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What should be (but often isn’t) considered before you buy a new website

Published: November 2014

The digital world is still a comparative baby when put up against other major industries. As such, buying a new (or replacing an existing) website can be a step into the unknown for a business owner. Over the years, we’ve seen the kind of mistakes that tend to be made by people prior to buying a new site. This is a short and helpful (hopefully!) guide to what those mistakes are, and how to avoid them.

Why are you creating a new website?

A simple question, which website buyers often can not answer when we ask it an initial meeting. They have a website because you’re “supposed” to have one. They want a new website because their main competitor’s have just had a new one built which looks better than theirs. The result is invariably a website which sits online, is not promoted, is rarely updated, and provides pretty much no value to the business.

Ideally, you, the website buyer, will have a clear idea of what your company wants to gain from a new website before you appoint anybody to design and build it for you. A simple list of goals is all that is required. This could include things such as:

  • We want the new site to create twice as many leads as the previous site did.
  • The new site should reduce the amount of time it takes our admin team to update content.
  • We need a website which looks modern.
  • We need to integrate social media and increase our social media activity.
  • Etc.

Who is your website for?

Just as crucial to the success of your new website is being able to answer this question. Far too many websites are designed to appeal solely to the tastes and user habits of the business owner or, even worse, a team of business owners. To paraphrase a well-known film, the first rule of website club is you do not design your website by committee. The second rule of website club is YOU DO NOT DESIGN YOUR WEBSITE BY COMMITTEE.

You design your website thinking about the users – the target market. Thinking about the following should help you along the way:

  • What type of people will be accessing your website?
  • How will they be accessing your website?
  • What will they want to find when they get there?
  • How will your website fulfill these requirements?

The importance of being usable

Providing a good user experience is integral to good website design, yet it is something which is often ignored. On more than once occasion, we have had a client tell us they are going to have the offline design team they work with provide us with a design for their new site, or their new site will be designed by themselves, internally. This usually results in web pages which look great, but do not provide any sort of path or journey for the user to take.

My rule-of-thumb in providing a great user experience is a very simple one: “Don’t make the user think.” If your user is confused, or hesitates over any element on your site, even if only for a split-second, then your site is not providing a good user experience – all those split-seconds quickly add up. Usability errors which we see made most often are:

  • ‘Clever’ page titles. Users have certain expectations of what pages on a site will be called. The company information page will be called ‘About’ or ‘Who we are’, for example. Calling it anything different risks user confusion.
  • Pages without calls-to-action. A link encouraging the user to get in touch/make an enquiry/make a call/go to a page should be related to any piece of content.
  • Pages which contain too much information. You don’t need to cram your page full of everything you want your user to see. relate and link content together in an intuitive manner will result in an easy-to-follow user journey.
A user testing group is a great way of determining how usable your site is

A user testing group is a great way of determining how usable your site is

What your website says

The digital world is a one of multimedia but, at its core, the web is still about text and the words you use. Users read the text on your website and search engines use your on-page words to decide what your site is about and how relevant it is to what a user has searched for.

Keyword-stuffing (the practice of stuffing a page with all the words and phrases you want Google to relate to your website) is now a big no-no and is likely to do more harm than good. However, a pre-build overview of what sort of information will be on your website will allow you to create an effective content plan which will cover the main key phrases uses buy buyers of your services in search engines.

Look at your competitors

Once you know what sort of key phrases you would like to appear highly in search engines for, look at the websites which are performing well for those phrases. What are they doing that you could replicate? What is their user experience based around? Could it be improved upon?

Looking at your most successful online competitors can influence the strategy you employ for your new site.

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