Run your business online as you run your business offline. The level of time, thought, care and development that goes into your brick and mortar business should also go into your website. This is what customers want you to do and this is what search engines want you to do.
You wouldn’t give a store/office a strange name (domain), open it in a location that no-one can find (rankings), fit it out cheaply (web design), get unprofessional, unknowledgeable employees to work there (content) and not market it (links and social media) – don’t make those mistakes with your website either.
Your website’s domain name is, literally, your business’s online name and address. People will type it into web browsers, Google will show it in their search results, and some people will use it when mentioning your site. So, you need to make sure it accurately represents your business.
99% of the time, this means that it should be your business’s actual name. If your business is called ‘Thompson Consulting’ then use www.thompsonconsulting.co.uk. If your business is called ‘Good Morning Coffee’ then use www.goodmorningcoffee.co.uk.
If the domain name for your business isn’t available, then use one that’s as close to it as possible. This might mean adding a word to, or taking one away from, your business’s name, or it might mean using a different domain extension (.co.uk, .com, .net, etc.). Either way, don’t use keywords that you want to rank for in lieu of your business’s real name.
You wouldn’t brand your store/office with a name that wasn’t your business’s name, so don’t do it with your website either. For example, if you want to rank your website for ‘emigrate to New Zealand’, don’t use www.emigratetonewzealand.co.uk as your domain name. Doing so disconnects your online and offline presence and, these days, provides no benefits in terms of search engine rankings.
People have expectations when they walk into a store/office, and if those expectations aren’t met then they’ll leave and never come back. Those first 5-10 seconds when they walk in won’t guarantee a sale, but they can guarantee that you lose one, and so it is with websites too. You have to meet certain expectations and you have to do so quickly.
Most stores/offices aim to be light, clean, spacious and welcoming, and that should be your aim for your website. You don’t walk into most stores/offices and think “Wow, it’s really great in here”. Most of the time you don’t give it a 2nd thought – you get a neutral feeling about it. You do notice when it’s either uncared for, old, rundown, etc. or cool, modern, stylish, etc.
You should aim to make your website the latter if you can (should it be appropriate for your industry and you have the funds available) but you absolutely have to avoid the former. Being in the middle is ok – that’s where 75% of stores/offices fall too. To fall in the middle, you need to do just a few things:
- Have a clean, light, uncluttered layout.
- Use a font style and size that’s easy to read.
- Have a user-friendly navigation system.
- Use colours that complement each other.
That’s all people expect from a website’s design. Tick those boxes and few people will hold your site’s design against you. Fail on even one of those points though, and it can be enough to make people click the back button straight away – just as they would walk out of a store/office if they didn’t like the look or feel of it.
You don’t have to completely neutalise and standardise your website, but that’s the best approach to take unless you can afford a top quality web designer. Remember also that you need to regularly maintain and refresh your website. It’s not a one-time job. If a store/office looked exactly the same as it did 5 years ago, it would be a turn off, and so it is with a website.
If people can’t find a store/office, then that business is destined to fail, so, as with your offline premises, you need to make sure that your website can be found by people. Online, “location” is a more fluid term. Your website’s location is, technically, your domain name and/or the server it’s hosted on, however, in real terms it’s location is it’s rankings in Google, as that’s how the vast majority of people will find your website.
Consider each keyword that your site ranks for as a temporary location for your business, as each search that a person does essentially creates a virtual high street of stores/offices for the searcher to visit. Ranking highly for a keyword is like having a store/office located on that high street. Achieve that and people will naturally come to you every day, just as they naturally visit stores/offices on high streets in towns and cities.
Sticking with the Google/high street analogy, ranking for more keywords means being located on more high streets, ranking for more highly searched for keywords means being located on busier high streets, and ranking higher for each keyword means having a better location on each of those high streets.
For example, ranking 1st for ‘cheap holidays’ is like having a travel agency in the middle of Oxford Street in London, whereas ranking 10th for ‘good value holidays in Bulgaria in spring’ is like having a travel agency in a backstreet of a small village in Lancashire.
So, don’t think that once your business’s website is live that you have a real presence online. At that point, the only people that will find it are people who already know what the exact address (domain name) is. If you want a good online location, and to be found by lots of people, you have to rank highly in Google, either by working for it (SEO) or paying for it (Pay Per Click).
Online, your website’s content speaks for, and represents, your business on your behalf, just as, offline, employees speak for, and represent, your business on your behalf. You want employees to be knowledgeable and well presented, and that’s how you should make your content too. Use it to show customers your expertise and that you not only sell something, but that you believe in it too.
You wouldn’t want employees who don’t tell customers anything worthwhile, and for the same reasons you don’t want content on your website that doesn’t say anything worthwhile. All of your content needs to add value to your site in some way. One bad page of content can lose you many sales. It’s like walking into a store/office and dealing with a terrible employee.
If your content isn’t working out for you (which you can determine by using Google Analytics to assess how long people view each page for and what action they take after viewing it), then do as you would do with an under-performing employee – improve or replace. It’s worth investing in improving or replacing it because, once it’s perfected, that content can earn you money, over and over again, on auto-pilot.
You should aim to write in the way that you would speak to customers who walk into your store/office. Use the same tone and pass on the same knowledge and expertise. It’s really as simple that – write as you would speak. Seek the help of a professional copywriter if you need to, but don’t completely outsource the process. Your input is not only helpful, but essential, as no-one knows your business and products/services better than you.
As well as writing authentically, you need to write comprehensively. Have answers on your site to all of the questions that you commonly get asked in your store/office. If you leave out important information, people will assume that you either don’t know or don’t care – either way, you’ll lose that sale. Very few people who visit your website will phone an in-store/office employee to find out what you should have told them on your site.
Every business needs to be marketed if it wants to grow, and so does every website. If you have a great store/office, but no-one knows about it, then no-one will come. It’s the same with your site. You need to think about where you can get the attention of potential customers and try to get your website mentioned, and linked to, there.
Building links and being active on social media websites is the online equivalent of offline marketing (posters, newspaper ads, leaflet drops, etc.). They put your business’s name in front of people and direct people to your website. Particularly so because Google measures and evaluates those links and mentions and uses them as the main factor in deciding what sites to rank in what positions for what keywords.
As with traditional marketing, where you market you site is at least as important as the methods you use to market it. You want to be seen and referenced in the ‘right’ places. Building spam backlinks or faking social media activity is like grafitting the name of your business on walls or bus stops. It’s a mention of your business, but not one that’s likely to send any business your way. It’s actually more likely to harm the reputation of your business.
And, don’t be swayed by quantity over quality. Just as 1 prominent advert in a local newspaper or relevant magazine will generate more business than a mention at the bottom of a leaflet dropped through 100 random doors, so will one link to your site in a good, relevant article on a highly trafficked site generate more business than a 100 links to your site from the footer of sites that no-one visits.