How to create a successful website

I’ve just read a post on The Guardian’s Small Business Network called how to create a successful website that keeps customers returning. I felt I had to write this article as I feel the advice in the original piece is lacking in one very important area: business strategy. The Guardian’s article skirts around the important points with a couple of references to making sure your website is ‘functional’ and focussed on your users’ needs. There’s also a passing reference to the importance of content. That’s all true of course but they miss out all the really important stuff. There really isn’t any point spending time or money on a website unless it’s going to do you some good.

Where should I start?

The first thing you absolutely must do if you want your website to deliver value to your business or organisation is very clearly define what your measurable targets are. These don’t have to be set in stone but you need something to aim at. This could mean new customers or online sales, leads, newsletter signups, donations or something else entirely. Start with whatever is hurting you most right now. Let’s say that your business needs to make an extra £100,000 per year. You know that an average customer is worth around £5,000 so that’s 20 new customers you need each year. How many prospects do you have to meet or create proposals for before getting one new customer generally? That’s your customer conversion ratio (CCR). If you manage to turn one prospect out of four into a customer then your CCR is 1:4. Multiple your CCR (1:4) by the number of customers you need (20) and you get 20:80. So to get twenty new customers you need to attract eighty prospects per year, or around seven per month. There’s a separate conversation to be had about increasing your customer conversion ratio but for now at least we have a starting point for our website goals: The new website should help to deliver seven solid leads per month.

Set website goals, now what?

You need to actually create your website. There are a huge number of options out there ranging from free to unlimited costs. The thing worth paying for is experience. This is true whether discussing visual design or technical aspects of putting a site together. But experienced people cost money so what should you be prepared to pay for your new website? It comes back to that question of what you want the site to do for you. If you want your website to help your business make an extra £100,000 a year it’s worth considering how much it’s worth spending to give you a good chance of doing that. Sure, you could get three quotes and go with the cheapest but I’d recommend thinking longer term. Pick the web design company which you feel if most likely to help you achieve your goals. If they charge more it’s because they can. I’m not saying that expensive always equates to good—do your homework here! Ask for case studies, testimonials and references.

But we don’t have the money

The above may make it sound like the web is a marketplace only for those with a large amount of money to spend, but that doesn’t have to be true. As previously mentioned it’s quite possible to get a website online for very little money but to do so you’re going to have to get very good at online business on your own. I admire anyone who is willing to go down this route because, honestly, it’s going to be a lot of hard work. You will however end up with a much better understanding of online business than 95% of the other people in your industry. I’m planning to put a reading list together to help people get started with this, if you’re interested let me know on Twitter and I’ll give you some suggestions.

What about content, visual design and functionality?

Once you’ve got the goals figured out and you’ve either picked a web design company (or learned how to do it yourself) you need to think about what’s going to go on your website, what it’ll look like and what it’ll do. Start with the content. Always. Rather like the decision to hire a web designer you must choose whether to write your own words or call upon a professional. Just remember this: poor spelling and grammar on websites have been proven to drastically reduce buyer confidence and directly lose sales. When it comes to visual design think about the preferences of your customers. Make sure that everything is clear and obvious and don’t make the mistake of thinking your website is for you because it’s not. Your website is for your customers. If you really understand your audience try to provide them with an experience which exceeds their expectations in every way. There are many different systems which your website could be built on. The most common, and the one which we use almost exclusively these days, is WordPress which has been in constant development for over ten years. Wordpress has matured into a fully featured content management system and is the basis of many successful websites. WordPress can be extended to provide additional functionality should your customers or business require something unusual but for cases when something truly unique is needed a bespoke system may be the best way to go.

Is that everything I need to do?

Nope. There’s loads more to think about if you want to make a very successful website. Which is exactly why we recommend ongoing relationships between businesses and their web design teams. It would be virtually impossible to get everything in place and right in one go. There will be things about your website that need to change over time as you revisit your goals and learn more about your customers. Plan for that in advance. A successful website is not a project, it’s a fundamentally important part of your business. If you or your chosen design company treat your website as a one-off project you will almost certainly end up disappointed. Web design at its best is an ongoing service which helps you grow. Rather than spending a large chunk of money every three to five years and then starting again think about investing over time. It will save you money in the long run.