Establishing a web presence -- even if it's initially in the form of a blog or simple template site -- is one of the most important things you can do to give credibility to your business. However you choose to establish your business online, you should consider three things: the basics, the functionality, and the content.
1. Define the purpose of your site. Is it a simple informational site (essentially an online brochure), a news site, a store, a community space for visitors to interact, or a combination of all of these?
2. Who is your target audience and what is important to them? Think like your visitors when you're visualizing your website. What do they want and what do they need from your website? How do you want them to feel when they look at your online presence? What do you offer that is unique?
3. What should it look like? Working with a professional designer will make a big difference. Your site should be consistent with your other branding materials and identity collateral. Consider the reason you are using certain colors and fonts. For instance, the food industry uses red to stimulate appetite, purple is a royal and spiritual color, and orange is hot as well as a happy kid color. When using fonts, stick to two or three. The more fonts you use, the more cluttered your site will look.
4. What is your budget? Be realistic when establishing a budget. Defining your needs, based on your business, will help scope the site and define the budget. Your website is an investment in your business and you may want to consider a phased approach for its development.
Custom-developed sites will provide the most flexibility in both appearance and functionality. E-commerce sites can cost thousands -- or even tens of thousands -- of dollars to develop. On the other hand, a basic informational site is not as expensive to develop. Generally, the functionality of the site will dictate its cost.
If you're on a limited budget yet still want a quality online presence, there are several sites where you can go to get started, such as HUTdogs QuickSite (hutdogs.com) and Microsoft Office Live Small Business (smallbusiness.officelive.com) which offer easy-to-use web solutions.
A website can have differing functionality for both the visitor and those running the site. The functionality the visitor experiences should be defined by the purpose of the site (i.e. purchase a product, make a reservation, learn about your company, submit a form, etc.).
If you plan on changing your site's content frequently, a Content Management System (CMS) will let you update and edit your site's content. It should provide an interface that looks familiar, is easy to use, and can be done without having to use any HTML.
Once you've determined what the site should do and who your audience will be, it's time to start working on the content.
1. Keep your content concise and to the point. Sometimes, less is more.
2. Organize your thoughts. Your site's navigation should be easy to understand and use.
3. Use good quality photos and images that are relevant and tell your story.
4. Provide several ways to contact your business.
5. Prepare your copy in advance. Post it to your site only after you have edited and refined it.
6. Make a list of links to other sites and where they should be inserted in your content.
7. Stay on message.
8. If you have an e-commerce site, have quality photos of your products, pricing, and concise descriptions prepared in advance.
9. Your site should answer frequently asked questions.
Building a website takes planning, time, and effort. Knowing what the site should do, who will maintain it, who will be visiting, and what functionality is important will help you build a site that works for, and enhances, your business.
Text by Merri Jill Finstrom