Doing Your Homework
As a business person, you know that research is the starting point for nearly everything you do. Building a website is no different.
Start with you competition
Do they have a website? What does it look like? Is it up to date or is the information stale? Is it clear what they are offering and what their value proposition is? Is the site easy to navigate or confusing? Do they offer online ordering? If so, does it work well? Is it intuitive? Do they accept payments online, too? You may want to be a customer and see what their fulfillment process looks like. Did they deliver on their promised dates and times? Was the order correct? How was the packaging? Study their business from all sides.
You may not even know who all your competitors are. Sure, you may know about the one down the street, but what about the one across town that recently started offering delivery in your service area? Or the new business that just opened up not far from you. An excellent way to do a quick search is with our SizeUp Tool. It will not only help you research the competition but your market as well.
Do a keyword search
Use Google to search for keywords you think your customers would use to find you. Don’t cheat by using your company name. Instead, think like a customer searching for a product they know you carry, or, better yet, a product they think you may carry. See what the search engine returns. Make a list of possible keywords before you start so you can do this in a rapid-fire fashion. Then, branch out with additional keywords and phrases. Study how the search returns differ with each search entered and who appears on the first page of search results with that particular keyword or search phrase. See where your competitor ranks with the different keywords. Are they above your listing or below?
Study the pros.
If you plan to offer online ordering, visit some of the major online retailers to see how they handle online sales and fulfillment. Note what sticks out to you. Is it easy to find products? How good is the store’s search engine when it comes to returning results that match what you were looking for? Do they offer other items you might like or make recommendations based on your selections? How easy is it to have a question answered? Do they have customer service staffed by real people, or is it a bot (using artificial intelligence)? How quickly are orders filled, and what are the delivery options and timeframes? What is their return policy?
The point of this exercise is to study what others are doing so you can take advantage of lessons learned and tap into best practices. Mirror what other companies have done well, making your own improvements to their ideas where the technology or your creativity allows. Don’t worry. You can always start simple and gain sophistication as you increase online sales and prove its effectiveness as a sales and revenue-generating strategy.
Determine your purpose
In the early days of the Internet, the main reason to have a website was to be an early adopter. Early websites couldn’t do much more than serve as a billboard. Everything was hand-coded, all the images and copy blocks were left justified, and the background was a bland gray or dullish white that only lab researchers could have loved. (See Amazon’s first website in 1988 to see how far we’ve come.)
At this stage, you want to finalize what your site is going to do for you. Is it going to be a marketing tool? Lead generator? A sales powerhouse?
Understanding what you want your site to do before the work begins will help you ensure that the finished site will match your expectations and guide the design team in putting your site together.
Common goals include:
- Generating leads
- Building relationships
- Increasing awareness
- Influencing public policy
- Providing research and guidance
- Booking appointments or reservations
- Increasing sales
- Communicating with stakeholders
- Engaging in international trade
Developing a website is not a horserace. It’s a marathon. You don’t have to do or even know everything in the beginning. You are in this for the long haul and can change things as budget, time and resources allow.
That’s not to say you can build a website and forget about it. That would be akin to opening a new brick-and-mortar store across town or across the country and leaving it to collect dust. A website needs to become part of your business plan, and it may require some outside help to keep it running on all cylinders.
At various points along the way, you may want to do some additional research or take some time to consider your other options. You want to put as much thought into your online presence as you did in building your business.
The good news is that you’ve already put a lot of thought into creating your business in the first place, so you don’t have to start from scratch. You probably have a logo, some colors you’ve used on your signage and marketing materials, some messaging and perhaps even a few type fonts you’ve settled on. You may even have an up-to-date business or marketing plan to help guide you in determining your competitive advantage, voice and messaging.