Planning a Successful Website

As the internet has matured so have business’s requirements in a website. No longer is it enough to just have a website, or have a website that looks good. A website is now a vital part of a business’s marketing arsenal and is a valuable sales tool in itself. In order to ensure that the money spent you spend on your website is well spent and will provide a return on your initial investment you need to spend time planning your website and setting attainable goals.

This document will help you plan your website design and get you thinking about all the issues you need to address. It will also help you when talking to web design firms as you will be able to give them a clear idea of what you are after.

It Starts With the Planning

It probably goes without saying but the place to start is with the planning of your website. This can be broken down into four (4) main steps:

  1. Defining your website’s goals;
  2. Determining your target audience(s);
  3. Reviewing your competition;
  4. Determining you traffic sources.

Define Your Website Goals

The first place to start is by defining the goals of your website. This is also what you will measure to evaluate the success of the venture. Ask yourself what do you want to achieve with your site? Some goal suggestions:

  • To sell online?
  • To collect targeted leads?
  • To provide information about your products and services?
  • To brand yourself?
  • To provide customer support?
  • To entertain?
  • To build a community?
  • To receive advertising revenue?
  • To reduce printing and mail out costs?

When you define these goals bear in mind they don’t all have to be achieved at once. Your plan could involve a roll out of goals over a period of time.

Determine Your Target Audience(s)

Who is your target audience? This can be broken down into:

  • Primary Audience
  • Secondary Audience
  • Geographic Locations

Primary Audience

Your primary audience is who the majority of your website will be targeted to. Generally this will be one or two groups who are most important to your business and those you expect to receive the maximum return on your investment (ROI).

Secondary Audience

Your secondary audiences are everyone else you expect to visit your site. List as many of these as you can.

Geographic Locations

The beauty of the internet is that you don’t necessarily have to market just to your local area, unless you provide a service that is only available to your local area of course. If you are only targeting a local area again it is easy to focus on just that region. List all the geographic regions you would like to target – think local suburbs, states and countries.

Review Your Competition

The internet is a great tool to research your competition. Spend some time on your competitor’s websites and ask yourself:

Is the website professional looking?
Is it easy to work out who they are and what they do?
Is it easy to use? Can you find what you are looking for?
Would I do business with them based on their website?

It’s also important to remember that your competition offline may not be the same as your online competition. If you are wanting your website to rank in the search engines take some time to see what sites are currently ranking well for keywords relevant to your business. The top ranking sites are your online competition. Take a look at their websites and answer the questions above for them too. You may also need to consider what effort they took to reach the top of the search engines and talk to your web designer/search marketer about what will be required of your site to achieve similar success.

Determine Your Traffic Sources

Where will the visitors to your website be coming from? I’m not going to address offline marketing here just the online marketing as some of the options need to be considered before the site is designed so they can be done together – such as search engine optimisation (SEO.

Here are some of your online marketing options:

  • Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)
  • Pay Per Click Advertising
  • Links on Partner Sites
  • Email Campaigns
  • Website Sponsorship
  • Forum Participation
  • Content Creation
  • Blogging
  • Other – you may have other ideas.

It’s important that you tell your web designer what online marketing strategies you are planning to use so they can take that into account if need be when developing your website.

Develop Your Online Strategy

All of the above will help you in deciding what information you should have on your website and how best to structure it.

Determine Your Website’s Content

Now is the time to decide on the content you want on your website. By content I am including text, images, illustrations, support documents and the like. Here are some of your options:

Product information – descriptions, specifications, photos, user manuals, warranties, reviews, pricing etc.

Online ordering help – payments accepted, shipping info, returns policy etc.

Service information – services offered, locations covered, warranties, pricing etc.

Company information – history, staff profiles, photos etc.

Contact details – address, phone and fax numbers, email addresses, contact names etc.

Location details – maps, parking options, opening hours etc.

News – business news, special offers, features etc.

Articles and resources – information to help support your offerings and educate your prospects and clients.

Forms – quote requests, contact forms, newsletter subscriptions etc.

Case studies – examples of successful work done to date.

Develop Your Website Structure

Often called an information architecture or site flowchart – the site structure is like the architect’s blueprint of the organisation and layout of your website. The content you want on your website will help determine the structure of the site. It’s best to break this down into main section which will then have sub-sections off of that.

As a starting point I’ve listed the main sections that most sites would have. This can be added to or deleted from as required.

