How to improve your business as well

In this day and age, it’s almost impossible to get away with not having a website for your business. Even small, local businesses can benefit greatly from having a simple Web page that provides potential customers with more information. And it’s not a matter of having a website in the first place — your website needs to be built with quality and customers in mind in order for it to be effective.

So how do you create a website — or improve your existing site — that will build up your business? We asked business owners and Web experts to share their advice. Here are five simple tips for achieving online success.

Plan your website thoroughly before you build it

You may want to get right into the creative process, but it’s important to take the time to plan the structure of your site and your goals before you start building or revamping your design.

“My No. 1 tip for creating an effective website is to spend adequate time on planning and strategy at the beginning,” said Anna Stout, owner of Web design and marketing company Astute Communications. “I’ve seen so many Web designers skip the planning process and jump straight into design. By doing this, you end up with a product that might look good, but it doesn’t serve any particular goals.”

By outlining your goals and priorities and mapping out your site architecture first, Stout said that you will create a website that will actually be an effective tool for your business.

“To that same end, creating content first, and designing around that content will allow the business to feature its important messaging, rather than trying to fit its message into an existing design,” Stout said.

Stout’s company uses a 6-step process for each Web project. This process starts with planning, research and goal and priority identification, and is followed by creating a sitemap and user flow diagram that anticipates how users will interact with the business. Then, they consider the customer acquisition funnel, which is how a user moves through the site to a point of conversion, be it a sale or signing up for an email list, for example. From there, the focus is on content development, then the creating of a visual interpretation of the hierarchy of information on the site. The last step is the actual site design.

“Each step of this process informs the next,” Stout said. “Ultimately, by the time we reach the design phase, we have developed the inner workings of the tool that is your company website,” adding that the process eliminates any guesswork.

Track your changes

Just building a good website isn’t enough — you have to sure you’re keeping up with changes, too. That’s why it’s important to look at and understand your site analytics. You can use this information to improve your website and bring in more visitors.

“Measure — that’s the most important piece of advice I can give you,” said marketing professional Sharon Mostyn. “I have been working with websites for almost 20 years now, and with the numerous free and affordable website analytics tools, there’s no reason to make a change to your site and not understand what it impacts.”

First, Mostyn said, you need to decide on the metrics  you want to measure, and then track those over time.

“That can be anything from the number of site visitors, the number of sales, the bounce rate, where you’re ranking in organic search results, your quality score for pay-per-click advertising, or something else entirely,” Mostyn said. “Of course, to get a holistic picture, you should track all of these metrics and more.”

When you make changes to your site, pay close attention to how the metrics change, Mostyn said. You can also try this out in other ways, for example, with a split test.

“If you can, you may want to consider doing a split test before implementing a more permanent solution,” she said. “This allows you to compare results without making too big a sacrifice if the test doesn’t perform the way you think it should.”

The key is to test, measure, optimize and repeat, Mostyn said, adding that you may not even realize how much a simple change can affect business.

“Sometimes, changes that you think will have fantastic results will yield nothing,” she said. “Or the smallest changes may drive major results. One website I manage added a link to a video on the homepage and saw a 78 percent increase in conversions. We wouldn’t have known how that minor change affected things if we hadn’t already been tracking our conversion rate.”