Everyone’s online these days, so how can you make sure your website stands out against the competition? Where do you begin and how elaborate should you get? Creating an effective site doesn’t have to be a huge headache. Here’s some expert advice.
Keep It Simple
With many people now browsing the Internet on hand-held devices, “the last thing you want is a really cumbersome page that takes a long time to load,” adds Michael Parker, principal of Gravitate Design Studio in Vancouver, Wash.
Focus on the User
Your site should be clean, professional looking and easy to navigate. “Don’t interrupt the user’s process,” says Nick Finck, director of user experience at Blue Flavor, a Seattle-based Web design firm. Make it easy for users to find information. Don’t let your own preferences get in the way. It doesn’t matter how much you love your website if your clients don’t.
Susan Daffron, co-author of Web Business Success: The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Web Sites That Work, recommends having your mother or grandmother test your site. If it’s confusing, redesign it. And don’t forget to include contact information.
Find Your Niche
Craft your website for your target market, even if it means losing other business. “The moment you water down your message to please everyone is the moment you’ve created a bland message that will appeal to no one,” says Cooper. Figure out which clients you want to reach and research their specific needs.
Specializing also helps you get found online. You’re unlikely to be near the top in a general search like “event planner,” but you might be able to rank high in a narrower search.
Be sure to research the competition. Portland, Oregon-based Internet marketing consultant Elgé Premeau says many people mistakenly assume that their competition will be the same online as offline. In reality, you may be up against totally different competitors on the Web.
Make Your Content Shine
It’s not enough to put your brochure on the Web. “Summarize things, use bullet points, use headers,” advises Finck. “You want to make sure that the user can scan the page. Don’t present them with a wall of text.”
Make sure your content is polished, professional and written in terms your audience will understand. Focus on how you can help your clients. “Visitors don’t care what you offer until they understand what you can do for them,” says Cooper.
Premeau agrees, “Get to the heart of the benefits you provide for your clients. People are much more likely to remember the story of how you pulled a rabbit out of a hat for a client than ‘We are the premier event planners in the Northwest.’”
Don’t Overemphasize Search Engine Ranking
Ranking well doesn’t necessarily equal getting business. “The analogy I use is that it doesn’t matter how many people I get to your front door if you don’t answer the doorbell when it rings,” says Premeau. “It doesn’t matter how high you rank if people don’t like your site when they get there.”
Building a terrific website is not enough. You need to attract visitors by becoming recognized as an authority, perhaps by working on a community event, writing articles or blogging about your expertise.
Allow for Change
Don’t worry about getting everything right the first time. “Put something out there and see if it works or not rather than trying to be the next big thing,” says Finck. Otherwise you might spend a lot of time and effort on a site that doesn’t resonate with users. An inexpensive template can be a good start. Once you’ve developed your message and goals, then you can go out and have a better site designed.
Note: Article originally published in Northwest Meetings + Events magazine.