Planning your Website – Vital first steps

Lots of people are looking to the internet for solutions to all manner of business problems, with more people researching products and services online and an increase in online shopping, all types of businesses are realising the benefits of developing an online presence.

With the proper help and support creating a website or social media presence can be a very worthwhile endeavour and can even help you to save money on more traditional forms of advertising.

The one thing that many people seem to forget when they start to develop a web site is that they need to plan it all out before they get started. Planning is an essential element when you are developing your web site. You wouldn’t open a shop without working out what you are going to sell or set off on an interstate trip without working out where you are going to stay, far too often businesses decide to get online with little or no thought as to why the need a website in the first place.

We always ask potential clients why they want a website and the most common answer we get is ‘everybody else has one’ which is quite ok, but they didn’t get their websites completed without doing the planning.

If you want your website to work for your business, you need to spend the time to plan what it is that you want to do with your site. Do you want to generate leads, sell goods and services online, share information or knowledge or are you simply looking at strengthening your existing brand?

Once you have decided what it is you want to do with your website the next stage of how to do it should be much easier.

Finding your Website – Understanding how visitors arrive at your website.

Understanding how visitors get to your website is important as it helps you to understand the process of developing your website, the process is quite different to designing a business card or other promotional material. Hopefully this introduction will make things easier.  

There are only three ways visitors arrive at your website, they enter your web address directly into their web browser, they arrive at your website via a link from another website or they find you on one of the search engines, typically Google, Yahoo7 or Bing.

Direct entry to your Website

Typing your web address directly into a web browser requires the visitor to firstly have your web address and secondly be able to type it accurately. People that enter your web address directly will have seen it in your advertising, on your vehicles and on your stationary, promoting your web address is no different to having a sign on your shopfront or your phone number in the phonebook.

Having an easy to remember, easy to type web address is one of the best advantages you can have over your competition on the web, owning the name that IS the product or service that people are looking for is a distinct advantage when it comes to finding you online.

For many Internet users typing your business name or the product or service they are searching for directly into the address bar of a web browser is common, whilst this may be a mistake it has several advantages if you have the name of the product or service that they have typed! An easy to remember domain name or one that relates directly to your product can be a real bonus for this group of internet users.

 Direct linking to your Website

Following a direct link to your website is another common method of finding you on the Internet, that is of course if you have links to your website, getting these links and maintaining them over time is a challenge, a broken link from another website can frustrate and anger internet users, quality links on the other hand can boost your ranking among the search engines and add credibility to your website.

Quality links from Industry websites and other Business Directories are the easiest to get and can offer your business other benefits apart from the link back to your website, most directories allow you to add other details about your business, this can often help people to make decisions about you even before they visit your website.

One of the newer forms of direct linking is from weblogs (blogs) forums and social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter. Building a following on these sites takes time and requires you to be a regular contributor offering feedback, advice and information to other Members of these groups.

Google and the other Search Engines – Your most important website Visitors

If people don’t follow a direct link or type the web address directly into a web browser they will most likely be using a search engine to find any business to satisfy their needs, this many not be your business unless you can be easily found by the search engines. With Google currently being used for 67% of the global internet searches it is important that your website is not only listed with Google but follows their guidelines to make it easy for Google to index your website.

The process that all search engines use is similar although they do use different methods to calculate and display the results. A series of computers called spiders or robots crawl the internet and look at all the web pages they find, following links as they go, these robots look at website content and try to figure out what the web pages are about, information contained in the page titles, page names, headings and the body text are all used to establish what each page is about, and remember these search engines index your site at the page level, they don’t know that every page contained in your site is about the same subject, many sites on the internet have vastly different topics on each page – don’t assume that because you know that your whole website is about one subject that search engines will make that same observation. (Note: this section is the MOST important reading you will do regarding how your site should be constructed.)

When your website is ready to launch submitting it to the popular search engines is a must, submitting your site is a simple process but an important one to ensure that the crawling process begins as soon as possible, just relying on the search engines to find a website that has very few inbound links is a strategy that will almost certainly result in your site being overlooked causing long delays before your site is indexed by search engine robots.

