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10 September 2020

How to build an effective website for yourself

Forget everything we’ve been told about web design; effectiveness is a whole new skill.

I used to design ads for a magazine and every day I had to deal with clients who wanted to stuff as much content as they could into each ad. I started by suggesting they might want to concentrate on the salient points and, perhaps, make things simpler, make the ad more readable and eye-catching. They invariably disagreed. After a few years of this, I gave up and let them do what they want – produce crap ads.

OK, so let’s begin at the beginning: what does ‘effective’ mean?

Simple, it means doing what it’s supposed to do.

In that case, the first thing we need to do before we start designing our sparkling new website is to: Decide what we want the website to do. This does not mean coming up with bland, useless and general phrases like:

  • Increase the number of visitors
  • Improve sales
  • Produce a cool brochure site
  • Produce a walk-through of our showroom
  • We just need a website

No, that simply won’t do. Let’s be specific:

  • Produce a landing page for an email campaign to all customers and aim for sales of $x by 31st March.
  • Design and produce a website that sells our products online that produces sales of $x by the second quarter of next year.
  • Review a campaign regularly - hourly and daily if it's a biggy, weekly if not - base the interval on the amount of money you are prepared to lose through inaction.
  • Produce 10 landing pages for our Google Ads campaign targeting the key phrases our customers have used to find us over the past 6 months. Budget = $x, targeted income = $y

Just going through the motions is not enough; those days are gone. The customer isn’t doing this for his health; he expects a return on his investment.

Step 1 - Getting Potential Customers to visit your website

Web designers, company owners, marketing people, UX Designers and virtually everyone involved in the production of websites make one HUGE mistake; they think that the design and functionality of a website is the key to building an effective website.

IT IS NOT!

The key to building an effective website is getting the right people to visit it.

It’s not until that happens that your wonderful use of colour, beautiful workflow and fabulous new logo will be seen by a potential punter.

But, Hywel, why, you ask, are you mentioning this before we start work on the site?That’s easy, for a number of reasons:

  • The design of your site reflects what you want it to do
  • The content reflects what you want it to do
  • The images reflect what you want it to do
  • The colour scheme reflects what you want it to do
  • The key search terms reflect what you want it to do
  • The logo, domain and SEO reflects what you want it to do

Every single element of the site/page should be geared to what you want it to do.

In fact, the relationship between WHY the website is built and HOW it is designed is absolutely essential to producing an effective website.

Remember the Olden Days?
Ah, yes, the olden days when a website consisted of Home, Services, About Us and Contact Us. Happy days, simple days. How things are different today: today people look for stuff on search engines and expect their search to yield results. Having those pages answers nothing. Nobody cares about your company; they are looking for a solution to their problems.

Step 2 - Research

For goodness sake, you cry, I just want to get on with it! What’s all this faffing around?

The faffing around, my impatient friend, is the key to getting people to view your website and research is essential before you design a single element. Let’s look at an example – and let’s take one of the requirements I mentioned earlier:

"Design and produce a website that sells our products online that produces sales of $x by the second quarter of next year."

Let’s be absolutely clear about how to deal with this requirement:

  • It’s the products that are more important than the website.
  • It’s the search terms relating to the products which is key to people finding them
  • It’s the quality of the product’s supporting information which is more important than the website

Find the terms that people use to find the product – try Google Ads, keyword planner or Ubersuggest – and make sure the top search terms are closely associated with the product – and even the website itself.

You’re selling bike pedals in the UK, Google’s keyword planner reckons you should consider terms like: ‘spd pedals’, mtb pedals’, ‘clipless pedals’, ‘spd cleats’, shimano spd pedals’…
Use them!

Don’t forget, at this stage we are simply trying to get people to come to our site; we haven’t even started the design yet. When we do, though, we have the ammunition to help provide the design and content to address the requirement.

Step 3 - Landing Pages

A landing page is the page a visitor lands on. Full stop.

