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Web Site Savvy – What You Need to Know
Margie Jacky, Goosedown Web Development

What are your Goals?

What do you want to accomplish with your online presence? Your web site is just a piece of your overall branding and needs to work in coordination with your marketing materials, social media efforts and offline marketing. Think about what your business wants the web site to do. Are you trying to acquire new clients/customers? Will the web site be your online catalog? Will you be processing orders online?

An online presence adds credibility and exposure to your business. If you think about your long term goals you can structure the web site to facilitate accomplishing those goals in the future. For example, you may want to eventually do online ordering. You can start with a well designed online catalog that could easily feed a future shopping cart.

What are your Resources?
Be realistic in determining what you can expend – time, money, creative effort – toward your goals. Think about a timeline to accomplish your goals, based on those resources. Start with what you can do now and build as you go forward.

If you don’t already have a web site here are some basic issues to consider. I have also included a short glossary of terms in Appendix A, to help those who are new to web site development.

Starting a Web Presence - Web Site Basics
1. Domain Names:
Select your domain name carefully (and think about using more than one). If you are a new business you may want to start with the domain name first, and name your business accordingly. Consider including key words in the domain name. If you offer services in a specific location consider putting that in the domain name as well. For example, DesignServicesMyrtleBeach.com for an interior designer who focuses on homes in Myrtle Beach.

2. Content – be concise and keep it simple
Convey the most important information in the first two paragraphs of your home page. This is where you will capture (or lose) your audience. Be Brief – you have approximately 3 seconds to get someone’s attention. Present your message in clear, easy to digest pieces. Start paragraphs with information-carrying words that users can easily spot. Users don’t read web sites; they scan them, trying to find the information that is important to them. Bulleted lists are great. Use short sentences that are very descriptive, containing key words for the Search Engines. Use white space effectively, making it easier for the user to quickly scan a page and read it.
Think about your target audience and aim your content toward that audience. Navigation and site organization must be intuitive – again users don’t read, they just start clicking links that might be what they want. And they need to be able to easily find their way back. If users get frustrated with locating the information they want they will leave your site. The easier it is to navigate your web site, the more the user will like the site and explore further.

3. Visually Appealing – based on your business and target audience
The visual look of your site should match your company logo, and other marketing materials. As with any marketing materials it should also be geared toward your target audience. Before you meet with a web designer, do your research. Look at the web sites of your competition and others in your line of business. Think about what you like and don’t like about those web sites. Find examples of web sites that you do like and think about why. Web site design is a moving target and your designer should be aware of current trends, but you know your clientele and your products or services. You need to convey that knowledge to the developer so they understand the audience and the overall tone. The appropriate look of a web site for a pet supply company would be very different from the look of a corporate law firm.

4. Calls to Action – what do you want the visitor to do?
Think about what action you want to prompt on the part of a visitor to your web site. Do you want them to call for your services? Do you want them to buy items on your site? Do you want them to sign up for your monthly newsletter? The web site should provide them with a very clear way to take that action. A Call to Action is just that – a button that says Add to Cart; a sign-up form to receive the monthly newsletter; a Call Now button with your phone number. Never make it hard for the visitor to find your phone number, address or to order your product.

5. Marketing The Web Site – if you build it will they come?
In planning for a web site you also need to think about how you will market that site. In part this depends on what kind of business you are in and how you have acquired new business before having a web site. The very first step, no matter what your business is, is to start using an email address that contains your domain name, e.g. Margie@goosedown.com. Every time I send an email I’m advertising my web site – there is no reason to advertise gmail or yahoo when you can be promoting your own web site. Next you need to be sure and include the domain name on EVERY piece of advertising you do, from a small ad in a local circular to a story about you in the local paper. Don’t miss any opportunity to let people know about your web site – business signs, printed letters, business cards, your bio on any web site directories that list you, any organizations to which you belong – the web site is as much a part of your vital statistics as your phone number, and it’s probably more important.

SEO – most people have heard of Search Engine Optimization but may not be sure what it means. While this is somewhat of a moving target, it essentially means optimizing the key words on your web site, those key words being what someone might type into a search engine if they were looking for your type of business. Every piece of information on your web site is important for this purpose, some things getting more weight than others. For example, web page names, paragraph headings, words that are links, ALT text for images, are just some of the pieces of text that are given a little more weight by the Search Engines’ computer programs that analyze web pages. When building a web site all of these areas should be optimized to use important key words strategically. While some companies offer “SEO Services” for a monthly fee, be very careful about what you are receiving for that money. Your web site should be optimized when it is created. Further analysis, based on web site statistics (described below), after the site has been up for a while can also be helpful in further optimizing the site.

SEM – Search Engine Marketing is when you decide to commit advertising dollars to marketing your web site online. An example is pay-per-click campaigns, where you agree to pay a specific amount for specific words or phrases that someone might type in a search engine. If that phrase is typed in, your ad will appear in the paid section of the search engine results (for Google that means along the right side). If your ad is clicked you are charged the per click amount you agreed to. These campaigns need to be very carefully researched and monitored to make sure you are getting the most for the dollars you invest.

