SCORE

Written by Joleen Small

So, you want to start a website for your business. Great. You may have already figured out what platform you’re going to use to build it or which company you’re going to pay to host it. Before you go any further, have you done a competitive market analysis? If you’re staring blankly after reading that last part, don’t worry, you’re not alone. Research isn’t necessarily the first thing most people think about when it comes to building a website, but it is important. Building a website is actually a process that requires some planning and a few steps to make it effective.

According to Anne Kasdin, a mentor at SCORE Westchester who specializes in digital marketing and branding, many small business owners are unaware of the best practices used to create an effective website. She notes that “many people think it’s incredibly easy to put up a website and say you’re in business.” This might be true with the availability of web building templates such as those provided by Squarespace, GoDaddy, and Wix. However, before you design and publish your online presence, it’s important to research websites of businesses similar to yours and keep a record of what Kasdin calls “the good, the bad, and the ugly.” She suggests bookmarking interesting websites that are eye-catching, well-written, have memorable logos, images, fonts and colors. On the flip side, note the websites that have long loading times, poor mobile layouts, or are difficult to navigate, so you know what to avoid.  Take the best examples of what you find and incorporate them into the look of your website and create a well-thought-out user experience.

The next step is to make sure your website is easy to find. Potential clients have to know your company exists. It's critical to do keyword research and use wording and phrases that are closely aligned with your business. For instance, if you own a bakery, a Google search for “bakery near me” will get you one set of results while searching for “cupcakes in White Plains” or “pastries in Westchester” will give you others. As part of your research, pretend you’re a customer searching Google using terms that first come to mind for your business, and then change up the wording a few times so you get different results. This is the beginning of a process known as Search Engine Optimization or, SEO, where using relevant keywords helps your website increase its search engine ranking. Make sure these keywords are found in the copy of your website as well as in the meta descriptions. Meta descriptions, or meta tags, are pieces of text embedded in your website’s code that describe what is on each webpage. You can’t see them on the webpage itself, but it’s important so that search engines like Google can know how to index your site. For instance, your “About” page shouldn’t just read “About Us” in the title heading but should have the name of your business and its description using the keywords you have found. Having this, along with alt-text (similar to meta tags, but used to describe images) and well-written content, especially “above the fold” (what’s visible before you scroll) on the home page, greatly increases your ranking in search engines and your ability to be found.

Having fresh content is also important to ranking high within Google search results. Constantly updating your digital presence is something that search engines love to see. A blog posted regularly to your website is a great way to keep your site updated and on Google’s radar. “It’s a Google game. If you don’t play by their rules, you won’t end up on page one, which is the ultimate goal,” says Kasdin. Many small business owners make the mistake of not planning their content to maximize their digital presence. Writing a weekly or monthly blog may seem daunting, but planning your content in yearly, quarterly, monthly, or weekly increments can make the task more manageable.  If there are holidays or special occasions that your business can create content around, schedule accordingly. “Plan in advance so that on February 10 you don’t go ‘gosh, I haven’t gotten my assets together yet for the Valentine’s Day promotion. I don’t have my photography together, I forgot to write a blog.’”

The next step is to make sure your website aligns with your social media. A potential client should be able to go from your website to your social channels and know instantly that it is the same company by its look and messaging. For instance, the main description copy on the homepage of your website should be close - if not the same - as your ‘About’ copy on your business LinkedIn profile. As Kasdin points out, “the copy, visuals, tone and attitude of your website should align with your Facebook, Instagram or whatever your social media platforms are, so that the message is clear and synergistic. When a client or customer is looking for you, if they happen to be somebody who’s comfortable on Pinterest and then they jump onto your website, they’re going to realize instantly it’s the same company.” This is ultimately how your brand message is created.

In the end, your website’s job is to make sure your business is seen and clients know who you are. With appropriate research and planning, it can be done.

Anna Kasdin