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Featured Post: Make a Winning First Impression Online

First impressions matter. Here are five tips for how to impress people with your online presence from the start.

A Successful Website Starts With A Strong Foundation

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Many business owners react with apprehension at the thought of building a website. This apprehension often stems from not knowing where to get started. To help you make the process as easy as possible, we've put together this post to help set the right foundation for success.

A NOTE ABOUT MARKETING PERSONAS

Before you do anything to market your business, the first and most important step is to understand who you're in it for.

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Your website should create a personalized experience for your customers - no one else. This creates a feeling of exclusivity and encourages long-term brand loyalty.

To do this, look to your marketing personas. If you haven't created marketing personas, also called buyer personas, it is something I highly recommend. It will help you be intentional and specific with everything you create to market your business.

WEBSITE HOSTING OPTIONS

When you build a website, the first thing you need to consider is where you will host it and who is going to build it.

One important thing to keep in mind is this: If you set up your own hosting account, you get access to the features that the hosting provider offers. This may include a mail exchange server to set up branded email addresses, FTP access to your site files, and more. If a company buys your domain on your behalf, you may not get access to these features.

Different hosting providers offer different services. Research before you buy to ensure that your choice will provide long-term benefits. If you have questions that can't be answered with an online search, you can always call customer service.

Some top hosting providers include GoDaddy, HostGator, DreamHost and SiteGround.

Let's look at three options when it comes to choosing your web host:

They buy, they build

If you hire a company to buy the domain and build/manage your site, chances are they use a specific company to host all the sites they build. Generally, the company will buy the domain and also host it (and the website) on their servers.

Should you go this route, I highly recommend asking them if you will own your domain.

When you part ways with some companies, they will claim that they own your domain. This can cause unnecessary spending and may even force you to change your branding. And nobody wants that. Make sure you can take your domain with you before you join any company asking to build your site.

If you do part ways with the company that built your site, you can have the domain transferred to your own hosting account, which will need to be set up prior to initiating the domain transfer.

You buy, they build

Let's say you purchase a domain and hosting package and hire a company to build your site for you. Once the website is ready, you need to update your Domain Name Server (DNS) settings to show the site. This essentially tells your domain to "point" to the server where your site is located so that it shows up when someone visits your URL.

You buy, you build

If you're confident in your abilities to build your own website then more power to you! It's a good idea to do some research before you build anything. There are certain design trends and features that work well in certain industries and with certain demographics.

Knowing what works and what doesn't before you start building your website will save you a lot of time and effort.

THE GROUNDWORK FOR A SUCCESSFUL WEBSITE

Buy the right domain name

Your domain name, also called a URL, is a big part of the first impression people get from your site. Here are some things to consider before buying a domain:

● Brand your domain. When you include your brand name in the URL, it helps users immediately associate your website with your company.
● Include keywords if possible. Keywords in your domain name will help your website to rank for the keywords you include.
● Make it short and memorable. Make it easy for people to remember your domain name so it's a breeze for them to get back to your site.
● Get at least the .com and the .net. These are the most common top-level domains and owning both gives you options in the future and reduces the chance of domain scalping (i.e. buying a domain and reselling it at a higher price). You can simply redirect the .net to the .com if you aren't planning on doing anything with it right away. You can also buy.biz, .info, and/or many others.

Use a tool like GoDaddy's domain name search to see if your desired domain is available.

Get an SSL Certificate

At some point, you may have been to a website that had a URL like https://www.domain.com. Notice the "s" after the http? That means that the site you are on is secure - traffic is protected by an SSL certificate.

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There are many benefits to an SSL. If you are going to sell anything on your site (now or in the future), an SSL certificate is required. This ensures the payment card info processed on your website is secure and can't be stolen.

Beyond compliance and security reasons, an SSL helps you establish trust with your users by showing that you take an interest in the security of their information. Learn more about SSL benefits here.

Consider what features you need

"Features" refers to the functionalities of your site, not the design.

For example, if you want to sell something you will need an e-commerce solution. Perhaps your business is appointment- or reservation-based, in which case you could benefit from having an online scheduling or reservation feature.

Before the development process begins, make a list of the things that you need on your site. Knowing what features you need ahead of time will make the development process smoother for everyone involved.

Decide on your site's design

Your site's design is just as important to your users as it is to you. When you prioritize user experience through good design, it tells people, "your time and experience matter to me." People love that!

One thing to keep in mind is that not all layouts and designs will resonate with all audiences. Do some research on successful websites in your industry. What are the similarities?

