Creating a strong website and web presence, no matter how simple, is one of the most important things you can do to give credibility to your small business.
Currently, an estimated 40% of worldwide internet users buy products and services through the internet, either through a desktop, mobile or tablet platform. In total this adds up to over one billion global buyers – a figure that’s expected to rise considerably over the next few years.
It’s fair to assume that it’s more important than ever before for business owners to take practical steps towards creating a viable website, but how do you go about it?
We sat down with Sam McCulloch, Opus Energy’s resident User Experience expert, to break things down. According to Sam, user-experience isn’t a single factor in a site. It’s a combination of considerations that contribute to an overall experience.
So if you’re a business looking to create a website for the first time, where do you start?
First thing’s first. You’ll need to define the purpose of your site. On a practical level, be clear what your goals are – this includes both your business goals for the website, and your user’s goals when using it.
Really think about your target audience and what is important to them. Try to put yourself in your visitor’s position when visualising your website to help you find the best way to direct them to where they need to go.
What about the content?
Once you know your goals you need to think about creating content that reflects that. For example, if you’re a hardware store and know that your customers are looking for technical information on products, then make that clear and easy to find.
A clear and logical content structure is key. That is the biggest ‘win’ for websites, no matter what their function is.
From product descriptions to the copy that adorns each individual page, content must be natural, informative and relevant to the core purpose of your site.
It’s good to think about what kinds of factors go into a customer’s decision to engage with your business. What kind of information are people looking for in order to proceed to the eventual goal of your site; whether that’s making a sale or getting someone into your shop.
Here are some things to remember when creating content:
- What are you trying to communicate? keep it concise and to the point, using plain and simple language where possible. The aim is to get the point across in the clearest and most engaging way possible.
- Organise your site’s navigation to make it easy to understand and use
- Use good quality photos and images
- Make it SEO friendly. Find out more about that, here.
- Make sure you have a ‘way for prospective customers to get in touch with you. If you frequently get similar questions, it may be helpful to include answers in an FAQ style format, as it might make the difference between a conversion or not.
Now that you’ve got your purpose and content sorted, how do you go about designing the site?
You’ve got a couple of options here – you can either work with a professional designer on this or go it alone. Most importantly, though, you need to think about how you want your site to look.
When it comes to actually designing the look and feel, here are a few basic points to help:
- Make sure your style and layout choices are consistent, ensuring that any text is easy to read.
- Be obvious how a user can progress through the site. Buttons and links should be in logical places, and indicate that they are ‘interactive’ items to the visitor.
- Have a good hierarchy – make sure that your page design breaks up content with headers and sub-headers.
Consider how a user might view your website; devices come in all shapes and sizes now, so try and think how your customers might be consuming your content, and make sure they can do so easily! Given the rising popularity of smartphone technology, it’s imperative that your site is available in a usable and functioning version for mobile users. Without this, there’s a high risk of you losing business to more progressive rivals.
Also, don’t forget to keep your site consistent with your other branding materials.
A note on budget
Consider how much investment you are willing/can afford to make going in. This will help you evaluate the viability of anything you look at, and frame any conversations you might have with professionals if you’re looking for help.
Be realistic when it comes to budget. Defining your purpose and how you hope the site to operate or look will help indicate cost, but be realistic with what your business can afford.
The below diagram shows that when it comes to the value, speed and quality of creating your website, you may need to compromise. It’s unlikely that you’ll be able to build a website that’s cheap and fast whilst still being high quality, for instance.
You might also want to set some budget aside for testing (see below).
Your website is an investment in your business, and you may want to consider a phased approach for its development if initial costs are likely to be too high.
Analyse and track
Gathering feedback can be done at a qualitative (where you sit a small batch of people down and ask them to try and perform a task, seeing where they stumble or struggle) or quantitative (where you see what trends large volumes of users demonstrate, using tracking tools such as google analytics or services such as usertesting.com) level.
Once your site is live, you need to constantly monitor how people are using it, and track results. Keep in mind that it can never be fully “complete”, and that improvements, tweaks and changes will always be a part of it.
A website is a necessity for anyone selling services or products, but even if you don’t sell anything directly online, a site can act as a sort of extension of your business card, clearly articulating the goods or services you offer.
Building a business website takes time, planning and effort, but it doesn’t have to be impossible. By understanding the basics, the functionality and the content, you can build a platform that works for and enhances your business.