Why do I need a website? Good question!

With the inter-connected world we have, it's now more important than ever to have a quality website. Win new customers, beat your competition, answer questions quicker and simply be where the people are, with a website.

Win new customers

With a website you are placing your business where so many people are daily - online. When you advertise your site on the web and in your usual marketing, more people will learn about your company and what you can do. You can include your website on your printed materials, on the side of a van, anywhere!

Beat your competition

70% of Brits look online before making a purchase. With a high quality website you'll stand out from the competition and will be there when a customer is searching online. 49% are looking for prices online prior to making a purchase. With a website you'll be there when users are looking for prices, locations, pictures, contact details, opening hours, and more.

Provide credible, updated information

Many small businesses are poorly represented online unless they have their own website. Some businesses are shown on search engine results pages because they are listed on vetting or review websites. This can mean losing a lot of business due to outdated or missing information. With your own website you can update contact details, opening hours, special promotions, accepted payments, pictures, reviews and more.

What type of website do I need?

There are many different types of websites and finding the right type of designer for you is important.

Here are the different types of website you will typically find on the web:

  • Brochure style - typically information based, ranging from a few to hundreds of pages.
  • eCommerce - an online store which people can buy from. eg, Amazon.
  • Search (job, property) - for finding a new job or property using filters.
  • Social (user login) - each user has their own account. Examples include Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn.
  • Blog - a regularly (often daily) updated webpage, sorted into posts.

How can I get the best site for my needs?

Before purchasing insurance, flights, restaurants, or clothes we all like to do a little research on the price, the quality, and the business itself. It's the same in the web design industry; it pays off to do a little research into your designer, their work, and the team you'll be working with.

Think ahead before choosing a designer

Before you've even found a designer you can start to plan part of your website to speed up the build or redesign process. Ways to speed up the process:

  • Take a look at competitors' websites. Really look at them and note down the strengths and weaknesses. If they're missing some elements you would like, make note of that.
  • Shop around for quotes. Remember, just like most industries, you get what you pay for. Option A may offer a big package for £1.99/mo, but is that how you'd value your business?
  • Plan your content. All the words and images are up to you. Write out a word document ensuring you have copy for each page. If you don't have images, take a look at Shutterstock or a different stock photo supplier.

What to look for in a website design

Before you buy a website you should always ask to see a portfolio of the web design company’s previous work. Most companies will happily provide you with a link to their online portfolio.

Be weary of companies who don't have portfolios, don't let you click-through to see the sites, or who host their portfolio sites on strange looking URLs.

Portfolios help you get an idea of the quality of the web design company’s work. Web designers work to each client’s specification. Keep this in mind if you can't see a design you like. Good designers will listen to your ideas and create accordingly.

A good website design company should provide you with unlimited design changes. This ensures your site has the perfect look and feel for your business.

When researching a professional website design business you should also consider the number of people working there and how many people will be involved with your particular project. The fewer the better and one main point of contact will ensure good communication.

The best website designs

Keep it simple and avoid distraction

Don’t have too many options, font sizes or graphics on your website. If it’s clean and simple, it’s easy for customers to find what they are looking for. 76% of customers want just that in a website. Your website is about selling your products and services to customers, not making a design statement.

Say No to Flash

Animated Flash websites may look, well, flashy, but they are not good for business. They take longer to load, they can’t be viewed on some devices (particularly mobile ones) and cannot be indexed efficiently by search engines. That said, if you want to add movement to your website, you could use Flash to accentuate your website by using an animated slideshow of images or rollover buttons.

Use Good Images

A great design can be let down by bad images. The images you select for your website should look professional, reflecting your business sector and ethos.You should also own the rights to the images you use online. These are usually obtained by taking the shots yourself or by sourcing pictures through an online stock image library.

Use Colour Carefully

For best results, stick to a limited colour palette based around your company logo. Avoid clashing tones, and avoid colours that make reading text difficult such as pink on green backgrounds.

A Good Website Layout

The layout of your website is the ‘chassis’ on which your website design and individual page content is built. It should remain consistent on every page to help website visitors find the information they need.

When a visitor first lands on your website, they will make an instant judgment about your company – that’s why it is important to have a professional and easy to use layout. It will encourage visitors to stay and browse your website, and hopefully get in contact with you.

Here are some important things to remember when deciding on your layout:

Make the Navigation Easy

A clear menu and page structure is vital.Visitors shouldn’t have to second-guess where to find things.

Include Standard Pages

These days, there’s a convention to include pages that people expect to see on website. You should have all or at least some of these pages to help them navigate through your content:

Create a Sitemap

Before getting quotes for a website, you should draw up a sitemap of the pages you require on your website. This will give you an idea of the number of pages you will need. You will need to plan how the pages link to each other, and if there will be links on the pages to files and other people’s websites as well.

Content

Content is the most important part of your website. Visitors will not stay on your website if your message is not relevant to them. Search engines scan your website content to determine how highly your website should be ranked on their results pages. Your website content is also your sales pitch to visitors, and should provide them with relevant information about your business.

