Having a strong website is the basis of everything that you as a business do online. It may be the first and most significant touchpoint that customers have, and it will do everything from setting the tone of your brand to informing them about what you have to offer.
Knowing how to actually start a website that gets results, however, is tricky. Many businesses either throw something together quickly or outsource the entire process altogether, settling on “I’ll get what I get.”
Being strategic about your goals for your site and prioritizing core elements like the site design and layout to improve the customer experience, however, are imperative and can directly impact your business success.
In today’s post, we talked to Ana Gotter, a content marketer and freelance writer who has helped many of her clients start new websites for their businesses to understand the process she recommends using.
Ana Gotter, Expert Business Writer
Before you do anything (walk away from the WordPress!), you must understand your goals.
“Every business is different,” Ana explained, ”which means the goals for your website— and your entire approach to that website— will all be different.”
An eCommerce business will look very different from a SaaS website, and both will look nothing like the websites that consultants or service providers use to attract and book clients.
“My site needs an About Me, a portfolio, client testimonials, and a contact page,” she said. “A SaaS website also can benefit from a testimonial or case study page, but they don’t need a portfolio; they do, however, need a page breaking down key product features, ideally with video.”
Write down your goals. What do you want to accomplish with your website, and what capabilities do you need it to have? This is your starting point.
One more step before you actually start with the website creation is to have a vision in mind, to the best of your ability.
“A visual brand determines the look that you’re going for, which can directly impact the user’s perception of your business,” Ana shared. “Having a distinct look in mind— or even a general idea— can help you choose a theme well if you’re going with pre-made options or explain to a designer what you’re looking for.”
Do you have a logo? Do you have a desired aesthetic in mind?
An eCommerce makeup brand might opt for a bold or feminine theme.
SaaS brands typically choose clean looks, but they sometimes go for something unique for a heavily branded aesthetic (check out Breadcrumbs as an example of this).
“There’s no one right answer about your aesthetic— it just needs to be true to you. I chose a look that didn’t feel heavily gendered and was designed to be pretty to the point; you weren’t supposed to notice the styling. And on the flip side, I have a good friend who is a talented illustrator with a beautiful site with a soft, feminine aesthetic that kills it with her audience. Both approaches work equally well, depending on what you’re going for.”
Remember that your visual aesthetic will impact the themes you choose, the photos you upload, the fonts you use, and the logo you create.
Your website domain is the name of your website, and it’s easy to see why it’s important to get this right.
“Your domain name should align with the name of your business,” Ana said. “Availability, though, plays a factor. I knew a freelance writer who couldn’t get a website with just her name, so she created a branded agency name to successfully generate all traffic to her site; she made sure to link to that branded name in all of her bylines.”
And as for what your domain name should ideally accomplish, this is the advice Ana had:
The site host and website builder that you choose will depend heavily on the site you want to create and what functionality you want it to have.
A site host and a website builder are technically different, but they often influence each other. In some cases, for example, Shopify is both the site host and the tool you use to create a website. In other cases, you may use a site host (which is the server that “hosts” your site online) like Bluehost or GoDaddy, and then use a website builder like WordPress to build the site you want.
According to Ana, there are a few things you’ll want to consider:
When asked what she chose, she said Bluehost and WordPress.
“A lot of freelance writers use low cost website hosts and builders to just get the basics online. I wanted to choose an option that could scale well for me if I ever decided that’s what I wanted, so I worked with a coworker to develop a fully custom site to meet my exact needs— including a clickable and searchable portfolio and a beautiful testimonial page. If my clients have the budget, I’ll often recommend choosing the option that will scale best over time, because while you can migrate a site to a new host, it can be a huge hassle.”
Most websites have a few core pages that are essential to converting traffic. Almost all websites, for example, have an “About Us” page, a home page, and a contact page as central parts of their site design and overall navigation. This is true regardless of industry or business goals.
Aside from that, the core pages change.
eCommerce websites are going to have different product pages featured prominently. These product pages typically feature categories of products grouped by use case.
SaaS websites often have product pages that detail key features of their single product, which often includes a video walkthrough and images of the interface itself. They’re also likely to have a “case study” page readily prominent in some cases.
An agency website often focuses on testimonials and case studies, along with key service pages that may detail their methodology and what makes them different.
“Consider what information customers need in order to convert with your business,” Ana said. “This will vary depending on what you’re trying to accomplish, and your organization’s specific customer journey. Write down the key pages that you need to move users through the digital sales funnel, and then get started creating them.”
After you’ve chosen your core site pages, it’s time to think about how you’ll actually move users through the funnel you’ve started creating.
“This is always something that I’m intentional about when I’m helping a client set up their website, or if I’m conducting a site audit,” said Ana. “You don’t want to have an About page that has high bounce rates because you aren’t doing anything to direct traffic from one place to the next.
