Websites have been around as long as emails, and have been declared dead as many times. But they still hang in there and every company still needs to have one. Nowadays, people will search the net for information before making most decisions – just look at the popularity of review websites like Tripadvisor and Glassdoor! It goes further than though – when people want to move jobs, they are certain to browse a company’s presence online to decipher whether they’d like to work there. In addition, an attractive careers page is often the funnel for engaged candidates to express their interest and apply. How do you design and build an effective website for your organisation?
I’ve had a chat with Keren Lerner of design agency Top Left Design to get some answers. Have a listen to the interview on iTunes, SoundCloud or keep reading for a summary. Our tip of the week is the very handy news aggregator Nuzzel and this week’s big shout goes out to Lars Ingerslev.
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?
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. 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.
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”.
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.
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.
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.
How can you show the return on investment on a website, and what are the metrics for it?
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.
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?
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.
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. 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. 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 also 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 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.