Before you get too far in the process, including finding a builder and finalizing a budget, you should spend some time thinking about your website and what you want it to do for you. There are also some basic design principles you want to share with your designer to ensure that the site is user-friendly, easy to navigate and can display correctly on desktop computers, laptops, tablets and phones. Depending on your audience, you may also want to think about whether your site should be in different languages or accessible to those who have ADA-defined challenges with sight, hearing, speech or touch.
Focus on your audience
As you think about your website strategy, you always want to keep your audience in mind. “Build it, and they will come” only works in the movies. If your site is difficult to use, doesn’t grab visitors immediately, or doesn’t hold them with information or products they want, you can build it, they may come once, but they won’t come back again.
You can spend all the money in the world on a website, but it won’t generate leads or sales unless you give the customer a great user experience. An excellent way to get into this customer-centric mindset is to visit many other sites to see what you like and don’t like about their design, navigation, content and functionality. The key here is to pick a variety of sites. If you are a coffee shop, there’s a tendency to visit other coffee shops, especially those of your competitors. That’s a good place to start, but don’t stop there. Include similar shops in other parts of the country or even completely different business categories. Make notes, and soon, you’ll start to see things you’d like on your own website. If you sell products or services, pay particular attention to the lead generation funnel. How do they turn a visitor into a lead, then a prospect and finally, a customer? Do they offer a special perk for providing an email address? A percent or dollars off your first order? If they offer e-commerce, you may want to order something from them to see what their fulfillment is like. How long did it take to get the order, how was it wrapped or boxed, and what was the cost to get it to you? You can learn a lot from others. Let their mistakes become your competitive advantage.
Tell a good story
If all you do is sell on your website, you’ll turn visitors off. They may not be ready to buy yet. Instead, they may still be in the research stage and narrowing their choices. Your website should provide helpful information that supports this process, builds trust and rapport and opens the door for further interactions. Speak in a language that is conversational and friendly. Don’t use big words or jargon. Tell them about you and your company as well as your products and services. No matter how big your business is, a customer or client ultimately buys from you, the owner. Be transparent, honest, and engaging and focus on the long-term relationship, not the short-term sale.
Be a ruthless editor and cut anything repetitive, unclear or unnecessary. To that end, consider adding a blog to your site or other content that shares expertise and knowledge. Not only will it build repeat traffic because you are offering something – knowledge – for free, but it will also improve your rankings in search engines since search engine algorithms love good content that changes regularly and isn’t all about selling something to someone.
Make it easy
People want to visit a site that is easy to use and intuitive. Visitors don’t want to have to guess where to go next in their journey. Make it easy to find pricing and contact information. Every step along the way, offer the ability to speak with a real person, even if it’s through a chat box (a website plug-in can do this) using artificial intelligence. Remove every frustration that could cause visitors to click out of your site and find another. You may also want to guide visitors through their journey using different routes on your site. Even if your visitors are all over the place – some are first-timers, others may be ready to buy, and still others are repeat customers – meet them where they are and guide them where they need to go.
An excellent example of this is on e-commerce sites that allow customers to set up an account with their information stored behind a firewall. Once they log in, they don’t have to do anything else. Their personal and shipping information is all built-in. Some even learn the customer’s habits and preferences, suggesting products or providing special offers.
Your copy should be in the second person – refer to the person reading your website as “you,” like you’re talking to a friend. Even if you want the tone of your site to be more formal, you still want to sound friendly and personable. Make sure your grammar, spelling and punctuation are consistent and correct. Grammarly can be a big help if you’re not a professional writer (I am a professional and still rely on it). Every page should feel like it belongs with the next one. This goes for using the same typography, type sizes, alignment and color palette. Photos should be in the same family, too. Try to pick images that support one another and your overarching story. Whenever possible, use real photos, not ones pulled off a stock image website.
Pro Tip: Never use a photo you found on the Internet, or you may receive an unpleasant letter in the mail one day telling you that the image was copyrighted and that you owe the law firm’s client some money.
The same applies to websites offering you an image created by artificial intelligence. The jury is still out on whether AI infringes on the source images used to create the new image. That said, if you’re using a stock photo site (Shutterstock, iStockphoto, etc.) or Photoshop and it offers you AI alternatives it has created, you should be just fine since they use the images on their site to create a new one.