Taking Your Website to the Next Level: Getting your Website Built

November 12th, 2010 by Sean Dwyer

Continuing with tips on Taking Your Website to the Next Level, below is an excerpt from the article on “Getting your Website Built”……

It’s common for medium to large-sized companies to spend anywhere from $20,000 to $500,000 on a website design and development effort. These projects often involve specialized web and creative marketing consulting firms that perform the analysis described above and then design and build a site to fit the need.

Here is a high-level outline of the website development process that the big firms follow, with tips on how to do it for less.

1.  Create an “Information Architecture”

An Information Architecture (IA) describes the pages your site will need in order to fulfill its goals.  In its simplest form, it’s pretty much the menus on the website. The benefit of having an IA is that you end up with a content (webpage) creation “to-do” list that’s easy for people to work on. A good IA leads to a site that is more organized, better polished and easier for people to use. A large company may spend thousands of dollars on weeks’ of IA consulting time. Here’s how you can do this yourself in a couple of hours.

If you analyze your audience well, as was done in the fleet tracking example above, you can figure this out yourself. Here’s a high-level IA for a cloud-computing consulting company website.

The IA above is documented simply in a spreadsheet. There are more sophisticated ways to capture the IA of course; visit Wikipedia to learn more: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Information_architecture

Another way to do your IA: Find other businesses like yours, and follow their example. Look at several sites to compare different ways of organizing information like yours. And then create an IA that combines the best of the best ideas.

2.  Get a Nice-Looking Website Design

It used to require the relatively expensive services of a creative marketing or graphic design firm to get a polished, custom website design. It often takes weeks or even months of going back and forth with your designers until you agree on a look.

Of course, there are faster, less expensive options, which require just a little web development (HTML) experience. There are hundreds of really nice looking website design templates available for about $25 from sites like www.themeforest.com. You’ll need a few days of a web developer’s time to get them installed and customized, and probably a little bit of graphic designer time to create or customize your logos and find stock images to put into the theme.

Susan Davis, Vice President of Marketing for Infobright, which develops and markets a high performance, self-tuning analytic database and a Loopfuse customer, provides her thoughts on the importance of website design:

“At Infobright, we invested in a professional website design that we believe reflects well on the company. One of our key objectives was to make it clear what product and value we deliver (a high performance, low cost, easy to use analytic database), and what the best uses of our product are through visible solutions buttons. We have prominent links to download our software or contact us, so visitors can get instant access to what they need. We also are continually adding content to the site, such as notices of new events and webinars and new industry or technical white papers. We also make changes to the site itself from time to time to keep it fresh and to enhance its value to visitors and as a lead generating vehicle.”

3.  Preparing to add content – even fancy stuff like discussion forums and search

One of the big website decisions you’ll make at some point is whether to use a content management system (CMS). A CMS is software that makes it easier to edit your website, especially if there are multiple people making changes to it or if you have a big site with lots of web pages. Here’s what a CMS does:

  • The CMS keeps your web pages safely and securely organized and maintains a revision history (in case you want to undo changes)
  • It divides your web pages into sections, which can be reused on every page, like the website footer and header, etc.
  • Lastly, CMSs typically include lots of pre-built content options that you can integrate into your site, like search boxes, discussion forums, blog sites, etc.

A CMS usually takes a little technical expertise to set up.  The great news is that there are several great free content management systems, like Drupal (www.drupal.org) and WordPress (www.wordpress.com). Making it even easier are sites like Bluehost.com that enable you to pick a website domain name, and then automatically set your web for you (hosted on their computers) complete with a CMS installed and ready to go.

4.  Creating Forms

Getting website visitors to sign up for additional information or to join your mailing list is what turns a marketing information site into a sales tool that funnels prospects to your sales people. This is called “lead capture,” and we’ll write an entirely separate article on the topic but that doesn’t mean it’s difficult to do.

Turn-key website templates often include a simple sign up (“contact us”) form. The information visitors enter is usually emailed to you. It’s hard to use customer information contained in emails though; you usually have to transcribe it to a spreadsheet or a customer database in order to track customer sales status or perform emailings to your followers. Even if you have just one or two sign ups a day, it can be burdensome to keep up with the data entry.

A better approach is to integrate lead capture with your website and LoopFuse makes this very easy. You tell it what data items you want to collect from people, and it generates HTML to put in your web page. When people fill out the form, their info gets stored in LoopFuse where you can easily divide people into different types of prospects and do emailings to them, etc. If you have a customer relationship management system (CRM) like Salesforce.com, Loopfuse will also transfer information to those systems, where your sales people can log notes about them and their sales status.

5.  Finding Help

Even though web marketing has made great strides to enable “Do it yourselfers” to be more effective, you may run into situations where you’ll need some deeper website development experience, usually on a temporary, contract basis. Resources might include:

  • Graphic designer
  • Web developer
  • Content management (CMS) consultant
  • Information architect
  • Marketing strategy

The best way to find these resources is via word of mouth or personal references. Call into colleagues at other companies to find out who they use and recommend. Promoting contract marketing employment needs via social networking sites like LinkedIn.com can also be very helpful. Craigslist and Odesk.com include registries of contract web marketing pros. And you can always do a web search for resources in your area.

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