“When we designed my website, we looked at customer behavior tracking data and thought about the common-sense path users would take as they moved through the sales funnel. The first thing a lot of people would do was to read my About page to see if I was qualified, then they were equally likely to review my services as my portfolio, so we featured call-to-action (CTA) buttons to both. And then once users were on my portfolio, they pretty much had what they needed to either decide to get in touch or not, so there’s a link to the contact form there.”
Keep people moving through your site. Well-placed links that consider the user’s stage of the digital sales funnel (and appropriate CTAs) make all the difference.
If you already have a site, look at your site analytics. You’ll be able to see common traffic paths through your site thanks to tracking data. Based on that information, you can use this to determine how to optimize traffic accordingly.
When it comes to site analytics, audience analysis is also crucial. Different audiences will need different information to convert.
“I’ve got some clients who need to hear about my ghostwriting services, and how confidentiality is something I prioritize,” Ana explained. “Meanwhile, my content marketing clients often want my byline attached and want to know if that’s an option. Understanding who is coming to your site can help you optimize it fully.”
"Your site headings will be important,” Ana said. “You want users to be able to find all the information they’re looking for as quickly as possible and to make it easy for them to do so. You can also use headings to suggest content they might not have found otherwise; plenty of SaaS brands, for example, have “use cases” headings that list out different industries that may use their tool with product pages detailing how they can benefit.
“Use that site navigation bar to your benefit, and utilize drop-down menus as needed. This is an easy way to organize your site so that both readers and Google can track the site map, which is a plus. And as a fail safe, always have a strong search function on your site, especially if you have more than a few pages— this can be a game changer.”
If you’re working with a professional development team, take note of their recommendations. They likely have strong UX design experience, which can be leveraged in your favor.
The outline of your site is now in place, so now it’s time to start fleshing it out.
“The theme for your site will determine its overall look and its layout,” Ana said. “This is one of the most important UX decisions you’ll make for the site, so take some time to choose carefully. If you’re going to shell out money for anything, this is a good option— premium themes or paid custom themes are more likely to be supported long-term and have high-quality features that can benefit you.”
Make sure that you’re choosing a theme that aligns with your specific needs and functionality, as well as your overall brand look. Read reviews online to make sure that there isn’t a history of the theme not performing well, and always make sure that it’s mobile responsive.
The copywriting for your website may be one of the more challenging aspects for many business owners.
“Have you ever tried to create a dating profile or write a cover letter for a job?” Ana asked. “Website copy is the same problem. It’s hard to know what to say about yourself that will set you apart. Objectively, we may know what our USP is and our strengths are, but knowing how to convey those in a way that potential customers will respond is difficult. It’s why so many industries will end up with similar messaging.
“Freelance writers, for example, are known for promoting the idea of ‘I’ll do the writing so you don’t have to,’ which is appealing but doesn’t convey their value.”
When writing copy, these were Ana’s best tips:
Once your copy is in place, you can start adding and optimizing your media. This includes all images and videos that you’ll share on your site.
There are a few things that Ana recommends brands keep in mind when starting a website:
You’ve got your site set up, the copy written, and your images uploaded. It’s easy to want to hit “publish” and call it a day, but there’s one more thing to do first: Testing and analytics.
“Set up your website analytics tool right away, before you officially start promoting your site,” Ana said. “You want to ensure that your analytics is accurately installed and working properly so you don’t miss any key customer data. Use a strong website analytics tool with site attribution and customer behavior features if possible.”
She also recommends testing your site thoroughly, even if you feel confident that you’ve double-checked the copy twice. This process includes:
Now you’re at the part you’ve long been waiting for— it’s time to launch your site.
After you’ve had multiple eyes on it and tested it every which way, it’s go time.
As you launch your site, think about a promotion strategy. How are you going to generate traffic to your site?
Ana says that while SEO is a great long-term strategy, it takes a lot of time to build up that momentum and to accrue domain authority. Because of this, you need to have other promotional strategies in place, often including content marketing, social media marketing, affiliate marketing, and paid advertising.
Your marketing team or a third-party marketing consultant can help you here to ensure your success both short-term and long-term.
If you want to start your own website, there’s a good chance that you have all the tools and resources needed to do so. You can hire a specialist web development and website creation team— and if you have the budget, that may be the way to go. But if you don’t, like many small business owners, you can take the reigns yourself.
Remember that even if you choose to do the bulk of the heavy lifting, you can always outsource specific tasks, like copywriting or site optimization. This is a great cost-saving measure that gives you full control over your site while still helping you create a top-quality customer experience that gets you the results you’re looking for.
If you need help determining which projects to outsource— and how to find people who can help— this should get you started:
Ready to keep an eye on your site analytics to see how your new site is performing? Learn how MyTracker can help here!