  • Home
    • Products/Services
      • Product/Service 1
      • Product/Service 2
      • Product/Service 3
      • Product/Service 4
    • Company News
    • Resources
    • Articles
    • Guides
    • About Us
    • Contact Us
    • Site Map

This will give potential web design firms an idea of what is required in your website and will help them prepare a quote for you.

Putting It All Together

Once you have completed all of the above you are ready to have your website built. If you have not done so you will need to select a web design firm. Provide all the information you’ve put together from above, discuss your requirements and budget, provide examples of websites you like and talk to them to see whether they are a good fit for your business. You want a company that understands you and your goals and that you feel will help you ensure that your website is a success. With the right web design team and the planning you did using the above structure you;re sure to be on the path to a successful website.

Cut Costs with Your Website

A website doesn’t just have to earn you money it can help you save money too. It seems most people focus on getting a website to help them increase sales and money however with a little thought and planning websites can also help you make significant savings.

Reduce Phone and Reception Costs

Reducing the time your staff spend on the phone helping customers is a sure fire way to reduce expenses. Here are some of the ways you can help reduce this telephone time.

List Basic Information on Your Website

You can vastly reduce the time your employees are on the phone answering common questions by including that information on your website. Basic information such as store locations – including maps, opening hours, addresses and telephone numbers are a must.

Answer Common Questions with a FAQ

Another great tip is to create what is known online as a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) page where you can provide answers to common questions your customers ask you. You can then encourage customers to visit your website for answers to these common questions. Promote this in your marketing literature, advertising material, recorded messages and by reception staff. Of course you need to emphasis that if they can’t find what they are looking for they are welcome to call you – we’re not trying to discourage contact just reduce it where we can. I’ve found that customers love this sort of information – don’t forget it saves them time and hassle as much as it saves you!

List Stock Availability Online

Don’t just display descriptive information about your stock on your website – list it’s availability as well. Even down to what location has what quantities. As well as reducing the time your staff spend on the phone looking this up you are making your customer’s lives much easier. There’s nothing worse than a customer travelling all the way to a store only to find out that the item they want is out of stock.

Include Your Prices On Your Website

This one is a pet hate of mine. If you are going to the trouble of listing all your products on your website why not include the prices? One large store chain once told me it was so their competitors couldn’t see their prices. Great – so they’re prepared to inconvenience a customer so their competitors can’t see their prices. Although those competitors could always call or visit a shop, ;-) I really don’t get this one – the beauty of the internet is you are not limited by space – show as much information as possible. It will make your prospective customer’s life much easier and help you get the sale.

Include Detailed Product Information

My husband and I are currently shopping for baby furniture and it really frustrates me if I cannot get all the product specifications from a company’s website. It would make my life so much easier and save the company from having to look up the information each time I call. I suspect I am not the only one calling so multiply my questions by hundreds if not thousands and that’s a lot of time you could save.

The sort of detailed product information I would like to see includes:

  • Detailed photographs – including front, side and rear views. It’s also vital that your photos are of high quality and can be zoomed in for a closer view.
  • List colour options and include photographs of the product in the different colours it comes in.
  • Item dimensions – height, width, length, weight and whatever else is relevant to the product.
  • Instruction manual.
  • Product reviews.

This is basic information that prospective customers need to make up their minds, so have it all there for them.

Reduce Printing and Mail Costs

Every business knows that printing and mail form a large part of your expenses. However if you use your website smartly you can reduce these costs significantly.

Online Forms and Documents

Where at all possible encourage your customers to use your website to download the information and/or forms they are after. This is often extremely convenient for them and as a bonus they are using their own printer, paper and ink not yours and you save on postage. You can do this for a range of printed materials including forms, manuals, product brochure, sales catalogs and so on.

Use Online and Email Newsletters

If you have been mailing out newsletters to keep in touch with your customers it’s time to stop. The same newsletter can be included on your website or sent out via email, or both, for a fraction of the cost. You can also set up your website to enable prospective customers to sign up online.

Use Your Website to Promote Sales and Specials

Rather than post out brochures and catalogs promoting sales encourage your customers to visit your website on a regular basis to check for any promotions or sales you have. Of course you can include an online, electronic brochure for them to download. You’ll also find that customers often forward the catalog onto their friends who they think would be interested in your products and services – giving you more ways to reach new prospective customers – for no additional expense to you.

Reduce Support Costs

Another great way to cut your expenses is by using your website and email to provide support services.

