Nicky Jurd

Effective Small Business Websites

Background Textures

Tuesday
Apr 15,2008

A trend of the 90’s which has persisted in the dark depths of the internet are background textures. These are images which when tiled next to each other produce a (hopefully) seamless pattern. Popular backgrounds in the early days were stars, logos, sand, crinkled paper and clouds.

Background textures should be used sparingly, if at all. They should definitely not have text written over the top of them.

If a texture is part of your brand, use it on the non-text areas of your website.

Sound is Bad

Monday
Apr 14,2008

I’m fairly opinionated about this, but I an explicitly against including any sound on websites. Most especially background music.

Let’s say I’m sitting in my office surfing the web looking for a nice apartment by the beach to stay at on my upcoming tropical holiday to Cairns. I’m *supposed* to be working. The pleasant sounds of birds chirping and the beach rolling in starts blaring through my speakers. BUSTED! Everyone in the office looks toward my computer to see what I’m doing… so I quickly shut down my browser window to stop the sound.

You might think this isn’t likely on your website, but check your traffic stats. Most websites get a large percentage of their traffic during office hours, likely from people who are supposed to be working.

If you must use sound on your website, don’t play it by default. Allow your customers to turn it on if they want to hear it.

Friday
Apr 11,2008

Small businesses, just by their size, have an air of uncertainty about them. Help your customers make the decision to do business with you by showing off your strengths as a small business:

  1. You’re approachable.Include a good photo of yourself and your team on your website. Customers love being able to see who they’ll be speaking with and buying from.
  2. You have a story.Hordes of small business owners went into business because they’re an expert, a specialist and have a great track record of doing what they do best. Tell the story on your website through a company history or professional profile page.
  3. You’re easy to talk to.The phone number and premises address are easy to find on your site, and you answer your emails within 24h hours.
  4. You take credit cards.Be confident about your payment methods, and proudly display the logos of the credit cards you accept on your website. Credit cards are big businesses. Displaying their logos acts as proof you’re operating a reputable business. If you accept credit card payments on your website also make a big deal of your secure payments area.
  5. People already do business with you.Proudly display your business successes with testimonials of previous customers, informative lists of services you’ve conducted for which companies or a portfolio listing of people you’ve worked with. Wherever possible try to include full names, business logos and people’s photos – they’re much more effective.

Remember customers and businesses hide behind the anonymity of the internet. People will be happier doing business with you if you’re transparent, honest and keen.

Thursday
Apr 10,2008

One of the major annoyances customers experience with websites is trying to locate contact details, especially phone numbers. Amusingly, the worst offenders are often large corporations who should know better!

My preference is to include some basic contact details below the footer of every page on the website. This means that no matter which page your customer is on, the moment they make a buying decision they don’t need to search hard to find out how to contact you.

Have a clear, easy to find contact page. This should include your extended contact details including details like a map to your shop or office, your fax number, postal address and a contact form.

Please post great examples of contact pages you’ve seen on your surfing travels.

Wednesday
Apr 9,2008

The text on your home page is the most important text on your website.

Your home page not only leads your visitors into the money-making parts of your website, but it also provides the most important terms search engines will use to rank you.

Without text on your home page you’ll fall behind competitors in the search engines, and annoy customers who’ve come to explore your site.

Consider the most important words you believe your customers will type into a search engine and ensure these are included on your home page. This might be your location and industry, like cairns web design, or it might be the product you’re selling, like tennis balls.

Summarise your website on your home page by including useful paragraphs and snippets about what information can be found throughout the website. Invite people to explore further through strong calls-to-action.

Most importantly, don’t let your web designer build you a home page with just images, and no text.

Tuesday
Apr 8,2008

Small business owners on a tight budget are often tempted by the cheap prices of inexperienced web designers or the opportunities presented by tech-savvy family members. Unfortunately my firm has recently fixed a lot of problems caused by the creation of what we refer to as backyard websites.

If you’re serious about your business but don’t know much about the web here’s what you should consider when choosing someone to build your website:

  • Has this person done a number of other business websites before?
    If so, have a look at them and ask other people what they think. Typical mistakes of an inexperienced developer include flashing or blinking text, dark coloured backgrounds with white text and blurry photos. If they have no previous experience with businesses, I strongly suggest you look for another developer.
  • How much will the website cost?
    This might be a really simple consideration, but I strongly advise you to get a quote in writing which outlines what you will get. Websites are custom written, so be aware if you make lots of changes this will be more expensive. Your quote should detail how much extra changes will cost, and what warrants a chargeable extra.
  • Will the website be search engine friendly?
    Many less-reputable website developers don’t know much about internet marketing, so this is a sure fire way to find out if they’re worth their money! Everyone wants their site included in Google, and your web developer needs to know what stops the search engines from good rankings.
Monday
Apr 7,2008

April ITIBThis article appeared in the April edition of In Touch In Business magazine.

Website statistics are an endless source of joy, wonder and mystery. Many website operators love to look at them, check the totals, admire the rises and lament the falls. They are the most important tool in online marketing toolbox. Carefully analysing a website’s statistical data allows unique and acute insight unparalleled by any other media. Through understanding the statistics a website can be in a constant state of improvement based on measured, proven observations.

All web hosting companies have statistics software running on the websites they host, so first thing to do is find out how to access these. Hosting stats are often very basic, and sometimes lack the detailed information required for a thorough analysis, but they’re good enough to get started.

Most people are keen to see how many people have visited their website, and are often shocked at how high the number is! The number which is most interesting to look for is the number of unique visitors that have visited a website. This number represents the people visiting a website within a given timeframe, usually a month. By comparing the number of unique visitors for each month over the course of a year seasonal trends can easily be seen allowing comparison with the same season in previous years.

