What is a website strategy? How do you build a successful website?
A website strategy is an executable plan. The plan is to make the website fulfill its purpose or objective. Google Search is the most visited website in the world, hence the most successful website. It is also touted as the simplest website in the world. Every element (or the lack of it) serves one laser focus purpose that it does so extremely well – search the web.
From this, we know that a successful website is also purposeful. Purpose is intentional. The only way to achieve that purpose is to have an executable plan, a strategy. A strategy is critical and we will explore strategy for a business website.
#1 – What is a successful website?
As the adage goes, “There is an end to every journey”. A website project is a journey. Having a purpose or objective (we will use this interchangeably) gives you direction in the journey and lets you know when you have reached your destination. So a website project must begin with the question, “What is a successful website?”.
- What is the purpose of having a website? Why do you need a site?
- What do you want to achieve with this website?
- How does a successful website impact you and your business?
- What are the key results? Can you attach a measure, e.g. the number of visitors, and revenue amount?
A website is analogous to distributing a paper flyer. There has to be a reason for conveying a targeted message on a carefully designed sheet of paper that attracts attention and compels a favorable response. Define your website purpose or objective. This is fundamental to the strategy. Why do you want one? Then create measurable key results to the objectives.
A business website must have the purpose of adding value to a business. Hence, it should at the very least, bring in leads or customers.
#2 – Who is your target audience?
Knowing the target audience is often overlooked when designing a website strategy.
Here are some questions you can ask:
- What is the audience demographic, e.g. age, marital status, family dynamics, income range, profession?
- Do you know their psychographics, e.g. interests, hobbies, preferences, favorite blog (& magazine), and people they look up to?
- What assumptions can you safely make about the people that will visit your website, e.g. language, industry knowledge?
- What is their professional status, e.g. management, senior management, decision-maker?
- Are they purchase decision-makers? What are the criteria for a positive decision? What are the roadblocks?
- Are you targeting new or returning customers? Their needs are often different. What are their needs?
When you know your audience and their needs/desires, you will know how to better craft your website’s message.
#3 – What are you offering and how are you presenting it?
This is usually the hardest part of the website strategy process. Imagine you got into the lift and then you are joined by Bill Gates (or Elon Musk). He turns around and asks, “What do you do?”. You have 30 seconds, to summarize your business and hopefully draw his interest to invest in your business or company. What would you say?
Now imagine you have to further reduce from 30 seconds to 5-10 seconds. That’s right! It’s a tagline. That is how much time you have to convince a person to stay on your website and check out more. If it sounds hard, it is. But it is not impossible. Here are 4 simple steps to derive a tagline.
Step 1: Describe the problem
Many business owners will describe their business through the products they sell (e.g. “We sell collectible toys”), and their functional role (“We bake birthday cakes”). That is factually correct but has no relevance or application to the audience. Consider this – a business exists and operates to solve a problem. The product you sell or the service you offer solves a problem. Can you articulate that problem in a single sentence?
If you sell collectible toys, the problem may be ensuring that toys are genuine collectible when there are so many pirated copies out there. If you bake birthday cakes, your customer might be worried about the amount of sugar and boring cakes.
Don’t think from your perspective, think from the customer’s perspective and the benefit they will gain (or pain they will relieve).
Step 2: Describing the value of your solution
The solution to the stated problem is your offering – your product or services.
Product value is often depicted in monetary savings or operational efficiency gains. That is a strong approach. Your product may offer savings of up to 60% or increase operational efficiencies by up to 10x.
There is also another way to depict value by solving the problem. For example, “We offer our wide range of rare, valuable, and certified genuine collectibles toys”. You could also say, “We make delicious and healthy cakes”.
Step 3: Convey the outcome of having your solution
Depict what the customer’s life is like when the problem is solved because they have your product (or services).
In our toy store example, you would get peace of mind knowing your investment is a certified genuine collectible toy. For our birthday cake, you can have an enjoyable and memorable celebration because the cake looks gorgeous and it’s also healthy.
Step 4: Putting it together
The tagline for the collectible toy store could be, “Fake pirated toys are difficult to identify. At ABC toy store, we only sell certified genuine collectible toys so that our customers have the peace in mind that their investment is protected”.
Our birthday cake store could have the tagline, “Kids are eating too much sugar. At XYZ cake store, we make healthy and custom birthday cakes using half the sugar so you can have a memorable celebration without the concern and guilt.”
#4 – Website strategy for launch – How do you make the site known?
Let’s start with some low-hanging fruits.
We highly recommend subscribing to Google Business Profile and making full use of the platform. Think of this as an online Yellow Pages for your business. If a keyword search matches your company name, Google will show your company profile along with its details.
If you also have a brick-and-mortar store, then it is also good to register with Yelp, Foursquare, Google Maps, and other similar platforms. You are giving visitors multiple means of looking you up. Point them to your website.
