WEB DESIGN MADE SIMPLE: WHAT THE BEST WEBSITES HAVE
Guess how many websites there are online today. What do you think?
Hundreds of thousands? Millions?
In 2012 there were over 644 Million websites in the United States alone. Today there are over 1.8 Billion websites worldwide.
While it hasn't been confirmed, some studies say that over 140,000 sites are published per day.
That means that 97 new websites are published every minute. Nearly 50 websites were published while you were reading the last few lines.
While that's incredible, it certainly makes it challenging to have a website that stands out. Ouch!
But, if you want to have a successful business in today's digital world, you have to find a way to set yourself apart from competitors.
Here's the honest truth. It doesn't take much to get a website online. Just an hour or two and a couple of hundred bucks. Hence why there are so many.
But, it takes more than just getting a site online for it to be successful and create a positive return on investment.
Do you want to know the secret behind every successful website? Every site that's generating, hundreds, thousands and millions of dollars.
It's one thing. Strategy.
We spend dozens of hours designing and coding websites, but we don't design or code a thing before we've laid out our strategy.
And, we spend dozens of hours on strategy. In fact, when we spend 300 hours on a website, 60+ of those hours are spent on strategy alone.
So you probably know the strategy is important.
Much like chess, you can have all the pieces, understand how they work, but you need to have a winning strategy to beat your opponent.
You need to have a plan.
Do you need a plan for Desktop? What about smartphones and tablets? Do you need a strategy for Social? Do you need a strategy for SEO? What about content?
The simple answer is yes, but also...
So let's back up a little, and get this Web Design Guide started.
I led off sharing the importance of strategy because that's exactly where things should start, but let me tell you what we'll be covering in the post.
We'll be diving into the following points about web design, but feel free to jump ahead to the topic that excites you most.
- Brand Analysis
- Competitive Analysis
- Market Research
- Content Strategy
- SEO Strategy
- Conversion Strategy
- Site Audit
- Digital Marketing Strategy
- Mobile Strategy
- Information Architecture
- Domain Name Registration
- Site Mapping
- Graphic Design
- Development Environment
- Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
- Landing Pages
- Quality Assurance (QA)
- Launch/Site Migration
- Post Launch Testing
- Project Management
- User Testing
- Site Management/Maintenance
- Increasing Website Traffic & Online Marketing
- Website Redesign
- Growth Driven Design (GDD)
That is an extensive list, but don't get overwhelmed.
First, you don't need to do everything on the list to see good results. You increase the likelihood of reaching your goals when you do everything on the list.
Second, you don't have to do this yourself. You can hire someone to do all of it for you.
So let's revisit why this list is so important. It's likely that in the time you've made it this far through the post a few hundred sites have been published.
What will make any of those sites stand out from the billions of other sites? The design, the brand strategy, SEO, Paid ads, or something else.
Well it's all of the above and...
If all you do is put up a very quick website without doing anything else and your competitor publishes nearly an identical site but does SEO, they are more likely to get more business.
What if your competitor continues to build on their strategy and includes SEO, a digital marketing strategy and a conversion strategy?
Do you see how doing more is better and doing as much as possible to reach your goal is best? I hope so.
Let's get started.
There are several ways to build a website. You can do it yourself, pay for a website builder like WIX and Squarespace, or hire someone like a freelancer or agency to build your site.
Doing it yourself, even if you use a builder, will require you to commit your time and personal knowledge of design, SEO, and any other web design strategies you plan to implement.
The upside is that it typically requires far less financial investment than hiring a freelancer or agency.
Hiring a freelancer or agency may cost more, but you can rely on their knowledge to execute strategy.
Hiring an expert almost certainly saves you time and money in the long run of things. They also tend to get better results than you can on your own.
Third party insight brings a value-added perspective in most cases. It's good to have someone to bounce ideas and thoughts off of. Particularly when they are not in the thick of your organization.
No matter which way you decide is best for you; make sure that is an agreed upon strategy from the start.
Going forward, we'll cover all of the strategy portions of designing a website first, then go into everything it takes to execute those strategies.
Before you get too far into anything, if you have an existing, you should review your analytics to benchmark your website.
You'll need to know how the site is currently performing to measure the results of any changes that you make. How else will you know if your redesign is successful?
If you don't have analytics installed on your site we recommend doing so right away. You'll want to track your site at least 30 days (90 days would be better) before implementing any new changes.
Tracking your site for 90 days will all you to get a better idea of where you are.
Tracking for only 30 days you could have had a unique performance month. Meaning, that you had a month that did really well or really bad, but it was the only month.
Months like this can make you think that you are doing much better or worse than you are in reality. It's best to track multiple months to get a good idea of how well you are actually doing.
If you don't have an existing site, then you can wait until you launch your site to start tracking it.
Make sure that you set up the analytics before you launch the site. You don't want to miss any data. It's all valuable.
We recommend using Google Analytics for many reasons, but there are several alternative tools if you're not a fan of Google.
Here's a list of some of the more popular alternatives to Google Analytics:
Even if you don't choose to hire a professional, you should do a deep dive into the brand of your organization.
