Rules for Website Success Part 1: Start Strong

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As a web developer, there are few experiences more gratifying than following up with a client and seeing that their project was a resounding success.  I don’t mean that in the sense that it’s nice to know we wrote good code that doesn’t throw any errors, or that we maintained 99.8% server uptime for the past quarter, or that the site we built consistently loads pages in under 600 milliseconds.  

Rather, it is profoundly satisfying to know that we have been able to collaborate with that client and turn their vision into a platform that has helped them to grow and build their organization.  We’ve had clients start with nothing but a new product and a plan for a website, and turn those plans into a 7-figure arm of their business.

I obviously can’t speak to everyone’s experience, but anecdotally I’ve found there are some strong success indicators that you can identify early in the development process, and I am not alone.  Any honest professional (or Boy Scout) is going to tell you that you need to be prepared in order to give yourself the best chance of success building your website.  

It’s been my experience that projects go more smoothly and that the results we love to see are more likely if we, as developers, can help our clients by getting them prepared to succeed in reaching their goals for the website.  If we can help our clients reach the point where they’re able to meet those success indicators before we start the project, our odds of a great outcome go way up!   

In Part 1 of this post, we’ll focus on the keys to preparing to build your website.  Part 2 will look at tips for successful buildout, and Part 3 will discuss how to maintain the site to build on your good work. 


Know Thyself

Then, know thine users

You’re going to be fighting an uphill battle on any sort of marketing or branding campaign if you’re not being true to who you are as an organization.  What are your core services?  What are you good at?  What is your competitive advantage? 

Businessperson giving a presentation to colleaguesI’ll often frame these questions together under the umbrella of an elevator pitch or a “Shark Tank” pitch.  Take 30-60 seconds and tell me why your service or your organization is the right fit for me.  The high points of that pitch will often form the core of the content structure of a site.  We want to connect you with the sort of customers who share your values and will benefit from the things you have to offer.  If we’re still having trouble nailing down an exact angle, there are plenty of resources we can find on the web to help us determine your competitive advantage or figure out your core services.
Next, we always want to make sure we can answer the question, “Who is your audience?”  Usually, that’s an easy question to answer, but it always pays to make sure.  We may find that the quirky corner shop wants to expand on their niche appeal and market to a slightly broader audience.  Alternatively, we may find that they’ve overextended, and are spending valuable marketing dollars chasing a segment of customers that aren’t turning into business.     

That question is almost always followed with, “What do your audience/customers think of you as an organization?  And is that what you want them to think about you?”  A crucial aspect of our job is being able to help set expectations and color perceptions, so that our clients are able to put their best foot forward.  If you’re a large company with interests mainly in business-to-business sales of physical assets, you’re not going to be served well by a marketing push that makes you look like a couple of 20-somethings building an app at the WeWork in San Francisco.

Knowing who you are and who you want your target users to be gives you a solid foundation that we can start to build on.  Once we have that foundation, we can actually start planning the site itself.


Keep Your Eye on the Ball

A little focus can take you a very long way

Once everyone is certain who you are, and what your core offerings will be, it’s time to make a decision: we need to figure out the ideal end-game scenario for a user interacting with the website.

Chalk diagram of target with lightbulb held over bullseyeThe more specifically we can answer this question, the better the website will end up serving the client’s needs.  For example, it’s good to know that we want to drive more leads through the website for our subscription service.  It’s great to know that we want to guide leads to fill out the contact form, instead of calling or emailing you, because the contact form feeds to the CRM, which is the nerve center for your entire marketing effort.  

Similarly, it’s good to know that we want people to sign up for the service online.  It’s great to know that all of our efforts should be focused on getting people to sign up for the free 1-week trial, because the best indicator of success in converting a potential customer into an actual customer is using that trial.

Make a plan and execute on it

Once we’ve established that ideal scenario, we want to build your entire website in service of that point.  You want your users thinking about your product, not how to navigate your site.  You want to answer the obvious questions they’ll have (check out items #3 and #4 at the link).  

We don’t just want to casually mention that you offer a free trial.  Every page of your site should include a link that says “Click here and sign up for your free trial”.  Then, tell them what they get out of the free trial!   

The knock-on effect of this laser focus is that it gives us better tools to evaluate whether your website efforts are actually working.  If we just splash a bunch of information on a page, and then try to measure how many more people joined the organization since the site went live, there are basically too many variables to count.  Driving all traffic through to a single signup form for a free trial doesn’t just make it easier for your web developer to plan the site, it helps you find the weak links in your marketing chain.

If you know that the core of the site is your trial signup, you can evaluate every piece of the site in terms of its contribution to that goal.  That focus may not hand you all the answers, but it gives you the right questions to ask. 

Are you losing users once they get to that page?  Maybe your form is too complicated, or you aren’t doing a good job explaining the benefits of the free trial.  Are you having trouble getting people from your home page to your signup form?  You need to test some alternative calls to action to see if they’re ineffective.  Or maybe they’re hidden, or don’t naturally flow from the rest of the content that you are seeing. 

Well, that's it for Part 1 of this post.  Now you have some tools in hand to apply to the planning stage of building your website.  Check out Part 2: Build Like You Mean It and the upcoming (and as yet untitled) Part 3 to learn about how you can contribute to the website buildout process and how you can help maintain your website once it goes live!
Edit: Part 2 is now live! The conclusion of this article has been adjusted to reflect that.

By Ben Jacoby on 02/21/2018 8:30 AM

eLink Design is a national web design, application development, SEO, and business consulting firm, founded in 2001 that specializes in custom solutions for over 800 clients around the country. With this blog, we hope to provide insights into what we are working on, areas where we think we can help shed light on problems we hear, and sometimes just cool things we have come across.

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