Provide Support Information on Your Website

I remember I lost the manual to our clothes dryer a few years ago and instead of having to call the company, get put on hold, request one be sent out, wait for it to arrive, yada, yada, yada I simply went to their website and downloaded a copy. So easy. Easy for me and easy for the company – they didn’t have to take my call, source the manual and then post it out to me.

There is a wide range of support documentation you could include on your website:

  • Instruction Manuals
  • Troubleshooting Guides
  • Software Drivers
  • Returns & Claims Forms

Provide Support Via Email

Email is a convenient, easy and efficient way of providing support to your customers. It can also help you cut expenses by:

  • Reducing staff costs – one staff member can easily handle a number of enquiries at the same time.
  • It reduces your phone bill, especially if you offer 1800 numbers.
  • It increases customer satisfaction and loyalty – they get fast responses and resolution of their problems.
  • Answers can be stored in a database so common questions don’t have to be re-answered from scratch each time you receive them.

These are just some of the ways your business can reduce it’s expenses by utilising your website and email. And I’ve not even touched on online marketing and promotion.

Some of these systems will take some time and effort to set-up but once they’re in place they can be used over and over and over again saving you money and providing satisfaction to your clients. That sounds like win, win to me.

A Succesful Website Starts With the Strategy

It’s pretty obvious that any good house starts with a solid foundation. The same applies to a website. In order to ensure a successful website that achieves your goals you need to start with a solid foundation. You need to develop a sound website strategy that outlines your goals, target audience, market position, competitors and marketing efforts. This strategy, or blueprint, will help you and your web designer develop a website that will achieve you online goals.

Put it this way if you don’t know why you want a website, apart from because everyone else has one, how will you be able to measure your success? Quite simply you can’t.

So how do you develop your strategy? To get you started consider the following:

What Are Your Online Goals?

What are the goals of your website? What do you want to achieve?

  • Sell products online?
  • Build sales leads?
  • Reduce support costs?
  • Inform people?
  • Attract newsletter sign-ups?
  • Attract advertising revenue?
  • Brand yourself or your company?
  • To reduce time providing telephone support?

Once you’ve defined your goals you can set about working out how to achieve them and how to measure the results.

Who Is Your Target Audience?

Who is your website targeted to? Think about your audience and try to break it down in terms of:

  • Age
  • Sex
  • Location
  • Income
  • Internet skills
  • Other

This will help you to determine your target audience which in turn will influence the look and feel of the website, whether you need to target an international, national or local market, what sort of pricing strategy to adopt, how easy the website should be to use and what sort of ongoing marketing strategies are required.

Who is Your Competition? How Are They Positioned?

Take the time to check out the competitive space. Questions to ask:

  • Who are your online competitors?
  • How do they position themselves?
  • How easy/hard is their website to use? Is it engaging? Compelling?
  • How are they positioned in the search engines? Can you compete?

How Will Prospective Customers Find You?

Once your site is built and launched you need to ensure a steady stream of targeted visitors. Now is the time to start looking at your ongoing marketing and what strategies you’ll need to adopt. Where will your prospects come from? Some to consider:

  • Search engines?
  • Word of mouth & referrals?
  • Offline advertising?
  • Online advertising?
  • Forum participation?
  • Blogging?
  • Other?

The answers to these questions will help you define your marketing strategy and your overall website strategy. For example if you feel search engines will be an important driver of traffic to your website it is vital that that is taken into account when your website is being designed.

By considering the above you’ll be able to put together a clear blueprint detailing your website strategy and how it should be implemented. And in the long run it will help you, and your web designer, create a successful website.

The Recipe For Online Success

I’ve spoken to, and worked with, numerous people who have decided to set-up an online business. And as with bricks and mortar establishments some succeeded spectacularly and some fail badly. I’ve analysed these success and failures and have found some common traits in the successful online ventures. So without further ado here’s my straightforward recipe for running an online business, successfully.

Research Your Market

It seems obvious but this is one of the most overlooked areas of starting an online business. Which is all the more strange when you consider how easy it is to conduct research into a market and it’s competitiveness on the internet.

Researching your market will help you determine whether there is a need for your idea, whether that need is already being serviced, and if so how well. Using a search engine, such as Google, can help you determine the level of competitiveness of your chosen industry. You can use it to see how many relevant businesses come up in common searches (the more results the more competitive it will be) and then check out those websites to see how they are run.

