How to build a web site for your business

Over the past week, four different friends have told me that their business wants to (re-)launch a web site.  They have different specific motivations, and their businesses are very different.  However, they all share one trait: they are primarily offline businesses which see their web site as a way to get new customers, and increase engagement (and hence repeat business) from existing ones.  Many people have good intentions, so I have this conversation a lot.  When I dig a bit deeper with my questions, It turns out most people are looking for a ‘web designer’, by which they mean someone who can make nice-looking images and generally make things aesthetically appealing.  This can be one part of the work which needs to go into a web site, but it’s only a part.

Web sites are there to get people to take action, not (just) to look pretty

If you disagree with this, I’d urge you to read the excellent book ‘Convert!’ by Ben Hunt.  My quick summary:

  1. Web sites are built to attract customers (e.g. through SEO), and to convert them from their current state into another one which is closer to the buying decision (or whatever action is appropriate for your site).
  2. Each page (people visit web pages not web sites) needs to speak to the current state of the customer (i.e. their stage of awareness of their need and your solution) and get them to the next step on the ‘awareness ladder’.
  3. There’s a bunch of stuff you can do to make your web site more effective, and most of it doesn’t involve images, although it does involve design (design in the sense of ‘interaction design’ or ‘process design’, not ‘graphic design’).

Tell this to your friend who wants a new web site

I’ve pasted below the identical email I sent to four people this week.  I’ll refer the next person to this post.  Feel free to do the same.  Although my advice doesn’t apply to every web site, it probably applies to most small businesses with a modest budget.
Do you want the web site to help potential customers find the web site, as well as encouraging both existing and potential customers to spend money?  If so, then you can break down the work into roughly these chunks.  Some can be done in parallel:
  • Pre-requisites
    • Defining the audience and objectives of the site: conversion goals etc.
    • Interviewing the people who have contact with customers (like you) to understand more about the types of potential customers, stages of awareness, and feelings/questions at each stage
    • Deciding which platforms you want to support (e.g. do you need the site to function nicely on a small-screen device like an iPhone or Android phone?  hint: yes)
  • Writing
    • Deciding the pages to write based on how valuable they could be, and trading off against how hard it would be to rank highly in search engines for those pages.  This requires quite a bit of research on competitor pages and keywords.  It’s not intellectually difficult, but takes time; ideal for a smart intern.
    • Copywriting for the pages which are necessary (includes page titles, body, description, ideal URL – all of these have an impact on search engines)
  • Infrastructure:
    • Setting up the hosting environment (it should be a dedicated IP address if you want your site to be available in China)
    • Technical: implementing a CMS (e.g. WordPress or Drupal) and setting up the site structure, RSS feeds, links with social networks etc.
    • Setting up any additional functionality (event calendar, photo gallery, blog, whatever…)
  • Design:
    • Selecting, developing and customising the visual design (HTML/CSS) of the site.  This part could range from buying a 50USD theme and putting a logo on it, all the way to spending about 1500-2000 USD to pay (i) a graphic designer to do the site design in Photoshop and (ii) getting an HTML/CSS guy to cut that design into pieces and turn it into a WordPress theme.   I would go with the lower cost option here: you can get really good results.
  • Managing performance against objectives:
    • Setting up the Google Analytics account and configuring it to get actionable metrics out (requires setting up info on the conversion funnels, which assumes you’ve thought about this earlier in the process).
    • Defining the regular processes required, e.g. for adding new content regularly, doing social media updates, monitoring conversion and tweaking copy…

What do you think?  Let me know in the comments.