A website should be a mirror, not a sketch
In my experience any plan to get more out of a website or to develop a successful new one should start by recognising three stages.
- Making sure your audience can find you.
- Ensuring their first impression of you is favourable.
- Leading them on a journey that results in them becoming (or remaining) customers (or advocates for your business).
While there is no magic bullet for success, there is a helpful guiding principle.
The key to creating a successful website is doing lots of little things really well. This is how you create a website which is an accurate, dynamic reflection of your business - a shiny mirror rather than a fuzzy sketch.
In this article I am going to share a few of the best practices Honeystone follows to build successful websites. The more of these things that are done right, the more successful your website can become. Working together, they can improve your visibility, customer engagement and brand credibility, turbo charging your ability to remain competitive and grow.
The first order of business is to make sure your website is super friendly - both to search engines and your visitors. This has a huge impact on ensuring your potential audience finds you and stays with you!
Build quality builds trust
A website which is search engine friendly is almost certainly going to be viewed favourably by your human audience as well.
Why? Because the criteria used to rank a page are all about encouraging useful well structured content. As in life, being friendly starts a relationship with a foundation of mutual trust.
Search engine friendliness (SEF) should first be considered during the BUILD of a website, and if done properly is a one time process.
SEF is often confused with SEO (Search engine optimisation). SEF should create a foundation for SEO, the process which happens once a website has been launched. This makes sense because you can’t optimise something which hasn’t even been launched!
Search engine friendliness reaches into every facet of designing and building a website, initially determining how successful a site is at launch, but more importantly its long term potential. In essence it's about how well your website is designed and built.
The importance of being friendly
Looking at what a search engine friendly website should aim to achieve, brings into focus the power a higher quality website build can unleash:
- Ensure that Google and other search engines can learn as much as possible, as easily as possible, when crawling your website (when indexed for your chosen search terms).
- Create a great first impression, reassuring visitors they have come to the right place, and that you are to be trusted. This in turn encourages them to explore the site and spend more “time on page”.
- Deliver a great experience and user journeys which result in visitors taking the actions you want them to (such as getting in touch, buying online or visiting your shop). These are called most wanted responses and are the point at which you start a conversation with a potential customer. When being measured they are normally referred to as conversions.
- Ensure the website has a user friendly, powerful CMS (content management system). This should become your indispensable “Swiss Army knife” for many ongoing content related SEO activities.
- Ensure your site is seen by Google and visitors as secure and trustworthy.
- Publish content to keep visitors on page for longer. This encourages them to come back but also makes it easier for them to recommend your website and your products or services to others.
SEO is the ongoing process which should be undertaken AFTER a website has been built. It’s about making the website ever more search engine friendly as the world moves on, and should take account of:
- The changing market environment
- The actions of competitors
- Evolving technology and tools
- Your available resources, knowledge and new insights
A good way to re-evaluate these at a strategic level is to undertake a SWOT and PEST analysis.
If search engine friendliness is properly considered during a website build (or major upgrade), there will be a much stronger foundation for ongoing SEO as the site’s content evolves.
This continual evolution should always aim to make your website more searchable, to better engage visitors, and to encourage ever more of them to engage in your “most wanted responses”.
So what are some of the practical things which need to be in place?
Considerations for search engine friendliness
- Enable fast page load times - especially on mobile devices and in rural areas.
- Ensure your site has an SSL certificate installed and you have a process or mechanism for renewing it when required.
- Include keywords and phrases which are relevant to what people are searching for (and where), but do not sound forced or spammy.
- Ensure all images have descriptive ALT tags and where possible meaningful file names.
- Use meaningful titles, appropriately structured with the right title tags.
- Include a site map which will auto refresh when content is updated.
- Ensure appropriate meta tags are available to search engines:
- Facebook Open Graph
- Twitter Card
- Ensure URLs are meaningful and contain appropriate keywords.
- Ensure your site’s home page or landing pages create a great first impression (more on this later).
- Ensure your site design delivers a well organised, clean, intuitive experience.
- Your website should be built on a platform which can deliver long term value. This necessitates a CMS like TypedCMS which is easy to access and use. This will ensure you always have good quality, up to date content which is relevant to your audience.
- You should revisit your SEF checklist regularly to measure, iterate and improve (i.e. keep on optimising)
Perfection is lots of little things done well - Fernand Point
Driving traffic to your website.
As well as pulling people onto your website via search engines, you should also aim to “push” them from other media.
Driving traffic to your website should aim to address the beginning of the buying cycle when people are searching for a product or service to solve a known problem, but perhaps haven’t visited or heard of your website. It goes beyond search engine optimisation and is underpinned by the “rule of 7” which states that potential customers need to encounter your brand in a positive way, 7 times, before they buy into it.
Content for driving traffic to your website should be positioned in some or all the following places. The exact mix will depend on your available resources and the nature of your business.
