If you have a business and you require an online presence, you will need some sort of website and it will need some sort of design (layout, colour selection etc). You could try and design your own website but unless you really know what you are doing, this isn’t advisable because your site needs to compete with everyone else’s on the web for the attention of browsers (potential customers).
If you think about a website in terms of a shop, a website is equivalent to your shop window. Assuming that you would make sure your shop window looked good and reflected your brand, it then follows that your website should do the same. As with a shop window designed to attract passing traffic, you only have a few seconds to make a good impression or your potential customers will go elsewhere.
Considering the importance of your website, it isn’t worth cutting corners, especially if the online arena is where you do all of your business.
With web design, you also need to make sure that your site complies with any relevant UK laws such as the Data Protection Act if you collect personal data from visitors and the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard if you collect and process debit and credit card information. Additionally, your site needs to be easy to navigate and accessible to all. If things are hard to find (poor navigation) or if people can’t see the information they are looking for quickly (bad page layout), you will lose them at the click of a mouse.
Obviously, if you have a website you will need it to show up in the search engines because that is the way that most people locate sites. The main search engine is Google because it has the largest market share, but Yahoo!, Bing and others shouldn’t be ignored.
At the design stage you need to make sure that your site is accessible to these search engines so that the search engine spiders (or bots) can crawl and index your site. This involves making sure that such things as frames are not used for anything that you want indexed because the spiders can’t read them. Additionally, images need alt text (alternative text) because the search engines cannot tell what a picture depicts.
Do not make the mistake of designing a site purely for the search engines though. Design with them in mind, but don’t design exclusively for them. Whilst they are very important, it isn’t Google, Yahoo! Or Bing that will buy from you – it’s real people – and they want to land on a site that looks good, instils trust in them and persuades them to do what you want them to.
A major way to get people to do what you want them to is to use a ‘call to action’ which basically tells visitors what to do and how to do it. An example is ‘book now’ positioned in an obvious place on the page, in contrasting colours so that it stands out, with a booking form or phone number next to or immediately below it. People need a site to be clear or they won’t know what to do on it and you will lose a sale.
When you get a site designed, think ahead to the future. You don’t want a design that won’t be able to expand as your business expands. If you may need to add additional sections in later, make sure you design doesn’t constrain you.
Another thing to consider is whether you need a content managed site (CMS) that you can update yourself. The advantages to that are that you don’t need to contact and pay someone else every time you need something updated. These days, CMS sites are easy to use and allow for immediate edits to keep your site current. Adding new content should be very easy to do.
Having built your site, you will then need to promote it, both on and offline so that people can see what you have to offer and buy from you. There’s no pint in having an amazing site that no-one can find. Techniques such as search engine optimisation and PR will help drive people to your site and if the site is designed well, these people should become your customers.