Employer Branding Ideas
London, UK
Employer Branding Ideas
London, UK
A Guide to Effective Company Websites
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Websites have been around as long as emails, and have been declared dead as many times. But they still hang in there and any company does need to have one. How do you design and build an effective website for your organisation?

I’ve had a chat with Keren Lerner to get some answers. Have a listen to the interview on iTunes, SoundCloud or keep reading for a summary of our conversation.

With social, mobile and apps – why do we still need websites?

Well, I guess two reasons. First of all, assuming that your website is well-planned and well-designed, and you’ve written really great succinct copy, your website is where you can express what’s unique about your business. And you can divide up the information in a way that makes sense for how you want other people to experience it. It’s where you can have complete control of how you are perceived.

When it comes to social media like Twitter and LinkedIn and Facebook, they complement the online presence that you have, but they are not something you can completely control. You can’t control the interface. You can’t control if they’re going to shut it down one day, and the content that’s on those websites is not really owned by you or hosted by you. It’s on their servers, so anything could happen.

In comparison to social, websites can be seen as very static. How do you drive engagement on a website?

It’s true. If you just had a website that was what we call a brochure site, then you could just have what they say is static information, that is information that doesn’t change very often. But nowadays, most websites we do include a blog which is the living part of the website where you can continuously update it with stories, and insights, and advice all to help support what you want people to believe about you.

If you have well-written headlines, that will be the reason why people will arrive at your website because you’ve got a blog and you’ve shared your blog articles with well-written headlines, and then once they are there, they will be able to explore, look around, and see what else you do.

The other ways to drive engagement on a website and make it less static is by having compelling messages where you ask thought-provoking questions, you highlight links to pages that answer the biggest questions that people have. And you can always build in the commenting feature that you have on social media sites into websites. You’ve probably seen comments on blogs and on some websites. There’s quite a lot of conversation that happens between people after they’ve read a particular blog post within a website. And you can host videos as well. Videos give a lot of movement and enticement to websites.

What are some of the common mistakes you see that companies make with their sites?

One of the biggest mistakes people make — I’m sure everybody is guilty of this in some respect — is just putting it up and forgetting about it, thinking that your work is done once you’ve launched the website and then not thinking about your website very often. Quite quickly the information on it will be less relevant or out of date especially if you have decided that you will have a blog on your website but then you don’t keep it up-to-date. That’s one of the only drawbacks of having a blog is that you do need to keep it up-to-date. That’s one of the biggest mistakes.

Another one is thinking that you can do it yourself, make your own website when you don’t have any sense of design or attention to detail. You have to be quite honest with yourself on how good you are at that sort of thing. Some people believe that they are better than they are. They are kind of delusional, I suppose. Other people are more aware, but don’t really mind and don’t care about their perceived, and then other people are aware enough to know that they should leave certain bits to the expert and do the bits that are more straightforward themselves.

What’s the methodology for helping a company build an effective website?

We’ve been working on websites for 14 years. So we have a very good tried and tested methodology that works really well. We have a chemistry meeting where we get to know the client and what their requirements are, and in that meeting find out quite a lot about their business, where they are now, where they want to be because it’s not just about the website. It’s about the goals of the person who we are talking to and the goals of the business. The website is supposed to support those goals. If it’s raising awareness or bringing in a new type of client or impressing people or helping you communicate their values, all of those things can be achieved with a well-planned and well-designed website, but we do need to know what it is they want out of it.

Once we’ve got that initial overview and we’ve agreed price for the website, we do a briefing meeting which is more about the brand and the design preferences. So we ask questions like “What are your key messages? What do you want people to believe about you? What are your preferences in terms of images and fonts and things like that? What other websites do you like?” Although we still recommend things for them as well as asking those questions. We ask them a lot of questions and get as much information as possible.

Once we have that information, we then go and work on initial design concepts and set up a meeting with our clients to show them the options that they could go for when it comes to the design. So we usually show them two or three different look and feel designs that usually represent their homepage and maybe one or two other pages. Once we’ve had that meeting, often we do a live design session where they can give us feedback, and in that same meeting we can make changes in front of them, show them how different images might look or if we move things around a little bit according to their feedback.

Sometimes they just want to think about it and think about the different options and sleep on it, and then give us feedback the next day. But usually, from this interactive way of presenting the designs and discussing it, we get a finalised design within the same week of that initial presentation with the changes that they want.

Once we’ve got that approved, we get a sign-off on that. We then design the inner pages of the website, have another meeting to show those, get feedback, make changes. And then once that’s signed off, we get our websites coded by our amazing coders who are really good at sticking to the designs that we designed, and we code in WordPress and put in the text that either the client or copywriter has supplied with our guidance. And then we do final tests and launch it on the intended domain. So that’s the basic process from start to finish.

