Have you ever run into an online competitor who seemed like an immovable object – the proverbial rock you just can’t break?
That’s not the position any of us want to find ourselves. And yet, it isn’t that uncommon for us to meet with business owners who feel very discouraged by what they’ve seen when trying to figure out the secrets of a competitor’s web presence. Whether the competitor is down the street or halfway around the world, Google can pit you head-to-head with them again and again. If their foundation is strong enough, it’s going to be difficult for you to break through.
There are two things that have to be pointed out about these types of challenges, though. The first is that no business is ever completely out of reach online. With enough time, effort, and expert advice, you can rank your website alongside any other. That’s particularly true if you’re not trying to take on Amazon, CNN, or another international entity.
The second thing to remember is that, as discouraging as it might be to find yourself chasing an entrenched competitor, it can be a wonderful feeling to find yourself out in front. That is, when all the other businesses in your category are chasing you, great things happen. In fact, many of them will be too discouraged even to try to catch up. Even better, once you’re out in front, it’s easier to stay there.
With all of that in mind, we have decided to sit down and compose a quick, step-by-step guide to building a web presence your competitors will hate. Whether you’re trying to make up ground on some other businesses that are more established than yours or leave the rest of the field behind on Google and social media, the process is the same.
Let’s look at what you can do to give your business a huge advantage and leave your competitors in the dust.
Plan Your Site Carefully
You see this step in almost all our posts concerning website development, and it is for a reason! If you build a $500,000 house, would you do so without a house plan? NO! Plan your website project; it is your business’ first impression with potential clients and many times your only opportunity.
But who are your customers? Where do they live and what are their concerns? Why would they decide to work with you instead of one of your competitors?
Before you can create a great website – much less an intensive internet marketing campaign – you have to have a plan in place. That’s easy to overlook when you want to start seeing new designs or thinking about online sales. But, the more painstakingly you are thinking about what your site will be, how to impact your business, and which audiences you need it to impress, the better the finished product will be.
Planning doesn’t mean you have to spend weeks, or even days, planning your website. However, you should come into the process equipped with some defined intentions. For instance, you’ll want to be able to say whether your site is going to be set up to generate online sales, or geared towards phone calls, email inquiries, or even walk-in visits.
In the same way, you should have a sense of whom your website’s target market. Obviously, it’s going to be designed, coded, and written for your company. But who are your customers? Where do they live and what are their concerns? Why would they decide to work with you instead of one of your competitors? And just as importantly, who else might have input on the decisions they make?
Exploring these kinds of issues beforehand can help you shape your design and content. Additionally, it can lead you towards a site map that makes sense for what you’re trying to achieve. For instance, a website with the purpose of attracting business-to-business sales appointments is going to look a lot different than one that exists for a small town retail shop. The differences won’t just be static, either. One might focus on information and cost-benefit analyses, while the other could highlight location, pictures, and hours of operation.
The previous example is broad and simplistic, of course, but the point is that you and your creative team should have a definite plan for your website. You should know which ideas or pieces of content are most important, and how you are going to lead your most valuable customers and prospects to them. The finer points of a perfect web design don’t happen by accident. They are the result of careful planning and deliberate effort to not only create pages that look good but also support the underlying company.
Positive Impressions Start With a Great Website Layout
For some business owners, thinking about the aesthetics of web design can be a little bit tricky. For one thing, everybody’s taste is a little bit different. What looks great to me might seem less impressive to you. And for another, it’s easy to become so focused on the visuals that you forget about the functionality of your website, which is just as important (more about this in a moment).
Just as you wouldn’t put a broken door on a new house, you don’t want to detract from your beautiful new website with low-quality images.
Despite all of that, it’s undeniable that the look of your website is massively important. If you don’t have a professional layout with good fonts, sharp images, and lots of white space, then your site is going to come across as cluttered, confusing, or low-quality.
For that reason, you simply can’t dominate on the web without a visually-pleasing web presence. All the content, conversion plans, and built-in features in the world won’t change results if people feel like your pages look amateurish.
The easiest way to get a great website, of course, is to work with a talented design team that shares your vision. They’ll develop not only a layout that catches the eye, but also one that perfectly matches your business, customers, and marketing personality. In other words, it won’t just be a website that looks good, but one that is well-matched to the image you want to convey.
From there, it’s important that you invest in the right visual elements. That doesn’t mean you have to spend a fortune above and beyond what you’ve budgeted for web design. Instead, make sure your design has a modern logo, along with quality photos of your team, office, and products. Just as you wouldn’t put a broken door on a new house, you don’t want to detract from your beautiful new website with low-quality images.
Another thing business owners and other web design clients should remember are that less can sometimes be more. There can be a temptation to load up a site with so many images, plug-ins, or blocks of text that it’s difficult to discern one element from another. Even with concerns about search visibility, menu structure, and conversion goals, you should make a clean interface one of your top priorities.
