Top Tips for Optimizing Your Website
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In today’s e-commerce world, a website that is on-brand, visually impressive and easy-to-use is key to a successful business. Nothing turns a potential customer away quicker than a webpage that is not aesthetically pleasing or is difficult to use. Ideally, your site should tell your story, provide your customers with added value, and allow them to understand why you are passionate about connecting with them through your products and/or services. As Simon Sinek explained in his famous 2009 TED Talk, storytelling forms an indestructible bond with your customers. “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.”
With this goal in mind, as a small business owner, I am also familiar with the difficulties of initially establishing a site, maintaining it, and transforming it to authentically connect with customers. While Spread Your Sunshine’s site is a quintessential example of a website still in progress, the following are lessons we’ve learned along the way that will hopefully help you establish a platform that is a foundation of success for your business.
Domain Name Selection
When selecting a name for your company, (in addition to avoiding intellectual property issues!) ensure the associated social media handles and website name are available, including at a price within your budget. To explain, when selecting Spread Your Sunshine’s name, I first contemplated an alternate name like Spread The Sunshine. When I searched for the associated domain, however, the cost of buying SpreadTheSunshine.com far exceeded SpreadYourSunshine.com. Additionally, the more the name was contemplated, the more it was realized that Spread Your Sunshine best reflects the hope that our community share the best of themselves. Comparatively, Spread The Sunshine is generic, so why pay more for it? This analysis simplified naming my company and buying its domain.
Domain Name Purchase
There are at least three things to consider when purchasing your domain name. Firstly, beyond buying the primary domain, like SpreadYourSunshine.com, also consider purchasing associated domains where your customers may land in confusion if not purchased by you, such as those with alternate endings like SpreadYourSunshine.net and SpreadYourSunshine.info.
Second, in addition to purchasing the name of your business, consider purchasing your name. For example, beyond Spread Your Sunshine’s domains, I own the domains associated with MelanieSGriffin.com (MelanieGriffin.com was taken, bummer!). If you authentically connect with your customers as is the goal, they may just as often search for your name as your company’s name. You therefore want to have the name of your personal site directed to your business site so that they both populate the business site regardless of the web address used by the customer. For example, when a customer enters MelanieSGriffin.com, SpreadYourSunshine.com automatically appears.
In addition to ensuring customers easily connect with you, your business may also need more than one site. To illustrate, before Spread Your Sunshine’s Blog was a part of the company’s site, MelanieSGriffin.com hosted the Blog. At the time, keeping the Blog separate from the company’s site allowed the Blog to be customized to fit our brand in a way it could not have been as a part of SpreadYourSunshine.com.
Finally, for all domain names purchased, pay the additional fee for privacy protection. If you do not pay this fee, your contact information can be shared, causing you to receive a plethora of unwanted solicitations.
Know Your Website’s “Why”
As a small business owner, the feeling of having hundreds of ideas that I want immediately accomplished is all too well known. So is the reality of having to prioritize the goals that are most important given the time limitations of twenty-four hours in a day and seven days in a week. The saying “it is a marathon, not a sprint” is as applicable to your website as it is to the other aspects of your business. More than likely, your website will evolve and grow many times over the longevity of your company. The key is to understand that reality and make decisions for your site that hopefully allow it to grow over time.
To explain, the various website builders (e.g., Shopify, Wix, WordPress, Squarespace, etc.) offer different platform options at a myriad of price points. For example, some builders offer a plethora of themes, others a limited set of options. Some builders require coding, others provide customization without such sophistication. Some builders facilitate a monetized blog, others do not. Some builders optimize e-commerce, others services. The point is that to determine the best builder for your site requires determining your initial business goals.
To do so, begin with the start of this article – your why. What purpose will your site serve? What story will it tell about your business? How will it solve customers’ problems? Knowing the answers to these types of questions will help you make the best decisions about how to initially build your company’s site.
Hire a Professional to Build, Know How to Maintain
One lesson I’ve learned the hard way as a small business owner (in addition to others as discussed in Three Strategies to Effectively Manage Your Time as a Small Business Owner) is that oftentimes, more money is spent trying to do something outside of your skillset than hiring a professional to do the job correctly the first time. For example, when Spread Your Sunshine needed photos of its first stationery collection, I decided that our Team, with almost no photography experience, should complete the shoot. The decision was a colossal mistake (err, learning opportunity). Dozens of hours of staff time later, we still did not have the photos needed to advertise the collection, and worse, risked missing a publication deadline. Had a photographer been hired, such price would have been less than the labor costs, the photos more beautiful, and the publication deadline easily met.
