Website Essentials: Your Checklist for Success
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There are certain things that every business website needs. In this podcast I want to talk about a few things that you just can’t do without…
Content Management System (CMS)
One of the biggest complaints new prospects have about their current website when they come to me is that they don’t have enough–or any–control over their website. Early CMSs had their problems: they were bloated with code (making them slow-loading), weren’t good for SEO, and the templates were so generic looking they could be spotted a mile away.
All of that has changed.
As more companies (and developers) have turned to CMS platforms, they have become lean, mean, lead generating machines. The best ones out there are fast-loading, come with plenty of SEO options, and can be customized an infinite number of ways.
There is no excuse not to be on a CMS.
Personally, I’m a big fan of WordPress. It’s the world’s most popular CMS by far and it’s open source, meaning you’re not tied to just one developer or agency. Drupal and Joomla are other popular open-source CMS platforms.
If you prefer a platform that’s backed by a company, SquareSpace and Wix are popular choices. They both come with monthly fees, but these may be less than what you would pay for a WordPress developer or agency if you needed to hire one.
The bottom line is there’s no future-proofing your platform. I’ve seen platforms and programming languages come and go over the years. If you choose WordPress or SquareSpace I can’t guarantee either will be around in five years, but they’re both safe bets.
One choice I’d be a little more concerned about is a home-grown platform from a small or medium sized agency. Once you’re on their platform, you’re stuck with it, and with them.
Sometimes relationships with agencies sour. There’s too much turnover, or they’re constantly late on deliverables, or they get too big for you, or you get too big for them. It doesn’t matter: you can’t leave. Or at least, if you do leave, you’re going to have to completely rebuild your website on another platform.
Unless there’s is some specific thing that this agency offers that you can’t find at any other agency, the risk outstrips the reward.
More than half the world’s internet traffic is delivered onto mobile devices these days. Admittedly, that’s more true outside the US where not everyone has a computer at work and another at home. But even in the US, mobile internet usage is growing rapidly.
While your site traffic may still be heavily reliant on desktop computers, there’s no reason to exclude a significant portion of your site visitors. At this writing, 70% of our website traffic is from desktop computers. Could you imagine a store that turned away 30% of its potential customers?
Of course not.
Mobile devices are everywhere (um, almost by definition.) People use them in line, at lunch, and in the bathroom. (One big reason to never ask to borrow someone’s phone.)
Maybe they see your Facebook post. Or find you on Yelp. Or search for “dentist near me” and Google or Siri shows them your site as a result. If it’s not mobile-friendly, they’ll click the back button
Through search, social, and digital ads, you’ll be sending people on their phone to your website. If it’s not mobile-friendly, you’ve lost that customer, probably forever.
While there are many ways to develop a mobile-friendly website, the most popular one (and the one that is currently most future-proof in my opinion,) is called Responsive Web Design or RWD.
One additional feature I recommend is a popup window that only appears on the mobile device that provides quick links to the items your mobile-visitor is most interested in. These may be Directions, Hours, or Contact.
Xxx [photo of takeflyte.com on a mobile device]
Have you ever visited a website and struggled to find a way to contact the company behind it?
If you want to get the phone ringing, you need to put your phone number at the top of each page. It’s also important to make sure it’s actually HTML text, not an image. That’s because if it’s text, your smartphone visitors can click it and call you. (That’s right, your smartphone can double as a phone!)
If you want people emailing you, you need to have a contact form that collects information and sends it to you. I don’t recommend having an email link, and here’s why:
There are email scraping programs that grab all the email addresses off a website and deliver them to spammers and hackers. Even if your email doesn’t appear on the page, but still appears in the website code, these programs can steal them. The best solution is using a contact form that doesn’t include your email address at all.
I’ve heard some pushback over the years: it’s too much to ask people to complete the online forms, forms feel impersonal, I hate filling out all that information on other people’s forms, so why should I ask them to use mine?
In my opinion, if they’re not willing to complete a short form on your website, they’re probably not a qualified lead. In other words, it filters out the tire-kickers.
Second, you can collect a lot of great data people wouldn’t think of providing you in an email…everything from how they heard of you, to the company they work for, to their name!
Third, you don’t have to ask for a ton of information. I only require the minimum amount of information I need to follow up with someone: their name, email, and phone. (I ask for their phone because often emails get caught in overly-aggressive spam filters, so if I haven’t heard back in a couple of days, I can call them.)
