Creating your Business website or contracting someone to do it is supposed to be an exciting and memorable experience. After all, your vision is to create online real estate which showcases the brilliance of your service or the quality of your products.
How your business is represented online will have a dynamic effect on how prospective customers view your business.
In light of this information, with this article I will explain in detail exactly what YOU as a paying client should expect from your web designer/developer that is contracted with bringing your vision to fruition.
I have experienced it over and again where would be clients contact me and ask if I can build them a website for their business.
Why, yes off course I can. Designing and developing websites IS my business, but unfortunately I have sometimes very little and most often NO experience in your business.
Thus the purpose of this article is to help all web designers and developers out there to connect with their clients and for all prospective clients to know exactly how YOU can help ensure that the website you envision is the website that your prospective customers will visit.
Planning Your Online Real Estate
OK, so you’ve decided that you want a website for your business, now what would be your next step?
Before Googling and asking as many design companies as you can possibly find for a quote, the best thing for you to do would be to define a clear picture of what you want your website to be.
For example, if you are a photographer or a make up artist, you would typically want a portfolio type of website showcasing some of the work you are most proud of.
If you are a building contractor you might want a website showcasing projects that you have done in your various fields of expertise.
A furniture retail store might want to showcase various items in a catalogue style – one could even take this a step further and develop a complete online store to boost sales without having to pay a salary to a salesman. Although, typically you would have some sort of contract in place with your web designer to ensure regular content updates, security updates and that a concise online marketing strategy is followed diligently.
Define your target market
Nobody knows your business like you do. Image having a web developer building a website for a motor engineering company. It is possible that there are web developers and designers that know a little about motor engineering, amateur racing might even be a hobby of said contractor, but it is highly unlikely that the person who will be building your website has ever been in your shoes when regards to communicating and connecting with the RIGHT people in your industry.
Your target market will to a large extent dictate the look, feel and functionality of a website.
A website like Nickelodeon’s was built and designed mostly for children and as such it is loaded with bright colours and the user interface is designed in a way that it is both easy to understand and navigate for kids.
The Wall Street Journal’s website on the other hand gives a classic newspaper feel and a professional visiting this website might very well feel like he is reading the morning paper.
Rothenberger, a company specializing in plumbing tools has a very clear catalogue website. The use of the colours are also consistent with the Brand colours and image.
Content is Key
At this stage you have more or less an idea of what you want, who it is for and how you want it to be presented.
You most probably had a look at a couple of your competitor’s websites and made notes of things you like and things that you don’t like.
Next up you have to consider the content you wish to broadcast over the internet. You need to find a balance in the text, images, videos and audio you want to present to the World Wide Web.
It is very important to keep in mind that this is the image of your company that you will be presenting to the world. Your Brand Image and Online Identity, this will be crucial later on when developing your online marketing strategy.
A blog website would typically be text heavy with imagery mostly limited to a Featured Image for each post, although sometimes an article might contain a few images, especially if it is a cornerstone article.
A text heavy website would essentially rely primarily on the text to garner a high Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) score. For this reason an article can’t just be written nilly-willy, one has to put some effort into it and do some keyword research.
Once the keywords pertaining to the specific article has been identified, the author can write an article using those specified keywords in a canonical order.
The article has to be structured in a logical order. Search Engines love structure. In HTML there are certain heading levels which start at <h1> through to <h6>, with <h1> headings normally reserved for Site Titles or Brand names, <h2> headings reserved for Page Titles or Article Titles and then <h3> – <h6> being used within the actual article for structural authenticity.
Typically a good content writer will use the keywords defined during the keyword research in headings and also in the paragraph text of the actual articles relative to the headings. This authenticates the content of the article and the headings to search engine spiders and relates to higher search rankings.
If you envision a website which constantly publishes fresh content to lure would be clients and all this is starting to sound a little daunting, do not despair, that is why there are professional content writers who specialize in creating fresh content for businesses like yours. Sometimes you might find that the Web Design company tasked with developing your project also delivers this service, if they don’t they usually have a few connections whom they can recommend to handle the task for you.
The quality of your images are very important, especially if you have a portfolio website, an online catalogue or an E-Commerce website. It is highly recommended that you acquire the services of a professional photographer for this to produce high quality imagery or videos for your project.
