Web design has come a long way since the early stages. It’s never been cheaper or simpler for anyone to throw up a good-looking website within days, sometimes even hours.
The challenge is that it takes a bit more expertise to build a website that actually persuades your visitors to take meaningful action for your business.
From Custom to CMS
In the early days of web design, you would determine your needs then have someone custom design the entire site from scratch. The proliferation of Content Management Systems (or CMS), including WordPress, Joomla, and Drupal to name a few, has drastically changed this model.
I’ m raving fan of WordPress. With a little research and a lot of persistence, anyone can figure out how to set up and operate a CMS.
Thousands of themes, or layouts, are available across the web. This means that all you have to do is choose the right layout then customize the color scheme to match your company branding.
For example, you can get premium themes from StudioPress, iThemes, or WooThemes, among hundreds of other sources. To find themes for specific Content Management Systems, simply do a Google search (i.e. “WordPress” + “themes”, “joomla” + “templates”).
If you find a theme that meets your needs as it is, then all you’ll have to pay for is hosting (assuming you build the site yourself). If you want a custom design but aren’t tech-savvy, you can hire a graphic designer.
After you’ve chosen and set up your CMS and theme, the next step is to architect your site. There are four components of a website: 1) technical programming, 2) graphic design, 3) copywriting, and 4) architecture. The technical programming is taken care of with your CMS, and you can find designers who work specifically with the CMS of your choice. This leaves text and architecture. This is where knowledge of personas plays a critical role. The four general personas are Humanists, Competitives, Methodicals, and Spontaneous types. Humanists make decisions slow and emotionally. Competitives make decisions fast and logically. Methodicals make decisions slow and logically, and Spontaneous types decide fast and emotionally.
You need pages and text to answer the questions asked by each. Specifically, you should have at least the following:
- An “About Us” page describing credentials and competitive advantages for Competitives.
- A “Get Started” page, or something similar, for Spontaneous types. Free downloads also appeal to this persona.
- Pages that detail your products, services, processes, methodologies, and applicable research for Methodicals.
- A “Testimonials” or “Case Studies” page for Humanists. Also include bios of relevant owners, managers, and employees for this persona.
Write your text to answer the questions asked by the personas. Use hyperlinks on relevant words and phrases to direct people to your pages. Make the navigation simple and intuitive.
Test it on a number of your friends to find where they experience difficulty or their questions don’t get answered.
Build Your Database
Capturing data from your website visitors is one of your biggest priorities and one of the primary keys of online marketing for small business.
People may not buy on an initial visit, but if you can gain their trust enough to get at least their name and email address, you can continue serving them and making your case over time.
The trick here is to have a free download, such as an e-book, audio file, or a free trial of something. Your download must be relevant to visitors and valuable enough to draw attention.
You’ll need database management software, such as AWeber, iContact, or Infusionsoft, to create web forms and build and manage your database.
With your website built, the next step is to drive traffic. Website traffic comes primarily from organic searches, direct referrals, links, and social networking and bookmarking.
To optimize your search engine ranking, there are a number of technical programming elements to take care of.
This is one reason why I love WordPress so much — it automatically takes care of all those details for you.
It’s also imperative that you have a blog and post articles frequently. The more you post the more relevant content search engines will find. Furthermore, it increases your chance of people across the web linking back to your site, which search engines love.
Currently, the three most popular social networking sites are Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Set up profiles on each, make friends, then wisely refer people to your website. Social bookmarking sites include Digg, Reddit, StumbleUpon, and others. These allow people to share content.
The better your blog content, the better your chances of people linking to you from these sites.
Optimize Over Time
Your website will never be finished. Embrace that fact. The key is to always be testing to optimize your site over time.
To test you need to set up analytics. Google offers a free version, which works great for most websites. Set up an account, then input your website address. You will then be given code to insert into the back end of your website, either in the footer or header. This will track everything from page views to time spent on your site, and hundreds of other variables.
Adjust your site and watch what happens to your statistics, then further adjust accordingly.