub-optimal.
People will get confused instantly, and they will leave your site.
Why not be crystal clear about what you’re selling? What’s there to be afraid of?
If you haven't already, you can check out my recent post called "How To Write Good Content" for a thorough primer on how to write effectively.
All that to say, make your company mission statement short, short, short and sweet at the top of your homepage. Here’s a good example:
Here are some mistakes to avoid when writing your mission statement:
Helping is the new marketing. Your website needs some content to answer customer questions, boost SEO, and to let your visitors know that you're the expert in your industry.
Aim to have 5 blogs pre-written before you publish your website. A good wordcount for a blog is between 500-1000 words. Writing blogs should be a constant item in your marketing calendar so you always have fresh content to post, but you don’t need to have an encyclopedia written right off the bat.
Your blogs should answer whatever questions make up the most popular long-tail keywords for your industry. This will help visitors make a more informed buying decision, and establishes your company as a trustworthy authority. The ultimate goal with content marketing is to turn your website into a resource that people continually come back to, whether they’re currently looking to buy anything.
One of the greatest drivers of SEO is interpage linking, which entails placing hyperlinks in your content that bring the reader to other pages within your site. It’s not the links themselves that drive up SEO. Rather, your SEO improves when your website visitors take the action to navigate through multiple pages. Link your blogs together in a way that makes sense, or link to product pages, location pages or contact forms. This will keep visitors on your site for longer, giving your site valuable SEO “juice” and increasing the likelihood that this visitor will ultimately convert.
At this point you’ve brainstormed your website business model, created a skeleton outline, plotted the customer journey, optimized for conversions, planned out integrations and written amazing content. Don't relax just yet. Your work isn’t over.
Go over your entire website and check for errors, bugs, typos, broken links, slow pages...everything that might hinder the user experience. Here’s a 28 point checklist to go through before publishing your website to the live internet.
Google Analytics is a free data visualization tool. It’s how you track the performance of your website, and learn more about your visitors. It's an essential resource for learning what to improve about your website to increase desired results.
Check out this great blog from Moz to learn more about setting up Google Analytics. Don’t worry, it’s super easy.
Here are some extra tips to make the most of your website:
Maintaining your website is an ongoing task. For as long as your website is public, you’ll need to be editing it’s content, performing QA tests and adding fresh new material to stay relevant in the eyes of your visitors.
Let’s recap all the steps outlined in this chapter:
There is a lot to do when it comes to planning and building your website! Take it slow. Many businesses rush the creation of a website, which makes little sense when you consider that it’s possibly the single most important customer-facing asset a business can have. Make sure you define exactly what you’re hoping to achieve with your website. If you fail to plan, you can surely plan to fail. Marketing teams would do well to heed this warning: your engagement and conversion metrics will be lackluster if you’re trying to achieve goals the website isn’t set up for.
That’s all for this chapter. Congratulations on taking a major step towards digital marketing success! In the next chapter, we’ll be covering Website Data, Customer Feedback & Internal Discovery: How To Research Your Customers Like A Pro.