Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Five Must-Haves for a Successful Website

By Renée Deinken, SmallPond Studio
Check out our online web portfolio

It doesn’t matter which stage your website is in – brand spankin’ new, old and dilapidated, or non-existent – these five strategies will position your Truckee or Lake Tahoe business for success on the world wide web.

1. Professional design equals impact
Whether your business is going for a clean and modern or an artsy and retro look, the appearance of your website is paramount to making a positive first impression with visitors.

Like it or not, people will judge your business based on how professional your website looks. When selecting a website developer, make sure he or she takes the time to understand your business’ brand identity and will design your site accordingly.

Also, ask to see proofs of the website’s design before the developer begins programming the site. This helps ensure the end result – your functioning website – looks the way you want.

2. Make sure it’s usable
This is, without a doubt, the most important factor for a successful website. It doesn’t matter if you have the best-looking site on the block; if people can’t find their way around, they’ll leave and probably never come back.

Your visitors should have to think as little as possible. Don’t make them figure out how to find your contact info; give it to them right away, on the homepage. Don’t ask them to search high and low for your navigation; put it somewhere conventional, like across the top or down the left side.

Good website usability starts from the get-go, even before the design phase. Map out your site and the hierarchy of your pages. Think like a visitor. See what similar businesses are doing. If you’re a contractor in Truckee, for example, check out the websites of contractors in Aspen.

The more research you do on the front-end, the more usable your site will be in the long run.

3. Appeal to search engines
Search engine performance is becoming more and more important for websites, whether you’re a national corporation or a small local business. With more companies promoting their goods and services online, the competition for that top spot in Google is stiff.

Make sure your website developer is familiar with search engine optimization best practices and builds your site so it’s findable by search engines from the beginning. This may not get you to the top right away, but it provides a solid base for strong performance in the future.

4. Update your site regularly
Now that you’ve launched your website, it’s vital to update your site regularly. When you make regular updates, it encourages repeat visits by your clients and search engines.

Feel like your website is stale? Consider adding an event calendar, links to articles, a blog, or a rotating featured project. Commit to making these updates on a regular basis, whether it’s once a month or once a week.

If you’re not an HTML expert, consider a website with a content management system. A content management system enables a non-technical person to load, remove, and edit content on a website without any HTML or coding knowledge using a simple editor. You can update your website on any computer with an internet connection, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, without the help of a third party.

5. Market your site
Unfortunately, getting people to visit your website is not as simple as throwing your pages out there in Internet Land. You need to market your website in other ways to encourage visits, especially if there’s a lot of competition in your industry.

For starters, make sure your website is on all of your marketing materials, including your business cards, advertising, brochures, and banners. Also, put it in the signature at the end of your email.

Market your site online with a paid search engine campaign (like Google’s AdWords). Join industry groups that provide membership directories and confirm your website is included with your listing. Start an email marketing campaign to drive traffic to your site and let people know about your newest products and services. (Don’t forget to put a form on your website so visitors can sign up for your email newsletter.)

Follow these website must-haves, and you’ll have a strong platform for online success for your Truckee or North Lake Tahoe business.

Check out our online web portfolio.

Contact SmallPond Studio for more information about their website development services. E-mail them at info@smallpondstudio.com or call 530-587-5625. For more marketing tips, visit SmallPond’s blog at blog.smallpondstudio.com.

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