January 17, 2012

Cover Story

Gary L. Crocker

Gary L. Crocker doesn’t gripe about his days as a broke, Harvard Business Sch...Read More

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Going Online

Plan Ahead to Build a Strong Web Presence

Dan Sorensen

January 17, 2012

Creating a website for a big business is a huge undertaking that can make even the most seasoned experts cringe. Web design for a small business is no easy task either. With limited manpower, budget, time and experience, small businesses oftentimes have few or no resources to allocate to the process. This means some small businesses are left with poorly planned websites that offer little or no Web presence. When creating a website without experienced help, many small businesses are clueless about where to start. When it comes to the starting line, experts agree: planning is everything. Planning is not just important for the design of the site, it also involves solidifying your company’s brand and website purpose before the design process even begins. “In my opinion, branding plays a huge role, but it’s one of the areas that is often overlooked,” says Mike Harker, owner of Web design firm ThoughtLab. “People think ‘I want a good design,’ but good design itself does not mean it’s a match to what the company is at its core.” By leading the Web design process with branding, companies can focus on what makes their company or product great. Failure to brand could cause potential customers to overlook your sleek new website. Once a company’s brand strategy is established, the purpose of the website must be determined. “Much like any marketing or communication tool, businesses need to take time to determine what the business objectives behind the website actually are,” says Christy Whitehouse, vice president of interactive at The Summit Group. “Is this an information only site? Will it be a lead capture tool for sales? Will it be an interactive demonstration of a product or service?” Without a clearly defined purpose, your website might not accomplish what it should. Content is King Now that the foundation has been laid, design and creation can begin. Ultimately, content is what will matter most, but a site’s design must be appealing to keep people there long enough to read the content. Content is also a key traffic driver. SEO, or search engine optimization, is a very important part of designing a successful website. For small businesses that cannot afford to advertise, SEO may be their only traffic driver. “Showing up in search engines organically is one of the best ways to drive traffic to a website,” says Greg Shuey, director of SEO at SEO.com. “Being in position one, two or three pretty much guarantees you a steady flow of traffic to your website.” Increasing your search result position through SEO depends on knowing how search engines work and using phrases that may often be used to describe your product or service. This includes changing phrases, using certain types of programming code and many other tricks of the trade that will ultimately impact how Google, Yahoo and other search engines rank your website when someone executes a search. While SEO can be very effective, it is also a long-term strategy and takes considerable investment in time and money. To ensure your site fulfills your expectations, build a site map, which acts as the architecture for your website. Using a sitemap will allow you to see the desired website flow before pages are created. Sitemaps will also help everyone understand the navigational relationship between pages. “We create wire frames to illustrate a proposed navigation scheme and show the location, type and amount of planned content for each page of the site,” says Whitehouse. Wire frames act as a non-working visual representation of the website. This saves time and money, as it keeps designers from having to code the site multiple times. It’s Alive! Once your site is created and published, it is very important to keep it updated. A website is a living, breathing organism and must be cared for if you want it to grow. This can be done though adding and updating content when appropriate. Blogs are a great way to keep a regular traffic flow coming to your website, but diligence is crucial. “Adding fresh, interesting content [to your blog] on a regular basis will help drive traffic to a website and keep those visitors coming back,” says Shuey. “But unless you devote time to it each day, it is pretty much useless in both traffic generation and retention.” A big part of SEO is link building. By sharing links and information about your website around the Internet, search engine crawlers will increase your website’s ranking in their results. Ultimately, maintenance seems to be just as important as the actual creation of a website. This is why it is very important that, whether you use an agency to create your website or you build it yourself, you ensure there is a way to update content as needed. Otherwise, you could be doing more harm to your brand than good. Sidebar Learn the Terms HTML – HyperText Markup Language is the traditional programming code for websites. CMS – If you do not know HTML, a Content Management System will allow you to update your website with no programming knowledge. It acts as an interface between you and your website. URL – Your Uniform Resource Locator is more commonly known as your Web address. SEO – Search Engine Optimization is the free—also known as natural—way of increasing your website’s ranking in search engines. This is done by adjusting terms and messages used in your site as well as building links externally. Flash – Adobe Flash is a program language commonly used to create online games and websites. Flash can be a great tool, but be aware: basing your site’s construction in flash may greatly impact its search engine rankings. JPEG – The online formatting standard for pictures is JPEG, or Joint Photographics Experts Group—which coincidentally created the JPEG format. Java – Many online applications and programs use a programming language called Java. It is designed to run on a wide variety of platforms and is often used in conjunction with websites to enhance online interaction.
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