So You've Got a Website - Now What? Crucial Advice for Small Business Owners and Start-ups...
Congratulations - your website is live! It may have taken weeks, months or even years (I hope not) of blood, sweat and tears to get to this point, but you made it. You and over a billion* others worldwide. Not feeling so special now, eh?
Well done for getting the site live, but this is where the real fun starts.
After all, what’s the point in having the most well-built site, if no one knows it exists?
Many businesses spend a lot of resource on their website build – from choosing the relevant software and suppliers, to ensuring that their website is functional. Where they come unstuck is getting traffic to their website, and getting this traffic to do whatever it is their site is intended for (sometimes they build a site without even KNOWING what the PURPOSE IS – which is a topic for another day..)
And at this point, they all ask the following common questions –
- Why can’t I find my site on Google?
- Has anyone else found my site on Google?
- Why has no one contacted me / given me their details / filled in my form / bought my products? Delete as appropriate
The simple fact is, just building a site and making it live is NOT enough. If you want people to find your site and then DO something when they arrive (whatever it is), you need to nurture, develop and above all monitor it. It’s a bit like giving birth (less blood, sweat and tears), once the site is born, it is your job to help it grow and ultimately prosper.
And here comes the tricky parts – you have no money to spend, barely any time to devote to this digital stuff AND you don’t know what you’re doing. The first bit of good news is, there are a LOT of things you can do with very little budget (okay you can always do more with oodles of cash, but like most small business owners, you are probably looking to conserve spends as much as you can).
Good news part two – it doesn’t really matter too much if you don’t know what you’re doing – yes there are some fundamental rights and wrongs (like with child rearing – i.e. keep them fed, watered, safe and loved) BUT a lot of digital marketing is trial and error – YES it is, despite what “experts” may tell you. This is because technology is changing all the time, as are your customers’ needs and expectations. What was acceptable and produced results in the digital environment last year, may wane and become obsolete within the next 6-12 months.
Finally, don't be afraid to "fail" – you need to take calculated risks by testing and adapting – learning from your mistakes is the best way to survive and grow.
That said, a lot of small businesses don’t even have the confidence to start this process – they need someone to help them plan and map out a digital strategy, as well as to show them how to keep people coming back to their site, time and time again.
Whatever position you are in, it’s handy to have an idea of what you can do before you ask for help – here’s a short guide to some of the fledgling steps you can take once your website is live and ready for action.
- Road testing
Your website is live, you have probably looked at it thousands of times (if not I suggest you do this IMMEDIATELY - and not just the homepage, I mean the whole site).
So, you’ve looked at your site on your laptop and you’re ready to go.
Have you looked at your website on different devices? And using different web browsers (Internet Explorer, Chrome, Safari, etc)? No? Okay, go and do that now, before you read on.
Right, by now, you will be sick to death of the site and wish you never have to see it again. No? Well, you either have a VERY small website (i.e. hardly any pages) or you haven’t done it properly. In which case, come back to me when you can’t bear to see the damn site again.
Okay, now is the time to get another pair of eyes (more if possible), to take a look at your site and give you feedback. You could even get them to complete a certain task – something you would ideally want your traffic to do when they reach the site – and give their feedback on how well it worked, what needs amending/improving, if anything. This is the snagging process, and it’s essential if you want the site to be the best it can be before you actively drive traffic to it.
Hopefully, there won’t be any major issues at this point, it could be that you start a list of areas you want your developers to work on, and prioritise them by cost, ease of fix and impact they will have on your business objectives.
- Search engine visibility
Now your site has been reviewed, refreshed and is ready for the world.
It’s time to make sure that your site is visible to search engines and that it is fully optimised to give it the best chance of being ranked in a good position (i.e. at least top 5) on the first page of Google.
You eagerly type a relevant keyword phrase into Google and wait to see your site listed on the first page. Hmmmm… it’s not there. Go to page two… Nope. Give up after page 3 – realistically, how many times have you gone past page 2 when looking for something? Don’t panic, provided your site has been built properly, there is work you can do to improve your position – it will take a bit of time, but this is one of the best opportunities you will have to get your website seen for very little (if any) £.
