This month, we have been discussing the ins and outs of modern website design and development, touching first on traditional HTML/CSS websites, then on Content Management Systems (CMS), and finally on the integration of Rich Media into your web presence. So far, we have placed a great deal of emphasis on content and the ways in which it can be included and managed – after all, your company’s website is only as good as the information it provides. But the highest quality content in the world is worth nothing if your website is not found on the Internet. This week, we will be wrapping up our Website Design and Development series with some information on how to make your website work for you.
Start with an optimized URL
If you are building a new website or revamping your current one, spend some time thinking of an URL that has keywords that describe your business or what type of services or products you offer. Stay away from acronyms, unless your brand is very well known by that acronym. By choosing a domain name that includes the main keywords that people might use to search for the types of services or products you offer, you’re tackling the first step of Search Engine Optimization (SEO).
Choose the Best Platform for Your Business: HTML or CMS
We covered HTML/CSS websites and CMS websites in detail in this series. Before thinking of how you wish your website to look, think of the main function of your website, and why you are making a new investment. A thorough analysis will help you decide if you need a simple brochure HTML/CSS website, a CMS website, or even a more complicated database driven website. Planning ahead will save you money with revisions along the way.
Simply put, a sitemap is a document that defines the structure of your website. It identifies primary categories in your navigation (or menu), where pages fall in the site hierarchy, and what each page links to. Your sitemap allows you to plan the way visitors to your website will browse it, envisioning popular “paths” they might take in order to reach the content they are after.
In addition to serving as a planning document, your sitemap functions as a tool for SEO. You may have noticed that most websites have a link to their sitemap at the bottom of each page. Although visitors will sometimes fall back on this page to navigate a particularly large site (for example if they become lost), its primary purpose is to tell search engines how your content is organized and connected. An improperly documented sitemap is a black mark against your website, and will harm your search engine ranking.
Write Content that Matters
I often write about the importance of well-written content in all marketing pieces. What I really want to convey is that businesses should strive to have only content that matters, or more specifically, content that your target audience is looking for in your marketing collateral and website. I often tell folks who wish to write their own website content to start with an outline of who they are, what their company is all about, list of their products and/or services, provide samples of their products and/or services (if appropriate), and give contact information. What makes it or breaks your content is whether or not it is concise. Web content has to be to-the-point, and should always include keywords and search terms that people are likely to use to find your business.
I see many businesses that are only concerned about images and colors; or on the other extreme, companies who wish to convey too much in words, with little to break it up. Always remember that you’re not writing a novel. The golden rule of content writing for the web is that you must be brief and use the right keywords. You only have a few seconds to grab the attention of your visitor and tell them that they’ve reached the right destination. If you ramble too much, they will bail out. If you only have pretty pictures, they will also bail out – if they can find you at all, as images don’t have the same relevance in SEO as words.
Stay Up To Date
To make the best use of the money you invest in a new website, you need to keep it up to date. Get involved in social media, keep your website optimized, only perform revisions that make sense, and market your web presence as much as possible. Your website is only effective if it generates traffic and helps you accomplish your goal – whether it might be to disseminate information or to help you generate revenue. To make sure that your website is fulfilling its function, check your traffic report at least once per month and make adjustments as needed. Your web analytic tool should be your best friend – one that doesn’t lie!
An excellent website is built upon a solid sitemap, has comprehensive navigation that allows visitors to explore it without feeling frustrated and lost, is optimized for search engines, and is also connected to major social media outlets. As an agency, we’ve so often encountered the same story: A company with a tiny website begins adding to it, building out new pages and sections without a clear plan. At first, everything seems fine; users are happy with the new content. But before long, things begin to fall apart: The menu no longer has room for new items, leading to some being left off; navigation changes from page to page, with menus and links leading to pages that have an entirely different set of links; visitors become confused, and the people updating the website become frustrated; eventually, the company gets to a point where they need to rebuild everything from the ground up. Don’t let that happen to you. Save time and money – plan the development and organization of your company’s website before a single line or code or image is produced – and stick to that plan.