Whether you’re creating a site from scratch, or need to update an old one, this guide shows you the basics.
A great website for your small business has never been more important.
The quality of your site affects your relationship with your customers, which then impacts your sales.
While this customer relationship is important, so too is your relationship with Google. If Google likes your site, it will serve you up to its users, making you discoverable.
On the flip side, if Google doesn’t like your site, you could languish in the dark corners of the internet…
In today’s blog, we show you how to create a website that Google loves. (Hint: You need to create a website that customers love first.)
Before You Begin
Why You Need a Good Site
We’ve already touched on how having a great website can create positive vibes between you and your customers. Now we’re going to break that down into the actual benefits.
Having a great website helps you with:
- First impressions 🎯
Users take 50 milliseconds to form an opinion about a website. That’s 0.05 of a second to make a good first impression!
- Trust 🏆
A simple and professional website will go a long way to earning someone’s trust and turning them into a paying customer.
- Likeability ☺
We’ve all been to those sites that are slow to load, difficult to navigate, and generally look dodgy—making us less than enthusiastic about giving them our business.
Use your website to showcase your unique and authentic business—who you are and what you stand for—so that customers remember and recognise you.
- Sales 📈
Once you’re known, liked and trusted, you’re one step closer to converting leads into sales.
- Discovery 🌐
Whether users search you on Google or type your address straight into their browser, a great website helps people find you.
- Marketing 📣
Marketing opportunities abound on a website, from creating content such as blogs and videos to capturing leads through quizzes and freebies.
Know the fundamentals
Before you begin creating your site or even updating it, take a step back to get a handle on the essentials.
Like building a home on solid foundations, knowing these key elements will help you build or update your website the right way from the get-go.
Step 1: What do you want to say?
First, it’s important to know what you want to say online.
What you want to say can be grouped in a way that reflects your main menu:
- Home – all the top-level information your visitor wants and needs to know about you
- About us – who you are and why you do what you do
- Services/Products – dedicated spaces to explain your services or products in detail
- Contact – as one of the main reasons you have a website, this needs to be clear
Step 2: Who do you want to say it to?
As with any other business or marketing activities, creating buyer personas is a step that you can’t afford to skip.
Knowing who you’re speaking to will help you with all aspects of your website, from the navigation to the language you use.
Your buyer personas should represent your ideal customers, which are your most profitable customers.
Note that most profitable doesn’t necessarily mean the customers that pay you the largest sums, especially if the high paying ones are more demanding.
Instead, your ideal customers are the ones that give you the best profit margin or gross profit, which you can calculate by subtracting your costs from the sales price.
You can identify your ideal customers though market research, observations in a brick-and-mortar store, or through your Xero or MYOB records.
Most importantly, knowing your ideal customer will help you see things from their perspective, so that you create a website that works for them.
Step 3: What do you want them to do?
The whole point of having your website is to get your customers to do the action you want, whether it’s making a purchase or simply getting in touch.
Consider what actions you want your audience to take and what obstacles they have to taking those actions.
Some of these terms will later form ‘call to action’ messages you place on your buttons and links.
Actions can include:
- Sign up
Part 1: Create your site
Now that you’re thinking like your customer, you’re ready to start creating your website.
Top priority on your to-do list will be sorting out your domain.
Your domain name is very important because your customers need to use or remember it easily, and Google will use it to rank you in its search results.
There are no hard and fast rules for what you do here, but you’ll have to consider various factors and weigh them up.
Normally it’s preferable to go for what’s called a ‘top level’ domain like .com.au or .net.au, rather than anything fancy like .ninja or .xyz.
Top level domains appear legitimate and are kings of the domain food chain.
For the domain name itself, try for your business name if you can as this will be easy and memorable.
In our case, thecopycollective.com was very easy to mishear and misspell, resulting in a lot of confusion. While we pay for this domain, any traffic that goes to it gets rerouted to our main address, tcc.international, which is easier to hear, spell and remember.
If most of your customers are Australian, go with the .au at the end. It builds trust that you’re a local business and not a faraway, fly-by-night operation.
But in our case, we have a lot of Australian and international clients hence the .international.
Another strategy is to use SEO keywords for your domain name.
Beware of using keywords that are too common and that heaps of other businesses are also using, which renders your address (and brand) indistinguishable from the others. (Just type Sydney dentist into Google and you’ll see what we mean.)
Avoid hyphens and numbers, and aim for the ideal of six to 15 characters.
Keep your navigation as simple as possible. Limit the number of items in your main menu and limit your number of pages to the barest essentials.
Content is the words, images and multimedia that go on your site.
Use it to communicate with your audience authentically, solve a problem for them, and to represent your brand.
