How to get your new website right

Sonja Jefferson

Get your website right and you will win more business. But how do you go about creating the right website – one that really works for your business? 10 things we’ve learned from over 100 website projects.

How to get your website right

Get your website right and you will win more business – that’s the reality of promoting and selling pretty much anything today.

All well and good I hear you say, but exactly how do you go about creating the right website – one that really works for your customers and for business?

We’ve worked on over one hundred web projects for service firms (I just counted them up!) and here are the top ten things we’ve learned along the way. I hope they give you some ideas if like us you are redoing your site in the coming months.

Things you should know before you redo your website

  1. Think content first, before you get the web designers in. Successful web projects put as much time and effort into planning the new website as they do into building it. Great design has never mattered more but don’t launch straight into the design.
  2. Choose a web designer/developer with an active blog and Twitter feed. By hiring a web designer/developer with a strong digital presence – someone who creates great content for his/her own business – you can be sure that they understand how to get your site right.
  3. Involve your clients in the thinking process. If you want to create a site that really engages prospective clients look at what you do from the outside-in. See your business through their eyes by asking your clients for feedback.
  4. Effective websites are grounded in a strong story – a golden thread that runs through all the content and illuminates what you do. Get this right and the rest of the content will flow. Hiut Denim’s website and the super-strong message from the fabulous Finisterre are some of the best examples we’ve seen but check out the story we helped B2B firm Desynit tell too.
  5. A website that works is way more than just an online brochure. Yes, the company is clear about what it does and how it helps, but these websites are packed with helpful, inspiring and downright valuable content too. In fact, when it comes to the helpful valuable stuff vs. sales information they follow the 80/20 rule of content. Let that be your aim.
  6. Content for every step of the sale. Effective websites equip the visitor with the information they need at every step of the sales process – from just researching to just about to buy. Think through what your buyers need throughout the journey to becoming a loyal client.
  7. Relevance is all. It’s neat to be niche when it comes to the web. Whether you focus on one niche or many niches the trick is to serve up relevant content that meets the needs of each sector.
  8. A working website doesn’t stand alone – it’s firmly plugged in to a much wider lead generation and lead nurturing system. It’s linked to the social web, to your growing email subscriber list, to your contact database, to smart analytics. Marketing automation is becoming more and more important to help you power and manage the relationships your content builds. Smart automation helps you improve the visitor’s experience, and will help you measure what’s working and why. Watch this space in 2014. This is topic is a grower.
  9. Mobile matters. If you’re creating a new site make sure its design is responsive, as in easily viewable and useable on any device. And with the rise of mobile the power of video content has never been greater. Don’t forget visual video content on the new site.
  10. The work doesn’t stop when you’ve launched your website. Remember, it’s a platform to build on, not an end in itself. Be clear on your content strategy, create a publishing plan for the months ahead and keep adding and sharing great content if you want to get found and loved. It takes time to build up that head of steam when it comes to driving leads from the web but hold firm. If you follow these tips and continue to add value results will come.

The process of creating a new website will stretch you, frustrate you and really make you think. It forces you to look at your business with fresh eyes and make some really tough decisions – on your message, your clients and their needs, your services, the reason you’re in business.

We’re going through the process of planning the new Valuable Content website at the moment and it’s making us reconsider the scale of the challenge for our clients. We’ve found that it’s nigh on impossible to do yourself. Planning and creating great websites is our business but even we’ve had to pull in some expert help to give us that objective view!

So perhaps the biggest lesson we have learned when it comes to creating a valuable new website is to the need for some outside help.

Other content that might help:

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3 Comments

  1. Great post, Sonja. Can you expand on that first point? (Content first) How much content do you think’s required before wireframing? Bullet points, CTA’s and navigation per page? What about images? Images can be a right pain!

    Reply
  2. Hi Tom. Sorry for late reply – bit of a manic day! Good question.

    You don’t need all the content written out for every page but I have found that it helps to think through the following and make a firm plan:

    – What’s the bigger story? The inspiring thread and message that will engage the visitor and explain why you do what you do?
    – What is the structure of the content on the site – a comprehensive site map is a must.
    – What information do you want to hold on the home page and across the key sections of the site?
    – For example, draw up a sample services page, the critical about us page, a bio of one of the team, the resources/library section, case study area (including sample content, layout, image/visual content placement, calls to action).

    All this will really help your web designer and stop a load of rework later on. Things do change through the course of the site build but it’s so useful to have a content-led plan from the start.

    There are two tools we use to help us plan the content of the site (3 actually if you count a flip chart) – Balsamiq wireframing tool http://balsamiq.com/ and Gather Content https://www.gathercontent.com/ for content planning, writing and collaboration.

    The images should be lead by the story and the visual brand. I’ve asked web designer Iain Claridge to comment on this – Iain? Can you help Tom out.

    Reply
  3. Iain Claridge

    You are right Tom, images can be a right pain and the wrong choice can severely compromise the design of a site.

    Unless you have embraced eclecticism as the design direction for your site, the important thing is consistency and the best way to achieve this is to commission a photographer and/or illustrator who’s style compliments the overall brand direction & visual design and sets the right tone for your message.

    Alternatively you could adopt a minimal, stripped-back design treatment for your website that places emphasis on a distinctive masthead, clean layout and strong typography to convey the message and personality. Skillful use of typography and whitespace can often remove the dependency on lots of imagery to make written content digestible, but this “Less is More” approach to design does leave the images more “exposed” and means that extra care is required in selecting the right images.

    Use of imagery is therefore fundamental to the design of a website and should be addressed early on as part of the visual design process with plenty of consultation between your designer, brand guardian and content creators.

    When it comes to images for additional, regularly updated post-launch content, such as blogs you can be forgiven for being a bit more relaxed but ensure you use well chosen, high quality images of suitable resolution and make sure you give attribution to the source of any non-commissioned images and seek the copyright holder’s permission.

    Reply

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