- Search engine index - primarily Google, Bin and Yahoo
- Paid for digital ads - Google Adwords, Facebook Ads, LinkedIn Ads
- A social media platform - YouTube, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, Twitter
- Another website or blog
- An email newsletter - MailCoach, MailerLite, MailChimp
- Physical promotional items - T-shirts, mugs, mouse mats, banners
- A printed business card
- Other printed material such as letterheads or comp slips
- A physical building or structure
- A trade stand
- A branded vehicle
- Word of mouth - an elevator pitch, business networking, testimonials
This content is normally created and hosted separately from your website. It may be adapted from website content but never cut and pasted. In the case of search engine indexes, content is normally created on your website and indexed after being “scraped” off.
Cultivate visibility because attention is currency - Chris Brogan
First impressions are irretrievable
Some user experience experts say you have just five seconds to make a first impression online. Others argue it's as little as 50 milliseconds.
Either way you need to figure out how to grab someone’s attention quickly or risk losing them forever!
The key is to answer the FIVE key questions which visitors have in their mind as fast as possible. These should go to the very heart of your brand values.
- Have I landed in the right place?
- Do I trust these people?
- Are they a successful, professional company?
- Can these people help solve my problem (affordably)?
- Are they conveniently located, can they ship to me or can they work remotely?
That’s still not enough!
Having ticked all those boxes you now need to follow up by differentiating - quickly and clearly.
You need to get across the essence of your USP (unique selling proposition) seeking to let visitors know:
- Why should they choose your company over your competition?
- What problem do your products or services solve?
- Do you back-up your offer with a guarantee, a special offer or both?
Factors like “amazing customer service” or “we care more about our customer” are very rarely true USPs. Also where possible USPs should not be underpinned by low prices. These are all easy for your competition to imitate (at least in their marketing) and can rapidly fuel a race to the bottom when it comes to messaging.
Honeystone builds genuinely bespoke websites, crafted to your strengths and aspirations, ensuring maximum visitor engagement.
- Website speed is the first thing people will notice. A website should load quickly especially on mobile devices and in rural areas.
- Ensure that your website has an SSL certificate to immediately demonstrate that you take security measures seriously.
- Make sure your value proposition is clear.
- Be sure that visitors understand and value your USP (see above).
- Ensure your website is responsive and easy to use on mobile devices, as well as laptops and large screens.
- Make good use of white space - this allows your design to breathe with key elements standing out. This uncluttered layout will create an overall air of brand confidence.
- Colours should be balanced, fonts legible and both should follow basic brand guidelines (formal or informal). All fonts used on each web page must be easily readable. Calligraphy or handwriting fonts are not recommended (we do not use them at all).
- Underlined text should be reserved only for hyperlinks. The website should not use underlined text for any other purpose.
- All graphics used on any web page should have a high quality source. Graphics with dithering or matte are to be avoided at all cost.
- Up to date content is important throughout your website but nowhere more so than on your home page.
- The value the website/business/organisation brings to its clients should always be clearly represented.
- Check there are no typos or awkward grammar and that copy is on brand. Each web page should be checked for spelling, grammar and punctuation errors. This should be completed by someone other than the copy writer/content creator.
- Ensure that photos are relevant, of high quality and that they evoke the right emotional response. They should always reinforce your brand both aesthetically and emotionally. They should also be optimised to reduce their impact on page speed, and should respond appropriately to different screen sizes.
- The content of each web page must be consistent with the Typographic Style Guide (DOCS-T5SG), and with each other web page. This includes:
- consistent case e.g. Title Case, Sentence case, lower case, ALL CAPS, etc;
- consistent use of tense;
- consistent use of personal pronouns e.g. I, we, they, etc.;
- and consistent spelling I.e. British English versus International English.The content on each web page should meet the needs, goals, and interests of the reader (target audience).
- The content on each page should meet the goals of the business/organisation.
- Ensure that particularly important or engaging content, such as CTAs (calls to action) are highlighted and clearly stand out.
- The content on each web page should be complete and in context. All of the information a reader needs to know about the subject should be made available (either on the page, or hyperlinked).
- The website must not have too much content on each web page. It must be easy to determine the main focal point of the web page, and there should be minimal distractions around it.
- Consider an introductory video to help catch people’s attention.
What is adequacy? Adequacy is no standard at all - Winston Churchill
Let's start a conversation
So now your visitor has found you and you have their attention. Time to get them on a journey which will culminate in them starting a conversation with you - in other words your most wanted response. This is all about creating a great user experience.
User experience is an important discipline in its own right. Any website project will benefit from a good UX specialist on the team.
Below are some of the key UX considerations to bear in mind when talking to a potential developer, UX specialist or content creator. They equally apply when managing your own content and performing SEO.
- Understand and aim to focus on your primary audience, being clear about your most wanted response. This is how you mobilise your visitors, and start the process of converting them into customers.
- Build towards starting a conversation which results in users performing your “most wanted response”.
- Each page and element of a page should have a single, clearly defined goal ,and the flow of each page should aim to tell its own district chapter of your story.
