Giving your online business a head start with the right website

Posted by | March 24, 2014 | Blog | No Comments

shopping_trolley3As many of you will know, starting your own business is not a ride in the park. You are likely to have a hundred and one things to organise and lots of new skills to learn.

The success of your business may solely rely on your website, or your website may just be a place for your customers to read a bit about what you do and to find your contact details. Either way, it will need to be fit for purpose as well as accurately representing your company.

Choosing the right web developer

Choosing a web development company that will meet your needs, as well as match your budget won’t be easy and it’s not always the case that the priciest company will be the right choice for your business.
It’s always worth speaking to a few companies about your needs, and being sure that they really understand what your site is trying to achieve.
Have a clear idea of how you want the site to look before you approach your developers, and make sure they are able to implement every element of your design before you agree to have them build your site. It’s often very easy for a novice to be convinced that some functionality may not be possible. If the web development company you are planning to use are not able to implement essential functionality or design that you need on your site, look elsewhere to find one that can.

Some questions you may want to ask yourself to help you decide which developer or development company is going to be right for your project:

question1

If your website is going to be successful then the answer to this one should always be yes. And if you are going to update the website yourself, you will need a site build that allows you to make regular updates without having to rely on your development company on each occasion. Make sure your web development company is aware that you will need to make updates to the site, and also be clear about which parts of the site you will need to update on a regular basis.

Some updates you might need to do on a frequent basis on your site include:

Adding news stories and other useful content to your site
Adding and changing banners on specific pages on your site
Shouting about promotions  or new products and services across selected pages on your site
Adding new pages, services or products based on new opportunities within your industry
Changing the theme of your site to match special occasions in the year like Christmas or the World Cup
question2
You may find that at some point down the line that you want or need to add extra features to the site. This may be because a competitor is using a feature that you want to use in order to compete in your industry, or you may have thought up a genius idea for an app that will help to put your site ahead of the competition. Either way, make sure that your web development company is capable of implementing your ideas, or if not – that they are happy to let other developers work on the site to implement them.
question3
Ideally you want to try and get some advice from an SEO (search engine optimisation) expert before the build starts. If you end up with a site that looks great but has been built with restrictions that mean it can’t be fully optimised, the site (and therefore your business) may never reach its full potential.

Your web developers should always be there to help you achieve your goals rather than hold you back. Even if you decide to use a friend or family member to build your site, it’s worth making an agreement on some key elements before having them commit to building your site.

Agree on the ownership of the site. Unfortunately, just because you have paid for the site to be built doesn’t necessarily mean that you own it. Make sure your development company agree that you own all of the web files, images, content and any other assets on the site. That way, if you decide to have another company work on or manage your site the whole process should be much smoother.
After the site structure and design has been agreed, specify a launch date. It may be that the final launch date changes but without an agreed date in mind your web site build may drag and end up taking longer than you had hoped.
Deciding how your site is built

You may opt for a custom built site, a site using an open source CMS (content management system) or choose to have your site with another type of web builder.

Custom Builds are sites that have been built and coded from the ground up, where every element has been designed specifically for you and your project.

Open source CMS are platforms that have prebuilt frameworks that can be built upon and customised to create your site.

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I am going to be very undiplomatic about my preference these two options …If you are a small business or a new business with limited funds, avoid having a complete custom build site unless your site needs to have a very unique functionality that no existing CMS platform could possibly allow – although this situation is very unlikely.

Custom build sites will be will be completely unique in the way they are built which tends to mean they to sit on the pricier end of the spectrum.  This can potentially mean that you end up being tied to using the same web developer to make any changes because they are the only company or person that truly understands how the site is built. As well as this issue, if you decide that you want to have another company manage your site, you may struggle to find one that will agree to take on your custom built site as they may be unfamiliar with the structure and the language which was used to build it.

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HTML website code

If you do opt for a custom build site, at the very least ensure that your developer creates a content management system (CMS) that allows you to easily make updates to the site. Even if you or someone within your company is technically savvy enough to be able to update your website directly through the html code. Making changes this way can be very time consuming and is not an efficient or long term solution for ongoing management of your site.

