Let’s take a page from Mastering the Art of French Cooking
Planning your website can sometimes feel like that special dinner you’ve been planning for some time, you know the fancy French meal you’ve eyed in the Julia Child recipe books but were too nervous to attempt until now? You stare at the cupboards in confusion and that recipe book keeps giving you the stink eye. You know you have to get started. Like every restaurant needs a signature dish, every business needs a website. Especially nowadays. But, your guests are coming and they’ll expect something great. The pressure is building and you don’t want to disappoint!
You might have the basic elements down. Maybe you already have a physical location, your brick and mortar store? That’s kind of like your house or apartment. People know it, they might have visited it before, or maybe they are new guests.
You might have started to sell your business: Maybe some advertising in newspapers, maybe flyers, or brochures, maybe you’ve even started email lists so you can keep in touch with your customers? Those are like your party invites. They’ve announced your arrival and serve as your invitation to the public. You just hope that a few will RSVP.
Now, you’re cooking! Well, not really.
You have the locale, the people know they’re invited, but what happens when they want more? Maybe they want your cell number, so they can contact you when they can’t come to your house. Maybe they want a preview of all the delicious goodies you might be serving next week? The saliva starts flowing in anticipation…
However, imagine you tell them: “Sorry, I have no menu you can view, no way to reach me other than when I’m at home and no way to know what or when the next meal may be.” That could be problematic for your guests. They may want to know more about you and what you have to offer. But, if they can’t obtain that information easily, then they might skip over the next chef in town, see what he has ‘in store’.
This is where your website comes in. Think of it as that gourmet meal you’ve always wanted to attempt, the one you know will impress your visitors and have them knocking at your door at all hours.
But, like that Julia Child recipe… it can seem daunting, complicated and labour-intensive. Maybe you could use a little help from a knowledgeable expert chef?
Well, the OG staff has a fool-proof recipe.
Follow these simple steps and Voilà! You’ve got yourself a Gourmet Website!
Ask yourself: Why are you making this special meal/recipe? Why are you setting up a website?
First, you have to plan your menu. You can’t just throw random ingredients out there if you want to make a good impression. Anchovies and ice cream? Your guests could be turned off if the meal doesn’t make sense. If the purpose of your website isn’t clear, you might as well go back to the drawing board. A confusing jumble of dishes won’t win you anything, let alone applause.
Consider a couple of things up front:
- Is your website strictly meant as an online brochure / reference material?
- Do you want people to get in touch with you?
- Is your website a place to sell stuff immediately (eCommerce site)?
Obviously, there can be combinations of the three as well. Plan your website strategically and don’t rush into things before you’ve clearly established and identified what kind of ‘meal’ this will be. And for that, you’ll need to move on to…
Ask Yourself: What do you want your guests to feel? Super-full or just satisfied with a few light tapas? / what is the main goal of the website?
Your special meal, like your site, has a goal, right? There’s always an agenda – even a subtle one. Do you want to impress first time visitors? Do you want to touch base with existing ones? You have to know your ultimate goal. It will influence everything you do and will ultimately impact how you build your site.
If your website is solely a brochure for your business, don’t fuss about optimizing it. It’s like a chip bag. It should be shiny and eye-catching, with some filler, but you wouldn’t spend time plating it on your good china. If you only have a website so you can refer people to it for more information, don’t spend time maximizing your SEO or researching strategic keywords. It won’t pay off. Just focus on making a great first impression for your brand.
If you want people to contact you, or subscribe to your newsletter, that’s different. The meals should be more hardy. And that’s when SEO and keywords become important. Keywords are like cooking ‘buzzwords’ that will entice food critics, or in the case of SEO, the Google search engine. If Mr. Google likes your words, the easier it is for him to direct people to your website. You might want to focus on local SEO, or do some proper keyword research to make sure you have the right, optimized information for your visitor. Make it easy for them to contact you by showing your phone number in all the right places, or add forms or email links in spots where you feel they might be useful.