We do what we currently call a brand analysis. We work with our clients to outline their brand voice, tone, messaging, and many other attributes and priorities.
We define the primary personas and what kind of information they need to make a decision to buy from our clients.
This gives us a much better understanding of the company and their customers than most of our competitors or anyone who does not do something similar.
Not only do we find that we have a better understanding of our client's goals, but we find that everyone is working towards a common goal.
Due to the level of clarity provided to everyone involved we always request that all stakeholders are involved and include executive, marketing, sales and creative (design) leadership.
This lays the foundation for the direction we take. Since the outcome of the analysis is unique to the business, it heavily influences the recommendations we make as well.
While it's not wise to flat out copy your competitors; you'll always end up a step behind, but it is good to be aware of what they are and aren't doing.
Knowing what your competitors are doing can help you catch up where you're behind, nullify certain advantages, and find opportunities to get ahead.
We've found digging through competitors' online reviews a valuable resource to discover what their customers (potentially your target audience) like and dislike about their products and services.
You can also determine which social platforms have the most engagement and are opportunities to connect with customers where your competitors have not.
It's good to have insights into your customer's needs and preferences. As mentioned previously we often look over industry reviews.
As often as we can we also look into pricing and business models that consumers prefer.
You should also try to determine how much a consumer is willing to spend for a product or service similar to your own.
You can learn about your market by doing surveys, checking your reviews, asking for customer feedback or looking through your competitor's reviews to provide insights into your potential buyers.
There are many other resources to help with market research.
- Public sources which are typically free.
- Commercial sources, which typically cost but are very rich in information
- Educational institutions which are often overlooked.
- Public Sources typically include government departments and departments of public libraries.
- Commercial sources include information from trade associations like Dun & Bradstreet, banks and publicly traded corporations
- Educational institutions include information from studies conducted in colleges and universities.
After outlining your personas, it becomes much easier to determine the content needs of your website.
Using the personas, you can outline what kind of content, where to publish it and how often.
Once you know this, you can develop a content schedule, assign content to team members, and request any necessary assets from your creative team.
In addition to viewing your personas, you should also view your site analytics. The analytics can tell you what devices your user's use most.
You can also see what kind of content they view the most and when they view. You can use this data to determine what kind of content you should focus on more.
Is it blogging, social posts, video or something else altogether?
Combining your analytics with your personas is a great way to come up with the most effective content based on your actual users and your ideal customers.
Even though it can seem like it, SEO is not magic; and while paying for ads may seem much easier, SEO is better in the long run and less expensive.
Most times, we find, people are just not given proper expectations on when they'll see results.
That said, SEO does take a hefty investment of time to execute properly. It's good to make a plan, beyond on page SEO, of how you'll invest your time.
Will you write blogs, create video content for YouTube, try to increase your backlinks, work on local SEO, or increase your citations?
With today's advancement with AI, you'll also need to consider voice search as well.
Whatever you decide, you shouldn't expect to see immediate results. Depending on the age, and trust, of your site, it can take several months to see any result from your efforts.
We advise that you don't blindly pick a strategy for SEO, but do some research and look for low-hanging fruit.
It's one thing to get people to your site another to get those strangers to become leads and customers.
You should have tools and services on your site to convert visitors. Including a combination of Calls-to-Action (CTAs), landing pages, eBooks, white papers, webinars or other lead capture methods provide the best results.
The more landing pages and offers you can create the higher your chance for conversion.
What is a call-to-action?
An image or line of texts that prompts website visitors to take a specific action. CTAs are commonly used to get a visitor to an offer.
What is a landing page?
A landing page is a web page that is designed solely to capture a visitor's information through a lead form.
What is an offer?
An offer is something that you give or offer to your website visitors. It's typically free or very low in cost in comparison to your primary service or product.
An offer can be almost anything but is most often only accessible by downloading it or accessing it from behind a landing page.
Examples: eBooks, webinars, free trials, videos, inexpensive service, product discount, training, tools, resources, consults, etc.
What is a lead magnet?
A type of offer. A small, valuable, targeted piece of content that ideal clients are willing to exchange their information to gain access.
What is a conversion tool?
Another offer (sometimes called a tripwire), typically more enticing that gets a lead to buy a higher priced service. They allow ideal customers to get to know and like you with little to no investment.
Examples: inexpensive service, product discount, eBooks, webinars, free trials, videos, training, tools.
HubSpot tells us "companies do see a 55% increase in leads when increasing their number of landing pages from 10 to 15. And leads spike, even more, when a company has 40 or more landing pages on their website." [HubSpot]
It's also good to determine what qualifies as a lead and how you want to receive a lead. Do you prefer phone calls, or do you want to capture email addresses?
Defining who should respond to leads and how quickly should also be a part of your strategy.
When you have an existing website, it's good to determine what is and is not working well before you do a complete redesign.
You need to outline pages that have high SEO value and authority, so you don't just remove them.
You want to know what pages visitors enter on and exit from most.
By doing a site audit, you can quickly learn what on your site needs to stay or go. You can easily learn what is getting results for your business.
