Starting an Online Business Part 2; Internet Marketing

Getting a fully functional website and email set up is the first stage of getting a business online, next you have to think about letting people know it’s there, unsurprisingly, the best way to do that is online with Internet marketing.

A common misconception, or simply unconsidered thing for new website owners, is assuming that once the website is built it will automatically be just in the right place on Google searches and have flood of traffic coming in. Unfortunately that’s an impossibility, there are thousands of companies in the world offering the same services, they can’t all be ideally positioned on search engines, so that makes your first Internet marketing investment…

Search engine optimisation

Search sites like Google dominate the driving of most traffic online, leading to the practice of search engine marketing. There are a few approaches to this but the key essential to initially focus on should always be SEO.

This is a simple enough concept often confused by web design “gurus” trying to sell things online. basically, you want to make your site look attractive to the mathematical algorithms search engines like Google work around. In the most basic terms, if you have a plumbing website, you have to make sure the word plumbing is used plenty of times throughout the site so that Google knows it’s a site about plumbing; it becomes a “keyword” for that business website.

Some web design companies package SEO with the website build but most do not, or offer only an extremely basic level of SEO, requiring you to employ an expert to get things moving. Naturally, at Smart Domain Group it is built into our web design packages, but you can still get the most of it by doing some advance research and if you want to keep the costs low when starting up you need to be prepared to build on the foundations laid yourself.

Any business owner should be able to draw up a list of likely keywords describing their business; the primary services, location and industry specific terms for example. Given this starting point your SEO can then research which of these terms are the most popularly used in web searches and how competitive they are, helping highlight a shorter list of keywords to focus on.

The copy on the site should then be updated to build a good level of keyword density (too little won’t be noticed, too much will look like trying to cheat the system) and add a bunch of hidden labels that search engines see but web surfers don’t, such as text labels for images, layout tables and so on. Once the website is optimised the site can be submitted to Google and should get a few reasonable search positions on some of the keywords.

The ongoing aspect is link building or “backlinking”; search engines work out how good your site is based on how many other sites link to it and the quality of those sites. You can wait around and hope that people link to you which is the bizarre advice sometimes passed around by those online gurus, in the early days at least you really need to give things a push to get them started.

Some techniques might be swapping links with key suppliers and clients, spending regular time on a good quality web forum about your market and using the autosignature tool to post a link every time you post a comment, you could also offer to write a few guest articles for good blogs in your business sector, adding a link to your website at the end. Over time these kinds of activities build you lots of quality links from other relevant websites and you rank up in search results accordingly.

Web forums are awash with people over complicating search optimisation, offering long out of date advice, or “500 links for $10” deals and so on, they won’t help; if you don’t have time to do all this link building yourself, ask your SEO provider to do some for you. Google is very focused on removing SEO cheats and shortcuts and are mercilessly banishing such websites from listings, but there are still lots of providers taking advantage of how little most website owners understand SEO.

Social networks

The second key ongoing effort is still link building, but of a different kind. The above links are primarily about building Google’s awareness of your site, so it ranks your website high and people can find you easily on search listings. You can also build links for the traditional reason; so that potential customers can find you directly, and this is where social networks like Facebook and Twitter are increasingly coming into things.

All social networks are free, but they do demand regular attention and some effort to understand properly and benefit from. Each is a little different and better suited to different businesses; Twitter is good for companies who have lots of fast moving news happening, Linked In is good for business to business services, YouTube is great if your business can generate entertaining video content. You have to give each of them consideration on their merits and benefits to you, and take a look at what your competition is doing.

All social networks vary in the best approaches but a couple of key points to consider are that you need to;

Post content to your social networks at least daily, a post which is a few hours old on Twitter or Facebook disappears down the timeline people view, so most of the time, most of your audience will not see most of your posts. If you post once a week hardly anyone will notice you even exist.

Engage in conversation, the idea of social networks is to be social, if someone posts a comment on your page, reply to it, give potential and current customers a dialogue with a real person, it gives your brand a personality people can connect with.