Your contracted Web Designer will know how to optimise these images for the web and for different devices too. However, if you do not know a good photographer that specialises in product photography, don’t despair as most web designers usually know someone with all the right equipment and expertise to produce truly remarkable media. Media that will do your brand justice and just might make the difference between you and your competitors.
So, what if you are a makeup artist and want to have a video on your website of you actually plying your trade?
Again, I can not stress this enough, your website is your Online Real Estate. It IS how people will perceive both you and your business. A cell phone video is NOT going to cut it, if anything it is going to do more harm than good to your brand. Get a professional cinematographer and have it done right the first time. A professional will even supply you with the media in different file formats for different platforms, this way ensuring that your Brand looks its best no matter which platform the customers are viewing the content from.
Finding the Perfect Partner for your Journey
So, by now you have done everything on your side to ensure that your website will be an amazing experience that will keep visitors coming back for more and just like people hanging out at the mall, they might as well buy something while they’re there too.
Next step is to find a Web Design agency who you can trust to make your dream a reality.
But, with so many choices out there, how does one choose someone that will essentially build you an online business, complete with impeccable sales staff to churn out the sales?
You can Google, ask on certain Facebook pages and also ask your connections on LinkedIn if they can recommend a company that will make your project their own.
The most important thing to do is to go look at the recommended Companies’ own websites. Some tips for scrutinising possible project partners:
Visit their websites with different devices. Use your smartphone, a tablet and a desktop pc. This will give you an indication of the prospective partners’ awareness with regards to responsive web design.
Look at the address bar of your browser to determine whether the connection is http:// of https:// What is the difference? An https: connection is a secure connection, meaning all data that you share with the website you are visiting is being encrypted. This is especially important if you are requested to use bank card details or passwords.
Right click on an image and select ‘save image as’ and download the image. Now, go into the folder where you saved the image, right click on the image and select ‘properties’. Once the properties window opens up look at the image size. A general rule of thumb is that a large image should never be more than 300kb, but in general you will find that well-optimized images are between 78kb and 150kb. The is file size and the amount of data that will be downloaded by any person visiting your website. Large files means long download periods and mobile users will most probably leave your website if a page takes too long to load. We refer to this as having a high ‘bounce rate’.
So you found the Perfect Project Partner, Hooray!
Designing your Online Real Estate
Now you might be wondering: What will happen next? How does the process work? and What should I expect?
Well, firstly you will have a sit-down meeting or Skype call with your prospective contractor during which you will discuss all your project requirements.
Preferably you will have this kind of conference with at least three potential prospects.
They will take notes of what your requirements are and create user stories based upon your requirements.
You will also be requested to provide the team with the content you wish have displayed on your website (although this is not a requirement as many companies will use free stock imagery and content to create a mock up project).
The mock up project will consist of various files such as a wire frame, different mock-up representations of designs for various devices that will be visiting your website and the User Stories.
What is a wire frame?
A wire frame is a visual representation of the website structure. How all the pages fit together and how they are linked to one another. This gives you a broad overview of where navigation would lead you if click on certain navigational tabs or buttons on the website. This is also an integral part of website planning as it the phase in which the development team determine the folder and page structure of the project, also referred to as the architecture.
What is a mock-up or prototype?
A mock-up or prototype is a visual representation of what your website will look like. However, there is a difference between a mock up and a prototype.
Where a mock up only serves as a visual representation of all the pages and elements a user will find on your website, as well as the admin side of the site in the case of a dynamic website, a prototype also has the functionality that would be present in your project.
Typically you would be presented with three different mock ups or prototypes and then choose one that would suit your business and brand the best.
What are User Stories?
User stories define the User Experience and User Interface of your website, in other words it is a detailed explanation of how users will interact with the website. For example, if the User clicks on tab ‘x’, then the user would be redirected to page ‘y’ and when page ‘y’ is loaded the user might be presented with pop-up ‘x’, which in turn might be a subscription form to email newsletter, a contact form or maybe a featured product which is on special.
All these elements are related to user stories and invariably lead to the visitor making some kind of favourable decision(to the website owner), leading to a positive conversion.