It is not the home page, it is not the services page. It is not the contact us page.

It is the page that does the job you want it to do. So…:

A website is a collection of landing pages. I will repeat that: A website is a collection of landing pages.

Whether you are producing a single page or a multiple page site, this thought needs to be in your mind from the start. This means that, on a large site, you need to tie your landing pages into some cohesive structure, but the important thing, at this stage, is to determine what the landing pages are and what they consist of.

So, how do you work out the landing pages you need for your website?

Easy, go back to the research you have already done and check the search terms that people actually use to look for your product. (Don’t guess, don’t ask the owner, look at the actual data.)

Second, prioritise the search terms – this will come in handy later. In our ‘bike pedals’ example, we find bike pedals at the top, followed by the other terms – that’s something we need to build into the design.

Finally, decide on which terms should have their own landing page and which terms will be subordinate.

Step 4 - Structure your Site

Continuing our target to produce an ‘effective’ site, we now need to set the site structure. Why? You ask.

Because getting people to our landing pages is more than just the above steps, it is also making sure the search engines are getting the correct information when they crawl your site. So, sticking with the pedals example, how would that work?

  • If you only sold pedals, then consider buying the domain bikepedals.co
  • If you sell bike parts then consider buying the domain bikeparts.co
  • If you already have a domain, then consider creating a website structure that reflects your research. Create a folder structure like this:
    ronsbikes.com/bikeparts/bike-pedals/spd-pedals/shimano-pedals.
    Search engines will crawl this URL and apportion relative importance to it, it will also compare that with the contents of your site.

This is all good stuff.

Step 5 - Page Structure

The landing page itself needs to have a structure that reflects all we know about why people have arrived there. (If you are a non-designer, I may lose you here, but ask your favourite web designer, he will be able to help.)

The perfect page consists of:

  • A unique title – the one that appears in the search engine results page
  • A description
  • H1 titles in an ordered cascade – H1, H2, H3, para etc
  • Subordinate search terms – e.g. shimano saint pedals, shimano xt pedals, shimano clipless pedals
  • Links to other related pages

Notice that throughout this process, we haven’t had to guess anything. We are simply using real results to determine the:

  • Key search terms
  • Term priority
  • Site structure
  • Page structure

We are simply reflecting what happens in the real world, not guessing anything. The same principle applies to any landing page, not just a page on an ecommerce site.

And we haven’t designed a single thing yet!

Step 6 - Design

Scary. This is the one part of the process which requires creativity rather than analysis isn’t it?

No.

The same idea applies – and this is going to scare web designers everywhere:

Copy the best!

Of course, not colour for colour, word for word, instead find your own voice but copy the good things from competitors’ sites. And don’t go for the flighty new arrivals, go for established businesses who have proved themselves over the long-term:

  • They change only when there is evidence to suggest change
  • They are flexible
  • They are profitable
  • They are lean
  • They understand their customers

These companies spend a huge amount of money, time and manpower testing their pages; you’d be a fool to ignore them.

Apply everything you have learnt during your research to the design and structure and, don’t forget: your landing page has one job to do; sell something, collect data, sign someone up, create trust – everything else is irrelevant.

Conclusion

What, producing an effective website is mostly analysis?

Yes.

Any other approach is an exercise in guesswork. Any customer who say he wants a pretty website is a fool and deserves the site he gets. Any web designer who doesn’t lay down the rules of effective websites to his customers is ignoring the basics – a website is there to do a job.

If there is no reason to produce a website, then there’s no reason to have a website.

Good luck.

Research Sources
Neil Patel - https://neilpatel.com
Hubspot - https://www.hubspot.com
Moz - https://moz.com
Ahrefs - https://ahrefs.com
Wordstream - https://www.wordstream.com
DIIB - https://diib.com

Hywel Thomas web designer

Author: Hywel Thomas
Web Design and Google Ads person
Email: hi@zigger.co.uk
Tel: 07875 096483