Don’t be a pimp, endlessly tweeting about your services doesn’t make exciting content for any audience; would you want to be friends with a plumber who posted every day on your timeline that he can fix burst pipes? No, but you might be friends with one who posts occasional DIY tips or comic photos of “weird things we’ve found in drains”. On social networks you have to give people something they want to share, give people a laugh or something useful, it gives the brand even more personality and builds trust and familiarity, so when someone does have a burst pipe, they think about that funny plumber guy on Facebook and ask for a quote.

Think of it like long running TV ad campaigns; often they have little to do with the key product being sold, the focus is on characters, atmosphere, things that make people feel connected to the brand, social networks require the same kind of mindset, rather than a typical small business approach of listing products and great prices in print ads.

Of course, offer up enough share-able content and no one minds if there’s an occasional reminder of the website, core services or special offers, and that’s where you can start building your links that people will want to follow.

Internet marketing evolves

Marketing techniques are constantly changing, five years ago social networks barely existed and you really could buy a thousand for $10 and improve your search engine position; things change over time.

In the immediate future though, things look quite clear, SEO will continue to focus increasingly on quality, and it will begin to incorporate “social authority”; evaluating how outstanding you are on social networks and applying that to search engine results. It’s already starting to happen with Twitter and Google+ and underlines the importance of these two aspects of Internet marketing.

As with the web design itself, finding a provider who can do it all is ideal, but to stay cost effective in the early days of a business it helps to cover some bases yourself, especially things like social networking which really requires no special skills, just an understanding of your potential audience.

There are details to these techniques; a good press release can really build great links for you, a few quality recognised directories can boost search and there are all sorts of emerging social networks like Pinterest that companies are just starting to work out how to use to market themselves. Focus on the essentials at first though, get optimised so you’re appearing somewhere in the search results, link build to improve that and go social with the big names like Facebook, Twitter, Linked In or Google+ to bring in a second stream of traffic so you aren’t over reliant on Google alone.

Beyond the Internet!

Finally, of course, think real world; put that web address on vans, business cards, letterhead, invoices and everything else, it should be a hub for everything. People can check bits of information like your address or a price list or service by looking at your website rather than taking up time on the phone answering mundane questions, and if you want to encourage more phone calls, get the site written in a way which does so; a business card doesn’t do any encouragement, but it can lead to a website that does.

It sounds like a lot to take on, and it is a significant investment of money and time, but once you’re set up, it’s all benefits and much lower ongoing costs that can make huge differences to small businesses. Please do drop us a line to learn more about the ways we can help you with the web design and ongoing marketing and SEO here at Smart Domain Group, our services are built around small to medium sized businesses!

Starting an Online Business Part 1; the Website

Today, every business needs an online presence and web design if it is to stay healthy, with so many traditional routes of advertising like Yellow Pages continuing to disappear from usage as people turn to Google to find just about everything.

If you haven’t done it before though, getting online can feel a big and complex task that is all too easy to put off. In truth, it isn’t all that difficult with the right web design company to guide you through it and unlike Yellow Pages, which updates once per year, you can get your website online and make adjustments to it anytime you like.

Everything starts with the web design itself. Your website should form the hub of any online effort, like a central brochure everything can refer to and which in turn can refer to everything online and offline such as printed materials or social networks. Any good web designer will help you through the process of putting a site together, but it pays dividends to put some time in yourself in the early stages to help things along and get the most out of it;

 
Have a look at your competition online, see what they’re doing and how you can do it better

Make a note of anything you see on other websites which you think might work well for you

Consider all the information you should put into your web design such as core services, company history, contact details and news or special offers

Consider things like your unique selling points and key skills; your web designer probably won’t understand the critical things in your business so it’s up to you to explain them

Collect together photos and logos the designer will need to build the website


Whilst you’re doing this, meet with a few web design companies to see what they have to offer. Ask to take a look at previous work and drop an email to some of their customers for feedback on the quality of the web design and service; it is worth paying a little extra for the better product in the long run!

Prices can really vary for websites, and often hide some small print details; a budget site might cost just a few hundred pounds but won’t include things like copywriting, web hosting, search engine optimisation or ongoing support, which is a bit like having a stack of leaflets with no writing on them and no way to distribute them.

