Most of our website builds start out with a telephone conversation about the process and the pricing and lead times.
Not surprisingly, most of our prospects have an idea of what they want their website to look like (simple and clean, but professional) and some of what they want to say, but not a lot about function and their audience.
We ask a lot of questions:
- What are the goals you want your site to meet?
- What is the profile of the visitor you're trying to attract to the site?
- Where do your prospects live?
- What other sites do they visit?
- What makes them return to those websites?
- What must they do when they visit your site to make the visit successful in your judgment?
- What competitive sites are they now visiting that you want to replace?
Most prospects can answer a few of the questions specifically, but many can't answer more than two or three. So we tell them we don't think they're quite ready to begin building a site, because they don't yet have clear goals and targets that would help them measure the performance of their site.
As gently as possible, we suggest that they do some homework, and we offer to help them with their homework.
How difficult and time-consuming is the research?
Mostly, that's a function of the answer to the question "Where do your prospects live?" The narrower the geography, the harder it is to research.
If for instance, you can do business with anyone over 18 years of age in North America, there are great statistics easily available on that demographic. It's a different matter entirely if your answer is "Latino Females aged 40 plus, East of Cicero Avenue in Oak Lawn, IL." Now that's a tough one, and to be honest, we can't help very much with that one. But if you're the one doing business in that area, you probably can find the answers by asking clients and prospects the questions. Take your own surveys, formal or informal.
Much more likely your answer lies somewhere in between those two extremes. If so, here are some references you may find helpful:
We use those references and many others to gather information to help our clients plan their websites.
We offer the following anecdote as a caveat:
In 1966 Jack Kent Cooke brought Professional Hockey to Los Angeles as a part of expansion for the NHL. At the time, he was quoted (some have said inaccurately) as saying, "there are nearly 600 thousand Canadian-born people living in Southern California." This was widely cited as being helpful to the prospects for ticket sales in LA.
After 3 seasons of dismal attendance at Kings games, a reporter remarked, "Now we know why all those Canadians moved here, obviously, they hate hockey!"
The moral of that story is: Sometimes the statistics don't mean what you'd like them to mean.
After the research is done, and you know whom you are targeting, you need to decide how you will attract them to your site, and bring them back (if that is part of your plan.)
What will you add to your site to encourage your clients and prospects to talk to you?
Much of the fabric of a web page has been seen before in other media. We have certainly seen text since Gutenberg's day, photographs and drawing since the civil war, audio since the turn of the twentieth century and video since the early 1950's. The web now allows a visitor to interact with the media.
So if you think about it, the web is the only way you can actually communicate with your audience. Print, Radio and TV and films will only let you shout at your audience. Try to count the Print ads and radio and TV commercial spots which cite a website which is where you can enter a contest, rate a meal, contact Customer Service, etc etc. It's easier to count those which don't mention a web site.
Therefore, you can, if you like, make your site a kind of fancy brochure, telling a tale in beautiful copy with a vast choice of fonts, illustrated with gorgeous photography and videography. OR...
You can do all of the above AND add features to your website which encourage your visitors to talk back to you.
Can your website run contests? take surveys, rate a meal or a stage play? Bet the farm it can.
What features will you add to save money?
It's often overlooked that nearly every company can save money using their website. For instance, if your company spends money printing and mailing literature to clients and prospects, consider making pdf's of those items availlable for download on your website.
If you pay for incoming 800 numbers for sales and/or customer service by the hour, consider adding a support forum and live chat.
What other departments or functions within the company spend dollars communicating with clients or prospects? It is relatively inexpensive to extend your website to handle or augment those functions as well.
Harper Vance measures a website just one way. Our belief is that your website needs to offset the cost of building, maintaining and hosting it dollar for dollar with increased revenues from new sales and reduction of current expenses. If it does not, then you haven't really built it right.
Next we can discuss design of the website...
The best place to start a design is by looking at your current branding of letterhead, calling cards, product packaging, literature, manuals, facilities and signage and of course logos. The website design should be driven by your branding. In the event you don't have a good branding strategy at present, we would suggest you engage a designer for that prior to making a website. We can recommend several designers with whom we've worked that do a wonderful job with branding.