If this is an existing business, then you have an advantage. You have existing customers. Approach them and let them know you are launching a website. Entice them to visit with a promotional code. If they visit your site and purchase with this special code, they will get a discount or a free gift.
If this is a new business, then it is harder but not impossible. Start with your personal friends. Use promotional codes and get your friends to share these codes with their friends.
It is a good idea to build momentum before launching a full website.
- Create a landing page (i.e. a website with only one page) first with the purpose of collecting emails. Give away something of value to the customer/visitor in exchange for their email address.
- Set up a Facebook or LinkedIn page (or the appropriate social network) to draw people in.
- Create standalone articles on your website and post them on social networks, i.e. they are redirected from the social network to your article on the website. You want to begin driving visitors to your landing page through this article that is shared on the social network.
When you have collected enough email addresses or followings in your social network, then launch the site. That way, you would have built an audience.
#5 – How can you maximize a website visit?
Let’s assume a customer walks into your brick-and-mortar shop and you ask, “Can I help you?”. The standard reply is “No, just looking”. End of conversation. Alternatively, you can say “Is this your first time in our shop?” then whatever the response, you can add “Let me introduce to you our hottest selling product and you stepped in at the right time because there is a special offer!”
The point is this, a visitor is an opportunity. They could be window shoppers but you want to actively give them an offer. This is especially important for an e-commerce site.
There are only 2 outcomes to anyone visiting your website – they either engage or leave. They engage because your product or offer is relevant and appealing to them. Otherwise, they leave. But at the very least, you should instigate the conversation and make the offer. Don’t react to the situation.
You start the engagement via a call-to-action. On a website, this could be a bright button to solicit a response, or even a pop-up just before they decide to leave your website. Make an offer and don’t let them leave without learning the offer. Maximize your opportunity.
Getting a sale on the first visit may be a tall order. A good website strategy to offer a transitional call to action. Ask for something less than a sale, in this case, their email address. Give them something valuable (to the visitor) in exchange for their email address. In that way, you can keep in touch and nurture the sale via email.
#6 – How to monitor and make sense of your visitors
There are various tools to monitor activities on your website. Perhaps the most commonly used is Google Analytics. It is easy to set up and effectively monitor the number of visitors per day, where they are from (i.e. country), how they found your website and even the sequence of different pages they visit.
Number of visitors and length of visit
The number of visitors is greatly influenced by the type of website you build. A blog site could have longer visits but is not as voluminous as an e-commerce website. But if your goal is just to have a static website (i.e. a fixed online brochure or catalog), then you shouldn’t expect too many visitors and their visits are short.
Knowing where your website traffic comes from will help determine if your approach to making your website known has been effective. For instance, Google Analytics will show Facebook as the referrer if people clicked on the promotion posted on your Facebook Page.
More people use mobile devices to visit websites over desktop or laptop computers. But this is not always the case. For instance, studies show that people prefer to use the desktop/laptop when dealing with online customer support. It is important to recognize some devices are less ideal for certain functions. A mobile device has significantly smaller screen real estate compared to a desktop/laptop computer. It also has a different user experience. For instance, there is no mouse-over effect on a mobile device and we commonly see it on a desktop website.
Making a website adjust to different device sizes is called a Responsive Website.
#7 – What is the goal for different types of visitors?
New and returning customers have different needs though they can overlap.
Consider this scenario – you are running a sales promotion in an attempt to appeal to both new and returning customers.
To a returning customer, your strategy may be to promote a customer loyalty program and offer them discounts on their next purchase. Perhaps you want to interest them on higher-value purchases, e.g. upsell or cross-sell.
To a new customers, they may be looking at product reviews or product benefits (or comparisons against other competing products) to help them cross the first sale.
It is important to recognize the different needs and set goals to fulfill them.
#8 – A strategy for your content marketing – Where do I post blogs?
A business website should always strive to show subject matter expertise and competency. A content marketing strategy is a well-proven way to attract people to your website. One way to do this is to create blogs on the subject.
The common question is where to post these articles? Do we do it on the website, LinkedIn or Facebook?
There is no generic answer. It has to do with your broader online strategy but the general rule should be to use a medium that gives you the greatest control. For example, Facebook has regulations on what you can and cannot do on your FB Business Page. If you unintentionally break their rules, Facebook can suspend and terminate your account, and often do it without warning. You will lose everything and reinstating it is highly unlikely.
Hence we believe it is a better approach to write and post your blog on your website, then post the link to Facebook (or LinkedIn).
#9 – What to look for in a website development strategy?
Broadly speaking, there are 3 approaches to building a website – developing from scratch, subscribing to a ready-made website platform, or using an open-source Content Management System (CMS).