You audit should include more than just how many visitors/sessions and how long they stayed on your site.
A proper audit should provide 50+ pages of insightful data about your site. In some cases, we've completed audits with over 150 pages of just data.
We were able to see who was visiting the site, where they came from, what devices they used most, their operating systems, what part of the world most of the audience lived in, and a bunch of other great points.
One of our favorite insights is the user flow. This allows us to see the path the users take during their visit on a website. We see what pages most of the users land on and exit from.
We can then use this data to determine which pages need the most improvement.
Digital Marketing Strategy
Simply put, you need to know how you're going to market your business on and offline. You could do random things and hope they build momentum and produce leads.
A better idea is to outline a few things you plan to do consistently over a set period. Decide what result you expect, then execute and measure the results along the way.
Keep in mind that digital marketing refers to more than online marketing.
Digital marketing includes devices, channels, and platforms that are digital even if they are not online. Online marketing refers to channels and platforms that are online.
As marketing experts and HubSpot Agency Partners we use an array of online marketing strategies to help our clients reach their various goals.
We always work with them to define SMART goals. Then we outline a plan for reaching those goals.
In most cases, we execute the plan for our clients, but some prefer to execute in-house with our guidance and some consultation.
A good thing to keep in mind is that there are times when you may not reach your goal on the first try. This doesn't mean abandon the strategy.
This is a good time to look at the trend and evaluate if the goal is reachable if you continue and if the effort is worth the result. Essentially will it result in a positive ROI.
It's good to have tools, like HubSpot, that can close the loop on marketing and sales, and help to make measuring ROI much easier.
While you can certainly see some positive results by haphazardly executing various strategies; you'll always see better results with a defined strategy.
I think it goes without saying that not marketing your site and hoping that people will come gives your competitors a huge advantage over you (if you choose not to market).
We've shared it on multiple occasions, but we'll say it again. Field of Dreams was an inspiring movie, but build it, and they will come is the worst marketing strategy we've ever seen.
Digital marketing is, typically, much more cost effective than traditional forms of advertising like radio, television, and billboards.
It's good to note that most traditional forms of media are looking for a way to break into the digital space.
Cox Communications has recently tied in with Netflix, but they've also entered the space through their on-demand and digital services.
Cox and similar services are gaining more data from their viewers than traditional television. They can now see what shows we record, how long we watch them, and the commercials we skip past.
Digital marketing is easily measured and transparent. With analytics, you can see the source of all your visitors.
Digital marketing also levels the playing field with larger competitors.
It amazes me that there are so many people who think mobile is not important, but there are still thousands of business in every industry that don't have a website.
So maybe I shouldn't be so surprised.
Want to know how important having a mobile-friendly site is? It's so important that Google will only show mobile-friendly sites in mobile search results.
This means if your site isn't mobile friendly, then your site will not show up, no matter how good your SEO, if someone searches on their smartphone or tablet.
With most (80%) of internet users owning a smartphone [Smart Insights] and over more searches taking place on smartphones than any other device it doesn't make sense to ignore a major part of your audience.
In today's world not having a mobile friendly site is almost like not having a website at all.
Our recommendation is to use responsive web design. This ensures that your site is optimized for every screen size on any device. It's also easier to manage since you only need to update the content on one website.
Simply stated, information architecture is the organization of information. Information architecture should take into account how people process or expect to find the information they are looking for.
A great example of information architecture is your kitchen. Where you put your food, dishes, wash clothes, cleaner, table chairs, etc.
You may group all of the food on the same side with the refrigerator, or do you place it in the cabinets closest to the pantry.
Do you keep the plates and bowls near the table or near the sink and dishwasher?
There may not be a right answer, but we can work towards the best answer.
In the same way, we use information architecture to determine the relationships between pages of a site, the content on pages to provide the best solution.
Consider your website's navigation. Do you have a solutions or services page? Would it make sense to put the company history under services? It's probably not the best place.
You may keep customer testimonials, reviews and case studies near or on the services page though.
Information Architecture is a key part of building a great user experience. Another great example is a grocery store.
Consider where things are located on each aisle. I think it's good that things aren't organized by their color.
Things are organized by relationships that make the best sense for the customer. I'm glad the canned dog food isn't on the same aisle with my canned soups just because they're both in cans.
All pet related products are on the same aisle together.
Domain Name Registration
If you don't already have a website, you will need to register a domain name. This is the address of your website.
You can't find or get to a website without an address.
There are a few things you'll want to consider when purchasing your domain name. Think about the people who will need to remember it and type it at some point.
The shorter, the better. No one likes typing long website or email addresses. Think about the domain name phonetically.
How easily can someone remember how to spell it?
Using uncommon spellings can result in more keystroke errors when a user is trying to type the domain name to visit your site or email you.
Also, consider using a ".com" if at all possible. Most people tend to naturally think of ".com" before and other suffixes. This is most prevalent in the United States.
Our final recommendation is that your company registers and owns any and all of your domain names.
We've often seen companies domain names held hostage or lost because they allowed a third party to register and control them.
If your domain name is like your street address, then the hosting is the actual house where everything lives.
