These days it seems as if the entire world is on the Internet, as it’s hard to find an individual or organization that doesn’t have a significant web presence. It’s only natural, then, for business owners to launch an Internet site of their own as part of their marketing strategy. Given the enormous amount of domains accessible from Google, it’s easy to underestimate the difficulty of assembling an attractive, functional website—many businesses, large and small, have successfully assembled and maintained Internet sites, so how hard could it be? But make no mistake: Without a carefully constructed plan, a company’s website might encounter any number of catastrophic problems. In the case of an e-commerce site—that is, one where a business sells its products and services—the potential for disaster is even greater, due to the added burdens of processing credit cards securely and managing orders in a timely fashion. With these considerations in mind, here are some tips for maximizing your website’s chances for success.
- The first step in the process of developing a website is to create a strategy. This involves asking a few simple yet vital questions about the nature of the prospective site.
- What is the audience of the site? Teenagers? Young adults? Parents? Educated professionals?
- What would the experience of browsing the site be like? Entertaining? Informational? Is it intended to sell merchandise, solicit donations, or provide a forum for communication?
- What course of action will site visitors be prompted to take? Will they be presented with goods for purchase? Will they be invited to participate in a membership program?
- Finally, what features must be on the site to address all these factors?
It’s also important to differentiate the proposed website from competitors on the Internet. Whatever your website does, it should provide a unique experience; it must offer something—goods, information, communication platforms, or other features—that can’t be found anywhere else.
As part of your branding strategy, be sure to choose an appropriate domain name for the site. Ideally, it should be memorable and unique—a name that people can remember without having to look it up on Google, and one that will not be easily confused with another. Moreover, it’s a good idea to purchase variations of the domain name, including possible misspellings. This keeps other entities from purchasing them and putting up sites that will attract visitors who are trying to find your company. If these names aren’t secured, then it’s even possible that cybercriminals will use them to set up phishing sites that snare sensitive data from your customers. Fortunately, domain names are inexpensive, so you can purchase many at a reasonable cost.
You will also need to perform a market analysis to ensure that you are in tune with current trends. Know your audience, and know your audience’s tastes, preferences, and habits.
It’s also essential to put together a schedule for implementing the website and its various features. Your plan should be flexible enough to provide room for unavoidable delays and mistakes. In other words, your plan should account for the fact that matters may not go strictly according to plan. This process must include calculating a budget for the website. Internet sites vary widely in the amount of resources used to maintain them—you must know which site features are essential, and which you can do without if necessary. For example, do you really need a publicly accessible message board? The answer, of course, depends on the nature of the proposed site.
The final step in mapping out a plan is to find a suitable hosting partner. How do you know which service is best for your particular requirements? Try to find one that can provide the services you need and can react appropriately to adverse events, like a DDoS attack or a sudden surge in Internet traffic. Do they offer dedicated servers or only shared hosting? Do they supply managed web hosting with 24/7 support? Do they provide guaranteed uptime? Communication is paramount—your partner should be willing to respond promptly to any concerns you may have, at every stage of the process.
There are some important technical considerations that must be explored before the site goes live. One of these is to ensure that the development server is in sync with the production server—if this isn’t so, you could run into major problems with incompatibility. Also, the site should be on the same hosting network where the production server is found; this will prevent data loss and reduce the likelihood of errors in the file transfer process.
The demands of search engine optimization (SEO) should be accounted for. To ensure the best possible search engine rankings, the design of the site should accommodate the optimization process. It’s important to remember that periodic Google algorithm updates may significantly alter these rankings, making it essential to be able to make necessary tweaks and adjustments with minimal hassle. SEO is an ongoing process.
To thrive as an Internet presence, a site must have certain functional characteristics that make it an enticing destination on the web; for example, it should:
- Load quickly and reliably
- Be adequately responsive to the visitor’s actions
- Be protected by up-to-date cyber security measures
- Be easy to use
- Feature a lot of relevant quality content
- Be visually attractive
Make sure that these considerations are addressed before launching the site.
Now that the website is live, it’s time to analyze the results so you have the data you need to solve problems and build your reputation on the net. Examining your site analytics is an important step in this process; this will allow you to see how much traffic your site receives, including which specific pages are most—and least—popular. On e-commerce sites, analytics can help uncover problem areas, such as a particular shopping cart page where consumers tend to abandon the site before completing a purchase. In fact, difficulty with the online shopping cart is a common problem for many e-commerce sites, and it’s an issue that directly impacts a vendor’s bottom line. If a specific feature like this seems to discourage further customer participation, analytics can point it out.
Studying website reviews will also highlight potential problems—as well as those features that are working well. Some unhappy customers will never send a complaint to a business with which they are unhappy; instead, they post a negative review on a third-party site. Try to open channels of communication with customers; among other benefits, it may dissuade them from publicly airing their grievances and damaging your reputation.
Above all, it’s essential to avoid inertia. The success of your Internet site, particularly if it’s an e-commerce site, depends on your willingness to remain open to change and keep up with trends—or even create new ones.