The same logic applies when building your website. If site building is your jam, go for it. If, however, you are clueless, hire a professional. When you do, understand the type of professional you are hiring. Some web developers focus exclusively on building your site at your direction. Others additionally assist with marketing components such as branding (e.g., the colors and fonts your business consistently uses to create customer recognition) and SEO optimization. While such added services may be helpful, they will likely double your website budget and may be tasks that you already completed (such as your branding) or do not yet need (like SEO optimization). So, shop around and seek recommendations to find the professional who can best help you develop your site.
An additional criterion to consider when making such hire is whether the developer will build a site that you can easily maintain (e.g., that does not require you to code) and show you how to do so. To keep information fresh on your site requires constant updates, such as those regarding new product or service offerings, periodic discounts like those offered at the holidays, and updated contact information for new hires. You will likely want to make such changes in real time rather than waiting on (and paying for!) such edits. So, increase your business advantage by working with a professional who shows you how to maintain your site once it is built.
Build at Your Own Pace While Capturing Email Addresses & Growing Your Social
It is somewhat sad to say that for the first twenty-two months of owning our site, it was nothing more than a landing page that displayed our company logo, linked to our social media pages, and requested visitor email addresses. But you know what? That landing page worked well for us during a period when we did not have the additional time to invest in further development. Additionally, the display of our logo, links to our social, and request for email addresses rather than an “Under Construction” message was key. Firstly, while not as powerful as a fully developed site, this initial platform added a certain legitimacy to SpreadYourSunshine.com that would not have been associated with “Under Construction.” Furthermore, it allowed us to build our social following and e-listserve so that we could connect with our community while building our site and better serve it once the site was complete.
Know Your Picture Options
Revisiting Spread Your Sunshine’s picture fiasco, while hiring a photographer might have helped, so would have knowing about the tricks and sites that provide photos and allow you to enhance them. For example, product photos are often best taken on a white background; several do-it-yourself resources walk you through the process. Once your photos are taken, several apps can be used for editing, including brightening and background removal. Once your images are complete, they can be placed in beautiful, free stock photos that will save you hours of staging lifestyle photos yourself. Lots of pretty pictures are key to helping your customers connect with and understand your products and services. So, learn more about these budget-friendly hacks to springboard your business without spending mega dollars.
Review Your Analytics
Once your site is up and running, review the associated analytics to gain insights into your customers. For example, key performance indicators (“KPI’s”) provide information about how customers found your site (e.g., Facebook, Instagram, Google), the products most viewed, abandoned carts, click-through rates, and more. Likewise, click testing and UX (user experience) data are fantastic indicators of success and problem areas, giving insight into how users interact with pages. Performing effective analysis not only monitors performance, it also provides the relevant data needed to create your ideal customer journey through your site.
Up Your SEO Game
According to Wikipedia, SEO, or search engine optimization, “is the process of growing the quality and quantity of website traffic by increasing the visibility of a website or a web page to users of a web search engine.” In other words, key words are strategically embedded on your site to help populate your site to the top of search engine results (think page 3 of Google search results versus page 10). If you are unfamiliar with SEO and not using this tool to increase your website’s Google ranking, you are likely behind your competition.
To determine what key words should be embedded throughout your site, perform key word research to identify the words your ideal customers use in their searches. Increase your website’s chances of being a result to one of those searches by creating content that naturally uses those words throughout your site (see the next section for ideas), optimizing the website experience to engage such customers, and utilizing your social channels to also drive traffic to your site.
Rock Your Content
If you provide your customers with value, they will naturally find and want to visit your site. Consider publishing articles, hosting webinars, appearing as a podcast guest, posting lessons learned from your favorite books, and sharing best tips and tricks. One of the best pieces of business advice I ever received is, “tell others how to do your job.” Although counter-intuitive, it shows your expertise; allows your customers to do what they can themselves without being price-gauged, building trust; and creates a relationship that incentivizes your customers to work with your company for all of the needs they cannot personally address.
Final Thoughts to Strategically Build Your Website
Building and maintaining a website is a process that is never complete. A girlfriend managed my expectations about needing to periodically update my site early on. She explained that as your business grows, your brand and product and service offerings will evolve. Beyond regular maintenance, your site will therefore need a periodic overhaul so that it stays aligned with your company’s growth (a good thing, as it indicates your success!).
While we hope these ideas assist in the establishment and growth of your website, what additional tips do YOU have to help the Spread Your Sunshine community?! Share your advice by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or messaging Spread Your Sunshine on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, or Twitter. We love hearing from you, as together, we perform our best.
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