The hosting is where all your website files are stored so that the world can access them.
Hosting can heavily impact the performance of your site and much like domain names; you should own or have control of your hosting account.
You don't want your site to be held hostage or lost by mistake.
Hosting can impact how fast your site loads and how secure a site is.
There are different types of hosting and typically the cheaper you go, the more negative an impact it will have on your site's performance.
Some of the types of servers include shared servers, virtual private servers (VPS), dedicated servers, and cloud servers.
Most of these servers sound like what they are; shared servers have multiple sites from various companies on them, VPS servers have a few different websites from a few different companies, and dedicated servers tend to only have one company on them.
Cloud servers are a little bit different. The primary difference is that they can easily be scaled in capacity and performance.
This allows your hosting to grow as your business grows more easily and more quickly.
Email is often an overlooked or ignored in many cases. Typically it seems that most folks assume that email will be taken care of by the web development company.
Traditionally, email is handled or managed by your IT department or partner. While web development is often classified under IT, the two are actually quite different.
The primary place that IT and Web design/Development overlap is that they both happen on a computer.
You need a computer to build websites while IT typically deals with the software to run a computer, the hardware to build a computer and how computers communicate on a network.
It's almost like saying a car mechanic, and a delivery driver should be classified together because they both work with cars.
One repairs them, and the other uses them to do their job.
So now that I've gotten that out of the way, I can come down off my soapbox and share the different ways you can manage email.
There are typically two options, but we tend to recommend one.
Option 1 is that you set up your email through your hosting account. This is traditional, old school and becoming less common as times goes on.
The primary benefit is that it's easy to set up this way. Once you point your Domain name to the hosting servers, you can just create email addresses in your control panel.
Then you just use the credentials to log in through a mail client like outlook/windows mail, or the mail app on Apple products.
There's a little bit of configuration; it's really simple and takes less than 5 minutes manually, but there's typically a file you can run that set's everything up more quickly.
Here's the downside:
- email can be slower
- you're limited by your hosting storage space
- Your email is dependent on your hosting
- You have to configure each email account individually
Option 2 is that you use a third-party email service. This is what we recommend. Our preference is G-Suite which includes Gmail, but you can use office 365, GoDaddy email or another similar service.
There's a little more configuration with this setup, but it's well worth the return.
Email is typically much faster (almost instant with Gmail)
Your email's storage space is independent from your hosting
With email that's not dependent on your hosting this means that even if your hosting is down, your email is still working.
You can switch hosting without the need to recreate your email accounts. You can typically access your email from any device even when you've read it on another device previously.
- It takes a little longer to set up
- You have to configure your MX Records
- You have to configure each email account in your mail client (Unless you use Gmail)
Even with the time, it takes to configure MX Records; it's still very manageable. You can configure your them in minutes.
Once that's done it is business as usual with setting up each email account.
I don't hear this term a much as I did in the late 90's and early 2000's. The sitemap is almost like the summary of a home listing.
A home listing tells you what rooms are in the house the same way a sitemap tells you what pages, or types of pages, are on a site.
For a web designer; the sitemap is part of the blueprint. Without it, they would build a site blindly, with very little strategy, which typically ends with very poor results.
The sitemap also shows the hierarchy of a site and how pages are related to one another. The navigation of a website is created from the sitemap.
Defining a sitemap upfront helps to keep projects in scope, within the timeline, and manage the budget. Otherwise, it can be very easy to under deliver (increasing the budget and timeline) or under deliver on the pages expected (not providing users with the proper content they need to make a decision).
Sitemaps are commonly done as an ordered list or visually as a diagram.
While a sitemap tells us what pages are on a site, the wire-frames tell us what those pages do, the type of content on the page and what user's can do on the page.
If the sitemap tells what rooms are in a house, then wireframes tell us what's in the room and where it is in the room. What Are Wireframes?
The wire-frames are the second part of the "blueprint" of a website. With the wire-frames completed it is much easier to determine the content needs of a site and move into the design phase -- adding color and texture.
There should be a wire-frame for every unique page of a website. The home page should have its own wire-frame, and the contact page should have its own wire-frame.
If you have an eCommerce site, then you would want a wire-frame for the category home page, but you would only need one wire-frame for the product pages even though you could have thousands of product pages.
On an eCommerce site, all of the category home pages would use the same wire-frame since their layout, content, and functionality would be nearly identical. The only difference is that One category might be men's jeans, while another category could be women's jeans.
The bane of every creative project. It amazes me how often content is overlooked, thrown to the back-burner, and left by the wayside when it is the very reason that people visit websites.
Let me repeat that. Content is the reason people visit a website.
How well your content is written can make or break a website, but poorly written copy can be better than no copy at all in some cases.
The good thing is that you can continually rework your content to get better results. Truthfully, you should look to refresh your site's content every 4 to 6 months for SEO reasons.
You can also add to your content over time. We recommend that every webpage has at least 500 words, but you can add more over time to fill out the page and better serve your audience.
You want to ensure that you are giving your visitors the information they need to make a good decision.
It's good to know when to be informative and where to compel users to buy. Sometimes informative content sells better than "salesy" content.