If you’re setting up something more ‘fancy’, like an eCommerce site, you’ll need a different approach. Like a traditional French meal, a prix fixe, you’ll serve many courses. In the case of your site, you’ll have several landing pages. Be sure to think of a proper category structure. The dishes should flow smoothly from one to the other, as your category pages should. And remember, for this kind of site, the main landing page is sort of like your appies. They are your ‘first impression’, so make it a good one. Then think of great introductory content for your category pages and set up your call-to-action on every page. Be sure to optimize your homepage to show all shopping ‘aisles’ of your website.
It’s very important to think about what kind of website yours will be, or if you already have one, what kind of site you really want. You don’t want to tell folks that you’re an expert in Ethiopian cuisine if you’re main trade is hamburgers.
Ask yourself: “What’s my main business?” What types of flavours do you want to present? / what do you want your website visitor to experience?
You’ve given your meal a lot of thought, now it’s time to start the cooking! Develop those aromas and flavours by selecting and using the right ingredients for success. The main page/dish should be the highlight, but also remember to set up the ‘sides’, or other pages, with a proper internal link structure, so that your website visitors can easily be directed to the ‘good stuff’. At OG, we often refer to this as setting up key content.
We’re not saying “write that one main page and focus solely on that”. Like a good sprinkling of truffle oil, spread the optimization around, and make sure all pages are in tip-top shape.
Add a spicy ‘dash’ of links on the appropriate pages of your website. By linking related pages, your key content becomes easier to find for both Mr. Google and your visitors. Vary your spices, though. You can’t use Oregano on every single dish, it would get boring. Don’t keep linking to the same key content from every page. Instead, decide what key content is valuable for that specific page.
Ask Yourself: Will you be hiring a Chef to make the meal? / are you going to cook it yourself?
Fire up the oven! With the ingredients all together, that gourmet meal is ready for the final steps. But, what if you’ve only ever used a microwave? The food could come out all wrong!
Cooking is fun, but it might not be your expertise. Just as your main business is probably not building websites or writing content. And you have so much else to do: clean and decorate the house, make fancy swan napkins… Sometimes it’s more convenient, and wise, to hire out some help. Like a professional chef, a professional agency will know what plugins to use, how to write strategic content, or how to optimize your images for speed or mobile.
Yet, choosing the right chef, or branding and marketing agency, can be hard. There are many out there who profess to be ‘high quality’, but can they put out the fires when things go south?
When you’re considering an agency, think about the quality and the type of work they do. Does their process fit yours? If you want an executive-class meal, would you hire a line cook at the local greasy spoon? It’s important to find someone whose portfolio matches your working style. It’s like hiring a personal chef, you want someone you can work with long term.
Ask Yourself: What budget should you reserve?
Like your mother might have told you: There’s no such thing as a free lunch. Every meal has a price and that chef will have to bill you for his/her time, which can sometimes result in sticker shock when the bill arrives.
It’s important to remember, that executive chef is setting up more than just the one meal. Like a good web designer, what they’re really doing is cementing your reputation with your customers.
So, it’s not about whether you spend money, but how to get the best bang for your buck. Just like a specially prepared, or catered meal, there is no ‘standard price’. Costs will vary, depending on what you want and how fancy you get. But be assured, a good agency comes at a certain cost. You can’t get duck confit for a Big Mac price. And though it might look like a deal, the tighter the budget quoted, the more chance that they’ll charge you for every little meeting, Paying $699 for a website is a start, but your developer will charge you for every email and call. Or you could end up with poor quality and erroneous code, something penalized by Google, which could spell disaster for your website!
And forget support afterwards. The first sign of trouble in the kitchen and they’ll be waving to you as they run out the door. And you’ll be left fending for your guests, while putting out blazes!
Just remember, people often ‘window shop’ online as much as they do offline. So it’s worth investing in someone who knows what they’re doing. After all, this is your meal. It represents you and your business. And if the flames erupt and the whole kitchen goes up in smoke, you want someone friendly and trustworthy at your side, someone you can call.
There you have it. If you follow these steps, you’re already ahead of the game. With the right planning, some research and maybe a little help from an expert or two, your website will have your customers coming back for seconds, thirds and maybe even fourths!