Small business owners often feel compelled to design and build their own websites rather than hire designers, coders, writers and the other professionals and experts who make their livelihoods on the web.
Remember, though, a bad website will actively hurt your brand, your company, and your bottom line. DIY websites often have a host of problems that may be hidden to non-professionals, but that can still prevent you from making sales, setting appointments, or just getting your story across to your market.
If you do find it necessary to go that route, here are a few tips to help make the best of the situation.
- Start with a strong brand – This is the simplest and most deceptively important tip of all. Your website is a marketing tool; every marketing tool and decision is based on your brand. If your logo is amateur-looking, if your tagline is weak, if you haven’t done the branding legwork, your website will be ineffective. Period. Full stop. End of story.
- Know your audience – Who wants your products or services? Make yourself intimately familiar with the answer to that question, then figure out who makes up the subset of that audience that goes online to shop for your offerings. Target your design and messaging to them.
- Know your purpose –What do you want your website to accomplish? Do you want visitors to schedule appointments or buy stuff? Don’t invest time and money building a website until you can answer these questions.
- Form and function – Your business has a strong brand. Now, every decision you make about your website, from how much white space you utilize, to where you place your calls to action, to whether your links are buttons or text, needs to be made with your audience and purpose in mind.
- Navigation – Keep your navigation simple and obvious. If visitors can’t tell where they are on your website, and figure out how to get to where they want to be next, they’ll leave. Without buying anything.
- Content is king – No matter how beautiful and functional your website is, if the content is boring, outdated, all filler, or poorly written, you won’t be making any sales. You may want to invest in professional copywriting or editing services to help you figure out how to get your message across.
- Ask for the sale – This one seems obvious, but take a look around the Web at small business sites and you’ll be amazed at how often there’s no Call to Action. Tell your audience what to do and then give them a way to do it. Remember to include contact information tied to whatever the “action,” in your call to action is (phone number, email address, etc).
- Learn a little code – At this point, you can build a moderately attractive and effective website with minimal programming skills, although some basic knowledge of coding links, paragraph breaks, and title and headline tags would be useful. Frankly, if you’re maintaining your own website, you’re going to be forced to learn some of this stuff at some point.
- Help Google find you – Search Engine Optimization is more and more important for effective business Websites. It’s a complex and ongoing process that needs to be done correctly in order to be effective. There are some DIY tools available for this, but because the search landscape changes so radically, so often, it’s probably a good idea to leave this to the professionals. It’s also important to track your visitors and conversions using a tool like Google Analytics.
- Should I use a template? – Maybe. There are sources for professionally designed, potentially effective templates. Remember though, a website designed by a team of professionals who’ve invested the time and effort necessary to understand your business goals and the objectives of your website would almost certainly be more effective, although time and budget constraints obviously come into play for this decision.
- Bonus tip! Hire a designer – Even if you need to start off by doing it yourself and/or using a template, a professional designer will be able to help you make your website into a more effective sales, marketing and branding tool, through consulting and troubleshooting.