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What businesses must know about websites in 2017

The internet has changed the world dramatically in innumerable ways. People communicate instantly across the world, run businesses from their cellphones and make careers out of filming themselves for passionate fans. It’s changed how businesses market themselves, consider their products and interact with customers. Furthermore, everything has become faster. Businesses can face enormous PR disasters that dominate the news for days, before people move on to newer blunders. More than anything, businesses must know what it means to exist online. To that extent, businesses must know what it means to run a website. It’s both more complicated and less complicated than many might think, according to designers and website experts. Let’s examine what it means to have a website in the internet age.

Purpose

As with all projects, the first question any business leader must be able to answer concerns purpose: what will putting money, time and resources into this yield that’ll benefit the business? As Entrepreneur highlights, the point of a website is broaden the business’ reach.

“You should at the very least have a presence on the web so that customers, potential employees, business partners and perhaps even investors can quickly and easily find out more about your business and the products or services you have to offer.”

Naturally, people found and invested in businesses before the internet. But the point isn’t whether those interactions were possible, but rather how much the internet has changed the landscape. A business can, of course, opt to have no internet presence, but that only means being overshadowed by competitors who’ve chosen the broad, far-reaching and constant marketing an internet presence provides. If business leaders would opt for billboards to market their business, it makes no sense to refuse a platform that will reach more people and can provide more information, leading to higher chance of customer conversion.

Design

One of the most important aspects of a website is how well it’s designed. Summarising website research, Forbes’ Drew Hendricks noted visitors to a site will often point to bad design, not bad content, as a reason for being turned off a company.

“Design elements are exponentially more powerful than content, in terms of mistrust. When asked to describe why they mistrusted a website, 94 percent of comments were directly related to web design elements, while only 6 percent referenced specific content. While the study was directed towards health sites, it seems practical that the same basic principles would carry over to other industries.”

Ideally, a website should be simple enough for anyone to use, but complex enough to answer any question. It’s essential that our sites host a number of important features: search functions to help visitors navigate, contact details including email and phone numbers, Google Map locations and so on. Many businesses also recognise the importance of establishing themselves as thought leaders in the industry. As Risdall notes:

“Thought leaders … take content to the next level by serving as their industry spokespersons, taking a stand on issues or giving away a little of their intellectual property to establish their usefulness. Instead of just sharing content around products and services, thought leaders share expertise around the broader challenges they face in their industries.”

In terms of online content, this also provides individual business sites with original material, not merely static pages or adverts. This means it will “rank” better (i.e. land up as one of the earliest hits after a person uses a search engine) when people search for terms related to a business. As Skyword points out:

“If you aren’t constantly pinging search engines with new content, there’s nothing to entice the spiders to crawl your site and rank your webpages higher than those of your competitors. Publishing and updating content to your site frequently means that search engines will more readily find your pages, potentially resulting in higher rankings and increased viewership.”

Security

One of the most important aspects of using the internet is security. This is why it’s important to really consider who will be doing the business’ domain hosting. Naturally, there are a range of well known companies that offer domain hosting services – and even additional services, such as domain email hosting – but it is imperative to put security first. In terms of registering the domain, it’s also important that business leaders recognise the various laws and requirements involved, such as registering their name on a public database. Entrepreneur has a very useful guide for securing a domain name, which has proved helpful to countless people.

For example, they advise putting in geographical or keywords in the name. They also suggest focusing on obtaining a “.com” above everything else.

“When you register your domain name, you’ll be bombarded with offers to purchase other versions like .net and .co. For most small businesses, that’s not needed. Investing in other extensions becomes important when patenting something or protecting a trademark… If you think a competitor might want the .net version of your domain name, for example, consider taking it first.”

Using a website might differ slightly from other forms of marketing, but it is essential for the modern business. A business simply doesn’t really exist if they don’t have an online presence. And a website, which businesses themselves control, helps to establish their brand on the wild domain of the internet.  

Main secrets for businesses to exist online successfully

The modern business must exist online. Businesses that don’t do so are doomed to obscurity and invisibility. Even on the African continent, the widespread adoption of smart mobile devices means more people are using the internet on a daily basis. But existing online is one part of a major marketing move requiring its own focus. Let’s consider some important aspects to having a digital presence in today’s world.

Why existing online matters

As indicated, the idea of the internet only being accessible to rich countries is undermined by facts. HTXT summarised a recent report about African internet usage, which showed: “Global active internet usage grew 10% in 2016, adding 332 million more users, while Africa saw 42.7 million more active users being added.”

Mobile devices are, of course, the most frequently used. What this indicates is that if we run a business, even in Africa, we need to care about existing online – there are literally billions who will have access to our sites. They will be searching for information and the websites we control should be the first place they land (not our opposition or social media complaints).

How to make this happen

In order to drive people to our sites, we need to select a number of aspects. One of the first is to get the right domain. While people won’t check on the domain owner, usually, there are other aspects to consider.  

To choose the right domain, we should align it with our brand. Sometimes, our name will be so broad, it might already be taken. We can check the domain owner and attempt to purchase it from them, but we should rather opt to choose alternatives. Search engine optimisers who work to promote businesses online suggest choosing as close as possible to the brand itself.

Consistency is also key. We must maintain the same colours, themes, styles, logos and so on from the physical world into the digital. This continuity is important to convey to potential clients we are a serious business.

Another issue when it comes to maintaining a website is that we need new content, making it more visible to Google searches. Google is able to indicate how relevant content is as well as duplicates – so we need fresh, unique copy. This tells Google – and therefore its users – that the site is receiving attention, is worth seeing and remains relevant to what the business focuses on.