This checklist will get you on the right track when making design decisions:
❏ Your tone caters to your audience (i.e. serious, funny, professional).
❏ You have one or two primary colors and one contrasting accent color.
❏ Your logo is easy to see and links to your homepage.
❏ Whitespace (empty space around content) draws attention to important elements.
Typography makes your content easy to scan.
❏ Calls-to-action (CTAs) are easy to see and use.
❏ Your site is mobile optimized.
❏ Your site loads in two seconds or less.
❏ Supporting images are used in conjunction with text.
❏ Your contact info is clearly displayed.

Use content to deliver your message

Written content is the lifeblood of your website. It is a significant part of what search engines use to decide if your website is relevant to a search term.

Consider this when you're creating the content for your website: when users arrive on your site, what is their intent? Google strives to match users with websites that satisfy their user intent.

What exactly is user intent? According to Search Engine Watch:

"It is the reason why someone is searching for something in Google. What are they actually trying to achieve as a result of typing (or saying) that search term? Traditionally, the intent has been categorized as either navigational, informational or transactional, although some like to use different terminology such as 'to buy something', 'to do something', 'to find something', 'to learn something', 'to go somewhere' and so on."

The following tips will help you create content that attracts people to your site:

  • Pick keywords before you start writing. Knowing which keywords you want to target before you start writing means you won't have to go back and make updates later.
  • Use headers to make content easy to scan. Headers break up large blocks of written content and make it easier for users to find what they are looking for. And since search engines don't read everything on your site, header tags (through) are a simple way for search engines to put your content in context.
  • Use keywords in headers and paragraphs. Search engines use the headers in your content to know what your pages are about. Including keywords here will help you rank for the terms that are important to your business. Use keywords in paragraphs to reinforce the relevance of your content.
  • Make your sentences and paragraphs short and easy to read. Unless your audience is full of lexicographers (people who compile dictionaries), it's best to use words that are easy for the largest amount of people to understand. For example, don't use "utilize" when "use" will work just fine. Check the readability of your content here.
  • Include optimized images. Use relevant images to break up text content and make your page easier for users to digest. This improves the user experience by providing a variety of visual content to supplement written content. Optimize images by adding alt tags. This makes them accessible in image searches and to users who use screen readers or have images turned off.
  • Avoid "thin" content. According to Google, "thin" content refers to pages with little to no original content that don't provide substantial value to users. Thin pages can land you a swift manual action from Google, which will show up in Google Search Console.
  • Keyword-rich URLs for new pages. There will inevitably come a time where you will need to add a new page to your website. When you do, be sure that your URLs contain keywords that are relevant to that specific page. For example, if you are adding a new page about your team, your URL might be: www.domain.com/about-companyname-team.

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You might have noticed that I didn't mention the keywords meta tag. Why? Because the meta keywords tag is severely depreciated. To be more accurate, the keyword meta tag is useless. This is because all of the major search engines, including Google, Bing, and Yahoo, no longer use them as a ranking factor.

SEO is an ongoing project

Business owners often think SEO is something that you set up once and that's that. Not true. SEO is an ongoing project.

The items covered above will give you a good SEO foundation you can continue to build on. Whether you already have some SEO value built up on your domain or you are just starting, it's never too late to establish a good SEO strategy. For more info on SEO, check out this post.

Don't miss out on the data

Set up Google Analytics and Search Console. This is one of the most beneficial things you can do to ensure the long-term success of your website. Google Analytics will give you all manner of insights into your users and how they interact with your content. Search Console will help you understand how your website performs in Google search.

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I know what you're thinking: "I don't have time for all these fancy analytics and stuff." Trust me. Although you may not see much use for it now, setting it up and letting it collect data will ensure that you have a gold mine of information to work with in the future.

The best part about both of these tools? They are completely free!

The choice to make data-driven decisions is what sets apart successful businesses from the other guys. And you're not the other guys.

AN ENGINE NEEDS MAINTENANCE

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Your website is just that - an engine. An engine that generates leads at all hours of the day. An engine that sells your products even while you're on vacation.

You wouldn't let the engine of your car fall into disrepair. So don't let the engine of your business fall into disrepair either.

Run regular audits (bi-annually) to ensure that your website is healthy and strong. You will need to keep SEO on your radar, make sure that your content is still relevant, and check that your site's infrastructure (the code and all that wizardry) is still functioning properly.

Implement strategies like user surveys to get feedback from your audience. Getting feedback directly from the source is invaluable.

WRAPPING UP

Whether you're getting ready to launch your site for the first time or you are rebuilding an existing one, these same principles apply if you want to be successful.

Pick the right host, build your foundation, and commit to the unending pursuit of serving your users. Now you can start your website project with confidence and come out with a beautiful, functional site that accomplishes the goals you have set for your business.

Still have questions? Leave them in the comments! We are happy to answer them for you.

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Ian Plumlee is the Senior Marketing Coordinator at Mopro. He has over seven years of experience helping businesses use the power of the Internet to achieve business goals and drive favorable (and profitable!) customer action.

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