Most web design clients understand that they need pages that look great. As you get into the bigger process of selecting features and marketing your web presence, don’t forget how important visual first impressions can be to your success online.
Don’t Forget Your Online Engine
As we’ve mentioned, business owners tend to pay a lot of attention to the design aspects of their websites. However, when it comes to coding, content management systems, and features added through plug-ins or custom programming, they are less interested.
If the layout of your website is like the paint on your car, then the underlying code is the engine that runs everything.
That starts with choosing the right content management system. Currently, WordPress is (by far) the most popular platform for building a new business website. However, that doesn’t mean it’s automatically the best choice for your business web presence. Depending on what you need to accomplish from the perspective of marketing, e-commerce, data collection, or other business-related outcomes, it might make more sense to use a different platform. In fact, you might even consider a paid hosting and content management system that automates some of your sales and customer services.
That’s not to say that WordPress isn’t great, however, or that you should spend money on a marketing platform you don’t need. It’s just a reminder that these are big decisions that have longer-lasting effects on your website and your business as a whole.
In the same way, you should refer to your website plan and have a great sense of what you want your pages actually to do. The more you know about their function, and how they’ll fit into your business, the easier it is to explain to your web development team what you need. Then they can add, build, and test different features that make your website more powerful.
Imagine for a moment that you could automate things like subscriptions, event registrations, and customer service interactions. How much time and money would that save you every month? Suppose you could increase your sales 15% across the board simply by taking advantage of renewable ordering features? That kind of improvement might be possible using apps that already exist.
If the layout of your website is like the paint on your car, then the underlying code is the engine that runs everything. You want to discuss your options and choices with your web design team, and to have them ensure your pages function just as impressively as they appear.
Make Your Content Stand Out
As important as the design and functionality of your website are, at some point your messaging has to resonate with buyers. If it doesn’t, all the images, keywords, and plugins in the world aren’t going to generate sales for you. Your website has to say something that makes a visitor add an item to their shopping cart, pick up the phone, or walk into your office or retail location.
Assuming your website does its job, visitors to your site are eventually going to get past the visuals and start paying attention to the text.
Every business owner understands this on some level. We all read articles and research shops or vendors online every day. Still, a lot of clients underestimate the power of good web content. They know their buying decisions are affected by copywriting but feel hesitant to invest time or money into it.
Whether you decide to compose your web content or hire a copywriter to do it for you, make sure your strongest selling points come through loud and clear. Otherwise, you’re going to miss one opportunity after another. When visitors first come to your site, they are going to be impressed (or not) by what they see. The visuals, menus, and other aesthetic items are going to stand out.
Assuming your website does its job, visitors to your site are eventually going to get past the visuals and start paying attention to the text. At that point, they have to know what separates you from your competitors, why they should keep reading, and what the next step towards working with you might be.
Additionally, you probably already know that content is important from a search engine optimization standpoint. If you want Google to send customers your way, then you need to have content that is rich with keywords and terms your buyers tend to search often. Moreover, your website content must include those keywords in a way that feels natural and persuasive, rather than being forced.
Perhaps the easiest way is to consider how you feel when you arrive at a search result and find the messaging isn’t on target. No matter how good a page might look, you probably leave right away if it doesn’t seem relevant to your needs or concerns. You exit the website even faster if there are lots of typos and grammatical errors.
As a business owner, you can spend time developing the web content for your site, or explain your unique selling propositions to a professional who can help you put your best ideas forward. Either way, it’s critical that your web content stands out for the right reasons if you’re going to separate yourself from the competition online.
Generate a Successful Launch
There is a common misconception outside of the web design industry that a new website design once approved can be launched quickly. That sometimes happens, but a good website launch is usually a lot more thorough.
And finally, all new business websites need to be examined for any pressing security issues before they go online. It goes without saying that you don’t want to leave doors and windows open for hackers, virtually-speaking.
There are both technical and marketing reasons that the release of a new website is a big deal. On the coding end of things, it’s important to remember that most business sites have an underlying content management system (again, like WordPress), but also feature numerous different 3rd party plugins. They may even have bits of custom coding installed especially for the company.
Each of these needs to be tested extensively before the website can go live. Plugins and custom code need extensive testing, or you could find out that one website function conflicts with another. Or, you could discover that something on a website doesn’t work with a particular browser or mobile device. Either way, you would find yourself dealing with a mess that was highly avoidable.
Another reason to test a website before launching it is to make sure things work intuitively for customers who will be coming to the site later. If testers (or even members of your staff) have trouble navigating from one page to another, it could cost you sales or walk in visits later.
And finally, all new business websites need to be examined for any pressing security issues before they go online. It goes without saying that you don’t want to leave doors and windows open for hackers, virtually-speaking. Unfortunately, that can happen if you aren’t careful about vetting and updating the software installed on your website.