More comprehensive packages tend to start around the £1000 mark and upwards, however many companies offer single page or three page web design packages for a lower price which allows you to get a foot in the door to expand upon next time you have some money available. Some web design companies also offer credit or monthly payments so you can get the website you need set up straight away but spread the cost out.

Financially, it’s also very important to establish ongoing costs; domain names, web hosting and e-mail accounts are all things which have to be paid for on an annual subscription basis. A cheap website set up cost may be hiding an expensive annual subscription fee, make sure you take this into account working out the best deal.

There are a few key things you should look for in web design packages, of course you can buy them all separately from different suppliers, but if you can put it all under one roof from the off then it makes life easier while you find your feet;

Copywriting; yes, you could write your own copy, but have you really any idea how to write information that is attractive to human visitors and also attractive to search engines? Probably not, it’s highly specialist and a web design company with a dedicated expert copywriter is a real bonus.

Hosting; this is quite simply space on the Internet where your website will be stored so that people around the world can access it, without hosting you’re not online.

E-mail and domain name; most hosting packages also include a professional website address (domain name) and at least a few e-mail accounts.

Support and updates; you may need occasional updates to your website so it’s useful to have some free maintenance time bundled with web design packages, and make sure you know what the hourly costs are once you go beyond that. If you need regular updates then it’s good to get a CMS website (content management system); this will make it easy for you to do updates yourself, but typically costs more to set up.

SEO; search engine optimisation is a really big one, without it you just won’t appear in search engine listings, but it’s very specialist and can get expensive, find out if your set up costs includes any SEO work and what it will cost to get some done.

There are plenty of good packages around which don’t include all these things, but it really simplifies the process for a first timer especially putting everything under one roof; check out our own web design packages and you’ll see we include the lot for our clients.

So, with all that in mind, you’re ready to get a website set up, but that isn’t all there is to getting a business online, and in a future blog we’ll look at marketing and promotion through search engines, social networks and other web resources.

 

Winter special offers at SDG Web Design

Our Autumn giveaway went so well we’ve decided to carry it into winter, so for anyone wanting a new website from our Websmart range of packaged solutions, you can get a third off of our regular prices and free CMS software and set up worth an extra £300.

Websmart is the ideal web design package for any business looking to get established and succeed online, with our team of experts providing you with;

A modern, professional and uniquely designed website

Bespoke copywriting to persuade visitors to give you the call

A year of hosting, support and emails (renewable annually from just £99 per year)

Expert search engine optimisation to drive you to the top of web searches

Domain name purchase and set up

Detailed visitor web statistics

High quality professional stock photography if required

 

And of course we provide a full range of ongoing Internet and search engine marketing services if you require them or want to focus more of your business online over time.

We’ve created websites for an incredibly wide range of businesses, from sole traders and small businesses like tradesmen to pharmaceutical companies, industrial designers and international events. Websmart packages can be bought at a wide range of pages so the package can fit any size or complexity of business, and because every site is custom designed and written to fit the individual client, it always works.

Our CMS (Content Management System), typicall offered for £300 but currently free, is an incredible money saver long term as well; it allows you or your team to make simple changes to text and images yourselves without any need for web designer fees. The simple to use software means it’s easy to run a blog, news post, or constantly update your portfolio of work as often as you like.

So why not give your business the gift of a beautiful new website this Christmas?! We can even provide a range of ways to pay; split is 50/50 into a deposit and final payment on completion, or sign up for our monthly payment plans and have it all paid off after a year.

We’ve created over 3000 websites over the pat decade and are proud to offer a high end service at an affordable price that makes Websmart the best value package in the UK; give us a call to learn more!

Is Google+ any good for small businesses?

Google+, the search engine’s response to Facebook, has survived over a year and made it through the 400 million member mark which is quite an acheivement in a short space of time and an already crowded marketplace, but is it a phenomenon largely alien to the UK and is it a social network with any real value to small businesses?