Open Source CMS are a safer choice if you are small or new business, and are suitable for the majority of larger businesses too. There are a huge number of Open Source CMS to choose from and most can be customised so that your site can have a completely unique design.

There are also large communities using the most popular CMS who are usually willing to provide support and advice to other users through the use of guides, forums and free plugins.

A couple of good example of CMS’s you might want to consider:

WORDPRESS. Although this started as a simple blogging site, the platform has moved way beyond this and there are over 76 million sites using WordPress at present, including lots of successful e-commerce sites. This nifty little app from WordPress shows you some stats about the usage of WordPress across the globe. There are lots of companies and freelancers out there that offer web builds using this platform.
MAGENTO. This CMS has been built specifically for e-commerce stores and works well for those that have a large portfolio of products to sell. The system is very comprehensive and can be customised by a Magneto developer, or a standard theme can be chosen – bringing your costs down. The Magento site includes a list of certified magneto developers on their site that you can choose to work on your build.
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There are plenty of supported open source platforms for new online businesses

There are an extensive number of alternative open source platforms in addition to these two, including Joomla, Drupal, Volusion, Opencart, Zen cart and many more. Each has their own set of advantages and disadvantages. Some research into these and forum discussions about the platforms should help you to decide which will work well for you and your budget.

Purpose before design

It can be very easy to get carried away with how a site looks before really considering what you’re your ultimate goal is.
Before you have looked at designs, colours & logos, create a variation of paths that your user might follow before reaching their end goal. Use these paths to identify the most important pages on your site and build your site structure around these essential pages.thisway

Remember that internet users are generally quite impatient. If they can’t find what they are looking for quickly on your site, they are likely to leave and try someone else’s.  Keep this in mind when designing your site so that your visitors are easily directed into the pages that are going to bring you the best returns.

 Be Innovative but stick to the fundamental rules

In a small number of industries you may have free reign to be as creative & experimental as you wish with your site design – these include artist portfolio sites and some web design sites where your visitors are generally visiting your site directly.
The majority of business sites are set up with a clear goal and putting design before functionality could cost you.
We all want to create ground breaking, beautiful and unique websites that will stand out among our competitors, and there is no reason why you shouldn’t either! However, try not to be so creative that your visitors are confused when they are presented with a very pretty site that has no clear purpose.

Don’t be afraid to copy the competition

Although the design of your site should be unique and match the feel of your own brand, don’t be afraid to incorporate elements from other sites that you think would work well on your own.
I’m not suggesting you rip off a competitor’s site! But do spend some time researching what appears to work well on other sites in terms of the design, layout and how easy they are to use.
As a start-up business your resources may be limited, but many bigger companies, including the brand leaders will have spent a lot of time and money researching most effective position of buttons, callouts and other content – you can reap the benefits of their research for free!

Test your site

Before you sign off the site design, ensure that every element has been thoroughly tested for functionality and usability.

Test every function of the site on all popular browsers and operating systems, as well as mobile & tablet devices
Test the site for usability by having a number of people browse the site and perform tasks on the site. Ensure that you watch the way they interact with the site to identify where improvements can be made

There are companies that can provide testing for a fee, which will include testing the signs functionality and ease of use. Or, if your budget is limited, ask your friends and family to test the site for you and ensure you encourage them to be honest about their feedback.

Your site will never be finished

Even when your site has been built and is performing well there should always be opportunities for improvement.
Once your site has been running for a while, you should have enough data to get some insights about the way your audience is engaging with your site.  At this point, don’t be afraid to experiment by changing smaller elements of the site and seeing what effect this has on your sites performance.

The internet is still relatively new, and the way that users engage with sites is always evolving. A successful business must have the ability to evolve and change to keep up with the demands of their target market. This article from the Telegraph does a great job of highlighting the original designs of some market leaders. If these companies had stuck with their initial designs, I very much doubt they would be as successful as they are today!

About Claire McEvoy

Claire is a Digital Account Manager for Leadspring. Claire began her love for all things digital with her Multimedia Degree back in the days when Myspace was still cool and her career has taken her through many channels of media including running her own e-commerce site selling handmade accessories. Claire spends much of her spare time making things, and her love for new technology means she owns the most futuristic sewing machine we have ever seen.

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