Business Essentials

SME Tools: getting the most out of your website - Brought to you by NatWest

SME Tools: getting the most out of your website - Brought to you by NatWest

Thursday, 28 May 2020

Your website needs to attract customers and give them reasons to return; ensuring content is up to date and fully functioning is key. Here’s how to maximise your website’s potential.


Shop windows can be used as a portal to display the latest products and trends, designed to catch a passer-by’s eye and convert them into a customer.


For many SMEs today, your shop window is your website. And, while building a website can take time in itself, it’s by giving it the ongoing care and attention it needs that you’ll enable it to do all of the work a shop window once did – and more.


These days, content is king. So where do you begin? How often should you update your content? And what can you do to make sure your customers keep coming back?


The answer, according to Greta Paa-Kerner from Buckinghamshire New University, is fairly simple: give your customers a reason to come back. “They aren’t going to return to it if there isn’t anything relevant to their needs,” she says.


Understand your customer

“The website content needs to inform, educate, entertain or convert the customer, or there isn’t any reason to go to it,” says Paa-Kerner. “It’s imperative that the small business understands its customers and truly appreciates what that customer needs from its website – what is the purpose of visiting it?”

To do this, Paa-Kerner suggests business owners put themselves in their customers’ shoes and develop up to five personas based on the type of customers they have before essentially role-playing by visiting the website through the eyes of each one. Then you can start asking questions.


“Why are they there? What are they looking at? Did they arrive by directly typing in the small business URL or did most of them come from another source, like a Google search? How long are they spending on each page? Is there a high bounce rate on some pages and not on others, or from one source of traffic?”


Decide who will manage the website

Many SMEs also question whether or not to do the digital work themselves, or outsource to a professional web developer.


This can largely depend on factors such as budget and team capacity, says Paa-Kerner. “If it’s a very small business, someone within the organisation can develop and manage the website using a website-building tool, but if there’s a bit more budget, this can be outsourced to a student or an independent contractor,” she says.


“If there is yet more budget, an agency can help as they will probably do a better job at improving SEO than one can do on one’s own, but this also depends on the strategic importance of a website for the small business.”


“It’s imperative that the small business understands its customers and truly appreciates what that customer needs from its website – what is the purpose of visiting it?”Greta Paa-Kerner, Buckinghamshire New University

Outsourcing often means high-quality expert work. “Homegrown sites and skills can be fun, but time is valuable,” says Dr Rich Boakes, senior lecturer at the University of Portsmouth’s School of Computing. “Your business is expert at what it does, so get an expert to do this highly specialised task for you. The web is developing very quickly and there are bad and out-of-date tutorials – how will you distinguish these from the good, current ones?


“Aside from a better site, the benefit of using a third party is that the production and handover will be properly documented and will be likely to use more standardised approaches to development, so should you need to get someone else to continue the work in the future, the change will be far easier than if you’ve cobbled everything together yourself.


“Remember: at the very least this is your business card. Would you draw your logo on the side of a van in crayon, or have a signwriter do it?”


Create a smooth experience

Men’s grooming product company Cornerstone has a strong online presence and was named People’s Champion for three years running at the Startups Awards. The online retailer, which launched in 2014, grew quickly from 700,000 visitors to the site in 2015 to 3.2 million visitors in 2017.


“Understanding our customers was our key priority before building our website so we could make sure it was as tailor-made as possible,” said a spokesperson for the brand.


Men’s grooming company Cornerstone has a strong online presence, supported by distinctive visual branding.


“Secondly, building a strong brand really helps in terms of colours, imagery, fonts, and making sure everything is on brand.


“Then we try to make our user experience as smooth as possible so that they can find the information they need quickly and with the fewest clicks.”


Keep the site fresh

Businesses should keep on top of their website design, even if it means a regular facelift, says David Walsh, a specialist in web design and development at Edge Hill University.

“Many SMEs are constantly developing or growing and it’s important to ensure that the website is still communicating the correct messages and services,” he says. “A redesign has two other benefits in that it communicates to users that the business is still active and developing, and also it’s a great time to check all of the content.


“Some businesses go through an annual redesign, but as long as the design keeps up with the current trends and web standards to ensure it’s not being left behind by competitors, a two- or three-year cycle could be adopted.”


Top tips

  • Make sure you understand your audience and why they’re coming to your website in the first place.
  • Prioritise – it’s important to know what’s urgent and what’s of high priority when building and developing your website. Rank your needs in order.
  • Have a content marketing strategy. Publish new articles with different advice and guides. Think about planning a year’s worth of content updates in advance.
  • Keep the design as up to date as possible with current trends and standards.
  • Include user-generated content in the form of testimonials, case studies, reviews and/or star ratings. Update this frequently if there isn’t a way of automating it.
  • Make all content engaging and presented so it can be consumed easily.


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