A website can be the first (and sometimes only) line of communication a company has with a potential customer. That's why it is important to have a website that quickly communicates your brand's message to a visitor.
A website can be an incredible brand-building tool for your business. By taking the time to ensure that your website conforms to best practices, your website can attract customers, provide you with customer insight, and give you the tools to measure the effectiveness of your brand communication. Add in a progressive social media strategy tailored to your business and you have a direct line of communication to your customers.
When it’s time to refresh your website, keep in mind these five best practices for website design and usability:
1.Content Strategy: It is critical to dedicate time upfront to identifying and creating content. Content drives design and development, so establishing the quantity and kind of content you want on your site will inform all subsequent design decisions. For example, a small business offering physical therapy services has a range of different content that can be used to convey the overall brand messaging – from scenes of athletes in action to therapists working one-on-one with injured athletes to purely symbolic imagery that represents a shared goal.
2.User Testing: Even quick and informal user testing can reveal valuable insight about gaps or missteps in the usability of your site. Customers will appreciate the time you spend making sure the website is user-friendly and easy to navigate. You can use an informal group of friends and family to test your site, or even hire an outside third-party firm.
3. Open Source Platform: Building your website using an open source Content Management System (CMS) such as Drupal can save you money on proprietary fees, but it also has other benefits. Open source platforms give you more flexibility to customize your users' online experience, allow you to change developers at any point, and offer you the benefit of a huge community of developers that is constantly sharing best practices, creating new modules and working out bugs. Unlike proprietary platforms, open source platforms make their code available to the entire developer community, which is then able to customize and adapt the code as needed.
4.Sensible Search Engine Optimization (SEO): There are several basic steps you can take to increase your visibility in search engines, such as performing appropriate article and image tagging, including search terms in each post’s title, and updating content regularly. Additionally removing Flash or PDF from your site may improve SEO, because Flash and PDF content does not easily show up in search engines. While it is key to pay some attention to SEO, trying to game the system is futile, and so is obsessing about where you show up in Google’s list of rankings. Instead, channel your efforts into creating interesting SEO-rich content that will excite both your customers and Google.
5. Social Media Strategy: Social media allows you to convey your brand's message directly to individual customers. It is comprised of many different internet platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, and Foursquare. Rather than trying to participate in all aspects of social media, begin with one or two that make the most sense for your brand. Not every business needs a Facebook page and Twitter feed. Once you set your strategy, make sure you have a plan in place for updating the content regularly and ensuring that the brand voice is consistent before adding social media plug-ins (e.g. Facebook “Like” buttons) or other features to your website.
While upgrading your website may not be top of mind as you run your daily business, if it helps you to reach new customers, it could prove to be time well spent.
Amanda Neville is a founder of Thinkso, a New York City design, strategy and marketing agency specializing in full-service brand identity, collateral, website development, content strategy, and marketing plans. Watch Amanda's partners Elizabeth Amorose and Brett Traylor give first-hand branding advice to OPEN Cardmember, FInish Line Physical Therapy, in our special web series, Project RE:Brand