Developing from scratch
- This approach provides the greatest flexibility and control over the technology used and functionalities you can build.
- Developing from scratch will likely take the longest time to complete and hence likely be the costliest approach.
- This approach is usually taken if your website is more of an application.
- There is a hosting cost involved. It is usually quite affordable since you have control over the choice of technology to use.
There are ready-made platforms like Squarespace, Wix, Shopify, and many others that are intended for non-technical people to develop their own websites. This approach is the fastest to get up and running. These platforms charge a certain monthly fee that can potentially vary each month depending on your e-commerce transactions, or a flat fee if it is just a static site. Unlike developing from scratch, these platforms work off templates. If the desired functionality is absent, then you’ll have to acquire a separate plugin or live without it. But you will get your website up and running the fastest and easiest.
- Compared to custom development, a ready-made platform provides templated solutions you can use and deploy quickly.
- The platforms are easy to use and often designed for non-technical people.
Using open-source Content Management Systems (CMS) like WordPress, Drupal or Joomla is an in-between approach to developing from scratch and ready-made platforms. These systems are confined to a certain framework (or design template) but are very customizable for technical and non-technical users. They have a very big community that develops paid and free plugins for additional functionality.
WordPress is the most popular CMS. It has 30+ million live websites (36% of global websites), compared to Wix (7+ million) and Squarespace (2.7 million). We prefer it too and here is why:
- It is supported by almost all web hosting companies. Hosting is cheaper than Wix or Squarespace.
- The learning curve is much lower than a programming language but slightly harder than Wix or Squarespace. But its functionality surpasses Wix and Squarespace with its rich plugin ecosystem.
- Time to market – The development time is faster than developing from scratch and comparable to Wix or Squarespace platforms.
- Control – WordPress is extremely customizable, more than the platforms. Customization can come in the form of free/paid plugins or custom development work.
There is plenty of WordPress support. You are not held hostage by the developer or platform. If you are not satisfied with their service level, pack and leave!
Importance of maintaining the website
Maintenance is often underrated in a website strategy. The software used to build the website becomes obsolete or requires patches to fix bugs or security loopholes. The top reasons for a website getting hacked are because the password is compromised and software is not secure or not updated.
Updating a website can be a simple task when everything goes well. But things can go wrong:
- An update can modify the site aesthetically
- Different plugins can be incompatible, rendering errors in the website
- An update can break functionality too
All this is not common but when it does happen, you will need support. But that’s a reactive approach.
A better proactive approach is to engage a maintenance contract with the developer to manage the site. With our Website Care Plan, we always have a sandbox replica of the website to test updates before deploying them. In that way, we deal with issues proactively.
Integrate and automate the website
These days it is quite easy to integrate a website to 3rd party systems. For instance, you can integrate visitors’ email addresses collected from the website to your cloud-based CRM. You can also be notified via email when there is an inquiry. Like our Mustard Tree Technology website, it is also possible to integrate a Whatsapp or Facebook Messenger Lite or an online-chat program. This makes us reachable to website visitors.
If you have an e-Commerce website, either WordPress WooCommerce or Shopify, it is also possible to integrate a cloud-based Inventory system. This will give the visitor an up-to-date stock level.
The strategy to integrate and automate your website processes will save you precious operational hours, reduce errors in processing orders and increase customer satisfaction.
#10 – What to look for in a website design strategy?
Design is often perceived as subjective. In a way, it is. But there are some best practice principles we can adhere to.
Keep it intentional
Different companies have different website objectives. The business objective should dictate the design.
For instance, a hospitality website wants to showcase its first-class rooms and facilities. It does so by displaying full-screen higher resolution images or a video to tour the place. This is intentional for promoting (and selling) the hospitality services. It may come at the cost of a longer load time. That could be an acceptable compromise. Let the business need dictate your design.
Keep it light & optimized
Keep it simple
Keep the user interface simple. Not too long ago, it was a common belief that website interactivity increases website engagement time. It may have been so but these days, most people find website animation annoying especially on a mobile devices. Animation takes time and bandwidth to load and a mobile device has unpredictable bandwidth. It may also require mouse-over triggers to activate. But there is no mouse-over effect on a mobile device. So the visitor misses the information.
It is quite common to employ slide shows on homepage banners. It is generally proven that sliders do not work as visitors will wait to view up to 2 slides only.
As with any project, a website development project must start with a strategy. The strategy should specify the objective and key results. The paper flyer analogy is probably a good way to look at a website. There has to be a reason why you would want to convey a targeted message in a carefully designed sheet of paper that attracts attention and compels a favorable response. Determine when, where, and how to effectively distribute the flyer to your targeted audience. Measure and monitor your key results and adjust your strategy accordingly.
Our web design services have helped companies strategize new and re-strategized existing websites. The website is your online identity. This is a powerful way to generate revenue.