What to put on a website: Online business basics

(This is the sixth article in my Online business basics series. You can find links to the other posts in the series on this page: Online business basics)

Your mind is buzzing with great ideas for your business. You’re ready to create a fabulous website to showcase the exciting things you do.

But where on earth do you start?

This post is going to look at the structure, layout and graphic design of your new website. To find out about where and how to get yourself a website, see my post: Setting up an online shop: Pros and cons of each type

Pages/features your website needs

First of all, there are a few basic features that pretty much every website should have:

  • Home page – www.mywebsite.com
  • About page – to tell your visitors about you and what you do.
  • Contact page – with your email address, postal address, telephone number and perhaps a contact form.
  • A blog – not essential, but a great idea because a regular flow of new content will keep both customers and search engines interested. (Take a look at Business Blogging for Beginners for more on this.)
  • ‘Follow me’ – links that take your visitors to your Facebook and Twitter pages.
  • Shopping cart/payment processor – how you sell your product
  • Testimonials – positive comments about you, your product or service.
  • Photos/graphics – to make it look good and show them what you’re selling.
  • Legal stuff – privacy policy, terms and conditions and website terms and conditions (see the Business Link website for more info if you’re UK-based)

Other pages/features you might like:

  • Freebies – if you have a free e-book or a place to order free samples, you could put it on another page
  • Recommended resources/ links – links to other website that you recommend (these could be affiliate links or just ordinary links).
  • Mailing list and a page where you can send people who want to sign up.
  • A video – Upload it to YouTube and it could bring in visitors from there. Plus it could help visitors to your website connect with you if they can see you talking to them.

When you’ve chosen your pages you’ll need to put something on them! Here are my top tips for copywriting, design and layout…

Copywriting tips

Here are some tips to help you write the copy (words) on your new website:

  • Use the word ‘you’ more often than you use ‘I’ or ‘we’. Visitors to your website will want to know what you can do for them.
  • Speak to one person. Even though you’ll have more than just the one visitor, write as if you’re writing to one person, not a crowd. For example, avoid “some of you might like…” and instead use “you’ll like…”.
  • Make sure you have a call to action on every page. What do you want you readers to do at the bottom of the page? Pick up the phone? Sign up to your mailing list? Ask them very clearly to do what you want them to do, for example “Call us now on 01234 123123”.
  • Don’t just fill white space with words. Make sure every word is there for a reason. It’s tempting to copy and paste blocks of text in from your brochure or a press release just because you don’t know what else to write. Some white space will make your pages easier on the eye anyway!
  • Always keep your readers in mind. What do they want to know? What do they want from you? What are their problems? How can you help? Write your copy around this rather than around what you do.
  • Include keywords. Make sure each page includes a sprinkling of keywords so that the search engines can work out what it’s about. Make sure the page still sounds natural when read by human visitors, though.

Graphic design tips

I’m the first one to admit I’m not a graphic designer! In fact it’s the first job I outsourced when I started creating e-courses online. But a little design knowledge is far better than none at all, even if that just means you know your limitations and when to call in the experts!

The web is a very visual place and an amateur-looking design will make visitors click off your site in a split second. For that reason, you need to think very carefully about your design skills and whether you should ask graphic designer to create a logo for you. If you think of all the effort you’re going to put into your business, turning people away because you didn’t want to pay a graphic designer could be a huge false economy.

If you do decide to do it yourself, here are my tips (many of these are useful when describing what you want to a designer, too):

  • Get to grips with a basic graphics programme such as GIMP (which is free)
  • Learn about basic colours, shades and tints. You’ll save yourself hours trying to work out if the colours you’ve picked go together.
  • Use only a couple of colours plus (say) dark grey and white. Also, use only a couple of fonts and make sure they look very different. E.g. one clean, plain font like century gothic (the one in the Business Plus Baby banner) and another twirly one that looks like handwriting.
  • If you use stock photos, use good quality ones and check the license to make sure you’re using them appropriately.
  • Don’t try to be too clever. Keep it simple.
  • Avoid design features that make your site look like it’s from the nineties like scrolling text and annoying flashing graphics.

I highly recommend The Non-Designer’s Design Book if you’re doing DIY design.

Layout tips

Or what to put where! This will be different for every website and you need to think about what your visitors will want when they get to your website. (Even better, ask them!)

I’ve been working on a new project lately and I listed what goes through my head (in the this order) when I discover a new website:

  1. Does it look good? (ie professional graphic design, layout etc)
  2. What does it do? Who is it for? Can I find my way around? Do I understand the purpose of the website? So this is where the good, relevant copy and the calls to action will come in.
  3. Can I get something useful/entertaining/of value from it? Has it got good, relevant content and/or products?
  4. Does anyone else I know hang out here or like it? At this point I might glance at the about page and look for testimonials. I also check the Twitter and Facebook pages. Or notice any awards they’ve won.
  5. Who is behind it and do they know what they are doing? If I’m then thinking of making a purchase I’ll look at the about page in more depth and check things like: do they have a mailing address? Do they have terms and conditions and a privacy policy? Does their shopping cart look professional?

Now, this is just me! Feel free to drop me a comment with what goes through your mind when you arrive at a new website, too. But my point here is that a) you have just seconds to give the right impression, so it’s worth giving your layout careful thought, b) think about it from your visitors point of view, not your own and c) if you miss out one of the steps you may well lose the visitor before they get to the shopping cart.

Branding

All of the design, layout and copywriting elements on your website need to be working together to communicate a consistent message. That message is your brand. I’ve only mentioned branding at the end of this article because it’s hard to ‘get’ how important it really is until you’ve thought through all the elements we’ve covered above.

But to give you a place to start, think about that message you want to get across. An accountant will want to come across as professional, maybe even a little conservative, but also approachable, for example. Is everything about your website – colours, fonts, copy, logo, even the status updates on your Facebook page – communicating that message?

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