6. Web Analytics – All the data you ever wanted about your site visitors
Most hosting companies offer some type of web analytics. You can also take advantage of Google Analytics, where you put a short bit of code from Google on your web pages and use their analytics program to analyze your site history. This analytics data can tell you things like: what people are typing into search engines to find you; who is linking you; what pages are being visited on your site and what paths visitors are taking through your site; which browsers are being used, etc. After your site has been up for a while, analyzing this data can help you determine whether you have emphasized the right key words on the site.

7. Social Media – how should you participate?
There has been an explosion of Social Media in the last few years, including Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, Twitter and blogs. Many believe that this is a Must Do issue when it comes to an online presence. The first thing to consider is whether it is necessary (and advantageous) to your particular business to include Social Media in your overall marketing strategy. If you think it is, then you need to consider the resources you have to make it happen. Social Media takes time. You do not want to start blogging, for example, and then not add to the blog for six months. If your resources are limited, but you feel it is important, you can focus your efforts on one of the Social Media channels, and select the one that suits you best. For example, if you are a local business with a loyal following of customers, you may be able to start a Facebook page and have your customers keep the ball rolling when they add content to your page.

You’ve Got a Web Site – What Now?
Do you already have a web site? Take a look at your site and consider the following issues. It may be time for a redesign or time to add additional features.

1. Dated Appearance:
Is the look fresh or dated? The look of web sites is constantly evolving, but that doesn’t mean you need to redesign your site every year. However, screen sizes have gotten larger and if your site was designed more than 5 years ago it may have a narrow design that makes it look dated.

2. Accurate Information/Branding:
Is the information on it current? Does the look match your current logo and offline marketing materials? You should revisit your web site periodically to make sure that the information it contains is accurate. Your website should be an accurate extension of your other business branding. If you’ve invested in a print marketing campaign your web site should reinforce your print message. Advertising is more effective when the message is focused and the appearance consistent.

3. Adding New Features:
When you first had your web site created you probably envisioned adding more bells and whistles “later” and then it may have dropped off your radar. Take a fresh look at the web site and think about how it functions for your current and potential clientele. What functionality could you add that would increase your business, save you or your customers time, increase customer satisfaction, increase web site traffic? Take a look at what your competition offers online for ideas. Ask your web site visitors what they would like to see on the site. As with a new web site, think about what you want the web site to accomplish – is it reaching that goal or is it time to rethink strategy.

4. Mobile Websites:
If your clientele is young, mobile or tech-savvy, you may benefit from optimizing a mobile version of your web site for smart phone screens. But bear in mind that not every business needs to have a special mobile version of their web site. Be sure to visit your web site on different devices to see how it looks and how well it operates. Think about your target audience and how they are accessing the web.

If your web site is dated potential clients/customers may be concerned that other parts of your business are also behind the times.

Appendix A – Glossary

CMS – Content Management System – an online system that allows control of data that is shown on a web site. An example would be an e-commerce site that has a backend database that contains all the product information. The owner of the web site would be able to use the CMS to add and remove products, change prices, put items on sale, etc. Some of these systems are packaged applications that are designed to cover a wide range of web site types. Other CMS systems are custom designed for an individual web site, with the specific requirements of that site.

CSS – Cascading Style Sheet – this is used to create style formats for web sites. These formats are used throughout the web site to give a uniform and consistent look.

Domain/URL – this is the name of your web site. You lease a name for one or more years. Once you have acquired a domain name you will always be able to keep that name, as long as you continue to pay for it. This ensures that if you build a following on the web, no one can take over that name and steal your traffic.

Mobile Apps – some web sites have a special version that will appear if a user accesses the site from a mobile device (like a smart phone). Generally this is a scaled-down version of the web site and may not be appropriate (or necessary) for all web sites.

SEO – Search Engine Optimization – this term refers to optimizing the content of your web site for search engines. Search engine companies use computer programs to scan all web sites and then they apply various algorithms to the data collected in order to populate the search results for their users. Google continues to dominate the search engine market with around 65% of the market share (Yahoo, Inc. ranks second at 16%). So it’s Google’s standards that you need to worry about.

SEM – Search Engine Marketing – this term refers to search engine marketing campaigns. Things like pay-per-click campaigns, where you agree to pay a specific amount for specific words or phrases that someone might type in a search engine. If that phrase is typed in, your ad will appear in the paid results (for Google that means along the right side). If you ad is clicked you are charged the per click amount you agreed to.

Social Media – this refers to the ever growing wealth of social platform web sites that exist to generate interaction between individuals on the web. Some of the better known sites are Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Google+.

Web site hosting – your web site has to physically reside somewhere on a web server. That is what web hosting is and you pay a monthly fee for that service. The terms of the hosting agreement and what you get for that monthly fee vary. Most often you can save on this cost by paying hosting on an annual basis.



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