Some of the most regular articles we see about Google+ use words like “ghost town” a lot, with suggestions that 400 million may have signed up but most of them posted once and never returned, Google themselves admit that active users are closer to 100 million, but that’s still a number it took Facebook many years to reach and very close to numbers on Twitter.

More interesting is that whilst many people in the UK have no idea what Google+ is, it still receives over 10% of our traffic to social networks, so it isn’t entirely unknown here, but perhaps what matters the most to UK businesses is more of a hidden feature; using Google+ is good for your SEO.

As you may expect Google designed the site so that it would perform well in web searches, if the same article is posted across all the social networks then searched for it’s no surprise that the Google version will typically come up, equally if a link is posted on the network and users “+1″ it or share it around that pushes the link up in SEO search results as well.

Quite simply, any popular link or content on Google+ is going to be popular on Google search as well, and that’s an opportunity ripe for small businesses to take advantage of, so;

Sign up for Google+

They allow businesses to have their own pages and it takes as long as any other social network to set up, not all that long.

Keyword optimise

Treat it just like your website in SEO terms; you want good, professional, welcoming content targeted at your market, but you want it full of useful SEO keywords as well.

Make friends

On Google+, that means getting into people’s “circles”; users arrange all their contacts into customisable groups eg friends/family/work/business, getting into those groups means they’ll be digesting your content.

Use it

Social networks are for social beings, give it some time every day and make sure you “+1″ plenty of things, just using the system makes you more visible on it.

 

Like anything new, it takes a while to get used to, but if you’re finding social networks like Twitter or Facebook don’t work for your small business and you want to try something else, or they do work for you and you want to expand that, Google+ is clearly worth taking a look at. Even if the direct social aspects of it don’t lift your business, the SEO affect could, some researchers found that around 70 +1s on a piece of content boosted visitors by 20%, which is pretty cool for something that need only take up a little time each day.

What is Pay Per Click Advertising?

Increasingly the Internet is evolving into an advertising fuelled medium. Most users expect web services to come free of charge (for example Facebook, YouTube, etc.), so the web based companies providing these services collect revenues by selling advertising space.

For many years banner advertising was the only real option, with advertisers paying to place an advertising image onto websites that would run for a set length of time or until a set number of people had seen it. Unsurprisingly, just like printed media the best websites for advertising were soon unaffordable for smaller advertisers and small websites had trouble finding advertisers without a focused sales team to do the work, but surely this exciting new medium could come up with something better?

Pay Per Click (or PPC) advertising was the solution that began to evolve.

At first, PPC was just a different way to charge for advertising that offered advertisers a better deal and more flexibility over how much they were spending. The advertiser would agree to pay a set amount of money for every time the advert was clicked which meant they weren’t wasting money paying to display the advert to people who may not even be interested in it, they only paid for those that were.

It also meant that websites couldn’t lie about the amount and type of traffic they were receiving; all that mattered was the number of clicks, and those with limited budgets would simply agree a deal to display for a low number of clicks.

This democratised web advertising considerably for advertisers, but it did little for those websites who wanted to find advertising revenues easily.

Systems such as Google’s Adwords moved things even further; Adwords is a simple system where advertisers pay for PPC advertising on websites relevant to their target market (selected by analysis of keywords on the website). Websites of any size can sign up to display advertising, inserting a small piece of code into their HTML which pulls up adverts relevant to their market (again, decided by matching keywords on the website to keywords in the adverts).

Straight away, websites of any size could quickly get advertising relevant to their audience, and advertisers of any size could get affordable advertising campaigns delivered directly to the right kind of audience and only ever pay for the adverts which generated a click.

Today the system is highly refined and widely trusted, to such an extent that many others have copied it (such as Facebook) and even quite big players utilise it; Myspace and YouTube both use the Adwords system in addition to their regular banner sales activities. Advertisers can now select which keyword interests they want to advertise to and bid against other advertisers, with those offering the highest per click rate getting the most high profile and frequent exposure.

Unsurprisingly some keywords that are very popular demand very high per click bids to make using the system worthwhile, but there are also plenty of keyword options out there that can be picked up for peanuts.