This is also another area where your brand should show through. If you've done a brand analysis and define your brand attributes your content should reflect the proper tone and voice.
You'll want to ensure that your content stays on message to connect with the right audience; your ideal customers.
You can choose to write the copy in-house, or you can hire a professional copywriter to ensure that you get the best results.
This is another place where people tend to try to cut corners. Think about how visual people are. Photography is just as critical as your copy. Photography is another form of content on your website.
There are several ways to acquire images for your website. You can hire a professional, purchase stock photography, or take them yourself.
We will always advise hiring a professional over the other two options; and unless you are a professional photographer, we will always recommend that you never take the photos yourself.
While professional photography tends to cost more than the other options, the truth is it will provide the best return on investment and save you the most money in the long run.
Professional photography converts best and is taken with your business in mind. Stock photos can be manipulated to have a custom feel, but it can be a challenge to find a good image.
We advise against taking your own photos because typically the quality of the images ends up being too poor and diminishes the value of the brand.
While site visitors don't prefer stock photography and feel it's generic, poor quality photography can make your business look like it's struggling or even cheap.
With photography, it takes more than owning a professional camera to take professional pictures.
You need a solid understanding of composition, focus, lighting, and angles along with a master's understanding of all your camera settings.
Professional photography goes well beyond the appearance of point and click and should be regarded as a highly valued asset.
Unfortunately, many folks devalue the skill it takes to take good photographs.
With that said, you also want to make sure that you hire a photographer with the right skill and experience for your needs.
You don't want to hire a wedding photographer to shoot your fashion line in the same way you don't want to hire a portrait photographer to take your event photos unless they have a portfolio to show they've done this type of photography well.
The great thing is that there are photographers that specialize in pretty much every type of photography. You can find someone who is amazing at what you need.
Remember, great photography can enhance your website making it stand out from every other site. Poor photography can really make your site unappealing even if you are the better company.
This is why we always recommend budgeting for a photographer on every creative project.
If hiring a professional photographer is not in your budget; here's a list of stock photography sites you can use as an alternative.
Two things. First, YouTube is only second in search to Google. Second, people prefer video over most other forms of content.
Video content is growing at an ultra fast pace. If you didn't start publishing videos last year; you're already behind.
According to HubSpot, 72% of web users would rather view a video than text copy. [HubSpot]
Video is also becoming very easy to produce with the number of tools available today.
With people consuming between 1 to 3 hours of video content on average each day; content should be a part of your content strategy.
In addition to customer-facing content, video can be a huge part of your internal systems and processes to increase efficiency.
Here are a few ideas to help you use video internally:
- training videos
- job description videos
- team member bios/introductions
- company testimonials
- show/document your processes
- product reviews/demonstrations
We strongly believe in using low cost, and free, resources to produce as many videos as possible, but it should not replace professionally produced videos all together.
In fact, whenever possible, you should produce as high-quality video as you can afford. If you can hire an in-house production team, we recommend it.
If you can't hire the staff; it may make better sense to higher an outside agency to produce all of your video needs or supplement them in the least.
Your users appreciate when you provide a quality video where appropriate and lower quality videos that feel more authentic.
You should be strategic about which videos you produce with free and low-cost videos versus high-end well-produced videos.
The design is a critical part of every website. Design goes well beyond how the site looks.
It takes into consideration the goals and challenges of the business along with user experience and interface.
Graphic Design is problem-solving. Design should look good. Design should make things easier to use.
This is why it's imperative that you use a professional custom design from a design. It's more than just making a site pretty.
You want a site that is effective. This takes an understanding of typography, color, photography, illustration, page layout, responsive mobile-friendly design, along with many other strategies.
You want a site that is effective. This takes an understanding of typography, color, photography, illustration, page layout, responsive mobile-friendly design, along with many other strategies.
You need to know how to use design to help convert visitors into leads while helping the visitor get the information they want.
A good designer does all of this while staying on the company's brand. If you want your site to be effective and get results, you can't reduce your site's design to a Fiverr project or a template.
Your site needs to be designed to fit your business goals and help your audience.
You need a safe place to build and modify your site that does not affect your current site that is still in use.
You don't want to miss any opportunities or upset your visitors by temporarily taking your site down.
"Under Construction" even when just for a few hours can be very painful for your customers.
Taking your site down while you redesign or update your site can be the perfect opportunity for your customers to buy from your competitors.
So how do you avoid this? You set up a development environment or a staging site. A place to build and test your new website and any modifications.
Essentially, it's just a clone of your site or a separate site on a private server unknown to the general public. It's also good to password protect any access to the development server.
Setting up an independent development environment allows you to modify your site, redesign, or update your site without any negative effects on your live site where customers visit you online.
Once everything is updated, working the way it should, you can push the updates so that your customers can enjoy the new site.
This is a great way to save time and money while minimizing risks.
With so many websites using WordPress, it can seem like programming is unnecessary.
In reality, programming is still a valuable skill and often required to make many sites function optimally.
Plug-ins, which are often used in WordPress development, can significantly slow a site down which can drastically affect your SEO.
