From domain to data!
Making a website can be as rewarding as it is frustrating. With so many ready-to-use website templates available, you can get some pretty good looking pages online in a matter of hours. But what really makes a website successful? In this article, I’ll go through my top 10 essentials for your website.
1. A content management system (CMS) that suits you
Figure out what you need your website to do for your business and make sure the system you choose will allow you to achieve your business goals without having to start again. There are options out there for almost every skill level and budget. If you plan to manage your own site in future, your choice of platform is really important so that you stay in control and on-budget.
Related Website strategy: Why you need one and how to write one
2. A good domain name
Your domain name should be memorable and easy to type. Try keep it as short as simple and short as possible. Choose an extension that suits your target audience. A .com is the standard extension, but you also have the option of choosing a country specific domain name (for example: .co.uk, .ie, .fr) which may open up some more possibilities for including keywords. Just be sure to check who else uses that name.
Related: The most important aspect of choosing your domain name
3. Original content
It can take a surprisingly long time to write the content for your site! As a starting point, I always recommend writing your Home, About and Contact pages first. Your site will almost certainly end up with more than 3 pages, but these are the bare essentials.
Your home page is likely where people will meet your site for the first time. First impressions count.
When a potential customer arrives at your homepage, they have to feel like they have found what they’re looking for, so that they don’t bounce away and forget about you.
If your offering is not clear upfront, visitors to your site will just continue their online search.
Related: Are you making these 3 common mistakes on your homepage?
A good About page helps the reader to decide if you’re the right person to hire/buy from.
People don’t care about you until they know you can help them. So try to talk more about them and how you serve them. How can YOU help them? You can still talk about yourself, of course but that’s secondary information.
Contact pages are often overlooked. Obviously, they should include an email address, or physical address for a bricks and mortar business, but they can also be a place where you invite people to get in touch. Offer them answers to questions they may have with an FAQ section. Invite them to check out your social profiles or sign up for your freebie.
4. Social media buttons
There are 2 types of social media buttons you can use on your site, social follow and social share.
Social follow buttons bring the reader to your social profiles so that they can follow you.
Social share buttons allow the reader to share your site (or specific page) on their own social profiles in a few clicks.
Social media is a great way to spread the word about your business, and can be a great way to get visitors TO your site. Make sure that your site visitors are not being sent away as soon as they arrive. Social media platforms are places of infinite distraction. If you’re sharing your social profiles makes sure that it’s part of a strategy and that your profiles have the same look and feel as your site. Your social follows can be tucked away on your contact page or in your footer, so that they’re super-easy to find, but not sending visitors away as soon as they arrive!
5. A call to action (CTA)
When somebody reaches your site, what do you want them to do? Maybe you’d like them to leave their contact information so that you can get in touch. Maybe you’d like them to buy a product or subscribe to your mailing list. In marketing terms, that’s a “Call-to-action” or “CTA”.
A really common CTA is a subscription to your mailing list. Capturing an email address allows you to follow up with the potential customer so they don’t forget about you. Can you offer some kind of incentive?
Note: “Subscribe for updates” (yawn) is vague and uninspiring! If you offer something exclusive or a useful freebie, you’re more likely to capture those details. If you use some enticing wording, people are more likely to engage with your CTA.
Terrifying word, analytics! But once you get into it, even a little bit it can really help you understand what’s working on your site and what’s not.
Set up Google Analytics on your site so that you can see how many hits you get per day. What pages people are looking at and if they’re coming back for more. Google analytics is free and relatively easy to set up. It works for almost any kind of site. When you have access to this kind of information, you can see what works and do more of it!
7. Basic optimisation
SEO or search engine optimisation is the process of making your site more visible in search engines like Google. SEO is a vast area with loads of options and strategies. If you’re working on your own site, my advice is to get started with some basic optimisation techniques and build from there.
You probably already know the drill about finding stuff on Google… you type some text into the search field and Google kindly lists a load of sites for you that correspond to the words you’re searching for. If you want your site to be listed in these search results, your site needs a bit of SEO. Here are the very basics:
Keywords and phrases
Basically, the vocabulary that you use on your site should be made up of words and phrases that people are likely to be searching for. Think of the people who are searching and words they will use to search and that’s the first step in choosing your keywords.
Repetition (but not how you think)
Don’t use the same flippin’ phrase on every page of your site! Google will get bored of you and readers will think you’re weird. Choose a key phrase per page and try to use it in a heading as well as in the first paragraph of text. Your text content should naturally include your keywords and phrases. Write for humans, not robots.
The title and description for each page of your site should be figured out before you publish. If you don’t define it in advance, Google (and other search engines) may pull in the first bit of text that it finds on the page, which could be your menu, which just looks rubbish on a search results page and doesn’t encourage anyone to click through to your site.
This is the tip of the iceberg when it comes to SEO! But basically, choose your vocabulary, repeat it, but not too much and make sure your page descriptions make sense. Text content should be original and natural.
Related: How can you get clients through Google Search / SEO?
It’s so very very, very, very, (very) important that your site works as well on mobile as it does on bigger screen devices. Often more than half of your site traffic is browsing on a small screen device – depending on your audience. As you develop your site, at every step, test it on your phone.
Basically, you should have a consistent style throughout your site. The fonts and colours should follow at least a basic set of rules. Images should be good quality and look like they belong together. As I mentioned earlier, first impressions are really important, so your site needs to look good and suit the audience that you are targeting.
If you have the budget to work with a designer to create a brand, do it! But if not, you need to pay close attention to the look and feel you’re creating with your site.
Related: Free images: Where to find them and how to use them
10. Legal info
If you have any online transactions, make sure you have a page with your terms and conditions of sale – returns policy, damages, refunds etc.
A good thing to bear in mind about your website is that it’s never really “finished”. While this short list will help you to get the essentials set up, you should be keeping it up to date and relevant to your business on an on-going basis. That’s why it’s so important to understand your site and, not be afraid of it!