In today’s digital landscape, a company’s website requires almost as much careful design as its office. Very often, this will be your client’s first impression of your business, their quick induction into who you are and what you do. And, like all first impressions, appearance counts.
Something poorly laid out, glitchy or unfinished will quickly have customers clicking elsewhere.
At Show & Tell Creative, web developer Ariel Smith-Essers says getting website branding right is crucial.
“Most people will search online when they hear about a new brand,” Smith-Essers says. “Making sure that the brand is represented at all on the web is important but the brand must also be consistent in its online marketing.”
So here’s what you should be doing to get it right:
Have a vision – and stick to it
For a site, that can mean anything from colour palettes to tone of voice. Smith-Essers suggests putting just one or two people in charge of the website, rather than the whole team.
“Teams tend to give…conflicting opinions and what you need is one person with a vision of how the website should look,” she says. “Pick a colour scheme and stick to it. Using one main colour, a highlight colour, and grey is usually a good idea.”
This is also the time to decide what function the site will serve within your company. Is it an extension of your marketing strategy, a place for clients to check out your credentials and get in touch, or an online hub for customers to buy your product? Perhaps you’ll be posting regular content such as blog posts or videos. Make sure site navigation feeds cleanly into these functions.
"A bad website can be worse than no website at all."
Bring in a professional
With the amount of cheap website builders available online, it can be tempting to go DIY. Not all websites need to be custom built from scratch but they do need to be well laid out, accurate and user-friendly. Sometimes, Smith-Esser says, a bad website can be worse than no website at all.
“[It] can create a terrible first impression of a brand and actively drive customers away…Google punishes websites that are poorly designed and give a bad user experience, so a designer can make or break a site.”
Whether hiring a company or a freelancer, Smith-Essers warns to always look at their portfolio first.
“Then listen when the designer tells you what will work and what won't work.”
Keep it simple
Getting down to the nuts and bolts, host your website locally (“you don’t want a slow website”) with a “.com.au” domain address.
“This is more trusted and immediately lets customers know the company is local,” Smith-Essers says.
While you may want to cultivate some mystery around your brand, you also need people to connect to your company. Have a clear, succinct ‘About’ section explaining your mission and introducing your team. If you have a respectable list of regular clients, you may want to showcase them as well. Just be sure not to drown visitors in information.
“There is a tendency to try and cram as much information onto the site as possible,” Smith-Essers says. “Most people won’t read through an entire website; they jump from page to page ….so make sure your message is immediately clear to anyone visiting the site.”
"The best feedback you’ll likely get on your site is through a simple piece of code from Google Analytics."
Get creative with SEO
Keywords are all-important here. Label your images, and ensure your site is mobile-friendly. Then, put yourself in the shoes of the customer – how will they find you online?
“If you’re a store specialising in say hats, gloves, and shoes; make sure those words are on your website,” Smith-Essers says.
Of course, with the release of the new Google ‘Penguin’ algorithm last week, SEO now needs to be more sophisticated than ever. Google uses Penguin to penalise “spammy” websites who over-rely on SEO strategies to increase their ranking. Thanks to the latest update, this will now be happening in real-time.
To stay on Google’s good side, make sure your backlinks travel to credible sites, keep keywords natural and diverse and post regular, original content.
Of course, the best feedback you’ll likely get on your site is through a simple piece of code from Google Analytics.
Smith-Essers says every business should be tracking their online traffic. “It’s really a wealth of information!”
Sherryn Groch is a freelance journalist based in Melbourne and has written for The Age, The Guardian Australia, the ABC, Crikey and Broadsheet.