Additionally, because most plug-ins are developed by third parties, they often don't play well together.
If you know the programming language of your site's framework, in this example WordPress which is written in PHP, you can modify the code of WordPress as well as the code of any of the plug-ins.
The cool thing is that you can still build a website just using HTML and CSS. And with tools like Bootstrap, you don't have to write as much as you would from scratch.
Bootstrap is a web design framework. A framework is like a shortcut to web design and development.
In web design, a framework is a pre-designed system of code and file structure. This alleviates the time it would take to write completely from scratch.
There are several frameworks; Bootstrap happens to be a more commonly known and used framework for web design.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
SEO is the process of improving the visibility of your website in search engines, primarily in Google.
This takes optimizing your online content so that the search engines can see it and show it in the search results in relation to specific searches made by users.
We like to look at it as putting answers in the search results to the questions people are asking in the search engine.
You want to answer a searches questions better than your competitors or anyone else.
In SEO there are three primary factors; the person searching, the search engine, and your content.
The goal of the searcher is to get answers to their questions.
The goal of the search engine is to give the searcher the best answers
Your goal is to attract the searchers who need your help.
It's in your best interests to consider the user. If you can figure out what questions they are most commonly asking (keywords) when looking for a business like yours, then you can answer those questions on your site and optimize your content with those same keywords.
SEO isn't magic. Sure google keeps some of their criteria a secret, but if you focus on helping the searcher, then you have the best chance at getting good results.
SEO also takes time, again it's not magic. You're not going to see immediate results from optimizing your site today. It can actually take several months.
With that in mind, you should have a strategy for SEO. You should know when you are going to optimize which pages so that you can measure the results as they come in.
You may need to tweak the same page of your site each month to get the best results from it. This also means that you need to have some form of analytics installed on your site.
Since most folks use Google for search, we recommend using Google's analytics tool, Google Analytics.
There are many other tools that you can use to help you improve your websites SEO. **You can find our top SEO tools listed here in another blog post**
While SEO has shifted, yet again, blogging is still a critical part of SEO and should be even more critical to your business in general.
Blogging for SEO has shifted towards content and topic clusters, but blogging is still a great tool for answering the questions of your users and followers.
You should have a blog on your website. Your blog can explain your products and services, your processes, introduce team members, and anything else that helps to answer a visitor's questions.
Additionally, your blog can be used to update and educate your staff and partners. You should look at your blog as an FAQ for your website.
Aside from helping drive traffic to your website blogs help convert traffic into leads, establish authority, and drive long-term results.
Blogging can help you increase subscribers to your newsletter, grow interest in your services and differentiate your company from competitors.
This is also a great way to engage your customers and get insights into their behavior and preferences.
Blogging is also a great way to get backlinks to your website from other websites. You should consider publishing at least one blog article every week.
Don't over think it. Start simple. Answer basic and common questions that come up most in sales and customer support.
To make it even easier, record it with type to text and then go back and edit it. Also don't be afraid to use video in your blog.
If you want to generate leads online, then you must have pages on your site that are solely there to capture visitor information.
The more landing pages a site has, the more leads it will convert.
Companies typically see a 55% increase in leads when increasing their number of landing pages from 10 to 15 and companies with 40+ landing pages get 12 times more leads than companies with 5 or less landing pages. [HubSpot]
This takes offering something of value in exchange; like an eBook, white paper, how to video, webinar, master class, checklist and other types of premium content.
These landing pages should be relevant to your products and services. More landing pages mean more opportunities to convert traffic to leads.
More landing pages mean that you have more marketing material to offer and use on and offline. Premium content becomes additional resources for the sales process.
You can use landing pages and their offers in combination with your blog to move visitors an leads down the marketing and sales funnel.
Landing pages when done right, also allow you to capture more information about your leads and segment them into a specific list for better targeting.
You should look into landing page creation tools. As Certified HubSpot Agency Partners, we recommend HubSpot of course, but we are also fans o a few other landing page tool.
Here's a list of our favorite Landing page tools:
Quality Assurance (QA)
There's nothing more frustrating than finding a mistake after everyone has already seen it.
It's more painful when it's something you know could have been and should have been caught before it was shared with everyone.
Well, this is why quality assurance exists. It's the checks and balance throughout the process of delivering a product or service to the consumer.
In the case of the web, it's the step where the site is thoroughly reviewed before it is published.
Taking the time to perform quality assurance is a great way to avoid mistakes, and bugs in a website. It helps to avoid problems and provide your site visitors with the best experience.
For a user/website visitor there's nothing more frustrating then click on a link that doesn't work, is broken, or takes you to the wrong content.
Quality Assurance is there to systematically check the site for any errors.
In our experience Quality Assurance should be performed at least twice. Once prior to migrating the site to the live servers and again right after it's been migrated to the live servers.
This ensures that the site looks and functions the same when it's moved from one server to the next.
Site Migration & Launch
Once a site is ready, you need to launch it. For a new site, this can mean uploading the files to the server or modifying the .htacces file to point to the right index file.