Building Your Website – The Technical Details

Building a website that fulfils the requirements of your regular site visitors and the search engines is a fine balancing act that requires considerable thought, gathering all of your content together when you start to develop your website will help to create some order to the process as you go along.

Site Maps

A site map for your website is a simple, graphical representation of your overall site used in the planning phase, it can be simply sketched on a notepad to give you an idea as to what pages the web site is going to have and therefore what content each of the web pages need.

Once you have a rough draft of your website deciding on what content goes with which page is a much easier process, often laying all of your content out on a large table will make it easier to place things into the right areas of your website – brochures, catalogues, photographs and written material that you have will need to be considered for inclusion on the various pages.

Planning your site at individual page level allows you to look at the content that you have for each page and compile a ‘to do’ list as you go along, some pages might need only a few words, a couple of photos or other pieces to complete the process.

Once the website is complete creating an electronic version of your site map is something that can help Google to index your site correctly and can have other benefits to your human visitors too

Pages

When you are happy that you have a site map and page list for your site moving on to the development of each page is the next stage, everyone that visits your site looks at individual pages, they may look at lots, a few or just one, likewise, search engines look at (index) your pages individually and therefore expect each page to have several key features.

  • Unique page Title
  • Unique Theme (one… or two maximum, the home page is the exception to this rule)
  • Meaningful URL (web address)
  • Paragraph Headings
  • Text
  • Photographs and Pictures
  • Links (Navigation and General Links)
  • If you have a physical location adding your address to each page is also good practice

As a general rule each page should contain a single theme or no more than two, and feature key words that relate to your business. The key words or key phrases associated with this theme should be used  about 6 to 10 times in the body content, we can help you to develop a keyword list specific to your business and the type of products and services that you offer, keywords should make up about 2-3% of your written content which would therefore require you to have about 300-400 words on each page, when people visit your website they will often skim the text looking for interesting information, when writing content for your website it is important to provide the content in several different ways to get your message across.  This section on ‘pages’ is a great example of how to provide content, it has an easy to read heading, some text, a bullet point list and leads in the next section on images, it also contains 293 words!

Images

They say a picture is worth a thousand words and it might be, making sure that all your images have descriptions and titles will also ensure that Google and the other search engines know what those pictures contain, many people browse the web with images turned off to speed up their browsing, descriptions and titles help them to decide if the picture is worth looking at.

Keywords

When search engines visit your web pages they are looking at all the words on the page and adding them to the index that allows their visitors to find what it is they are looking for, by carefully selecting your keywords you can increase your chances of being found by these people when they use them as part of their search.

Here are a couple of examples to explain the process*

  • Search for ‘the’ on Google and you get “about 11,730,000,000 results.
  • Search for ‘webzplus’ on Google and you get “about 828” results.

Trying to get to the first page of the search results for the word ‘the’ you have an almost impossible task ahead of you… getting ‘webzplus’ on to the first page against 828 results was  a much easier task!

By keeping each page to one or two subjects, using your keywords as part of page titles and headings you can increase the chances of getting onto the first page of Google and therefore increase your website traffic, your enquiry rate, then your sales and profits accordingly.

*Because Google is a dynamic site these figures quoted will often change, although I’m sure you get the idea.

Inbound Links (backlinks)

Once you have your website completed it is then time to consider the inbound links to your site, inbound links from other websites help to contribute traffic to your site and also assist with the formula’s that search engines use when displaying search results, just like a recommendation from a customer can bring you new business or a well written reference can help land a dream job, inbound links are used to add credibility to your website and therefore your business.

Maintaining inbound links over time can be a time consuming task, many website owners are tempted to buy inbound links from companies known as ‘Link Farms’ this can often lead to a rapid rise in your popularity but seldom lasts for the long haul, Link Farms are the ‘get rich quick scheme’ of the search engine world and should generally be avoided.