Fourth, most forms can auto-populate your CRM, meaning you don’t have to enter all that information in yourself. In fact, many can automatically add people to your email list…with their permission, naturally.
Last thought on forms: don’t use a CAPTCHA. CAPTCHAs are those nearly impossible to read alpha-numeric combinations that you need to type in to submit a form. There are better tools out there to prevent someone (or some bot) from spamming your contact form. On WordPress, we are currently using the GravityForms plugin with great success.
Who doesn’t love a good nap? In this case, it stands for Name, Address, and Phone. If your physical address is important to your business, having your NAP information on your site is essential. For everyone else, you can downgrade it to critical.
Any business that serves a geographic location–even if it’s not the only audience you serve–needs NAP. That includes everyone from a donut shop to a B&B to a carpet cleaning company.
This NAP information is going to be shared with a number of online services, and it must be consistent across all sites. By consistent I mean that if you publish it as Elm St. in one place, that’s how you need to publish it everywhere.
Not Elm St
Not Elm ST
Not Elm Street.
Inconsistencies lead to duplicate entries which can hurt your visibility in local searches.
We’ll talk about about Local SEO in the SEO section.
Yes, I consider this critical to your website’s success. A blog offers so many benefits:
- An opportunity to brand yourself as an expert
- An easy way to publish fresh content
- A way to add pages without constantly updating your navigation
If you’re really concerned about having a “blog,” and keeping it fresh, call it something less intimidating, like “News & Events” or “Articles.”
Calls to Action
It may seem obvious what you want someone to do once they’re on your site. To call you, to book a room, or to buy now.
It’s going to be less obvious to them. Especially if they don’t know your company or what’s typical in your industry.
They’re looking for guidance. They’re looking for an expert to make it easy for them and show them the way.
Calls to action help guide your site visitor’s progress through the site. At the bottom of every page, you should tell them what you would like them to do next.
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Calls to action help funnel people to the next logical step in the sales process. Often, these CTAs are links to other pages, buttons that open modal (popup) windows, or forms where people can contact you or signup for your mailing list.
In other words, they can be interactive.
On my Agents of Change podcast, I interview digital marketing experts from around the world. Some are Facebook specialists, others are Twitter gurus, still others are experts on Pinterst, SEO, Instagram, etc.
Regardless of the platform, they all focus on one major, measurable tactic to grow their business: building their email list.
As sexy as social media is, and as important as SEO is, email marketing and list building is critical to your small business’s online success. I’ll go into more details when we get to email marketing, but for now, you should plan on including ways in which you can get people to opt into your mailing list.
You may feel that we covered this in the CTA section, but building your own list is so important I wanted to break it out into it’s own section.
Plan on having multiple places where you ask for people’s emails and try different incentives to get them on your list. Again, we’ll go into great details in the email marketing section.
While your site visitors won’t see the security on your site, they might see it if you don’t take security seriously.
Over the years I’ve spoken with many website owners that woke up one day to find that their website had disappeared, was defaced, or that site visitors received a popup that warned the site wasn’t safe and to “proceed at your own risk.”
Think any new prospects will roll the dice on that one?
The more popular a CMS platform, the bigger a target it becomes for hackers and spammers. The best thing you can do for security’s sake is make sure that:
- You’re running the most up to date version of the software (which includes the latest security patches)
- You’re making regular backups of your site (hosting companies will do this, but often overwrite one daily backup with another, meaning that unless you catch a hacker within 24 hours, they’re overwriting a good file with an infected version)
- You’ve installed some additional plugins that include firewalls and other protection against hacks.
Will this guarantee you never get hacked? No, but it will make you a much less attractive target.
How will you know how effective your website is if you don’t have a way to measure it?
For most small businesses, the best solution to getting great insights into your site traffic is Google Analytics. It’s free, it’s powerful, and it can provide you with critical information on how to improve your website and your digital marketing.
If you are working with an agency, it’s important that they use your Google Analytics account rather than setting you up under their own. If you don’t have an account yet, you can add one for free to your Google account. If you don’t have that, you can create a new Google account which comes with Gmail and gives you the ability to set up Analytics, too.
I recommend that you have a dedicated Google account for your business. This is helpful because if you tie it to an employee’s Google account and they leave, you won’t lose access to all that important information.
These are the elements that every small business website needs. However, it’s not everything your website may need. In the next chapter, we’ll look at a few popular features that might help your business grow more quickly.
