HOW TO MAKE THE MOST OF YOUR NEW BRAND IN A WIRED WORLD? OPEN FORUM EXPERTS HELP YOU CREATE AN ONLINE BRAND TO COMPLEMENT YOUR OFFLINE EXPERIENCE
This article was excerpted from OPEN Book: Branding, which provides tips and advice for building a Booming brand. Follow the evolution of a Cardmember brands featured in our new web series. Project RE:Brand in which small businesses undergo brand makeovers by design experts.
Whatever your objectives, budget or business size, a website is an important business asset. But building or refreshing a website can seem like a minefield for many small business owners. From simply buying and customizing a template, to hiring an agency to design and build to your precise requirements, getting your business online doesn’t have to be a daunting task. Think of it as your business card, except instead of having to hand it out, the customers come to you. Just as you do offline, you’ll want to represent your business online in the best light.
Whether you’re a rapidly growing e-commerce business or a plumber working solo, having a website is an essential part of your brand. The question is, in either case, how can you extend the brand you’ve worked so hard to create? Richard Pandiscio suggests, “Start thinking about your website at the start of your branding project. Too many small businesses treat it as an add-on, rather than a part of the seamless whole.”
With the expertise of OPEN Forum’s small business contributors at hand, we’ve compiled five points to bear in mind when embarking on this all-important brand project.
1. Have a Plan
The CEO of Ali International, Ali Brown, advises on OPEN Forum: “Figure out your needs first. There are many types of websites, so save time by narrowing down exactly what you need. Will you need a cart and checkout so you can sell products? Or will a simple brochure-style site suffice? How often does your website need to be updated? Do you want to include a blog or Twitter feed? Look at other sites for ideas. Once you have a feel for your needs, you’ll be better equipped to find the right person for the job; not all web designers are skilled in all types of websites.”
Will your website need to incorporate an integrated blog or subscription form for e-mail updates? Try to clarify as much as possible, and don’t be afraid to raise these questions with any potential web developers you meet with.
2. Content Is King
Now that you’ve got a clear idea of what your site will do, you can begin planning what it will contain. An attractive site is all well and good, but a site that looks good, engages and inspires your customers, and converts prospects into clients needs excellent content. The most important thing to remember is that online, content is king, and that means crafting compelling copy. Writing for the web requires different considerations than writing for print.
- Break content up into subheads and lists
- Keep it brief
- You’ll find information and advice on how to maximize your search marketing efforts with keywords (known as paid search) at OPENForum.com/searchmanager
It’s also important to consider the visual content – what imagery do you need? Will you be featuring video content? Images and video help to make your site more engaging by breaking up the copy. They also give your visitors a reason to spend more time on the site, as well as return to it.
3. Hire Right to Design Right
Just like any other aspect of your business, it’s crucial to get the right people to help you build your website. If you’re using a branding agency, the web experience might be included in your brief, or they may be able to recommend another company more specialized in website development.
“Unless you are a creative agency, most small businesses don’t have the luxury of having an in-house designer,” says Mashable writer Christina Warren on OPEN Forum. “There are literally thousands of freelance designers and design agencies out there, but finding someone can be difficult. Fortunately, there are some great online resources that can take the sting out of searching for a designer.” Warren suggests trying Sortfolio, Authentic Jobs, Elance, the FreelanceSwitch Directory or Carbonmade to check out excellent portfolios and contact freelance designers directly.
4. Build Once, Test Twice
By the time your web developer (who builds your site, often not the web designer, who creates its look) starts to work on your site, all the functionalities and design should be fully agreed upon. “Making any design changes can incur additional charges. While it’s easy to make design changes, it’s much more time-consuming to code and recode pages,” warns Behance Editor in Chief J. K. Glei on OPEN Forum. Allow plenty of time before your site launches to test every part, and try it out on family, or regular customers, for their feedback.
5. Reach Out
One mistake many small business owners make with their website is to assume that, “If you build it, they will come.” The most basic way to get the word out is to add your URL to all your marketing and packaging materials – your business cards, products, and across any other relevant brand touchpoints. Next, you need to make sure people can find your website by ensuring it appears as high up as possible in search engine results. Mastering this is called ‘search engine optimization’ (or SEO) and the most basic way to do it is to use as many product or industry keywords as possible in your copy. Another way is to have other websites link to yours – approach associates and member organizations to create reciprocal links. Find out more about how to improve your SEO results by reading our OPEN Book: Online Marketing, available online at OPENForum.com/onlinemarketing.