- Ensure all menus and calls to action have clear wording. which explains precisely and succinctly, where they will take you.
- Use scrolling on primary pages, and clicks on deeper pages, to curate your user’s journeys. You should also plan for multiple journeys or paths through the website.
- Hide complex information behind clicks or accordions. This helps keep the flow for users who are scanning while giving others the opportunity to dive in deeper if they wish.
- As with your home page, use white space throughout to help enhance the user experience.
- Make good use of your footer menu. This provides users with a secondary navigation option when they reach the bottom of a page and can greatly enhance the look and feel of your site.
- Place testimonials, case studies, reviews and other social proof near conversion pages and other conversion elements. Use case studies to help drive conversions.
- Position attractive, eye-catching CTAs (calls to action) as strategically as possible to keep users moving around your site. “Time on page” is good for both SEO and conversions. Ensure that CTAs offer a natural next step. For example related blog posts or tags on an article, book an initial consultation on a case study, related services or contact us on a services page.
- Don't ignore your hidden pages; they demonstrate attention to detail and friendly good manners. Examples include newsletter sign up thank you pages, contact conformation and 404 error pages.
- Measure, monitor and improve using content marketing to drive SEO where possible.
The trouble with our age is all signposts and no destination - Louis Kronenberger
Other important considerations
Encouraging return visitors and referrals
Publishing helpful content serves a number of key functions especially after the first time someone contacts you or buys from you. In-depth or long form articles (over 2000 words) help reassure customers that you are there for the long haul and that they have made a good decision buying from you.
Choosing the right platform and CMS
It's important to build your website on a platform which can deliver long term value and which makes it easy and enjoyable to update regularly.
It achieves this by separating the content management system from the website so the content structure and updates are unhindered. This separation unlocks exciting new opportunities for developers, content creators, and website visitors and means significant advantages for business owners.
TypedCMS is a “headless” content management system which means the head (front end website or application) is separate from the body (back-end CMS).
Multichannel and omni-channel
The progression from basic websites, through multichannel to omnichannel means that a headless CMS which is not tied to one technology is more important than ever.
The TypedCMS CMS, starter kit and API are powerful tools which allow you to start implementing omnichannel right now and to roll this out further and faster in future.
84% of consumers consider a business more credible if it has a website rather than relying on social media profiles alone. Around 1 in 3 would not even consider buying from a business which relied solely on a social media profile.
The lifecycle steps to omnichannel:
- Traditional - good old fashioned bricks and mortar/paper
- e-commerce/online - the web/online shopping
- Multichannel - various disconnected channels emerge online
- Omnichannel - integrated and seamless experience across devices and touchpoints
The key difference between omni and multi is that the latter treats all channels as part of a holistic experience. Omnichannel offers a better user experience (which is valuable).
Omnichannel approach keeps your customers attention wherever they are, improving the customer experience and providing more opportunities for conversion (inc online sales)
With a headless CMS such as TypedCMS, brand assets and content can be stored in a single place and made available to multiple applications including a website
Firstly a headless CMS allows content to be used by multiple applications of which a website is just one. Others include social media, mobile applications, e-commerce and other software as a service (SaaS).
Keeping the content separate from the website also means it's easier to upgrade a website as work can be done on one version of a site while another is still in production (live). The site can continue to be updated in the meantime.
Content is pushed from TypedCMS to the website or application via the TypedCMS API which is an encrypted data pipeline.
TypedCMS allows you to choose which technology on which to build your website and to change that technology at a later date. The technology Honeystone chooses to use is Laravel. Laravel has a strong pool of developers globally, is flexible, powerful and has a good track record for security.
No one can whistle a symphony. It takes a whole orchestra to play it. – H.E. Luccock
Website security is something we take extremely seriously in our choice of platforms, our implementations and our maintenance.
Before beginning any project, consider security. We recommend reading useful articles, or chapters of books specific to what you're working on. Consider checking out The Open Web Application Security Project (OWASP) website (https://www.owasp.org) for the latest information. You may also want to review the cheat sheets: (https://www.owasp.org/index.php/Cheat_Sheets).
While website security is outside the scope of this article we are happy to discuss it directly. Please contact us if you would like to discuss website security.
Distrust and caution are the parents of security - Benjamin Franklin
Using SMART goals
Most platforms have statistical dashboards to measure outbound traffic generated, and there are a number of website applications to measure inbound web traffic
- Google Analytics (free)
- Fathom Analytics (paid)
Asking customers where/how they heard about your products or services is important and best done using a form or survey too so you can analyse results.
Revisiting your plans and strategies regularly is important. Actions which have resulted in increased business may signal a need to allow more focus on innovation and delivery, whereas a failing strategy requires focus, and re-assessment of resources allocated.
Hopefully you have found this article helpful. Unfortunately there isn't space to go into each next practice in more detail here but please get in touch if you would like to discuss any of these topics in more detail.
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