Before we get going on this chapter we need to agree something together – whether your website appears as a shop window on a person’s ‘connected’ television set or it materializes as a mobile site enabled for a smartphone, or is just a simple old-fashioned homepage on a computer screen – it is still a shop window to your digital world and it is still a website.
A conversion engine for traffic
All of the digital marketing techniques we discuss in the coming chapters have one thing in common: they are designed to drive targeted, pre-qualified traffic to your website. But traffic on its own does nothing but consume internet bandwidth: it is your website that converts that traffic into prospects and customers – taking the numbers and transforming them into something of tangible value to your business.
Building an effective website
An effective website is essentially about the convergence of two things: your business goals and the needs of your target market. Build something that aligns the two and you will end up with an effective website. Broken down like that it sounds simple, but achieving that convergence can be a tricky process – and a quick surf around the web will soon demonstrate that it is easier to get it wrong than to get it right.
The main steps of building your website
Different businesses will follow different processes involving different groups of people when designing, developing and implementing a website, but regardless of the approach you choose to take, how formal or informal the process, there are a number of key stages that generally form part of any web development project.
Words make your website tick
The world of the web is dominated by words. Audio, video, flash and animation may seem to be everywhere online, but even in an era where multimedia content seems to be taking over, at its core the web is still all about text, and the connections between different words and phrases on and between websites.
Choosing your domain name
Every website on the internet has a unique address (a slight simplification, but we don’t need to get into the complexities here). It is called an IP address, and is not very interesting, informative or memorable to most humans. It consists of a series of numbers something like 220.127.116.11 (type that address into your browser and see where it takes you).
Hosting – your website’s home on the internet
The other bit of housekeeping you need to take care of before your site goes live is hosting. Your finished site will consist of files, applications and possibly a database, all of which sit on a computer that is permanently connected to the internet. This computer is your web server, and will be running special software that will accept requests from users’ web browsers and deliver your web pages by return. It’s a bit more complicated, but basically that is what it boils down to.
How to choose a web designer/developer
Unless you are a web designer yourself, or have access to a dedicated in-house web development team, you need to bring in a professional web design firm to help with your website project. You’ll find a host of options out there, offering a range of services that will literally boggle your mind. The good news is, if you’ve done your preliminary work, you should already have a fair idea of what you want out of your website, who it is aimed at and the sort of features you want to include. Armed with that knowledge, you can start to whittle down the list of potential designers to something more manageable.
Arranging your information
Your site structure – the way you arrange and group your information and how users navigate their way around it – can have a massive impact on its usability, its visibility to search engine spiders, its rank in search engine results pages (SERPS – a term in search engine marketing that refers to the results pages returned when a user submits a query to the search engine) and its potential to convert traffic once it arrives. Getting your information architecture right is absolutely critical to the success of your website.
Avoid splash screens that simply show your company logo and a ‘click here to enter’ button – they offer no benefit at all to your users or to your business – they are web clutter at its worst. Likewise flash intros – the ‘skip intro’ button is one of the most widely clicked buttons on the web. Remember: you want to make it as easy as possible for your visitors to achieve their goals, so avoid putting obstacles between them and your real content.