There are also some accepted cheats to the system; some advertisers use PPC purely as a branding opportunity, designing their adverts not to generate clicks, but to raise awareness of their products and services. If no clicks are generated the campaign costs nothing but you still get your brand and products displayed to hundreds or even thousands of relevant web users.

The whole thing may sound like a dream come true to many, but there is an art to seeing results and in plenty of industries it simply doesn’t work very well. We’d encourage anyone considering web advertising to give it a try though, it’s easy to limit your financial exposure and get a feel for how well it could work for your business, and we can offer design and copywriting services on pay per click advertising to help you make the most of the opportunity.

Web News; Black Friday Breaks Records

The big web news over the last week was something of a crossover between the web and the real world; Black Friday. A regular feature in the US for some time, it has started working it’s way into Europe thanks largely to the Internet, falling on the Friday before Thanksgiving. Far from referring to some stock market crash, Black Friday is all about amazing deals on retail prices, with many online and real world stores offering huge discounts on products to kick off the Christmas shopping season.

Increasingly the day is becoming associated with tech products and services, especially because brands like Amazon and Apple have pushed it internationally, but really it can apply to any retailer, large or small business; even some service industries offer deals.

Plenty of typical retailer tricks can apply around Black Friday which prevent it from being a way to reduce profits, and a great opportunity to raise awareness and attract customers; hook people with loss leaders and provide peripherals at regular or inflated prices, limit stock availability so you get people coming back next week and paying regular prices, or simply raise awareness of your business and products in a way that encourages a positive impression of you offering great deals.

Very few medium or small businesses seem to get involved in Black Friday deals at the moment, so it’s a great time to adopt it and give yourself a lead over competitors, in the US many companies are now running a “Gray Thursday” the day before to get a head start, and web based retailers often run a Cyber Monday just after the weekend to stand out, in Europe and many other regions it’s still a new enough thing to stand out playing it straight on the Friday alone.

Something it would be great to see coming this side of the Atlantic is Small Business Saturday though, the same Thanksgiving weekend and strongly encouraging people to shop from small, local retailers supporting that important section of the economy. It also helps remind people that you can get an awful lot of what you want, plus some more unusual products, from the smaller business.

With Christmas shopping increasingly competitive, and disposable incomes increasingly low, these kinds of approaches can make a difference to income over the period, figures just in for Black Friday 2012 report that over $1bn was spent in online purchases in the US alone; that’s a big number and great encouragement to give it a try in 2013 with a local marketing campaign and a couple of little adjustments to your web design.

 

Importance of customer service and following up enquiries

It’s a strange thing, but one of the most often forgotten aspects of Internet business, especially amongst small business owners, is customer service.

How many times have you emailed an enquiry to a business that either never got answered or was answered with a single sentence that didn’t include “Dear…” at the top, any thanks for the enquiry or even a sign off? All too often.

For some people, website based discussions and email especially seems to have created a mindset where the simple rules of grammar, spelling, punctuation, capitalisation and manners just don’t have to exist, never mind the customer service. Maybe that has some truth in private emails between friends and family, but as a business it’s just unacceptable.

Some recently carried out research has underlined yet again just how important a professional approach is; your response to online enquiries should be no different to how you handle any other enquiry, indeed in a world where customers all too often get an unprofessional or sloppy response, sending out a high quality one can really make you stand out.

Whilst the research was carried out in the US market, the below inforgraphic holds some really interesting figures; 68% of customers “leave” a company because of the treatment they receive, $80b is the cost of poor customer service in the USA and over 60% of marketing time is spent gaining new customers whilst only 20% goes on customer retention;

Infographic on Internet customer service

Most of your online enquiries will come in the form of emails and it’s easy enough to get a graphic or web designer to put together some email stationery with your logo and for you to put together some stock replies and letters or employ someone with strong writing skills to respond to emails. Increasingly though, you also need to think about social networks; if you have a business Facebook or Twitter, how good are you at responding to information requests on there, and how can you do it in a more engaging way than letter writing?

