It’s about now that lots of small business owners start setting out objectives and priorities for the next 12 months – and a fancy new website will be near the top of a lot of wishlists.
Your sparkly new all-singing, all-dancing website will obviously need to be built in HTML 5 and be SEO-friendly, integrating social media, a blogging platform and a downloadable App.
But before you get on the blower to the techies down at the web developers, pause and ask yourself a couple of simple questions: What’s the new website for and what are you going to put on it?
Overlook this step and it will come back to haunt you once you’re up to your eyeballs in the parallel universe of web development with its bewildering lexicon of jargon and buzz-words.
Since the inception of the digital revolution, for many businesses, the whole web development journey is often a time-consuming, frustrating, not to mention expensive exercise.
After going through the rigmarole of producing technical specs, design briefs and wireframes, then sifting the quotes and tenders, six months later, if you’re lucky, you’ll have a website that pretty much works and is ready to switch on.
You’ll know you’ve reached this stage when an email a bit like this arrives in your inbox:
We’ve finished the UX testing, just waiting for you to send over the content now…
If you’d asked the question above before instructing your web developers, there’s a chance that you’ll have a whole load of content and pictures ready to upload.
What’s more, the content and pictures should all fit nicely within the web design and the different pages and sections relate logically to one other.
If you haven’t, just when you thought you were pretty much ready to launch, a whole new world of pain will stretch out ahead of you.
Too many website development projects pan out like this: primarily driven by technological considerations, with the site’s principal raison d’etre lost in a flurry of spreadsheets and flowcharts.
It’s time this imbalance was addressed. Website architecture should reflect the content it hosts – not the other way round.
First, work out what you want the website to do and what content it needs to achieve that objective and then design the structure around those criteria. Furthermore, your web developers will have a clearer picture of how they can best build the structure for your website if you provide a content outline from the get-go.
If your new website is primarily designed to be a shop window for your goods and services and a way to talk to new and existing customers, the content is the most important aspect of the site.
This is more true now than it was when you last redesigned your site because Google is getting better at spotting content scams and technical shortcuts that may once have propelled your site up the search engine results page.
If Google’s algorithm spots any dubious ‘Black Hat’ SEO practices on a once-popular website, it’s now likely to demote that site to the 120,000th page of results. The message Google is trying to send out is clear: on the road to search engine credibility, there are no shortcuts.
But it’s not just about Google. Online consumers are getting much more choosy about the amount of information they consume online and the technology to help them sort the wheat from the chaff is already out there.
Consumers can block the senders of irritating or irrelevant emails, use Adblockers to stop adverts appearing in their browsers and spot a mildly disguised sales pitch from 100 paces. Get the tone or style of your marketing communications wrong and chances are, it will be ignored or rejected – not only on this occasion – but at every successive attempt to contact customers who are tired of getting bombarded with spam.
Increasingly, web content aimed at drawing in customers needs to be honest, fresh, useful and relevant. What we are talking about here is Organic SEO: good quality content, pure and simple.
The good news is that finding people who can help you produce honest, fresh, useful and relevant web content is easier than you might think. Some of these people may even be already working in your business.
They might need a bit of nurturing and encouragement, but the most passionate advocates for your business are the people involved at the sharp end – delivering your services and products day in, day out.
They will probably need some time away from the coal face to write fresh content on a regular basis and put out a daily tweet, but with the right training and encouragement, they can become your most effective brand ambassadors.
The even better news is that the investment required will almost certainly be less than the fees charged by some SEO agencies.
And when it comes to producing your next brochure, mailshot or customer magazine – you’ll have loads of lovely content ready to re-use without needing to write it all from scratch.