Web Design Lessons Learned - Forum.web.com
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Web Design Lessons Learned
22 April 2010

Web Design LessonsWeb.com has a long history—dating back to the late 1990s—of helping small businesses promote themselves on the Web. In 1999, for example, Bill Clinton was president, most of the world dialed up to the Internet, and people used search engines like Lycos® and HotBot. Although technologies have changed and players have come and gone, we’ve learned that some elements of Web marketing remain the same.

We’ve refined those best practices over the years . . . and we use them today for our do-it-for-me (DIFM) product offerings, where we start from scratch and build a Web presence for our small business customers. For many of them, this is their first Web presence, so we not only build and promote their site, but we also coach them on the best practices for marketing their business on the Internet. And we’ve applied those same principles to our most tenured clients, many of whom have been with us since the Clinton White House days.

Over the years, we’ve worked with hundreds of thousands of small businesses. And as a result, we’ve learned some valuable lessons that can help other small business owners launch their Web presence and succeed in the online marketplace. I’ve summarized three of those lessons here, and I think you’ll find the principles useful when you apply them to your own website activities.

  • Lesson #1 . . . At Web.com, we have great website designers and great Internet technologies, but we don’t know the ins and outs of our customers’ businesses. That’s why we interview them in detail to make sure that we gather the critical and relevant information we need to build their websites. We’ve learned that websites that are rich in content and convey that information in a way that excites or engages a visitor will win the most traffic. This pays dividends in terms of search engine rankings and in terms of visitors who come to your site “kicking the tires.”

    So be generous with good factual information about why you’re the best plumber, dentist, or candlestick maker on the Internet. We’ve learned that many of the most successful customers are the ones who convey their strengths in a way that convinces people to do business with them. Conversely, we see websites that may have superior offerings, but they garner less business because their website fails to communicate that strength, so they’re passed up for competitors who understand how to resonate with their website visitors.

    Conclusion for Lesson #1: Tell your whole story. Don’t be modest about conveying to potential customers why they should choose your business over your competition. Tell them what do you best, what you sell the most, how qualified your employees are, or why your customers love you and return to do business with you again and again.

  • Lesson #2 . . . As most small business owners know, it takes time to establish a competitive Web presence. And if you’re establishing yourself online for the first time, your site will be competing with businesses that have been doing many of the right things for years.

    With new websites coming online on an hourly basis, search engines like Google™ have to sift through all of the sites and determine which ones have done the best job and deserve to be on the first page of the search engine results page (or SERP). This is not an overnight process, and as much as we wish it were true, there is no such thing as a magic Google button that we can push to place a website on the first page of the search engine results.

    As I mentioned in Lesson #1, the first step you should take is to create a content-rich website that accurately reflects your products or services. Once your site is launched, the search engines will “acquaint” themselves with your site and determine the best initial ranking for it. Over time, if other websites place links to your site on their sites, your ranking should gradually improve. But again, this is not an instant process. Generally speaking, the highest ranking websites are usually the most tenured and trusted sites that Google has crawled over time and has recognized as well-built websites with natural links that appear on other websites.

    Conclusion for Lesson #2: Be patient. Over time, your website should attract more customers and gain higher search engine rankings as it matures and becomes a known and trusted source of information. The more competitive your business, the longer it can take to generate business, because you’re competing in a crowded space that most likely includes a pack of Internet-savvy marketers. The more competitive fields inevitably require more patience and work.

  • Lesson #3 . . . While many of our customers have been wildly successful when they market their own sites, we’ve found that a marketing relationship can benefit an online business by fast-tracking some of the early “hard-earned lessons” of self-marketing. We know how trying the economy can be on large and small businesses, and we know that many businesses are trying to accomplish more with less. Running a business is difficult under the best of circumstances, and it’s even harder when a business attempts to do everything on its own.

    Having an online marketing partner who can produce verifiable results and bring in needed customers (translated as “revenue”) can greatly benefit a small business that’s moving at full gallop and needs that additional edge to succeed. We’ve seen many small and large businesses falter, not because they had an inferior product or service, but because they lacked the marketing skills to attract enough business to grow and survive. A good Web marketing relationship should be one that measures your return on investment and produces bottom-line results. Measurements can include the number of website visitors, phone call inquiries, online store sales, or people walking through your door.

    Conclusion for Lesson #3: Find a good marketing relationship that will benefit your bottom line and free up your time and resources so that you can run your core business more effectively.

If you’d like to learn more about how our products and services can help your small business grow online, call our team in Jacksonville, Florida, at 1-800-GET-SITE. You can also visit our website design section to review our DIFM, do-it-yourself (DIY), and custom website offerings.

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  1. How do I start to design a website? What steps could I take to learn Web design?

  2. Good questions. If you’re a small business owner and you need a website for your business, then the fastest way to launch a site is to sign up for a do-it-yourself (DIY) program. The better DIY offerings include an easy-to-learn design tool, template selections, hosting, email, logos, SEO submissions, and live customer care support. Bare-bones-design-only tools are also available. If you’re interested in taking the DIY route, you can consider our DIY offers.

    On the other hand, if you’re looking to learn website design as a designer, you have a myriad of paths to consider, ranging from advanced university-level degree programs to the yellow-and-black dummy series of books. (I highly recommend the dummy series to quickly ground someone in the basics of website design or any other topic.)

    Design standards and technologies are constantly changing, and there are a number of design languages and tools that a professional designer must know, among them HTML, JavaScript, PHP, Linux/Windows operating systems, etc. Additionally, a designer should be well versed in copywriting, current search engine practices, eCommerce applications, and social media.

    Local community colleges are a great starting point for stand-alone design and programming courses as well as 2-year degree programs.

    Good luck!


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