We’re hanging out online in droves. It’s the new coffeeshop, the new cool bar on the corner.
Your website has become something of a status symbol, a designer frock, some dapper as shoes and a waistcoat (Ok maybe that’s just my preference…) to swan about in the virtual Central Perk* and make some new Friends.
(*not a typo, Google it if you’ve got no idea what that is. Laugh at my age. I’ll wait here)
If you’re reading this, you’ve realised that as fun as Facebook is (Cute puppy videos and shares that go chain letter-ing around the world) and as pretty as Instagram is (Filters. Perfect lives. Filters.) if you’re going to play the long game in online business you’re going to need a website of your own.
Aint nobody want to be the girl in the corner of the Perk, sipping lattes like it’s nobody’s business, when the Instagram police rush in and tear your dress off because hey, lattes are OUT sista! And also, you used“you”too much in your conversation just then. Not allowed. Off you go in your undies.
Ok, maybe that analogy is slightly exaggerated, but you get my drift. You need a website that’s yours. Your own teenage room with posters on the wall. Just make sure the posters are optimised and have alt tags. (I am such a nerd. Sorry. Let’s move on.)
The 5 building blocks
To create a website who is your star employee, gets the award every month and never wastes time by the water cooler rolling its eyes about the colour of Tara’s eye shadow, here are the five areas you need to ace.
Ok, let’s start with the vegetables people. It’s boring and yuck, but necessary for your health. Good boys and girls.
There are a million and one website builders out there, and it can be extremely hard to choose. Let me tell you up straight what is not important when it comes to your website tech.
The cost of web hosting.
You WILL need to pay cash money. It blows my mind how some business people value their online presence so little, when they pay rent on their brick and mortar shop, or buy lattes for the whole Perk. Web hosting is the rent for your online house/office/shop. Themes and plugins are the furniture. You don’t want the roof to leak and your landlord not give a sh*t, or a sweet new customer sit on a chair only to fall through and bruise their butt.
You can rest assured that the marketplace is very competitive, and companies who charge a fortune and don’t deliver service of equal value won’t last. Don’t choose free. Choose quality. Because you’re worth it your business is worth it.
You will need a system you can learn to use. A website is useless to you if you have some swanky agency build it and you have no idea how to even log in, let alone make any changes. Don’t trust that the agency will stick around, have time to help you ongoing, or even still exist in a years time. Learn the basics yourself.
You will need security. We don’t want to leave the doors wide open to our house and invite Mr. Hacker to have a snooze in our pyjamas.
You will need backups. Make sure that these are usable backups so that if something did happen, you could restore your site from the backup, not just be left with a bunch of files that you have no idea what to do with.
You’re going to need your website to work with a host of other tools. Make sure it’s not going to cost you more to use full features, it shouldn’t. You don’t want to spend months on creating your site to then realise it won’t let you play with your favourite friends.
WordPress is powering a large part of the websites on the web and is my recommendation for your website home. I’m talking about the self hosted .org version where you can add plugins and any theme you like, not the free .com version.
WordPress is extremely versatile, is able to grow with your business and can do pretty much anything you want it to do, apart from handwriting letters to your ageing grandmother. Since it’s so popular, most tools out there make it a priority for it to work with WordPress.
The setup I recommend is the Genesis Framework with a child theme, and Beaver Builder as a page builder for creating custom pages. For web hosting, I recommend WP Engine.
The messaging is quite possibly the most important part of your website setup. So many people make the mistake of thinking that their website is a work of art. It is not. Don’t splatter beautiful colours on that thing and hang it in the hallway, expecting your customers to understand your abstract “Banana with handbag”, exclaiming “Oh yes, this makes me want to buy insurance services. Give it to me already! Where’s the buy button??”
Don’t get smart with your message. Get clear. You want it to be crystal clear from the moment someone lands on your website:
- What it is you do
- How you can help them
- Why they should choose you
Once you get clear on those, make it real easy for people to do what you want them to do. Decide on one main Call To Action, and make sure it’s clearly visible on the front page, in more than one location.
Do’t get me wrong here, I love beautiful design. And I’m not saying your website should look like something the 90’s threw up in a bucket. I’m saying that message comes first, beautiful design second. If it’s not there for a reason, you may want to ask yourself if it needs to be there. Image of a sunset when you sell preschool services? Swap the image for a happy child playing.
Think relevant, and stick to your messaging.
The design of your website should reflect your message. This includes your branding, the fonts you use on the website and the images.
Try to get out of your head when you’re planning the design, and remember that your website is not about you. It’s about the people you want to help with your products or services.
Just because you like an image of a dachshund puppy sitting on a desk with a cactus next to it and a cup o’ joe nicely placed there (Oh did I just describe my image of perfection…?) doesn’t mean that your ideal customer will resonate with it and want to buy pool cleaning supplies from you.
Don’t use feminine script fonts and gold and glitter everywhere if your ideal customer is a middle aged man. And please for the love of all things holy, don’t buy your logo from a site where 57 people fight for your $5 bucks and you end up with 57 versions of a clip art image.
Value your business. I understand starting small and off the smell of an oily rag, I’ve been there. But if you can’t afford to create branding right now, just use a nice font that works for your audience, and leave the clip art butterflies alone. Come back to the branding once you’ve got some cash together. (Hint: We can help you with this bit)
Make sure you have permission to use all images on your website. Either buy them from stock photo websites such as Adobe stock or Shutterstuck, or select free to use, copyright free images from unsplash.com for example.
Use lots of white space. Don’t crowd your message. And Keep It Simple Supercoolhuman.
All the gurus will tell you that every website should have an option for your visitor to leave you their email address. This could be a helpful pdf, a discount code, a recipe ebook, an online workshop, or something else so enticing that your ideal customer is willing to give up their tightly held email address.
You will need a system for collecting these email addresses such as Mailchimp or ConvertKit.
Please don’t have a box on your website saying “Sign up for updates!”. Nobody falls for that one anymore. You need a reason for your visitor to start connecting with you, related to the product or service you offer.
In saying all that, if building an email list is not for you, you are allowed to skip this step. It’s your website, after all 😉
Once your site is built, no road will lead to it. It’s not Rome. Unless you go out there in your hi-vis vest and your traffic cones, waving people in, nobody will stroll past and decide to pay you a visit at your shiny new web home.
Here’s where your old buddies Facebook and Instagram can help you out, spreading the word and bringing their mates over to yours for a hangout.
Writing blog posts about your area of expertise will help you get some eyeballs through from Google search. You’re going to need to give this time. Practice patience like a single mother of five in the Swedish winter, trying to get everyone dressed for the snow… (Try fitting mittens with individual finger holes on a 2 year old, I dare you)
If you’re using WordPress, luckily there’s an SEO buddy in the shape of a plugin called Yoast, that will help you with the SEO basics, for free! I may have a small crush on Yoast. Don’t tell it.
And there you have it! The 5 magical building blocks that make one powerful website supernova.