Other times it could mean copying the site from the development server to the live or active server or a combination of them all.
For an existing site, you may need to overwrite or remove files depending on your goals and strategies.
For SEO purposes we often want to update files or write over files. A page that has been online for years will likely have some good SEO value to it. We don't want to disregard it if it does.
Either way, you want to understand everything that's required to publish your new site and all the changes that have been made.
And, because this can take some time to do, you'll want to know the best time to do this. The best time is typically when you commonly have the least amount of traffic and conversions on your site.
We say traffic and conversions because you could have lower traffic on the day you make the most sales. It's not common, but it has happened.
We want to be aware of these facts, so that we can launch at a time that doesn't have a negative effect on your business nor frustrates your customers.
Post Launch Testing
After launching a website, just as we mentioned in the quality assurance section; you'll want to go through it again for any issues.
It's not that the site was poorly coded or that someone messed something up. Even though that can happen, more times than not it's simply that it's a different server, with a different configuration.
Checking the site one more time allows you to look for things that you would only find on the live site, which did not show in the development environment.
If you've used tools to test how the site would look across different browsers and devices, you'll want to review the site as well.
Sometimes those tools are not updated as often or quick enough to keep up with browser updates and software changes on so many devices.
With so many devices you want to be sure that you are looking over your analytics to determine which devices are used most by your site visitors.
Project management is often the most overlooked and undervalued aspect of most web design projects.
In order to successfully launch any website it takes good execution.
This is often done by one person or a small team of people who know every task that needs to be completed and by whom.
Expectations for how long a project will take and what's needed by when are just a part of managing a project.
Good project management keeps everyone moving within the agreed upon project scope to maintain the budget as well.
Most project managers and clients will tell you that even with the best project managers projects can go off scope and timeline. This can result in the need to increase budget.
To ensure that a project doesn't go over budget, out of scope, past deadlines and that stakeholders, teams, and management all deliver on what's required of them when it's required 100% of the time is nearly impossible. Doing this without a project manager is impossible.
You want your project manager to reduce any risks and keep the project moving forward.
Project managers should set clear expectations of the scope, timeline, budget for a project, and who owns various tasks along the way.
Good project managers know how to "crack the whip" in a stern but polite manner when clients or team members get behind.
So in short, a project manager is accountable for the success or failure of a project. You'll want one on your team if you want to successfully develop a website.
Projects that seem to "just happen" or lack true project management tend to go well over budget, out of scope and typically take much longer to complete if they're ever completed at all.
It's always good to have someone on your team that is 100% focused on getting project's done.
User Testing, Usability Testing, User Interface Testing
User testing, or usability testing to use the correct term, is an invaluable strategy to ensure that you are creating the best experience for your website visitors.
Usability testing is a technique used in user-centered interaction design to evaluate a website by testing it on real users. This can be seen as an irreplaceable usability practice since it gives direct input on how real users use a website or software.
Testing can be performed prior, during and after the development of a website. It's wise to continually test in order to provide the best experience for a user possible.
Testing regularly can provide valuable insights that allow you to improve on your site month over month.
Usability testing, in combination with several other strategies, is a core part of Growth Driven Design.
If you decide to do usability testing, you want to make sure that you work with a team that understands how to execute it so that the data isn't compromised or bias in anyway.
When testing is not done properly, and without bias, all of the data becomes pretty useless at best and misleading at it's worst.
Usability testing should give you what you need to make the best decisions for your business and your users.
If you plan to do usability testing, there are several resources you can use to make it a bit easier.
Here's a list of tools you can use to improve your website on your own:
Here's a list of third-party companies that perform user interface testing online:
If you decide to hire an agency to develop your website; they should be familiar with and likely use a few of these tools and sites.
This can potentially save you from making the investment financially and save you the time of figuring out how to use them.
A key part of usability testing is knowing when to test what and what tool or resource you should use to test it.
If you want to get certified in usability testing, you should go to a workshop by the Neilsen Norman Group.
This is where our team members were certified. They are nearly credited with inventing usability testing.
Site Management or Maintenance
Every company should have a plan for updating and managing their site. You should know the type of content you need to produce and how often you need to publish content.
You'll also want to know who will be responsible for making the changes each month. It may take a team of people to keep your website up to date.
Will you need to produce content months in advance, or can you produce it organically on the fly?
Maintaining your site may also require more technical expertise. Maybe updating, renewing or implementing new software.
It's good to make a decision in advance about who will manage your website and how much budget you can dedicate to the management of the website.
You can manage your site with your in-house team, an external agency, or a combination of the two.
This decision is often influenced by budget, workload and skill set.
No matter who you choose to update your site, it's good to ensure that they are aware of who they need to communicate with, each month, in your organization.
It's always best to schedule monthly meetings to review the completed and upcoming work.
Everyone involved in site management should know their roles and the roles of everyone they will be working with.
Increasing Website Traffic & Online Marketing
Earlier we shared a bit about having a digital marketing strategy. Now we want to talk specifically about increasing website traffic and the impact of online marketing on that traffic.
We always like to point out that it's not just about getting more traffic; it's more of the right traffic.