Beyond that, the launch of a brand-new website is a big deal from a marketing perspective. It might be part of a fresh branding effort or just the front end of a new initiative to bring buyers in from search engines and social media. Either way, you’ll want to get together with your creative team to brainstorm a few fun ways you can announce your new website. It’s not unusual for businesses to see a sizable bump in sales just after putting a new web presence online. The more excited you are about your website, the more enthusiastic your customers will be, too!
Promote, Promote, Promote
Website work is not complete just because it goes live. In fact, it’s more the end of the beginning then it is the beginning of the end. That’s because a modern website needs to be promoted – aggressively and continuously – if it’s going to stand out.
To give yourself a huge lead over your competitors is to begin laying out your plans when you first envision your website. Get together with your creative team, talk about the kinds of buyers you want to win.
Earlier, we made the comparison between a website and a new car. Think of content, ads, and revisions like the fuel that drives your site forward, bringing more and more customers your way (and in the process, increasing the return on investment you get from your website).
Or if you prefer the raw numbers, consider that there are roughly a billion different sites online right now. That’s increasing from at least 950 million at the beginning of 2017, according to conservative estimates. With that kind of competition, it’s going to take something special to stand out.
Naturally, you aren’t in competition with every other site in the world. But, you should be trying hard to win visitors through search engine optimization, social media, and internet advertising. Each of these marketing channels has its strengths, weaknesses, and best practices. That’s why it’s important to find the avenues that work for the buyers you need to reach, and the resources your business has.
The best way to develop a winning promotional strategy, and to give yourself a huge lead over your competitors, is to begin laying out your plans when you first envision your website. Get together with your creative team, talk about the kinds of buyers you want to win (and how you want to turn them into customers) and then outline a series of small steps that will lead you in the right direction.
Your outline will usually involve regular content updates, weekly or bi-weekly email newsletters, and social media posts from a dedicated business account. Individually, none of these might seem like a very big deal. Put them all together, though, and you have the formula for a combustible mixture that makes it difficult for buyers to miss or ignore you.
For website articles, we invite you to check out some of our other blog posts or call for a free consultation. The main takeaway for this moment is that your marketing plan should begin at the same moment your website plan begins, and it should continue growing and evolving for as long as you stay in business.
If you take the mindset that you’re going to build things up, get ahead, and then stay out in front through continuous effort, you’ll be positioned to succeed on Google, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and any other platform your customers prefer. Remember, your website results correlate directly to what you put into your website.
Refine and Improve With Analytics
Although we’ve already touched on the notion that your website should keep growing and evolving, it’s important to note that this process shouldn’t happen in a random, haphazard way. Instead, you should use what you learn about your market and competitors along the way to keep getting more and more efficient.
While we certainly recommend you get familiar with some basic web analytics on your own, you should also be reviewing statistics and strategies with your design partner at regular intervals.
Luckily, there is an easy way to extrapolate the conclusions you need: by digging into your web analytics package and getting familiar with the statistics you find there. A lot of business owners are turned off by this prospect because they think it will involve lots of complicated terms and reports that are hard to understand.
You certainly can go off the deep end when it comes to web analytics, but that’s not necessary. By simply looking for the trends in website visits, traffic sources, the time visitors spend on your pages, and so on, you’ll start to develop a picture of what is and is not working on your website. You’ll recognize which pieces or areas of content are appealing to buyers, and which don’t seem all that compelling to them.
Additionally, while we certainly recommend you get familiar with some basic web analytics on your own, you should also be reviewing statistics and strategies with your design partner at regular intervals. Knowledgeable web designers are familiar with website analytics and should able to dig deeper into the statistics on your website. While you’re watching developments on your website, they are going to have a sense of what’s going on across the broader internet, or at least the dozens of businesses they’re working with at the moment.
Put these internal and external reviews together, and you’ll have a way to keep an eye on what’s happening – both within your company, in your market and across the internet as a whole. You’ll be able to key in on trends within your industry and stay on top of best practices.
Your website and its marketing tasks are never complete. The most profitable online marketing campaigns change from one quarter and year to the next. As long as you’re using analytics and expert advice to keep refining your approach, you’ll never sink into the trap of getting stale or falling behind the competition.
Ready for the Next Step?
In this short guide, we’ve laid out the steps you need to follow to develop, launch, and grow a website your competitors will hate. Of course, that knowledge isn’t worth anything unless you take action.
If you are ready to share your brand-new business with the world, or feel like it’s time you started getting to know more customers, maybe you should reach out to a member of our creative team today. We’ll be happy to sit with you, talk about the challenges and opportunities you’re facing, and develop a custom plan.
Either way, we hope you’ll find the information in this articles to be helpful and look forward to seeing what you can do to bury the competition online!
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About Glenn Brooks
Glenn Brooks is the founder of WebWize, Inc. WebWize has provided web design, development, hosting, SEO and email services since 1994. Glenn graduated from SWTSU with a degree in Commercial Art and worked in the advertising, marketing, and printing industries for 18 years before starting WebWize.