How long does it normally take to build and launch a new website?

From the first briefing meeting where we know everything we need to know to get started on the design, it’s between one and two weeks to start to show initial designs, and then for tweaks on those designs, a couple of days. Once those are decided, inner pages between one or two weeks again, and then the coding part, two to three weeks to coding and content entry.

If the client is really efficient, then we can get most average-sized websites 15 to 20 pages with a blog and WordPress launched within about two months. But sometimes delays occur because people need to ask around or they are not sure about something or they need time to write the content. They’re not sure about outsourcing it to a copywriter. Those are the things that delay projects. So two to three months is average.

What is the structure of a good and effective company website?

I like to always have Home, About, Blog, and Contact as main links. Although you could vary the name of the About page to About Us, About and the company name or Who We Are, that sort of thing. I like to have a Meet the Team page, if there is a team. I think it’s important to show the people who are in the business because that’s one of the things most people are curious about when they visit websites. They click on the Team page, and they want to see the person that they know.

And then when it comes to services that the company has, it depends on how many there are, but if you can group them into categories and put them into the main navigation, it gives more of a sense of what the company does rather than just having a generic word “Services”. So for example, if the company is a consultancy company and they specialise in investment banks, instead of just saying “Consultancy”, they could say “Consultancy for Investment Banks”. And then if one of their big values is to create a culture shift, they can put “Culture Shift” as another link, and then across the top you get some sense of their value and their specialty without even clicking on anything.

Do you have to have a blog section on your website?

No. It’s not like you’ll be put in jail if you don’t have a blog on your website. I’m very enthusiastic about blogs. I love them. I think they give so much extra capacity because, well, we are maybe designing a couple of extra pages and building them in. It’s going to give you the chance to create as many articles as you like. When you launch it, let’s say you load five or six articles just so that when you launch the website the blog doesn’t look empty, but over the next year you could have one a month or one a week. So you could end up having maybe 65 articles on your website which each is a new page on your website.

So that means another page that Google can find, another page that people can read, and another place for people to explore more about what your company is about, a place where you can put case studies, common sense advice, the story behind your business, stories about your own activities, guest posts from people in your industry, embedded videos, interviews; so much potential just within that one section if it’s well organised and categorised. And we give advice on how to write good headlines and how to organise blogs so that they make sense to visitors.

If you get website traffic and sign-ups but not many enquiries, what could be wrong?

It depends on the newsletter that you’re sending because that’s another experience that they have from you. So if you have a newsletter, you may have too many calls to action or you may not have an easy enough thing that you want them to think about or decide on when you’re sending it to them. So if you make things simpler for people.

We send our newsletter out, and things that have the most engagement are usually things that don’t take much thinking from their point of view. So if I say, “Send me back an email and I’ll send you a link to a free eBook,” I get 100 people replying. But if I say, “Book a one-hour meeting with me, first five people,” that means that they’ve got to think about their diary and commit to an hour and everything. There might be fewer people. So the conversion depends on the next step after they sign up.

How important are website domain names?

I think it’s very hard to get the very generic domain names about specific topics. I was just helping somebody with naming a business, and part of my research was checking whether the “.com” was available for that name. And if it’s already been taken by another company, it does mean that you’ve already got some competition out there from people googling your name.

So I think it’s definitely worth thinking about if you have a chance, when you’re naming the business, but even so, the most obvious thing people look for is still going to be “yourcompanyname.com” even though there are all these new variations and you can have “.legal” and “.london”, “.net” and all these other things. If you can try and get the “.com” of something, it’ll be probably easier for people to find you. And it’s important to have a name that’s easy to spell and not be confusing to pronounce.

Should you try your hand at building your own site or should you go with a web agency or developer?

Well, it depends on your time and your patience. Yes, you can go online, and there are template websites that you can use, and you can learn how to do them yourself. We really like WordPress. There are lots of WordPress template websites out there. However, they seem like they are going to be easy, but they’re usually quite complicated. It would take maybe two or three days of work to get it figured out. So if somebody is not very patient with learning new technical skills and gets frustrated with that, you’ve got to weigh up whether the stress is worth it. Because in the end when somebody who’s not an experienced coder or designer fiddles their way through a template and follows the instructions, their end result will never be as good as if we did it because they’re not going to have the experience and attention to detail and the design eye or they’re just going to be frustrated about how the template is limited, and they may want to do something completely different and realise too late that it’s not possible. So it can look amateur, and it can be frustrating.