It's very easy to increase the traffic to a website. It's much more difficult getting the right traffic, quality traffic, to a website.
So what is the right traffic? The right traffic is people who need your solution, can afford to buy it and are looking for it.
If someone visits your site and they don't meet all three criteria; they typically end up as a bounce, or exit the site once they determine it's not a good fit.
If they do meet all of the criteria, then they are more likely to buy from you. The only questions left to ask are do they need your solution now and do they want it from you?
Smart online marketing is about finding people who meet the criteria and getting them to your website.
This can include paid ads on Google, Facebook or another online platform. It could be posting on social media or in forums.
The truth is; you do need to get traffic to your website, but not just any traffic. What good are a thousand visitors who don't want your service and couldn't afford it even they did want it?
That's no good. So how do you ensure that you are getting the best traffic for your business to your website?
Developing buyer personas is a great way to start, the best way to start in our opinion.
A second way to check and see if you are getting the best traffic is to measure your conversion rate. Are people asking questions about your products or services?
Are you wondering what you can do to increase your traffic online? **Here are some types of online marketing.**
Try implementing two or three strategies to start and then continually add in others as you can.
Direct more traffic to your website! Read: 7 Steps To Increase Website Traffic
Want to know what's keeping your site from getting traffic then read: 5 Reasons Why No One is Visiting Your Website
I can see why many people don't make a distinction between building a new site and redesigning an existing site, but if you've built a new site and then had that new site redesigned you know, there are some nuances specific to a redesign.
In most cases, building a new website is pretty straightforward. Sure there's work to be done, so I don't want you to think it's simple.
My point is that there's nothing that needs to be preserved as there is with a redesign.
When a redesign isn't handled properly, it can have an extremely negative impact on your business.
Some of those issues include missing content, missing pages, 404 errors, loss of SEO and potentially a very frustrated audience.
These issues can impact the amount of traffic to your site, directly or indirectly, as well as any leads or revenue generated from the site.
You should have a strategy for capturing and auditing existing content. This ensures that important content makes it from the old site to the redesigned website. Auditing content can be easily managed in a simple spreadsheet.
You should also audit the page of a site to make sure that every page is accounted for on the new site. You need to determine which pages will exist on the new site, need a redirect, or need to be removed.
In the event that you do decide to remove pages, or pages are missing, you should have 404 pages in place or redirects to new pages.
Sometimes it makes sense to create a page that lets users know that the page is gone because the service was temporary or is no longer offered. Be sure you provide an alternative solution where it makes sense.
It's unfortunate, but most redesigns don't take into account the existing SEO. URLs should be maintained or properly redirected so that search ranking and authority are not negatively affected.
In addition to a content audit, SEO audit, and reviewing the existing sitemap you should also do an audit of the existing technology used.
The technical review should include the hosting environment, email, social platforms, CMS, development language, and any third party integrations.
It may be necessary to consult with your IT department, or provider, to properly complete your technical audit.
Finally, when doing a website redesign, it's not ideal to update the live site for many reasons. In addition, using an under construction page for more than a few hours may have a significant impact on your company's brand and revenue.
It's best to build your new site on a development or testing environment. Simply said, build your new site on a different server than your current or old website.
You don't want to do anything that causes complications with your existing website. Again, this can frustrate your users and create a poor brand experience.
Once your new site is complete, working properly and a full review of the site has been done for quality assurance then you can migrate the site to your live server and replace the older website.
The approach to a website redesign is a bit more intensive while including all the steps of a building a new website.
Growth Driven Design (GDD)
GDD or growth driven web design is a better way to build websites. It's more cost-effective and yields better results much more quickly.
Unlike traditional web design which is typically done every 2 to 5 years, growth driven design starts with a quick launch site and then improves the site month over month based on user data.
Traditional redesigns are initiated by advances in technology or when competitors seem to have a clear online advantage.
This often leads a company to implement old and outdated strategies in an attempt to catch up, but without the same results.
The results tend to differ because those strategies may be outdated or most of your competitors have also started using the same strategies, which nearly nullifies any advantages.
Growth-driven design focuses on how the user, your users specifically, use your website. All design designs are made based on the data from those users each month.
GDD includes many of the strategies and tools used in usability testing. This includes heat-maps, surveys, and screen capturing users.
Using this type of strategy allows your organization to respond much more quickly and give users what they want and increase conversions month over month.
Growth driven design is the continual improvement of a website each month based on previous months data.
This outlines everything it takes to build a successful website that generates traffic and converts that traffic into leads.
I hope that this helps you realize how important your website is to your marketing. Most of it isn't rocket science, but if not done well you may not see the results you want.
Don't worry if you're not doing everything above, or if you can't do it all right away. Start working on one thing at a time and work to make it better over time.
Just don't delay. Remember your competitors may have implemented many of these strategies already. Get started today.
Just be sure to install your analytics tracking tool and map out your strategy first. You'll want to know if your plan is working.
Now that you've read this guide, what are you going to do to improve your website?
Need Help With Your Website?
If you need help, we're here. Let's start by discussing your challenges and discussing the best opportunities to improve your website.