As we near the end of lockdown, many businesses are already deep in plans about how they make their return. If the last three months have proven anything, it’s that digital has never been more important.
The companies that have struggled during these pressing times are those with more traditional bricks & mortar services, whilst internet retailers have generally seen a huge upturn. A number of reports have recently mentioned that the spring and summer of 2020 could spell the start of the next “digital gold rush”.
The natural first step for most businesses looking to improve their online presence is their website. Whether you have an old, out-of-date website in desperate need of updating, or don’t have one at all, there are a few important aspects to consider:
- Does it provide information about your business?
- Does it come across as professional and trustworthy?
- Does it provide a simple user experience?
- Does it showcase your services or products as well as it could?
- Is the content up-to-date?
- Is it mobile friendly and secure?
- Is it easily found by customers, whether on Google or social media?
Asking yourself these questions might well be the first step to deciding whether it’s now time to invest in a new website.
Preparing a website brief & establishing goals
As the owner of a busy digital agency in Manchester, we receive lots of enquiries for new websites on a daily basis, and it’s safe to say the vast majority haven’t invested the time in preparing a website brief. Granted if you’ve not been part of any similar projects before it can be difficult to know what to put in one.
As such, we put together a thirteen point blog post telling you exactly what you should put in your brief, which you can read here.
Establishing what goals you’re looking to achieve is of huge importance, and some common goals include increasing search rankings, increasing leads and enquiries, and improving the user experience for customers. Quite often you’ll have a mix of a few different reasons, so it will be useful to write about what works on your old site, as well as what doesn’t work, things you want to lose, and things you would like to retain.
Taking the time to prepare a brief can often result in a few changes or additions to what you thought you needed originally, so it’s definitely a worthwhile process.
Website sitemap & content
A website is only as strong as it’s sitemap, and ultimately this will go a long way towards making sure you have all the relevant information that potential customers require when browsing your site. Ask yourself if your pages tell people enough about what you do? Do they tell the history and story of your company? Can customers see detailed information about your products & services?
A good sitemap for a small to medium brochure website should contain the following at an absolute minimum:
- Homepage giving people a one page summary of your business
- Products / services
- About the company / history / team
- Reviews and testimonials
- Directions and how to get in touch
You can of course go a lot further than this, especially if you want to target certain search keywords in Google or Bing, but starting out with the above gives you a great platform to build on.
Choosing a trustworthy web development agency
How do you possibly decide which agency or freelancer to work with? The choice can be incredibly frustrating, but I would advise getting in touch with 3 or 4 local agencies from a quick Google search of local designers & developers.
Do a bit of research first and look at their Google reviews, their online portfolio, the size and experience of their team, and then send them your brief. Look to set up a meeting with them which can be conducted on Zoom, Teams or indeed face-to-face (depending when you’re reading this article) – you might have guessed it was written during lockdown.
During the meeting it’s a good idea to run through your brief, telling them any other important information about your business and what you’re looking to achieve with the new website. Discussion points should include your design & brand preferences, competitor websites you like, any bespoke requirements you have, and importantly timescales for completion.
Make sure to ask to see a few examples of their recent work during the call, from similar sized businesses to yourself, and ideally in a close or as relevant as possible industry sector. Get them to show you how their sites look on different devices such as phones, tablets and desktop computers.
When you’ve met all your shortlisted companies and received their proposals, the most important things to consider are:
- Did you get along well with them? You’ll be working closely with them for most likely a few months, so it’s important you have a good relationship.
- Did the sites that they showed you match the overall quality of their online portfolio, or did you get the impressions they were just showing you their best two or three, with a clear difference in quality?
- Did you feel their price offered good value? Don’t necessarily go for the cheapest price, nor do you have to choose the most expensive. Finding a good middle ground is usually the best option
- Did they discuss their project management and methodology? Did you come away feeling that they really knew what they were talking about, and it was clear they’re an experienced company?
- Did they discuss aftercare and ongoing support options with you? What happens when your website is complete and live? Are they there to assist you on-going?
Finally, did the companies you spoke with discuss digital marketing options with you? It’s equally important to consider your long-term marketing strategy. Could they help you with this, or were they website design & development only.
Digital marketing & support
Having your website easily found online is probably the most important aspect of the digital world we live in. If your site can’t be found via Google, Facebook or other platforms, you’re instantly missing out on a potential large audience. It’s the high street equivalent of being tucked away in the dark corner of a village or town without any meaningful footfall.
You have to be visible, and you have to make it as easy as possible for customers to find you. Primarily this means appearing on page one of Google, with a healthy amount of mostly positive reviews. Whether this is via paid ads, organic listings or the local maps, it doesn’t really matter. But can you really afford NOT to be there?
Next, look at your social media presence. Above I mentioned Facebook, but that’s just a small part of our bigger social world. Having branded profiles across Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, YouTube and many more will also give your business a chance to be seen. Don’t feel like you have to jump on the latest social media platform as soon as you hear about, but make sure you’re covering the majority of established ones.
Do you have an email list? Have you ever emailed your customers? Do you do so on a regular basis? Make email marketing an important part of your advertising strategy, and don’t feel like you have to be too salesy. Customers simply like to know you’re still out there, and though they might not be ready to make that call or enquiry right now, granted you’ll definitely stand a better chance of hearing from them further down the line if your company name is on the tip of their tongue.
This might seem like a daunting process from what you first imagined, but the more time & effort you put into the project, the better the outcome you’ll get at the end.
Be prepared to have your own tasks and deadlines set, attend project meetings (at least once a month or more), and review work at regular timeframes, giving prompt and direct feedback at all times.