Here are some content tips for your website:
Copying and pasting words from other sites is plagiarism and Google will penalise you for it. Same goes for using other people’s images. Original content does more than keep you in Google’s favour, it gives you that authenticity that customers love.
It’s tempting to hope that your audience will see past your blurry images and typos and recognise that fantastic business you truly are at heart. Unfortunately, these things only make you look unprofessional and untrustworthy.
Whether your audience are brain surgeons with PhDs or day labourers who left school early, keep your language as basic as possible so busy users can scan for relevant info quickly. Use sections, short sentences, small paragraphs, headings and subheadings.
Use high contrast to distinguish your text from the background image or colour. By doing so, you improve readability, and your audience will appreciate it. If your site’s hard to read, users will leave without hesitation and quickly find something better.
Part II – Optimise your site
Before we go any further, here’s a little background on how Google works.
When a user types keywords into a Google search, Google needs to work out how to put the results in order from most to least relevant. Google tries to calculate which sites users will like best to put those at the top of the results.
To make this calculation, Google looks at various factors (such as words, design, images, navigation, load speed, etc.) and weighs them all up in its algorithm.
You need to optimise your site to keep up to date with what Google wants, which, at the end of the day, is a pretty good guess at what users want.
Since users and Google both prefer sites that are user friendly, we’re going to show you the main elements that go towards your usability.
Wondering whether your site needs a zhuzh? Find out in how to know when to update your website design.
Because more than 50% of internet traffic is mobile traffic, Google has what’s called a ‘mobile-first’ approach.
That means it loves websites that work well on mobile.
When optimising, focus on mobile friendliness. Small glitches on desktop and tablet view will be less impactful compared to glitches on mobile view. Take Google’s mobile friendly test to see how your website fares.
With this in mind, it isn’t hard to see why site and page speed matters to both casual users and Google alike.
When Google looks at your site and page speed, it looks at:
- Time to first byte (TTFB) – Your visitor’s browser shouldn’t have to wait more than 200 milliseconds before receiving its first byte of data from the server.
- Largest Contentful Paint (LCP) – The largest content element on the screen should not take longer than 2.5 seconds to fully load.
- First Input Delay (FID) – A user’s browser shouldn’t take more than 100 milliseconds to process an interaction like a link click or button tap.
Use a free online tool such as Google’s Page Speed Insights to work out whether your site speed needs work.
How to improve your site speed
If your speed needs a boost, here are a few quick and easy ways you can make a difference:
- Switch host provider
Cheap host providers mean you are competing for capacity and your site will load slowly.
- Change themes
Change to a lightweight theme and notice speedier load times.
- Use TinyPNG
This WordPress plugin optimises images for your site by compressing while maintaining quality.
- Examine plug ins
Obsolete or unused plug ins can be interpreted as malware by Google. Also, try replacing slow ones with faster ones.
- Use system fonts
System fonts are built into the operating system and load faster than Google fonts.
Making your site accessible to all means that you avoid excluding people, including people with disabilities, people with low literacy, culturally or linguistically diverse people, and so on.
When you think about it, by designing your website for the privileged Australian-born English speaker, who has higher education, and doesn’t have a disability, you’ve designed your website for a very narrow portion of the population!
Accessibility is not just a requirement by law (and the right thing to do), it’s a way of welcoming many more people to do business with you.
Here’s how to make your website more accessible:
- Explain jargon
- Define terms
- Spell out acronyms if they’re obscure
- Use readability tests like Hemingway App
- Write image alternative (or alt) text
- Caption videos
We spoke earlier about the importance of stepping into your ideal customer’s shoes when creating your website. Step into a customer with disability’s shoes by reading 10 reasons to make your website more accessible.
Safe, secure and nonintrusive
Among the top factors that impact the user experience, and Google’s decisions to present your site to users, are safety, security and non-intrusiveness.
Safe browsing is when your pages do not contain any malicious or deceptive technology or content, like malware or social engineering.
Websites that have HTTPS are more secure than websites that use HTTP because they encrypt data transfers.
You can make your website non-intrusive by never using those annoying pop ups that appear before, or instead of, the page that you actually clicked on and wanted to get to.
Regular pop ups that have a benign purpose and only take up a small part of the screen are generally fine.
The key to website best practice in 2021
We’ve discussed a lot of technical aspects of creating and optimising your website, from how to pick a domain to how to improve your site speed.
But at the end of the day, the key to a great website is simple: focus on your user experience.
Put yourself into your customer’s shoes to figure out what they want to achieve and how to make the process as smooth as possible.
Give your audience a website that’s easy to use and they’ll love you for it.
Google will, too.