We hear it all the time – I just don’t have the time or energy to stay current with Google or I don’t know the first thing about Facebook marketing, or worst yet, I have a website, that’s all I need to do.
While my post will touch on the latter two points, I am not here to endorse Facebook or scold you for abandoning your website like a bad habit. My goal is to provide you with easy-to-implement pointers on how to build a solid yet simple website that is both search-engine and user friendly without making your web developer burn the midnight oil. Let’s dive right in.
Small business website design, what is it?
It’s very common for business owners who are not tech savvy to feel overwhelmed by the thought of putting together a website. The truth of the matter is the size of the website or the budget behind it is not as important to search engines as the user experience and the ability to discover the online content to index for future use. Search engines want to provide the very best answer to user’s inquiry, independent of the size of the website, fancy images and expensive ads. With a solid action plan—or any action plan—you will be able to set the proper foundation on which to build your digital empire. What I want to cover here are the simple basics needed to get your website in the best possible condition, meaning creating easy access for search engines to find and index your online content. I will also share some website pitfalls to avoid.
1. Select Your Domain: Choose whether or not you want your website to display the www. at the beginning of your domain. While often overlooked, this is one of the most important decisions to make when creating a website. Many people do not realize this decision is made by the website owner, because the place where you purchased the domain sets it automatically. Another fun fact is each domain registrar treats this differently, so please decide upfront and make changes as needed. Final note, eliminate duplicate pages on the web by adding a 301 redirect to the website you didn’t choose. This can usually be done by the domain provider.
2. Set Up Free Analytics: Once the website is live, set up whatever form of analytics you have available to you. Google and Bing provide free tools that require you to add a small file or line of code to the homepage that activates their systems ability to push information regarding your website to a dashboard for you to review. There are many companies who do amazing things with analytics to help produce insightful reports and let you focus on your business, but those usually come with a price tag. The benefit of using the paid option is variety—you are not tethered to your chair-crunching numbers.
3. Search for Keywords: Perform some searches for keywords that relate to your domain and business. Ideally, this would have been done prior to purchasing the domain, but this is the time when you dig a little deeper and investigate the competition as well as any history surrounding the particular domain name you chose. This part can snowball pretty fast as you start seeing so many results and possibly different companies showing on page 1 for the given queries. I always suggest having a list of 10 – 20 keywords and sticking to just those. Then, make a spreadsheet listing the keyword and under that keyword copy/paste the top 5 ranking websites. The last step to this process is to search for the company domain on Google. If the domain is www.example.com, click into the Google search bar and type the following: site:www.example.com – and click ‘Enter’. Please note that there is no space between the word site: and the domain. Also, depending on the decision made during step 1, make sure to include or remove the www. portion. The results you see (or don’t see) are filtered just to the domain, in this case, www.example.com.
4. Create a Sound Strategy: Have a very basic strategy in mind for what you want the website to accomplish. Ranking #1 in Google is not the right mindset and is not sound strategy. What you want to focus on is the audience who will ultimately use your website. Is it going to be geared toward renters, landlords, property managers, etc.? Focusing on this sooner than later in the development stage will simplify your brand messaging and help drive conversations on social media.
5. Build Out Your Site Architecture: Website architecture is important, especially for smaller websites, because it provides the fundamental navigation. Where do you want to drive the user? While architecture may sound scary to some, it’s not. It’s simply the layout of the website (e.g. a navigation bar). The most important aspect to keep in mind when thinking about your website layout is simplicity. Are you providing exactly what the user needs or is looking for? Does each page target very focus points? Do the pages flow in a logical manner? Are there ways to streamline the navigation even more? Is the call to action on each page clear? Does the user know what to do?
6. Define Conversion Goals: Conversion is a deceptively challenging metric to define—even in small businesses—as different teams and departments have different micro-goals to meet. The key is to define conversion for the pages and measure their success over time. Without going too far down this path, pages should be designed to make conversion easy and provide an obvious call to action. Do not make the user take multiple or unnecessary steps to send a lead or subscribe to a newsletter.
7. Produce Unique Content: Lastly, ensure each page is unique and does not repeat the same copy elements from other pages. For example, the topic on a page should only be found on that page. The title of the page should be original. The keywords found on the page should be related to the topic and should be phrased in a way that is natural to the way the user would speak. For example, apartment building instead of apartment complex or tenants instead of residents are words that could help attract many more visitors to your website.
Areas to avoid at all costs
There are a few areas to avoid at all costs when it comes to maintaining a healthy website and overall success in rankings. Scammers can sometimes find pain points associated to smaller businesses by selling an idea rather than results. The really malicious ones will actually produce results they know will not last longer than the time it takes to cash their checks. It’s these crooks that give SEO and Inbound Marketing as a whole a bad rep. Be completely skeptical of any person or business that guarantees you #1 ranking on any search engine. This is possible only by manipulating the system in place and will get you penalized or worse: banned from showing up in results. These people achieve such results by participating in link exchanges, or buying links from other domains, in return for the link authority that the domain will provide. This is usually found by the search engines over time, as certain websites just don’t make sense linking to each other due to the type of content they contain.
Another big pitfall is creating a fantastic website that is purely in Flash or constructed in a way that does not allow the search engines to see what it’s about. This can be a really tough decision for website owners because fancy animation and nice video look slick, but they are awful for search engines looking for text signals to help understand what a page is about and when to show it to users searching on the web. This is not to imply that you cannot use these great elements on your website, but to construct it 100% out of something that cannot be understood will hurt more than help.
What about social media?
This is a very tough question to answer because it is unique to every website. There are countless articles on best practices that have more expertise than I on this topic. However, to keep things consistent, I advise using social media as a medium to generate buzz for your product and brand. Jump into conversations that are happening with your target market and provide expert opinions and answers to questions they may have. This builds influence and gets people talking and linking to your website, which is the most important part because it is those talks and links that search engines pick up and use as signals to rank your website. I also recommend the social media role be handled by someone who is comfortable with whatever platform is being utilized. I do not think a small business needs to stretch themselves thin trying to be on every major social network. Instead, pick one but no more than two you are confident your target audience congregates most often and focus your energy there. This is important because your audience wants to feel there is a real person behind the brand and not a machine generating automated responses. Building credibility creates trust, translating into making you a trusted market leader.
While there are an infinite number of website frameworks to implement, the key is to follow your strategy to keep your website moving forward.
I look forward to any questions or comments you have. Feel free to continue the conversation on Twitter @AmadoCan or leave a note below. Thank you and happy searching!