Social networks often create the opportunity to have a more natural back and forth conversation with someone, but it’s easy to get a bit too relaxed and chummy as well, you need to really consider your brand and what suits it best and then apply it religiously day after day, even experiment a little bit with being traditionally businesslike or injecting a little humour and personalisation, this often goes down well but it needs just the right balance for you.

Basics of Email Marketing and Mailing Lists

Email marketing is a simple technological improvement on traditional direct mail marketing methods. Just like letters, e-mails offer the chance to put across more information than a typical advert and utilising a list broker or your own internal data lists campaigns can be highly targeted to the people most likely to be interested in them. One of the biggest advantages e-mail brings over regular postal mail is a huge reduction in cost, materials and time making it highly cost effective.

There are a variety of approaches to the use of e-mail marketing;

E-mailing lists of previous customers for relationship enhancement and brand loyalty

This takes the form of a traditional newsletter; provide a newsletter sign up on your website and add all new customers to it, promising special offers or useful information as best suits your market and customers. Mail them monthly with the latest news presented in a friendly, no-pressure-selling way and make sure you do offer the occasional benefit to receiving your updates. In this way you maintain contact with previous customers in the long term, keep them informed of what you’re doing and how you can help them and they’re actually happy for you to market to them in this way.

E-mailing lists of cold contacts for acquisition of new customers

Commonly referred to with distaste as spam, cold e-mail doesn’t have to be frozen cold! Many e-mail marketers buy huge amounts of the cheapest possible e-mail addresses in a numbers game; if you e-mail enough people even a tiny percentage return will be profitable because the only cost is the list purchase, but this is also how you get a reputation for spamming people.

Maintain your business reputation and get more targeted by working with a list broker, these companies maintain detailed data lists with all sorts of useful demographic data attached. You can buy contacts that only live in your catchment area, earn the right kind of income and are the right kind of age for your customers and lots of other refinements that should help the right e-mail advert bring in a decent response.

The copywriting is crucial as with any other form of promotion and the e-mail subject and first paragraph of copy are the most important things; e-mails are deleted so readily that you have to really grab attention without becoming the victim of a spam filter; consider working with a copywriter experienced in writing for e-mail marketing.

Paying for advertising space on other people’s mailing lists

Only advisable when there’s a really well established mailing list available to you that can demonstrate their advertisers see some kind of return on investment, and if you can afford some professional graphic design as well. Do your research, subscribe to the newsletters yourself for a while and see what other advertisers do and how well they’re placed; if it’s buried at the very bottom most people probably won’t even see it! This is basically print advertising online and you should only use it if all the factors weigh up; the right audience, the right cost and proven response rates for advertisers.

 

E-mail marketing is a really low cost way of getting your message right in front of big numbers, but it’s also a medium easily ignored if you get it wrong, and remember that legislation is regularly introduced in different countries to moderate spam. At a minimum the e-mail contacts you mail must have opted-in to receiving mails and always be offered a way to unsubscribe; check the laws in your country before you start!

Essential Basics of Search Engine Marketing

Search engine marketing encompasses a range of marketing techniques and advertising systems to focus business promotion on search engines, which have become the most commonly used tool online and the first port of call for people looking to find all kinds of services and products. Aiming to stand out through search engine optimisation, paid placements and contextual advertising on major sites like Google can be a great way to get your website found, but competition is fierce with billions getting spent on SEM worldwide every year, so you really need to think about what you want to achieve, and how you can do that, especially if you’re a small business without a vast advertising, SEO or web design budget.

SEM can seem complex to a newcomer and today you can find agencies that specialise in guiding clients and regular marketing agencies through it, but do a little research and take time to understand what’s going on and it’s possible for anyone to take advantage of it.

Pay per click

Search engine advertising has been around in some form pretty much since there were search engines with pay per click advertising programs. As the name suggests, you only pay for advertising which people actually click on; like those “sponsored results” that pop up at the top and to the side of regular Google results pages. Unsurprisingly Google does dominate the market with its Adwords service but Yahoo and Microsoft also have competitive services available.

