Good Web Design Can Add a Personal Touch to Your Small Business Website

People who do web development and web design can certainly be considered the craftsman of websites, particularly when it comes to boosting the recognition of small business websites. Creation of the proper presentation of the business goals is necessary to draw customers and create new business. Essential web design best practices include development of an interesting opening page that draws potential customers and at the same time gives enough information regarding the business to make those customers want to move on to the next page and then the next, until they are immersed in that businesses site and happily spend their money and time at that effective site.

Good web design and web development have other crucial implications apart from the aesthetics and ease of use. Building an attractive and efficient website for a business is only part of the package however, as the site must be optimized for the major search engines in order for customers to find the site. Being able to instantly find that small business on the enormous World Wide Web is a challenge that many sites cannot master, so they end up struggling along with little recognition. If the customers can’t find your business, then you both lose.

Specializing in niche developing of websites puts emphasis on localized or perhaps state specific businesses and spotlights them for clientele who are interested in what your business site has to offer. Beyond drawing a customer base the elements of a successful website include an attractive, useful, interactive site that aids the potential customer in finding exactly what they are searching for quickly and accurately.

The web design of a well made site would typically include:

  • Content: information and substance of a site must be relevant to that specific site, targeting the public and directing them to points of interest offered by the site.
  • User friendly: It goes without saying that the site must be easily navigable while reliable as well as simple to find the info wanted.
  • Appearance: Appealing, professional, and attractive without appearing overly flashy draws customers to a professional site.
  • Visibility: The site must, first and foremost, be visible and easily found by the major search engines and other forms of advertising media.

Use of Java, Flash, and various forms of multimedia are becoming part of most web browsers and the aim is to make sites more available without the need to add on additional plug-ins before enjoying the site. Whether customers want the latest in web design with all the bells and whistles for a dynamic website or they are content with static pages with little content change and a simpler layout, effective web development is integral to a successful business venture on the internet.

Developing the Perfect Web Site

Five years ago it was nice but not mandatory for owners of small to mid-size businesses to have a web site in order successfully market their company. Unless e-commerce was a potential source of revenue, you could choose if and when to join the Internet set. That is no longer true.

Today businesses of all sizes, including independent consultants, find it nearly impossible to remain competitive without a presence on the web. Potential clients ask for your web site address because it gives them a non-invasive way to learn more about you and your business. A well-designed and developed web site offers more than just products and services, it can be a great starting point to building your brand and developing a relationship with potential clients by giving insight into the organization, its core values and its personality. It’s not an issue of when to start on your web site, you already know that you need one now. The problem is how to get started.

Here are four steps that will help you evaluate what you need. Consider each before you begin interviewing web designers; professional marketing and design groups should ask you these same issues and offer to help you work through the process. If they don’t, if they go first to a package price, buyer beware. Your web site may not reflect your company brand and might not give your customers what they need from your site.

Step 1: Know how a web site will support your marketing plan
Put into writing your thoughts on company philosophy, all marketing efforts being used and other aspects of your company’s brand. Evaluate the image you currently are projecting and how it compares to your competitors. If you have a written marketing plan, share that with your designer. Know who the main user of your site will be and understand their web viewing needs.

Web sites should offer business solutions, so knowing where you are and where you want to go are critical to developing a successful site that supports your brand. Understanding your customers or the end user of your site and their expectations will determine key factors like color, style and font, images used, technology supported. Building a complex site for a lo-tech end user is a misuse of assets. Conversely you won’t be able to compete against hi-end sites if yours fails to perform at a similar level. Talk all of this through with your web and marketing teams.

Step 2: Determine your site’s value
Ranges are fine, but establish a value for the site. Notice I said value and not price—how important to your business will this web site become? Based on the research you did in Step 1, you can make a sound decision on the value your site will give to your customers and how it may directly affect sales results. This allows you to determine an appropriate investment levels so you can better evaluate the estimates you will be given for web development.

Step 3: Envision your web site at its best
Consider what your ultimate dream machine web site would look like and how it would operate. Evaluate all kinds of sites not just those of competitors; look for images, ease of use, content. Bring likes and dislikes to your design team. Decide if your site will be used to drive retail sales now or in the future and the designers can help determine how that might be accomplished.

By discussing where you want to be, a web designer can build your first site with long-range goals in mind. A costly mistake many people make is buying the least expensive package, using a templated and sometimes restricted design or getting the bare minimum site available. Usually those sites cannot be easily adapted and in order to grow the site you have to start fresh.

