What does it take to build a brand’s website?
This article seeks to clarify the misunderstanding that websites are easy! At BSLLC, we are specialists in B2B strategy, branding, and marketing, so this article will be most relevant to companies who fit within that niche. (Clarification: we won't be talking about e-commerce today.)
C’mon. How difficult can it be?
Small to medium-sized brands (and companies) are often committed to building their websites on their own rather than seeking an external specialist (like us at BS LLC) to do it. However, it's interesting that many of our clients express no small amount of surprise at just how multilayered and complex building a brand-bolstering, lead-generating, customer-converting, and work-showcasing website can be.
So if you and your internal team are white-knuckle-dedicated to taking on this Herculean task, perhaps this blog will accomplish one of two things: help you to avoid common mistakes — or persuade you to give us a call or shoot us an email.
ONE: Get your priorities straight
What exactly do you want this website to do?
It should go without saying that your website should accomplish numerous goals:
- Increase brand awareness
- Product or service differentiation
- Demonstrating proof of effectiveness
- Increasing your visibility
And much more (talent attraction, content marketing, lead conversion, oh my!).
However, you must prioritize the most important functional aspects of your site. What does your brand need most of all? Lead generation? Education about your product, service, or general topics related to your customer’s needs?
Understanding the most critical “functional specs” for your business will help you with the remaining steps. Defining your website’s priorities should be done in collaboration between sales, marketing, and senior leadership. It’s a matter of synthesizing your brand’s values, specific differentiation, and path to purchase, and making these characteristics customer-facing.
TWO: Review (or start) customer and industry research
It isn’t about you; it’s about your customers and their needs, questions, and tensions
If we at BSLLC were designing your brand website, customer and industry research would be among our top priorities. What is your current brand authority? (And if you're not already familiar with the term "domain authority," don't worry, you soon will be, especially if you're undertaking this build on your own!) Customer and industry research seeks to answer a lot of key questions: What tack are your competitors taking digitally with regards to traffic and demand generation? What information sources and influencers do your customers turn to? What are the current trends, economic realities, policy effects, and other macro details affecting your industry right now? How do your customers currently talk about and process their needs, specifically, the ones you purport to solve?
It is absolutely essential that you have a clear and actionable approach to each of these questions as you build your site. If you don't, your site could appear aimless, random, confusing, or self-serving to your customers when what you're after is a more direct experience: customer search, brand discovery, brand engagement, and brand purchase.
THREE: Build the scaffolding!
Get a winning domain name, a supportive hosting provider, and a platform you can work with
This step may not sound sexy. In fact, being choosy among available options might not even sound all that important. But the choices you make here will determine how easy it is to deploy your site, make changes, and how easy it will be for customers to find you.
Your domain name needs to be short, easy to remember, aligned with your brand tone, distinct from competitors, and have a domain extension that is appropriate to your industry (“.com” is usually preferable to “.net ,” “.co ,” etc.).
Take your time in choosing a hosting provider. It's not just the about price, it's mostly about great technical support, security (cannot be overstated for businesses of any size) services that help you provide web features your customers need. If you're doing this on your own, you need technical support that is available 24/7/365 and with an online interface that's easy for you to navigate.
Additional hosting considerations should include: Is the hosting provider ideal for your web development platform? How much traffic do you intend to receive? Does your hosting provider offer flexible resources? Do they integrate with a content delivery network (or CDN?)
Check with others in your industry to see where they've had successes and frustrations. At BS LLC, our preferred hosting providers include Siteground and Kinsta. Both platforms are optimized for WordPress.
Content Management Systems (CMS)
There are many so-called “Content Management Systems” out there, such as WordPress, Joomla, WIX, Squarespace, and others. Our advice to the "do it yourself" company is to choose the platform that offers a balance of features required for your business and a user interface that is appropriate for your skill level. If you don't have experienced web or tech-savvy staff, WordPress, for example, might not be the right choice. A more modular, theme-driven approach like Squarespace or WIX may be a better fit.
Note: if your business needs are specialized or there are a lot of back-and-forths in the customer journey requiring downloads and interactions, data-basing, or dashboards, you might require a flexible CMS, such as WordPress or even something more customizable. Be prepared to bite the bullet and hire a dedicated web designer and developer. With larger, more complex sites, your needs may additionally call for data analysts, project managers, platform consultants, animators, product experts, SEO experts, and more.
FOUR: Pound that positioning!
Communicate your differentiation clearly, up front, and often
Remember the first two steps, setting priorities and good research? If you've done that well, you'll understand how you're different and how you should talk to current and prospective customers alike. Once you have isolated the most essential topics, customer needs, and how you should address them with language and imagery, you want to make that differentiation loud and clear throughout your site. The watch-out here is to avoid designing an overly clever or design-rich website that leaves people wondering what your value might be. Put it out there simply and clearly by, for example, making sure that an "About" page is always easily accessible no matter where a user is within the site.
FIVE: Design the site so it feels like working with you, live
When a company or brand thinks about "designing a website," this is the step they think of and where they often (foolishly) start. However, as we've tried to clarify in this post, there are lots of steps that need to be done before you can think about where graphics or videos, or text go on a page. But now that you've done that work, the next step isn't making it pretty, the next step is laying out the flow. This is called "User Experience Design," or UX for short.