Other Important Elements
Over the past 19 years, we’ve worked with a wide variety of clients, businesses, and industries. Each has certain requirements that can be addressed with the right tool. While not all these elements are critical to every business, some may improve your conversion rate.
Some people may consider a search box as an essential tool on your site. For larger sites or big e-commerce sites this may be true. But for a small site of under twenty or twenty-five pages, a search box might just clutter up your site.
Remember that every element you add to your site reduces the importance of every other element. Unless something serves a purpose and helps you accomplish your business goals, you should get rid of it.
Most CMS platforms come with built in search boxes, as well as having plugins that may have more features and flexibility. You can also choose to go with a 3rd party search box like the one that Google offers.
If you have a lot of events that you want to share, an online calendar can be a great way of promoting them.
If you only have one or two events a month, I would recommend that you just list your events. Showing a monthly calendar that’s almost empty is overkill, and makes it look like you don’t have a lot going on.
If you have several events a week, then you should look at a calendar plugin like Events Manager Pro. I recommend that you have the name of the event in the calendar, but make it clickable so people can get more information–or even register–at your site.
If you have multiple events a day, your calendar should be able to show all events but also filter by type of event. For example, we built a calendar page for a hospital that wanted to list all of their departments’ events. That was often several per day. By choosing Cardiology or Women’s Health, only events tagged as such would appear in the calendar view.
Slideshows appear most often on the home page, where multiple images rotate through a billboard-like space. Slideshows are powerful because they can quickly give site visitors a better idea of what you offer in a limited space. They allow the visitor to self-select, and then take them deeper within the site.
The best slideshows include the ability for site visitors to pause, choose, or rotate through the slides. They also include the ability for you, as the site owner, to add or edit text that overlays the images so you don’t have to go back to a designer every time you want to tweak the message. They should also be clickable, sending visitors to important pages within your site.
While there’s no limit to the number of slides you can use, I generally recommend three to five. Any less than three and I wonder why you needed the slideshow in the first place, and any more than five and you will significantly slow down the page load time.
I love jumping on my favorite massage therapist’s website and booking a time. That’s what I call frictionless. I can make the appointment any time from anywhere and know it’s locked in for me.
One of our clients is a canine behavior specialist who offers individual coaching as well as group classes. She has a scheduler that can handle either and cuts off registrations to the class once it fills up.
If you run an appointment-based business, including a scheduler app on your site can increase appointments and cut down on staff time with back and forth emails to find a time that works for everyone.
I have talked to some businesses that don’t want a scheduler. One dentist’s office decided against it as they already had too many no-shows and they didn’t want to add to the pile. Others only want it for current clients, and require new people to speak to them by phone or in person.
You should ultimately decide what’s best for your business.
Not every business needs e-commerce. Many businesses only need their website to generate leads. Even those that need to be able to sell online have choices outside their website. Amazon, Etsy, Ebay and Shopify are just a few of the offerings you can use independent of your main site.
However, if you want to keep your visitors onsite, having an order form or shopping cart is the way to go. Just keep in mind that there are a lot of moving parts to an e-commerce site:
- Special, PCI (Payment Card Industry) compliant hosting
- Security certificate
- Merchant account
- Shopping cart software
- Shipping and fulfilment considerations
And a whole lot more. A deep dive into e-commerce is a little outside the scope of this book, but there are plenty of books, conferences, and online resources for those looking to set up shop online.
Putting on events? You’ll probably want to sell tickets.
My favorite tool is EventBrite, and we’ve used it for all of our Agents of Change conferences, as well as most of the workshops we put on. It’s free to use, but they will add a surcharge if you’re collecting fees for your tickets. You can, however, pass those fees along to your attendees.
EventBrite has a widget that can embed into your site, making it easy to collect registration information and money for your events.
I’m sure there are plenty of other great tools out there, but EventBrite is our go to ticket registration service.
Short for multi-listing service, this is what powers real estate websites, many car dealerships, and used boat sites as well. The information is provided from a 3rd party service and you can embed this information into your website in a number of ways.
As you can see, there are a number of enhancements you can add to your website. These might come as plugins for your CMS, a widget from a 3rd party service, or a custom programming job from a developer.
Just remember that your website doesn’t need to be all things to all people. I’m a big fan of starting small and nimble, and adding features as needed.
Hurry up and grab your tickets to the Agents Of Change Digital Marketing Conference! If you’re serious about helping your business reach the next level, you won’t want to miss a chance to hear some of the smartest industry experts speak on the topics of search, social and mobile marketing.