Launching a new website or updating an existing website has its road bumps. No doubt, since Oct 1st you have heard about the problems with the new HealthCare.gov website going live. The topic was, and is still, all over the major networks, newspapers and blogs. There have been Congressional hearings and investigations into what went wrong. Although we may never have a perfect picture of what happened or didn’t happen with the Obamacare website, there are a few things small businesses can learn about what makes a good website from all of this.
It is a bit daunting to take a website live that has millions of people banging on the door to visit, navigate, fill out forms and subscribe. Most small businesses go live with a website and have a few friends, customers, or peers to “test it out” for them. Even then there are steps you can take beforehand to make a good website to go live with!
So what can small businesses learn about what makes a good website?
First of all, set up your website on a solid webhosting company- Just as the foundation of a house is critical to weathering a storm, so is a hosting company to a good website. You need to do your research and choose a company with a solid track record, has excellent customer support that is knowledgeable and nice, as well as a company with a solid 99% guaranteed uptime. No webhosting company is going to be perfect, because no one can guarantee 100% all the time, but do your research and test out their support before you commit. Check out this article if you have more questions about how to choose a solid webhosting company.
What else makes a good website? Time. A good website needs time to be created well. There are different aspects to the creation of a website, from the design phase, to the content creation phase and then there’s the “back-end” technical aspects that need time to be done right.
The Wizard of Oz came to my mind as I was thinking about this aspect of website creation. He had an awesome presence and great design. The Great and Powerful Oz exuded “power and wisdom.”
He even had all the right words. He had great content that captivated his audience in the Emerald City and encouraged Dorothy and her boys to go on a quest for the witch’s broom.
But the “behind the scene” wasn’t so great. There was his flaw. When things behind the curtain are not as strong as your design or content, things can go wrong, really wrong. Especially as you generate lots of traffic and have multiple leads coming through or have little girls demanding you help them get home TODAY!
A major part of what makes a good website is to have all your content prepared. Know what you want to say on your site. Consider how your visitors and customers will need to navigate your website to find the information they are searching for. Gather your resources and create content that reveals your small business’ personality as well as answers your visitor's questions, peaks their interest, and drives them to become a customer. Quickly slapping up some content that was cut and pasted from 10 year old marketing material may not be the best content to have on your website. You need relevant content! Consider using video and images as part of your content along with text. Plan your blog topics for the first few months so you have direction and your content is well mapped out to meet your business goals.
Having all your widgets and plug-ins functioning correctly is definitely key in making a good website. If you have any forms for visitors to fill out, subscription submissions, or even an option to "buy now" on an ecommerce site, Please Please Please take the time to setup all the pieces and parts correctly. Make sure you take the extra time to walk through the whole process from the visitor’s perspective as well as from an internal perspective. Where does the visitor take an action? Who is receiving notifications? How will your sales person or office manager respond to the new contacts? How will your shipping department know an order came through? Sometimes we can get so focused on the technical end of setting up these mechanisms that we forgot the information needs to get into the hands of real people.
Testing, 1 2 3, testing!! As we learned from the Obamacare website, two weeks of testing is not what makes a good website. It was just not enough time or testing for a website that needed to handle the amount of traffic and requests that came pouring in. Reports referred to different pieces being tested individually, but not tested altogether. So what can a small business learn form this: Test the pieces. Then test the pieces put together. Listen to your technicians. If someone says to slow down and test different aspects, do it! A few more hours or days of testing can save you time and energy in the long run.
Oh yeah, and when your site goes live, be ready for visitors to find something you didn’t. It’s like sending in the 2 year old to find all the things you didn’t “baby proof” in your house. Odds are, there will be something and that helps make a good website!
Lastly, be ready to fix it! Have the technicians and support staff available to answer questions and meet needs that arise. We all make mistakes, it’s how we choose to handle them and serve our customers that matters.
For small businesses, having a good website is one of your best marketing assets. Take the time to work through the right steps in the planning, design, content creation and launching phases. And I am hoping you can learn from other's mistakes as to what makes a good website for your small business!