During this phase, you will establish communication priorities and ultimately define the pathways your customers and audience members should take. Remember that not all visitors to your site will or should take the same path. Where should a customer who seeks information about products go? Where should a customer who wants to make a return or post a complaint go? Where should a customer go to learn more about how to use your product or service? And finally, what content should you post that has nothing to do with your product or service but everything to do with your customer's day-to-day life? What about potential employees, investors, or members of the press?
The user experience should "feel like your brand." If a customer were to meet with you and your teams live and in person, what would that interaction sound like, feel like, and, yes, look like? Will you feature explainer videos? User-generated content? Reflect the latest of your social media posts within your site? Build trust with your current and potential customers by understanding the kinds of content they expect.
Once you’ve worked through the blueprinting phase and you’ve decided where every piece of content will go and where every button and CTA will take your users, it’s time to apply your brand identity to the scaffolding, the photography, videography, animations, illustrations, and keyword-rich copy (see below!) to the empty blocks in a process referred to as “User Interface Design.”
This is the art and science of website design. It is based on a deep, intimate understanding of your customer. If you don't know what success feels like from your customer's perspective, it's impossible to recreate that success on your website.
SIX: Get found!
SEO! - Deserves hiring a specialist!
Search Engine Optimization is an ever-changing arms race. You don't have to have a career-building websites to have heard the phrase "Google’s algorithm." In fact, every social platform (you'll want to connect your brand's social platforms to your website, of course) has its own algorithm. Understanding how they read and prioritize information has a direct impact on how you create content for your site and its visibility.
SEO also directly informs how you will create digital advertising to bring people to your site. Backlink development, accessibility, site title tags, on-page keyword strategies, dynamic landing pages—the layers of complexity are mind-boggling if you're not used to it. You'll want to have positive reviews that bring people to your site, quality backlinks on external sites that have content similar to yours, your images will need to be optimized to load quickly, and you'll want to have tools that everyone creating content for your site can use to ensure they are using the best keywords. As we stated before, if you don't already have SEO expertise within your company, this is an area we highly recommend you consider contracting from the outside.
SEVEN: Make a plan to keep content current
Websites are never “set it and forget it,” they are living organisms
Many companies still believe they can create a compelling homepage, products page, about us page, and contact us page and call it a day. Nothing could be further from the truth. Successful websites are constantly updated with robust, new, and relevant content that your customers are seeking. A rich mix of photo and video content is necessary in today's digital marketplace in order to be found and considered relevant. And then there is the matter of tonality. If your company has multiple people generating content, how will you ensure that the brand voice is consistent? You'll need some type of editorial process to vet and approve everything before posting.
EIGHT: Measure and adapt
Learn how to read analytics
Digital media is often lauded as a way to maintain a conversation with your audience. To have a conversation, you have to listen. Listening tools for your website include Google Analytics, Google Search Console, and other third-party tools (such as SEMrush) that help you understand what customers are doing when they come to your site. Perhaps even more critical, these tools help you understand what customers want so that you can develop that content for your site. Measuring, testing, and, yes, experimenting is all part of the conversation.
“But how long will it take and how much will it cost?”
It depends. (You knew we were gonna say that…)
The question of time and money all depends on that “functional spec” we mentioned earlier in this article. What you want the machine to do will drive how it’s engineered, and we’ve done our best to show you that websites are truly engineered beasts (friendly ones, anyway).
We can begin to answer “how long” by looking at the current state of your digital infrastructure. Do you have a site in place now? If so, what is its domain authority? (There’s that phrase again.) Specifically, how much equity does your current site have? Any new work will want to build upon rather than erase all the SEO, trust, and brand familiarity you currently enjoy. In terms of brand architecture, are we adding a product or service to a sub-brand? If you don’t have a current site, obviously, more time will be needed, but that will be mitigated by how well-defined your brand identity is and how current your customer and industry research is.
For a small-to-medium business that has never had a website, has little research, and requires little burden on the “technology stack” (think live video, apps, chat, etc.), it’s possible to have a good foundational site up and ready to build upon in as few as four months. Meanwhile, we’ve developed brand evolutions to existing master brand sites that have taken 12 – 14 months, thanks to multiple brand integrations, numerous stakeholder sign-offs, research that includes internal and external interviews, broad product offerings, and complex SEO equity that absolutely needed to be preserved.
The cost question is supported by the same prerequisites: what exists now, and what needs to be created from scratch? How much brand definition and current research will support the decision-making process affecting the user experience? We’ve created beautiful, functional, business-building sites for small businesses for costs comparable to doing it themselves, only we saved them the expensive errors, software acquisitions, and learning curve; think breaking the piggy bank in the low tens of thousands. They got peace of mind, a secure and profitable site, and a solid foundation for future expansion. On the high end, we’ve conducted broad research, developed static and dynamic infrastructure, brand development, SEO, and deployment for what you’d expect to pay a newly hired full-time IT Director, only, in this case, the IT Director was free to carry on with their daily duties.
We hope we haven't overwhelmed you.
No, really! Although developing websites is an essential part of our business, the purpose of this blog was not to have you throw up your hands and give us a call. Rather, our post is intended as a broad overview of everything you need to do to develop a website that is more than static content; developing a website in this manner will give you a platform for ongoing interaction, client discovery, and customer satisfaction.
A great website will not only express your brand accurately and compellingly, but it will answer customer questions, inspire them to do new things using your products and services, and give them away to interact with you and your teams in real-time.
Hopefully, you find this stuff as fascinating and as fun as we do. If you'd like to learn more about how we go about this process, reach out. We’d love to see what we could do for your brand.
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