One of the first things many founders want to do after they launch their business is to create a website. That’s an understandable instinct: Today, not having a website can hurt your credibility and cost you opportunities.
Your website is your own piece of valuable real estate in cyberspace but, more than that, your website has the potential to be a veritable growth machine for your business. That’s why you need one. But it’s also why you need to do it right.
Before you start building, there are some important factors to consider and decide on. And I don’t just mean technical considerations like domain names and hosting plans, which you can read about in this helpful 12-step checklist. I’m referring to factors that will make the difference between leaving your visitors cold or confused… and turning them into customers.
In this post, discover 7 things you need to know so that you can build an effective website that instantly captivates your visitors and sets them on a path to becoming your customers.
Know who your ideal customers are
One of the first things you should do is get a clear picture of who your ideal customers are. Know their key demographic attributes, and understand what their goals are in relation to what you have to offer. What obstacles stand in their way of achieving them? You should know how that struggle makes them feel, and what their mindset likely is when they visit your site looking for a solution. Check out my post on defining buyer personas for a little more guidance.
Why it matters
When you truly understand who your ideal customer is, you can reflect that knowledge in every choice you make, from your messaging to your tone of voice. You can show empathy for the struggles they’re facing and for the emotions they’re feeling. As a result, your customers will feel heard, which is essential if you want to forge a connection with them.
Know how you can help them
Now that you understand who your ideal customers are and what they want, you need to get crystal clear on how you can help them achieve their goals. If they choose your solution, how do they get started? What does the process look like? How will their reality improve as a result?
Why it matters
If you do this right, the website you create will tell your visitors a compelling story in which they are heroes on a mission to reach their goal. In that story, you’re the expert guide with a plan to get them where they need to go. You can build confidence and generate excitement by sharing your high-level plan on your website and by giving your visitors a glimpse into how their lives will improve when they’ve implemented it.
Know how you compare to your competitors
Before you create a website, you should know who your competitors are and what sets you apart from them, as far as your ideal customer is concerned. Ask yourself why your website visitors should do business with you, instead of your competitors. Conduct a simple SWOT analysis. (Here’s a great article from Tim Berry, the founder of Palo Alto software, that shows you how to do it right.)
Why it matters
Whether or not you should mention your competitors by name in your marketing is subject for debate, as is pointed out in this SEJ article by Tom Demers. What isn’t debatable is that you should create a website that accentuates all your relative strengths, from the perspective of your ideal customer.
Decide how you want your brand to be perceived
Before you create a website, spend some time thinking about how you want your organization to be perceived. Consider developing brand guidelines. Challenge your team to agree on five adjectives that describe your brand’s personality.
Why it matters
Having a well-defined brand identity makes it clear what you stand for, helps you build relationships with visitors and makes you stand out from the crowd.
When you create your website, you can use design elements and your choice of language to convey very different personalities. For example, here are three websites we developed for our clients. Notice the distinct personalities they convey:
- Claxton Business Law is a boutique corporate law firm. Its online personality is credible, authoritative and experienced.
- Hartuition is a personal transformation coaching company. Its online personality is inspiring, thought-provoking and supportive.
- Reading Rewards is an online reading log for schools. Its online personality is fun, friendly and nurturing.
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Know how to build trust
Before you create your website, you need a plan for how you will build trust with your site visitors. If you’ve been in business for a while, it’s easy. There will probably be a slew of trust boosters that you can choose from, including:
- The (large) number of customers you’ve had
- Big-name customers you can cite
- Customer testimonials
- Customer case studies
- Positive articles and reviews about you
- Relevant awards you’ve won
But what about if you’re just starting out? Trying to build trust as a startup isn’t always easy. It’s like getting that first summer job when nobody’s ever taken a chance on you before. But there are things you can do. Here are a few tips to get you started:
- Make sure your site looks professional and well designed
- Proofread it carefully to make sure it’s error free
- Offer assurances, such as money-back guarantees
- Design a strong about page that highlights the experience and achievements of your team. (Check out this great piece from Ramona Sukhraj. It’s loaded with examples of amazing About page and tips about how to create one.)
Why it matters
These trust builders go a long way toward alleviating any residual uncertainty your visitors may have about doing business with you.
Be clear on your website conversion goals
Before you create your website, you need to clarify your primary and secondary conversion goals for the site. Is your main objective to generate leads? Is it to share information with existing customers? Do you aim to make a name for yourself as a thought leader? Is your goal to grow your email list so that you can build a long-term relationship with visitors who don’t convert on the first visit? Do you want visitors to schedule an appointment with you through your online calendar?
Resist the temptation to answer “all of the above.” Too many calls to action on your website will only create confusion and indecision, getting you farther from the outcome you want. Don’t be greedy. To quote the Spice Girls, you need to decide “what you want, what you really, really want.”
Why it matters
From the moment visitors arrive on your site, you need to steadily advance them toward the goals you set, which is why you need to be clear on what those goals are. You’ll also need to work out some logistics. For example, what information will you require that they fill out on your contact form? Where will submissions be funneled to? Will you embed an email signup form on the site? It all gets a lot easier when you’ve narrowed in on your primary and secondary conversion goals.
Know how you will build traffic to your website
Finally, before you create your website, you need to have an idea of how you’ll drive traffic to it. After all, there is no point to all the other planning you’ve done if you have a fabulous website that nobody ever sees. A website without traffic is about as useful as placing a billboard in the desert.
There are many options for driving traffic to your site, which can be loosely grouped into three categories:
- Owned: Traffic to any property that you own (such as your website, blog, email) from organic searches and direct visits
- Earned: Free traffic driven by another property, such as from press coverage, online reviews, social shares, incoming links, or influencer mentions
- Paid: Traffic from paid advertising sources, such as Facebook or Google ads
Each type of traffic has its advantages and drawbacks. Take the time to get informed, and find the right digital marketing mix for your website. (Check out this great piece by Katy Katz for more information).
Why it matters
Knowing how you’ll drive traffic to your website will help you make the right decisions as you create your website. For example, if you’re going to SEO your site, you’ll save time and money if you build your site with SEO in mind from the start. And even your Google ads will perform better on an optimized website.
Or if your goal is to drive traffic from social, then you’ll want to set up features like click to tweet and social share buttons to make it easier for visitors to share your content on their social platforms.
And if you recognize the importance of content marketing as a traffic driver, consider launching a blog alongside your website.
Where do you go from here?
Now that you’ve learned seven important factors to consider before you create your website, it’s time for you to get to work. Unless you’re a solopreneur, you’ll probably want to discuss some of these factors with your team before you make your final decisions. When you’ve gotten crystal clear on the above elements, you will need to communicate your decisions to the person or team who will be building your website.
I’ve prepared a free download to facilitate this process for you. Click here to download a FREE fillable workbook on all the detailed questions you need to answer before you create your website.
In the meantime, if you have any questions or comments about this post, I’d love to hear from you in the comments.
Carole Alalouf is the President and founder of Exaltus, and primary contributor to the Exaltus blog. In her Content Marketing role, she focuses on turning her clients’ complex information into a compelling story. Carole particularly enjoys visual storytelling in the form of presentations, whiteboard videos, websites, and infographics. Sign up to her email list and get powerful marketing tips in your inbox, 2-3 times per month.