PPC is highly flexible allowing you to focus on particular keywords and locations so you can really target the most likely potential customers for your product. It also offers a lot of statistics which help you figure out if you’re using the right keywords and other ways you can improve success rates; a lot more interactive, helpful, targeted and cost-effective than just paying out thousands for a print advert.

Search engine optimisation

SEO is all about getting your site high in the natural search listings, widely considered the most powerful marketing your website can have. Intelligent repetition of key words and phrases on your site communicates to search engines clearly what your site is about, helping it stand out above other websites which haven’t balanced their copy as carefully. Things like links from third party websites and the age of your site also come into it.

Whilst top searches like “plumbing installations” are impossibly competitive, localised SEO (for example “plumbing installations Maidstone”) can be a powerful tool for small businesses at a very competitive cost such as a few hours work from an SEO expert or multi-skilled web designer, they’ll also be able to provide an ongoing service or give you some pointers on how you can keep building up SEO on your own by link building.

 

SEM has been a place of rapid change in recent years with a variety of cheats developed and blocked by the key players; huge volumes of money are at stake in a near monopoly so it seems that most developments in this field are likely to continue to centre around Google, Yahoo and Microsoft. SEO has become an absolute must-have to make a website worth setting up but take your time with paid advertising; see if others in the business are using it and try to find out how it has worked for them, if you want to try it go easy at first setting strict limits on how much you want to spend, with some keywords it’s possible to test the market with a small investment of just tens or low hundreds of pounds.

The Essential Basics of Web Design

You can design websites to do all sorts of things; e-shops, blogs and portfolio sites all have different layout and design styles, but the majority of small businesses just getting started online need a “brochure” site. This is something similar to a company brochure which gives a good overview of the company, products and services, and encourages the reader to pick up the phone and make an order. Coincidentally (!), it’s also something we specialise in here at Smart Domain Group.

The process of actually building a website, creating graphics and computer code, is something best left to an expert web designer that you can hire, but many web design companies expect you to provide the actual copy (we don’t!), and all of them will do a better job all round if you have some basic ideas so that you can brief them well.

The first thing to consider is the site structure; in many aspects of web design less is more and this is very true for your basic navigation. It may seem a good idea to give every little aspect of your business a separate web page, but that leaves the web surfer with 20 or 30 pages to go through and try to pick out what they’re interested in. It makes more sense to bundle similar services onto pages together, or just to summarise them in a single “services” page. We often recommend that the focus of websites be to encourage a potential customer to make an enquiry, rather than to try and do the entire sales process online unless it’s focused as an e-commerce web shop, a good summary entices an enquiry and an opportunity to sell direct to the person.

Always remember that people expect to see a home or index page that gives a general overview of everything, an “about us” page so they know who they’re dealing with and a “contact us” page. So a nice structure for a roofing company website might be;

  • Home
  • About us
  • Roof installations
  • Roof repairs
  • Gallery of work
  • Customer testimonials
  • Contact us

In those seven pages a customer can find all the basic info they need and it’s easy for them to find what they want really quickly. There aren’t endless pages of details to get lost or bored by and the copy can be full of encouragement to pick up the phone or shoot off an email to arrange a survey and quotation on the exact issue at hand. If you want more detail, then break those broad headings down into smaller sub-pages so people can get more detail if they want without your navigation getting crowded and confusing.

Consider some graphic design basics as you go such as photos of your work and your team at work, or look through some stock photography libraries to see what kind of thing you like and might present you well through your web design. Also consider colour schemes and how they might work with your logo to create a professional branded feel.

Web copywriting is a real skill and it’s worth considering hiring a professional to do it, but you can get the basics together being organised by noting down a few of the standout unique selling points of your business to get the copywriter started. Most writers will take a structured approach starting every page with a bold headline that summarises the essentials, some good bullet point lists to highlight services and benefits  and an end to every page with a “call to action” providing a telephone number or email address to get more details or make an order.

Once you get the basics together you can always refine it, especially as you get to know about search engine optimisation techniques or receive some work through the website and see it’s definitely worth spending some more time and money on. The best web designers will be happy to go through a couple of drafts polishing text, page layouts and images to get a result you’re happy with presenting to the world.