Step 4: Build each web page on paper first
I like to work with clients to think through, and put on paper, how every web page will work—content, function, navigation, images, links, databases. This allows us to estimate the cost of the site and it helps clients choose between must-haves, good-to-haves and great but not necessary pages and accessories. This is where you can really start to see the site developing.

Now it’s time to design
Using all the information gathered, your web design team will begin to create visual elements, write copy and formulate the form and function of your site. The look of your site, all the visual elements that will make it distinctly yours, begin now. Your research and time spent meeting with the design team will help give you the web site that effectively communicates with your customers, offers business solutions and supports your brand. The perfect web site!

When Do I Start Making Money From My Web Site?

The million dollar question! Of course, the dream is that I put up a web site and within 6 months I’m living in a condo in Southern Spain, rolling high on the profits. I’ve been in web development since 1997, and I haven’t even had a two week vacation in Southern Spain. Either I’ve been cheated or there is something wrong with that model!

The problem with the dream perception is a lack of understanding of web models in 1) how long it takes to build a web site, 2) how long it takes to make a profit from a web site, and 3) how much work it takes to keep both the web site and the profits rolling. I worked for one non-profit with a very viable web site model, but totally unrealistic expectations. One particular board member started asking me, “How are sales?” from the first few weeks after the site “went live.” I always wanted to tell him, “You are asking the wrong question.” One of the questions he should have been asking is, “Now that the web site is up and running, what do we need to do to make a profit?”

One of the results of not understanding the web model timeline was that there were not enough resources allocated to make the site profitable. And, the lack of a plan with specific steps to get there made it very frustrating. The only goal was to make a profit; there were no acknowledged intermediate goals to show steps toward success.

7 Basic Web Models

  1. Very small, static, informational site to market a brick and mortar business.
  2. Very small, static, informational site with some programming (feedback form, newsletter signup, calendar, etc) to market a brick and mortar business.
  3. Small site to market a business without a brick and mortar business.
  4. Website with shopping functions to expand a brick and mortar business.
  5. Website with shopping functions without a brick and mortar business.
  6. Website to generate advertising revenue.
  7. Web services web site (online stock broker, online conference registration, online sales management, …)

An Example: a small, static, informational site to market a brick and mortar business
The benefit for this site is that your business is already known. People have walked into your facility and made purchases. Your website is another way for them to interact with you. You can start web traffic as soon as your site is up, just by making sure your existing customers know about your web site. This is a case where the timeline from beginning to profitability can be relatively short (months).

For many businesses, this is a great place to start. A small site allows you to gather your ideas and try them out without the time and expense of a large site. A larger site can be part of your long term planning.

Planning Steps

  • look at your competitors sites to see what they are doing
  • ask your staff and customers what would be helpful for them on your web site
  • decide what pages you want and what photos and content they should have
  • gather photos and write text
  • learn about the technologies available for you to use for development
  • learn about how the technologies you choose will affect your search engine optimization
  • decide what you would like your web site to look like, a rough sketch on paper will do (notice this is last!)
  • Don’t be surprised if this takes several months!!!

Building

  • find out what human web resources you have available (the people who can build your site or classes for you to do the development)
  • learn the up and down sides to your possibilities and make a choice – remember, you will have to live with this one for a while!
  • start the development process
  • TEST EVERYTHING
  • This could take from an afternoon (if all your photos and text are ready) to several months, depending on schedules and how many changes you want.

Marketing

  • while your web site is in development, write your title and alt tags
  • make a schedule for weekly (preferable) or monthly updates to your web site – forever
  • get at least one new link back to your site from another site each week – forever
  • get good feedback on what your viewers think about your web site – forever
  • People have to find your site before it becomes an asset to your business. Even if you do Planning and Building perfectly, if no one finds your web site, there are no profits from it. This one is a forever process.

Success Points! (have a little toast at the end of each one of these)

  • Plan with list of pages and rough draft of “look and feel” is finished.
  • All materials are gathered
  • First iteration of the site is up and running online
  • Staff and selected user tests have resulted in good feedback (is. changes that need to be done)
  • Feedback changes are finished.
  • 1000 visits in a month
  • 5000 visits in a month
  • 1st sale that can be directly attributed to the web site.
  • etc!

If you don’t recognize the small successes, both you and your staff will become very discouraged, waiting to make it big. Each success point represents a successful outcome.