The first thing to realise is that Google is always on the side of the user – even though they make a fortune from their advertisers, ultimately, Google’s success is about giving the user what they want. This means that over time, Google learns which sites are providing a good, relevant experience to their users, and which sites users do not engage with.
And Google can only know what your site does if you tell it – which means using keyword rich content – i.e. the wording on your site should clearly explain what the site provides and why the site exists.
This process is known as Search Engine Optimisation (SEO), and is not to be taken lightly. Your developers should be able to guide you as to how to ensure your site is “Google ready”, but here’s some things to prep in advance:
- Write a list of the top 5-10 phrases you think users would search for in order to reach your site (it could be many more than that, but start small to make it achievable in the first instance)
- Search these phrases on Google and note where your site is positioned in the rankings – if at all. This way you will know if you’ve made any improvements through the SEO work you do
- Look at which sites ARE ranking well – what are they doing that makes their site feature higher than yours? Is there anything you could mimic or learn from?
- Review the copy (content) on your site – does it include the keywords you want to be known for? If not, how can you expect to be found when someone searches for them? Think about HOW you respond to this and what is the MOST RELEVANT way to include them, so that you give users a GOOD experience? There is NO point in just including nonsense paragraphs including your keywords (believe me, people do this) – not only will users bounce immediately (probably never to return) BUT Google will note that users are disengaged with your site, and initially penalise you (i.e. lower your rank) and if you are really seen to be misleading/confusing users, you could be blacklisted – don’t mess with the big G!
- There are quite a few other technical-ish bits you can do to improve your visibility on Google – if you are not experienced in using the back end of your CMS (content management system i.e. where your content lives), I would urge you to speak to your developers and ask them to help either guide you or suggest where you can improve your site from an SEO point of view. Failing that, you can always seek external support to help you with this process
Budget £0 (if you don't need extra help)
All being well, your site is working and is being FOUND by actual people (not your relatives and friends – they are probably bored of your site by now, let’s face it). These people could be future customers, heck, some of them may already have got in touch, or even purchased something – in which case – yippee!
Now, wouldn’t it be interesting to know just how many people are coming to your site each day, week, month, etc? AND what they are doing once they are there?
If you haven’t done so already, you need to install a website analytics package. And guess what? The good people of Google have a tool for that. Yes, Google Analytics is free (for average trend based stats rather than exact usage figures, which you would have to pay for or use another paid-for supplier) and gives a pretty comprehensive view of your site traffic.
To set it up, your developer (or you) will need to add Google Analytics code to your site (all pages) so that when a visit starts/action happens it can be monitored.
One thing to remember is to exclude the traffic generated by you/your team – this will skew your traffic stats and make your site seem more popular than it actually is (the truth may hurt but there is no point living a lie..) To do this, you will need to find the IP addresses of devices that access your site, and your developer can remove them from the analytics package.
Metrics you will be able to measure across customisable date ranges:
- Number of page views/impressions (pages loaded on your site)
- Number of users/visitors
- Number of visits made by visitors
- Sources of traffic – how did people find your site? Was it through Google, direct, a referral, social media, an email?
- What content are they looking at (or not looking at)
- How long are they spending on your site – good gauge of how engaged users are, and also whether they left immediately when they visited a page (this is known as a bounce and an average bounce rate is calculated – the lower the better)
This is just the very basic stats – as you can imagine, there is tonnes are data you can look at and use to develop your site. The key factor is to not get too bogged down in these numbers – there is no point in making detailed dashboards, if you a) don’t understand what you’re looking at and/or b) don’t take action from the results you see.
Over time, and probably after a couple of months, you should start to see that your site is getting more traction and you are starting to meet the objectives you set out to achieve before you built your site (remember that carefree time?)
If you are still not getting any traffic OR the traffic you are getting are not doing what you want them to do, then it really is time to set aside some budget and time to investigating what the potential issues may be.
Google is great for suggestions of how best to build traffic (not only PPC using Google Adwords, but also advice from other small business owners that have already conquered these issues) so there is no harm is having a look at what others have tried.
If you’ve tried that and frankly, the thought of attempting any of the ideas is terrifying and you just want someone else to take responsibility for this monster you have created, then you may need some additional support for guidance.
*Official website stats can be found here.