Here are some tips on how to write your website content:

  • Use a sitemap to plan your content – list and name all your pages you would like to have on your website, listing how they will link to each other, and the main points for each page.
  • Keep the content relevant – don’t add content on topics that are not directly related to your business.
  • Use lists where possible – web readers often scan pages rather than reading every word, so lists are a good way to help them digest information easily.
  • Use headings and subheadings – splitting up text allows visitors scan pages for the parts that are relevant to them.
  • Use a spell-checker – You should proofread your content care

Domain names

Before you can create your website, you need a domain name. A domain name is a unique address for your business, just like a telephone number – but with an easy-to-remember name instead of lots of digits, also known as your website address. Your website and your email will both require your domain name.

For the website, your domain name would be used as: www.mycompany.co.uk

The email would be: info@mycompany.co.uk

Normally, UK companies choose their company name followed by ‘.co.uk’. Others prefer a generic name detailing their services, or the name of one of their products. For example: www.greataccountants.co.uk or www.bookkeepingsoftware.co.uk

You can also register additional domain name suffixes if they are available, including .com, .net, and org.uk. These domains can all forward on to your main website.

Typically domain names cost around £20 a year to register. Sometimes you will have to register a domain for a minimum of two years. Be careful when registering a domain, as some of the cheaper services only secure the domain itself. Look for a complete domain name package which includes domain name forwarding, email services, website hosting and so on.

If you are setting up a new website for your business, it is best to ask the website design company to register the domain name for you at the same time. If you already own a domain name, they should be able to transfer the domain name to point to your new website.

You should ensure that you are registered as the owner of your new website address. You can check this using a free WHOIS tool such as Domain Tools.

Most people ask their website provider to be the admin contact connected to the domain name so they can manage the technical side of things.

Updating Your Website

A content management system (CMS) provides you with an online control panel that allows you to update your website from any computer in the world. Using a username and password you can login and update your website at any time of the day or night.

A CMS makes it easy and affordable for you to add new pages, images, products or downloads to your website. It will also save you money because you can make changes to your website content without having to pay a web designer at an expensive hourly rate.

The system gives you control over your website content but ensures you cannot damage the structure of the site itself.

Choosing a content management system

You will want to test-drive the CMS provided by each web design company. You should ask them for a demonstration or a video of their CMS in action.

Here are some things to think about when choosing your content management system:

  • Is it easy to use?
  • Can you use it every day?
  • Can you easily add new pages, images and files to your website.
  • Can you easily upload documents like Microsoft Word files or PDFs, or audio or video files?
  • Does the system offer all the features you need?
  • Can you edit all the elements of your website? You will need to be able to edit each page’s content, and also the menu, sidebars, search engine meta tags, and search engine descriptions.

Accessible Content

It is important that your website can be read by people using a range of devices. For example, people with visual impairments should be able access your website using screen readers that read the text on your website out loud.

The main way to ensure your website is accessible is to ensure your text is included in the HTML code itself. Websites that are made completely in Flash or created using only images will not be accessible to all your customers.

Planning for Growth

It is important to check that your website and content management system are flexible, to allow you to easily pay to add useful extras as your business and your website grows.

It may be that as your company develops, you need to add extra pages to allow you to tell visitors about new services you offer. Or you may need to increase your image allowance to enable you to show off some of your latest creations.

A good website company will have a range of affordable extras you can choose to add to your package as and when you need them.

Advertising Your Website

It is crucial to advertise your website if you want to increase the number of people using it. Although some people will stumble across your website through referrals you need to be serious about advertising it to make it work for you.

Here are some ways to advertise your website:

  • Add your website address to your offline advertising – you can add your website address to your business cards, flyers, van or shop signage, and adverts in print media like newspapers.
  • Add your websites address to local directory websites. – Websites like www.yell.co.uk and www.freeindex.co.uk will let you create a listing with your details and a link to your website. You could also look to see if there are other directories specifically for your industry or local area.
  • Optimise your content for the search engines. Search online for a local search engine optimisation expert.
  • Add your business to social media websites like www.facebook.com and www.twitter.com as these let you have listings showing your website address for your business.
  • Advertise your website using Pay Per Click advertising (PPC). Some search engines and business directories let you advertise on their website, charging you on a pay-per-click basis. For example, when you use the Google AdWords service, your advert only displays when someone searches for your chosen keywords, and so a greater number of relevant visitors come to your website.

Statistics Also known as Analytics

It’s a very good idea to add a statistics service to your website to monitor the number of visitors you attract and the keywords they are using to find you. You will then be able to see which pages are most popular and adjust your content accordingly.

Google Analytics is not only free and easy to install, but it offers significant benefits to your business:

  • If you advertise on Google using Adwords, you can measure how many people clicking on your ads become customers – your return on investment (ROI)
  • You can see which pages on your site are most effective – the ones that channel people to your contact page or shopping cart
  • You can see which browsers your visitors use – and make sure that your site works in all of them
  • It’s easy to see where in the UK and the world your visitors are – helping you to target your marketing campaigns.

Website Packages

Many web designers will offer website design package options to cater for people with different budgets and requirements.

Most packages come with a domain and hosting but the number of pages and emails provided can vary between web designers and website packages. Choosing the right package should be an easy decision, plus the package itself might save you a lot of time and hassle over trying to organise domain, emails and hosting separately.