In technical terms, this is referred to as ‘conversion rate’. Converting a regular user into a client, subscriber or registered user of the website in question. All of which has the same end goal, to convert users into clients spending money on your Online Real Estate.
Most reputable companies will charge you for this service as it is a professional service which requires professional expertise, tools and time, but in all cases it is purely part of the Project Life Cycle and would be done either way. In most instances each company will provide you with three Prototypes of which you can choose one. In some instances you might even find yourself choosing various different elements from the three prototypes and in such an instance might end up with a completely new look, feel and experience.
Next Step, Developing your Online Real Estate
At this stage of the Project you have decided which company will bring your project to life exactly like you envisioned it.
You have decided on the final mock up and/or prototype and supplied the contractors with your professionally created content which will show the World Wide Web just how awesome your company is.
This mock-up and/prototype then makes its way to the development team.
The coders, the people who will be writing the languages for browsers all over the virtual world of the internet to display your vision exactly the way you wanted it to. They will also make sure that all functionality is uniform on all different browsers and devices. The technical term for this is responsive web development and unlike many people believe, this has nothing to do with how quickly your website ‘responds’ to user input, like clicking a navigational tab.
It has everything to do with how your website will be displayed across all major browsers and devices with different view port widths (the size of the screen of the device with which a user is accessing your site).
Everything has to be coded to pixel perfection and various tests will be done during this phase of development. Normally this phase of development takes place on a local server, rather than a live server. Meaning it can’t be accessed online.
After all coding and programming is done and the project passed all the tests, it is time for the site to get uploaded to a live server where visitors will actually be able to visit the website. However, at this stage it is most probably ‘hidden’ behind a ‘coming soon’ page or something similar and the public can’t access it yet.
While in this phase the developers would also create a Git hub account with a private Git hub repository. This repository allows different developers to work on different elements of the project simultaneously.
For example, you might have one developer working exclusively on social media integration, setting up accounts on various platforms and ensuring that parameters such as image size ratio is defined to ensure a uniform Brand representation across all broadcasting platforms.
At the same time another developer might be working on the back-end or server side of things building the database architecture for elements that did not exist before the site was uploaded.
A front end developer or UI/UX (User Interface and User Experience) might be working on the front end of things testing the user stories, load times of pages and updating code as and when needed to ensure the best possible results.
All of this at the same time, without one having to wait for the other to complete his/her part of the project. Developers use these version control systems because it often happens that that code does not play nice when new features are added and this way code changes can be tested prior to implementation. It also ensures that your Online Real Estate always has mirror image of it available for back-up purposes for whatever reason one might be needed in the future.
This is also the phase in the project life cycle where cool features like Google Analytics, Google AdSense and Facebook Ads are being set up and getting ready to go.
The development team will also have the site ‘crawled’ by Search Engine Spiders, like the Google Spider to correctly index your website. This data is then used in numerous ways, like:
ensuring there are no “broken links”(links, tabs or buttons that when clicked on redirects a user to 404 “page not found” error)
To see how Google search results are displayed.
To analyse internal links – does the link structure resemble what was planned?
To analyse external links – is there a possibility that users might be redirected to a page that does not exist and run into a 404 error?
Search engines favour well structured websites and it has a definite influence in your SEO rankings.
Development is done, we need traffic!!!
I think you would agree with me if I say it doesn’t help at all if you have the best website ever, but no site visitors that can be converted into customers.
Again for this phase we need to go back to the drawing board a strategically plan how we are going to reach people, get them onto your immaculate website and keep them there long enough to make a step into the right direction – becoming a customer.
SEO – Search Engine Optimisation:
The key to unlocking your Online Real Estate to the World Wide Web
As mentioned in the Development Phase section, the developers have already started working on optimising your website for all the search engine spiders out there.
They have even gone so far as to ‘introduce’ your website to them by having them crawl your site. This is not where it ends, this was just the beginning.
SEO can be divided into two main categories On Page SEO and Off Page SEO
On Page SEO
The first and most important consideration of On Page SEO is already defined in the planning phase of the project. The URL, or in other words the address that will be displayed in the address bar when a user visits the Home Page / Landing Page of your website.
The second consideration is closely related to the URL and that is the actual Title of the website. Normally, in the case of a business website, it is best practice for the both the URL and the Title of the website to be the same. The actual business name is an obvious choice.