Keywords are the next most exciting part of website statistics. These are the words people have typed into a search engine to find a website. Compare these against a list of desired keywords to see where the website might need more optimisation and content.

The most startling thing about examining a keywords stats list for the first time is that for most websites 80% of the traffic comes from keywords that have only been searched once, or twice. It is this reason that internet marketing experts encourage businesses to include more pages on a website, and to write articles, newsletters and blogs in order to capture the many highly relevant website visitors who search for niche and specific things.

Search engines and link partners which have sent visitors to a website are referrers. Most businesses will see Google as their top referrer, and this reflect Google’s position as having the lion share of search traffic within Australia. Websites which have unique content, and have actively sought quality link partners will see many websites in their referrer lists.

Quick Statistical Analysis

Monitor keywords by grouping them into themes. Compare the performance of these themes between months, checking changes against the number of enquiries, bookings or sales the website received. Using this method will quickly establish which themes are the ones that make money.

Monitor referring websites that deliver significant amounts of traffic and observe fluctuations. This is particularly important where online advertising is being paid for. Consider talking to referring webmasters about fluctuations in traffic, especially if a spike in sales has been experienced during this period. In the same way, pay close attention to new websites that have recently become referrers.

When comparing analyses to previous years, be sure to check against the season to observe trends.

Acting On Analysis

Sometimes analysing stats reveal the website advertising that isn’t working. Ensure you check how much traffic you’re receiving from any paid advertising and report this to sales staff when you’re asked to renew your advertising. Don’t be swayed by any numbers of ‘hits’ or visitors the website might claim to receive. What matters is how much traffic you receive from the advertising.

Changes in country demographic groups are easy to monitor, and quite interesting to investigate. Check to ensure website customers match target demographics of the business, otherwise changes to the website text might be in order.

Observing which keywords are working well, and which you don’t have a presence for. Specifically target the flagging keywords by improving the text content of the website. The search engines will only rank a website for words which exist strongly within the text.

A cleaver way to use stats is to identify downward or upward changes in traffic that will cause an unexpected change in sales trends. This allows for the swift introduction of pay-per-click advertising to boost sales numbers, where necessary.

Statistics Software

While hosting stats are quick and easy, many people prefer the deeper information that can be gathered from beefy statistics software such as Google Analytics.

Google’s software is completely free to use and install, and has strong customisable features which allow you to exactly track sales and enquiries to the city of origin, the keywords searched for within a search engine or the referring website. It also links with pay-per-click advertising programs such as Google AdWords.

Although Google Analytics is free, a web developer will need to install it. This will take between 30m – 2 hours depending on the level of customisation required.

Many business owners don’t get the chance to even give their website statistics a cursory glance, but serious web businesses will spend hours each month pouring over the numbers and tweaking their website for maximum results.

Sunday
Apr 6,2008

Now that everybody owns a digital camera there are a far greater number of amateur photographers who take their own photos for their website. Whilst I strongly recommend you hire a professional photographer, I realise this is cost prohibitive for many small businesses.

Here’s some tips for making your website photos look more attractive.

– Don’t ever use blurry or out of focus photos. Always reshoot these until you’ve got a crisp subject.

– When taking a series of photos of a similar theme, keep the background and lighting the same in each photo. This is particularly important when you have a shopping cart website and are displaying many products on the same page.

– Because the photos displayed on websites are quite small, less complex photos look much better. Try for shots with a single subject and a simple, plain background.

– Putting people in your photos will help your visitors put themselves in the picture. Carefully consider the age and look of your models though, as you will put some demographics offside by choosing models who your market don’t identify with.

– Include photos of you (the business owners), your team looking smart in their uniforms and your building. The internet is anonymous so photos of the management give visitors some people contact they miss from a face-to-face transaction. It also raises your credibility through recognition.

Saturday
Apr 5,2008

Every business owner wants their website well ranked, but most are mystified about how the ranking work. Here’s some easy steps you can take to start moving your rankings upward.

1. Think carefully about what your visitors will search for.

Consider your product, industry, location and services. Also look toward complementary products and services.

For example if you sell tennis balls you will want to consider tennis balls, tennis, tennis ball, tennis equipment, tennis coaching and sports equipment.

2. Write your website text to naturally include these words.

Be careful of including too many keywords as it will affect your customers’ readability and the search engines will not like it.

Here’s an example from a real website:

For those who are fascinated by natural marvels, the privately owned Granite Gorge Nature Park is an unforgettable spectacle.

This is how more keywords could be included:

Granite Gorge Nature Park is a spectacularly scenic holiday destination just outside of Mareeba with wide sweeping views across huge volcanic boulders, private swimming holes and abundant wildlife. Come for a few hours and enjoy hand feeding our rock wallabies, or stay for a few nights in our holiday park. We cater for caravans, motorhomes, campers and are especially popular with Grey Nomads.

Whenever you add new text to your website keep in mind your target keywords and include them as you go.

Don’t Use Weird Fonts

Friday
Apr 4,2008

This is one of my little pet peevs, a bugbear, gets my goat sort of thing. People fall in love with some fonts, and then want to use them for everything. Some fonts were just not made for web pages though.

Have you ever sent a word document to someone and then saw it on their computer and it doesn’t look quite the same? The reason is often because they don’t have the same fonts installed as you do. The same applies to web pages, if the visitor doesn’t have the font installed, they will see it differently.

For the main text of your website use Verdana, Arial or Georgia.


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