Google Page Rank

The other force that is silently working away beneath your web pages is PageRank™, named after Google founder Larry Page, PageRank is a complex mathematical formula that gives each linked set of documents a weighting based partly on popularity of each one within the set.

Again an example to explain how it works

Of the nearly 12 Billion results for the word ‘the’ on Google the following list is the top three results.

  • The Age (Melbourne Daily Paper) – (PageRank of 8 out of 10)
  • The Australian (National Daily Paper) – (PageRank of 8 out of 10)
  • The Wiggles (Children’s Entertainers) – (PageRank of 6 out of 10)

These sites have a couple of things going for them in the ‘the’ stakes

  • They all have ‘the’ as part of their name
  • They are all very popular websites
  • They all have inbound links from other popular pages

Page Rank is the very foundation of how Google works and all that is important in this context is that if you can get a quality, inbound link from a website like The Age Newspaper, and maintain it over time you will probably become a very popular website too.

Meta Tags

As part of the development of your web pages special elements called Meta Tags are coded into your pages. Historically these Meta Tags had a large part to play in the search engine process however as many people have found ways to exploit this system the search engines have started rejecting many of the elements that make up the Meta Tag system. Some of the important elements still remain, these are namely the description attribute, the language attribute and the robots attribute.

From a user perspective using the description attribute is probably the most important Meta Tag, most search engines utilise this information as the description of you see when they display the search results for your web pages, having a meaningful description here can make it far more likely that visitors will click on your link when choosing a result from a search engine.

Site Builder and Content Management Websites

Many people when considering a website are tempted to look at doing most of the work themselves using a Site Builder or Content Management System, whilst these solutions may seem cost effective they often fail to produce solid results with the search engines. Generally content for this style of site is contained in a database and displayed dynamically as required when a visitor clicks onto a link, this can result in slow loading pages and also a moving target for the spiders or robots used by the search engines.

This style of website can also seem like a fast track solution to getting your business online, you don’t need to hire anyone, you can control everything yourself and then there are the financial benefits. What people often forget is that they will also have to learn something new which has a cost, the software or the interfaces that produce these sites are often complex and even making simple changes can take far longer than expected.

If you have a lot of content that you are sure will change regularly then talk to us about a fully managed solution for your website, we are sure that we can provide a cost effective solution for all types of clients.

Summary

 This document has been produced as an introduction to websites and developing website content.

I established my first website in 1995 and have created many sites since, over the past 14 years the face of the internet has changed quite significantly. I regularly read books and other material about the web and other online business and I never stop learning about new techniques. I get a lot of satisfaction helping people to get online and hope that I can offer your business advice and guidance without obligation.

The internet itself is the greatest source of information we have ever had, I encourage you to read as much as you can about how the internet works and how you can take advantage of it for your business.

Suggested Reading

For anybody serious about learning more about setting up a website or understanding how things work I can recommend the following books.

Don’t Make Me Think – A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability

Steve Krug ISBN: 9780321344755

Letting Go of the Words – Writing Web Content that Works

Janice (Ginny) Redish ISBN: 9780123694867

Killer Web Content – Make the Sale, Deliver the Service, Build the Brand

Gerry McGovern ISBN: 9780713677041

Search Engine Optimisation – All in One For Dummies

Bruce Clay & Susan Esparza ISBN: 9780470379738

Get Into Bed With Google (Australian Edition)

Jon Smith ISBN: 9781921203718

Six Pixels of Separation – Everyone is Connected. Connect your Business to Everyone

Mitch Joel ISBN: 9780446559386

Google Analytics

Jerri Ledford & Mary E. Tyler ISBN: 9780470531280

Thanks

If you are considering using us to design, manage or implement your online strategy – thanks, we hope that you have found this introduction informative and interesting if you would like to find out more about the services we provide please visit us online – www.webZplus.com.au

This document and the information it contains is a guide only,
it is up to you to determine if it is suitable for your needs.

© 2011 John Robinson | Devil Digital Pty Ltd | All rights reserved

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