Because your branding will dictate color schemes, typeface selection, and our image selection will be driven by the color scheme and copy, all the website designer has to do is to make the template(s) for the website in a way that the pages are accessable and readable to all visitors, no matter what size or type of device they are using to view the website, and whether or not they have impaired vision or hearing. The current buzzword is "responsive design" and Harper Vance is very experienced in this area. Please note that this site looks and works as well on your phone as on a computer. Your site will as well.
A subtle part of design is SEO, or Search Engine Optimization, to be discussed next.
SEO is shorthand for "everything the website designer, developer, and webmaster do to make it easier for the various search engines to find and index their content with the sole purpose of improving their position on search engine results pages."
While the exact algorithms in use are closely-guarded secrets, some "truths" can be inferred just by looking at what works (at any given moment.)
For instance, it is now clear that the major search engines completely ignore the meta keywords and meta description tags on a web page. This is always attributed to their "abuse" by webmasters over the years.
It now appears that the browser page title (that which appears in the title bar of the browser) and specially tagged (sometimes called "micro-formatted") words within the site copy hold more influence.
An example of this is our contact info box in the left hand sidebar. Viewing the source code would reveal:
<div itemscope="itemscope" itemtype="http://schema.org/LocalBusiness">
<h1><span itemprop="name">Harper Vance web services</span></h1>
<span itemprop="description"> Joomla! website specialists</span>
and so on...
All of our sites are built with SEO as part of the design, and we are subscribers and faithful readers of the Google Blogs for Webmasters. While we do not guarantee search engine result page placement, our experience in these matters indicates that those who do make such guarantees are charlatans anyway. The main point is that SEO is designed-in from the outset, and built article by article, NOT tacked on later by a guy in a checkered suit.
Next up is Website Content.
Website content is text, photos, graphics, video and audio; thoughtfully composed and artfully arranged. It is the flesh on the bones set up by the designers, and it functions to attract and delight site visitors.
You supply the facts and figures, we apply the design and the art, and the outcome is great content. We often find that the first content pages that are produced inspire the site owners to dig up more facts and figures. Then we all happily repeat the processes until the story is complete.
What's a blog? Why should I blog?
A blog, among a lot of other definitions, is like a newspaper column in the sense that an author has a bit more freedom, especially as to subject matter than do news reporters.
Blogging, as commonly used here, refers to writing to the website's audience on a more-or-less regular time schedule. That could be daily, could be yearly, but in general lies somewhere in between. The reasons to do so are many:
- It will bring you some Internet Credibility.
- It will give you a track record as an author.
- You will develop an audience over time who will look to you for answers, and believe what you tell them (as well they should, since you do know what you're talking about.)
- You will have an opportunity to review products and processes like a film critic.
- You can collect your "columns" or posts into e-books and offer them for downloads.
- There is no better way to draw traffic to your website which will "stick" and grow over time.
So maybe you don't feel qualified to do such a thing, maybe you don't have time, maybe you don't feel you write well.
That being the case, you supply the facts and figures, we will write the blog posts. No don't laugh! It happens all the time.
So now the website is built and tested, all bugs are fixed, and even the designer likes it (it could happen). So there's nothing left to do but launch and promote...
Author William Patrick Kinsella's 1982 novel "Shoeless Joe" was the source text for the film entitled "Field of Dreams." The most famous quote from the film, of course, goes like this:
"If you build it, they will come."
Well, we loved the movie, but that quote does not apply to websites. We have seen a great number of websites conceived and executed with brilliance which turned out to be miserable failures because no one considered what to do to promote them after launch.
The ideal promotion tactics call for a mix of advertising and PR efforts, calculated to spread the word in the intended geographical market.
You could also put a small sliver of the promotional budget into pay per click ads, but we have yet to enjoy much success with that tactic for a new web project.
Even if you ordinarily don't put forth an organized Public Relations effort, you should consider it for your website launch, particularly if your site has technology which is new to websites in your industry.
Many websites have been successfully launched with event-based promotion. If your company goes to trade shows, have a kiosk displaying the website in your booth, and have website specific coupons or special offers in your literature packages.
So those are the steps we think you should take in making a new website. If you'd like help costing out a project, give us a call, we're happy to help.