If you run a small business, your website is your shop window on the world and the one thing that most people who come across your company will judge you by. So how can you judge how good or bad it is?
The first thing I would say is – be appropriate. Your website should appeal to your clients and potential clients. If you’re a local window cleaner you probably won’t need one that looks like Shell or BP’s. Something small, uncluttered and clear will do the trick . All-singing websites can work against you these days, as most users will not hang around waiting for complicated flash messages to load – they will be off elsewhere.
Your site should be easily navigable – your customers will quickly go elsewhere if they cannot easily find what they want. Don’t forget a significant proportion of your audience have physical or visual disabilities and by UK law you must not exclude them.
Make it as error-free as you can, and don’t hesitate to use web tools to help. Sometimes these can be easy freeware items, such as the Xenu link checker, or if you have big a big and complicated site, automated services like Sitemorse can help.
Content is all-important, and you need to update it frequently – certainly weekly if not daily, depending on the size of your organisation. Remember your clients will not come back unless there is a reason to do so, so regularly updated content will very frequently pay for itself.
Most companies now are moving away from their website being an online version of their corporate brochure to take advantage of latest web technology. Blogs, podcasts and links to cutting-edge social media are more frequently seen in corporate communications – but social media can be a two-edged sword and you need to think carefully what and how much you do in this area.
Search Engine optimisation (SEO) is a term you hear often now, and it’s basically hints and tips to make your site found more easily by the search engines such as Google.
It’s a big subject, with guru’s springing up all over the place, but to be more visible you need everything where it should be, meta tags in place, and plenty of inbound and outbound links to other sites. You can still send a message to Google telling it your site is there but avoid using tricks to ‘spam’ the search engines as they are sophisticated and mark down your visibility as a result.
Do track your visitors. If your web host does not provide stats, ask why – these days the service is a commodity provided by all the main players, often in easy to follow browser format. Google’s analytics package is free and fairly easy to set up if you have elementary knowledge of HTML, and the results are good. You can schedule updates from the stats package to yourself or others on a regular basis so you can see what is going on behind the scenes.
If most of the above is Greek to you, get help. Website management was once an arcane art, but these days it’s more of a commodity. You can pay for a content management system so you can make updates yourself, or you can pay a content manager (like me) a small fee to make regular updates for you, and to track results.
All too many sites are cluttered, ugly, non-working and out of date, and ironically, these days the costs of improving them has never been lower. It never ceases to amaze me that companies who will go to great pains to ensure their product literature and annual reports are letter perfect forget to do the same for their websites!