Think about your audience, will you be focusing on a small regional area or aiming for a global market? Is there a reason why a particular demographic would want to choose you over another business? Can you, for example, promote a favourable exchange rate or the ability to work while the rest of the world sleeps?

Finally, it’s important that you take into account whether your idea translates to being sold online. For example large, heavy, fragile products will be harder to ship and therefore sell than smaller, easy to post items.

Set Realistic Budgets

I know I’ve talked about this before but I am again as I can’t emphasise enough how important setting a realistic budget is. If you’re planning on running a successful online business you will need to budget for both the establishment and the ongoing marketing of that business.

If you’re reluctant to divulge your budget when talking to online service providers at least provide them with a ballpark figure so they are able to tailor a solution to fit your needs. You’ll probably find that costs vary from company to company – take the time to do your research and choose the one that not only fits your budget but the one you feel will best help you succeed (more on this below).

Surround Yourself With a Good Team

In order to succeed in your online business you will need to ensure you’re working with a web team that can help you achieve your goals. As a starting point you will need the services of the following people:

  • Web Hosting Company
  • Web Design Company
  • Search Engine Marketing / Internet Marketing Company

You can choose to go with separate companies or select a full service business who can help you with everything. Whatever you decide the most important thing is to make sure you pick a company you feel is a good fit.

The right company will understand the principles of business and selling online, they will understand how to get a website to rank in the search engines and most importantly they will be able to build you a website that prospects find easy to use and converts those prospects into customers.

Budget is important, obviously, but it’s just as important, if not more, to work with a company who understands your requirements and is able to help you to realise your goals and turn it into a profitable business.

Invest in Online Marketing

Once you’ve got your website online you need to market it to attract targeted prospects. A mix of the following internet marketing efforts will be a good start:

  • Search Engine Optimisation – usually best done in conjunction with building your website. Search engine optimisation (SEO) is the process of creating a website that ranks highly in the search engines for keyword phrases related to your business. A motel in Cairns would want to rank well for phrases such as “cairns motel” for example.
  • Link Development – links from credible, related type websites will not only bring targeted prosects to your website it will also help you with your search engine rankings.
  • Advertising & Sponsorships – seek out other websites that you can advertise on. Look for sites that attract an audience you think would be interested in your products and/or services. Consider banner ads, sponsorships, competitions and newsletter advertising, to name a few.
  • Pay Per Click Advertising – the two main players in the Pay Per Click (PPC) market are Google and Yahoo! PPC allows you to create advertisements that only display when specific keywords, chosen by you, are searched on. When your ad is clicked on you pay an amount (or bid), set by you. Bids start from about AU$0.10 and a campaign can be up and running in a few minutes.
  • Online Newsletters – online newsletters are a fabulous way to communicate with prospective customers. It’s an opportunity to showcase your knowledge, provide information about your products and services and promote special offers.

It’s the old adage, you’ve got to spend money to make money. With the right marketing mix and a focus on creating a positive return on your investment (ROI) your online marketing efforts will help you build and run your business successfully.

Finally, remember that the above suggestions are just a starting point. Talk to your internet marketing expert who should be able to help you develop an online marketing plan that will grow your business.

Be Prompt and Responsive

You’ve found a site that sells the exact widget you want. You place your order, and… pray. It sounds awful I know but I commonly hear people say that they’ve contacted a business via their website, or placed an order, and are now wondering if they’ll ever hear from them. You don’t want to be one of those businesses. Clearly state the best ways for people to contact you, let them know when they should expect a response and what to do if they’ve not heard anything.

On an e-commerce site have the order response page acknowledge an order and provide a shipping timeframe. Follow up with a confirmation email again letting the customer know when they should expect their goods. And finally, send them an email when the package has actually shipped.

The internet can seem very anonymous. By continually communicating with your customers and reassuring them along the way they will be confident in doing ongoing business with you. And perhaps even recommending you to their friends.

Measure Your Results

A website that’s not being measured and tracked is like running around in the dark, with sunglasses on. Are you getting lots of visitors and few sales? Are you getting a few visitors but most of them make a purchase? Where are your visitors coming from? What do they look at? How long do they stay?

One of the great benefits of running an online business is the ability to collect and analyse website visitor data. All this data will help you tailor your website and refine your marketing to ensure you’re bringing in maximum visitors and converting them into customers.

There’s no substitute for hard work but with some careful research and planning and ongoing effort into promoting and managing your online business you too can be one of the internet success stories!