The third part of On Page SEO is the actual <meta> tags in the <head> section of the <html> document (the file that contains all the content and links to media that will be displayed on your website).
Typical <meta> tags are the <meta description> tag, which describes what the website is all about and the <meta keywords>. It is very important to use well researched keywords that users might use as search parameters in the description of the website.
In the fourth instance of On Page SEO we come to structure. As mentioned earlier, search engines love well-structured documents. For this purpose the developer will structure your <html> document using <h1> – <h6> heading tags.
It is also very important to use specific <html> tags for specific content types, like the <head> tag will contain meta tags with their meta data, <link> tags linking to external sources, like style sheets and scripts.
Many developers tend to over use <div> tags (short for division) instead of using html5 standard tags like <article> for articles, <section> which will contain multiple <div> tags, but might be the main content section.
The fifth method of On Page SEO that a developer will apply is in the <img> or image tags. Inside these tags we define the source where the image is located, a title, alt and also a description a description.
These parameters have specific functions pertaining to the indexing and interpreting of the <html> document by a search engine crawler or spider. A typical img tag will look something like this: src=”” title=”” alt=”” description=””>.
The source, title and description parameters are self explanatory, however it is important to keep in mind that the researched keywords have to be used in defining these parameters.
The alt parameter serves information to the browser that can be used by screen readers to describe the content of an image to person visiting your site that is visually impaired. It is a very important parameter as search engines do “penalise” websites that omit this information.
The seventh method of enhancing On Page SEO is the use of internal links. An internal link is a link in an article that when clicked, will redirect a user to a different article on the website, but which is till relative to the current subject. A best practise is to have such links open in a completely new tab, so the user can finish what he/she is currently reading before moving on to the next article which was opened up.
In number eight we have External links. External links usually link to websites or articles where the same subject is written about, but might be from a slightly different angle or go into more detail pertaining to an idea that was briefly mentioned in an article. Again, it is best practice to have such links open in a new tab as we don’t want to redirect visitors away from our own websites.
Finally in step number nine of On Page SEO we have responsive web design. Responsive web design is defined as follows by www.w3schools.com:
Responsive Web Design is about using HTML and CSS to automatically resize, hide, shrink, or enlarge, a website, to make it look good on all devices (desktops, tablets, and phones).
Not only do we do this by means of code, but we literally have a tag for responsiveness in the <head> section of our websites. The tag looks like this:
<meta name=”viewport” content=”width=device-width, initial-scale=1.0”>
This tag basically tells the browser that all defined widths in the CSS/Cascading Style Sheet file of the website is relative to the viewport (screen) of the user visiting the website.
As we can see from the above 9 points, On Page SEO fall into the hands of the development team, the coders and there is not much anyone else can do about this (unless they learn coding).
Off Page SEO
Off Page SEO is a much narrower field and a function that is maintained on a day-to-day, weekly or by-weekly basis. There are two main ways of accomplishing a good SEO rating with Off Page SEO
1. Social Media
Hopefully the company that collaborated with in bringing your Online Real Estate dream to life did the necessary Social Media integration. If done correctly you will have a couple of choices of platforms to which you can share your content. The key is to keep in mind which content types are best suited for which platforms.
For example, you would share article type content on platforms such as LinkedIn, Facebook and Reddit. Video’s would be shared on your YouTube and/or Twitch accounts. Headline type posts would be better suited for Twitter and Images would be right as rain for Instagram.
Now, you might wonder: How does this affect my SEO? Well, you structured your article well using keywords that you defined in a keyword research session.
You optimized your images accordingly and as you post your new articles to your website it automatically gets distributed to your LinkedIn and Facebook pages.
This is where it gets interesting, every like, comment and share of your article is a vouch of validity as far as Search Engines are concerned and the more reliable your content, the better your rankings become in search query results.
That is why some companies employ people full time just to create content for their websites. Some even have social media managers assisting these content creators!
2. Guest Blogging
Guest blogging is a lesser utilized tactic of creating backlinks for your website. With guest blogging you basically write blogs on other people’s websites. Although back link building should not be the motivation for you doing this, your motivation should be to connect with other people who frequent websites other than yours and share valuable, good quality content with them.