There are some that are easier to use than others. You can think of the DIY version as like a temporary thing. If you really don’t have the budget to pay a professional or an agency, just think, “Okay, I’m going to go for the simplest type of template website I can find. And it’s going to be step one and I’m going to recognise that I need to look at changing that and upgrading it when my business is making more money.” So that you know that it’s not something you should keep forever.

What costs should you expect for a new website?

As far as costs go, we have a range of different costs. We even have a startup offer on our website for £1,500. Our full bespoke-designed WordPress websites range from £4,000 to £10,000 on average. And we do payment plans, so we split payments across six months, eight months or even a year depending on the client and what they are happy with because it helps them, and also it spreads it out for them basically.

For the quality, I would say we are very affordable, of course. Some people think we are expensive, and then some people tell us we are too cheap and we should raise our prices. It depends on who I talk to. You’ve just got to go to with what you feel is comfortable for you when it comes to pricing.

How can you show the return on investment on a website, and what are the metrics for it?

Well, the first one I suppose is when you first launch the website, if you are feeling confident and proud as a business owner that this website represents you well and something that you want everyone to see, that’s the first measurement. It’s got to feel right because when you don’t love your website, then you’re not going to use all the other marketing tools out there and talk about it, put it on your business card and all that because you’re embarrassed about it. In fact, you’ll end up apologising for it. Like I meet many people who go, “Don’t look at my website. It’s terrible.” Don’t have a website you’re embarrassed by. So that’s the first measurement.

I guess the second would be traffic. So you can measure whether there’s an increase in traffic to your content, to your website, to your website pages in your blog posts through Google Analytics which is a free tool from Google. You put a tiny bit of code on each page, and it will tell you which of your pages is the most visited, how long people stayed on different pages, and what they searched for in order to find you; so the amount of traffic.

And then the next way to measure it is your conversion. So how many people are responding to the calls to action you have on the website? How many people are getting in touch via the contact form on your contact page or going to your most important case study or reading the blog post you want people to read or just picking up the phone and calling you? And if you ask people where they found you, sometimes they don’t even remember because they’ll have seen you on loads of different things if you’re active on social media so the website’s just a part of it, but those are all ways to measure ROI.

What are the best website technology platforms?

Well, we really do like WordPress. We specialise in WordPress. I suppose if you speak to different coders and developers, they’ll all say their favourite is the best one but from our clients’ point of view, when we’ve had clients who’ve come to us with websites that were coded in some bespoke system or on Joomla or Drupal, they’re always complaining about how difficult it is to update. So WordPress is not that way, though they’ll be people who’ll say, “For me it’s really annoying to update.” You have to learn a few skills to do that, but once you learn the ins and outs of it, it’s not difficult at all. It’s very flexible.

So I would just say WordPress is my favourite. We use HTML of course for the front-end code, the basic code before the content management system is added. And we try not to touch anything else just from learning to do what we’re good at.

There are times when the website has so many different types of technology that WordPress people say that it’s better to use something else like Magento or whatever. There’s different database that have to talk to each other, but WordPress is really flexible for many different purposes and many different types of businesses so we usually recommend that depending on the client.

How do we connect social media and your website?

Well, there’s the very obvious where you have your social media icons that are linking to active accounts visible on your website either in the header or the footer or both. We only ever allow people to have those which we’re quite strict if they understand how to use the channel that they are representing. So if they’re going to have a Twitter icon on their home page, that means they know how to use Twitter and they are active on it. Otherwise, we’ll take it off because we don’t want people to click on these, all hopeful to see some activity and learn a bit more about the company and find something that’s been dormant for ages or that they don’t know really know how to use properly because Twitter is a bit weird that way. It has some strange things that you have to learn in order to use it properly, but it’s one of my favourite channels. So that’s one thing.

You can have a Twitter feed on your website, and that can be custom designed so that it fits in with the design of your website and can have the latest tweet. Your blog articles can have social media sharing icons so that’s another way of incorporating social media. In some cases, you can have what we call a Facebook “Like Box”. It’s like a little embedded representation of your Facebook page, and shows how many people have followed you on Facebook or clicked “Like” on your Facebook page. And when people see that on a website, they see if there’s any of their friends, they kind of get fed to the top so they can see any familiar people as in a little picture grid. So that can be a good thing to add, but it depends on whether your website is designed to look good with that type of Facebook looking thing because we can’t really change the way that box looks.

And finally, you can have Tweetstimonials. This is a plugin in WordPress where it feeds all the tweets that you’ve clicked “Like” on. So if you’ve clicked “Like” on some of the tweets that people have said nice things about you, it will just rotate those nice things on your website and perhaps in your blog or on another page. So that’s another way to integrate social media into your website.

Follow Keren on Twitter @TopLeftDesign.