Google that: A digital expert explains the web

We wanted to know about websites, so we asked Kate Kidson from Firebrand 10 questions around web design, SEO, B2B vs B2C design, and more.

You can get in touch with the people at Firebrand by emailing or calling +64 3 477 3473.

1. What is the purpose of a website?

Start-ups and businesses of all shapes and sizes often see building a website as a necessary checkbox to be ticked while being unsure about exactly why a website is just so important and what it should achieve. If you’re thinking about getting your business online it’s a good idea to start out considering your target audience, what their needs are, and how your site can fulfil those needs.

Keep the purpose of your site clearly in mind as you consider written content, tone of voice, imagery, look and feel, site navigation and calls to action. It’s amazing the difference good quality content can make to conversion rates. Nailing the core purpose of your site will give direction for both design and development. Driving users to complete your desired actions is a lot easier when you know what it is you’re trying to achieve! Common goals are to:

  • Inform and educate customers about products and services
  • Sell goods online
  • Provide contact information or customer contact facility
  • Raise the profile of your company
  • Build a community around your business

Our team workshops the purpose of every site with our clients before beginning the design process to keep the user experience front of mind and ensure the end product is a site that delivers! 

2. Does every business need a website? 

97% of NZ consumers search online for information about products and services, which speaks volumes about just how important it is for businesses to get online. We think every business needs a website, but it’s not just about having a website. While a well designed website can enhance the perception of your business, increase sales, and be one of your greatest marketing assets, a poorly designed or out-of-date site can do the opposite.

A key consideration for websites today is how they display and perform on mobile devices. Smartphones and tablets are fast overtaking desktops as the preferred method for browsing online, and while mobile searching continues to grow astronomically, many websites simply aren’t optimised for these devices.

Smaller display and screen sizes require a different approach to how content is laid out, and recent research shows that if a website doesn’t work well on mobile devices, 72% of people will move on to another site that does. That’s a lot of lost business and frustrated customers if your site isn’t optimized for mobile!

[Tweet “Research shows that if a website doesn’t work well on mobile devices, 72% of people will move on.”]

To provide the best user experience on any and all devices, we recommend responsive web design to all our clients. A responsive site modifies its layout, images and font sizes dependent on the device, delivering fluid reading and navigation and removing the irritation of resizing, pinching and zooming to try and navigate the site. If you’re undertaking a new web project responsive web design is a must, ensuring your site works seamlessly across thousands of different devices. 

A final (but invaluable) piece of advice when investing in a website – don’t expect to simply ‘build it and they will come’. Take a think about how your target audience will find your website, have a marketing plan in place for launch and beyond and seriously consider different digital strategies to drive traffic to your site from email marketing to SEO and pay per click advertising. 

Many agencies offer full service packages combining web and digital marketing to ensure businesses get the most benefit from their site.

3. How are brands and websites linked?

Your brand and website go hand in hand (or they certainly should do). Creating a credible, trustworthy brand has a lot to do with consistency and familiarity. Your brand guidelines should be front of mind during the design and development of your website to ensure that your site reflects the personality of your brand.

Websites are an opportunity to provide a complete brand experience for customers incorporating written, visual, and audio-visual content. Think about what your site communicates, does it reflect your values and retain consistency with your other marketing materials? Websites offer a great platform to tell your brand story and increase the reach and visibility of your brand.  

It’s worth keeping in mind that your website can be one of your brands biggest assets, but if it’s not kept up to date and isn’t well maintained it can damage your brand lightening fast. 

4. What are the core differences between b2c design and b2b design. 

As we’ve mentioned, it’s vital to think about who your site is selling to before starting the design process. Individual customers and businesses customers are often driven to purchase for different reasons, so getting the best conversion rate from each buyer set requires an understanding of the differences.

B2C customers tend to buy for emotional reasons and purchases are more likely to be one-off. The result is that B2C sites often incorporate brighter colour, include aspirational imagery, showcase products on the homepage and use multiple calls to action showing sale product, new products and special deals to assist in driving conversion.  

B2B or business customers are likely to make purchasing decisions based on logic rather than emotion.  Often multiple people are involved in the decision making process. B2B sites require more informative content and are often less ‘flashy’ in design. Calls to action are likely focused on solving a business’s problems, drawing attention to key information and highlighting contact facilities to kick-start two-way communication.

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5. SEO. What is it, and why do I need it?

SEO is a hot topic, and there’s certainly a lot of confusion around this innocent sounding three-letter acronym! In basic terms SEO is about improving and promoting a site with the goal to increase the number of visitors a site receives from search engines. SEO incorporates a number of strategies and techniques to increase site traffic by obtaining high-ranking placement in search result pages of search engines such as Google.

91% of online adults use search engines to find info and 54% of online search users utilize search engines at least once a day to find info online. Most web traffic is driven by major commercial search engines (Google, Bing and Yahoo), so if your website isn’t easily found in search engines you’re missing out on A LOT of potential customers. 

While SEO is pretty complex the basics can be learned by anyone. There are some amazing online resources that can help you learn how to optimize your site. A great starting point is the Google’s ‘Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide’. 

[Tweet “If you’re thinking of outsourcing your SEO, a word of warning – beware black hat SEO.”]

If you’re thinking of outsourcing your SEO, a word of warning – beware black hat SEO and tread carefully when choosing an SEO expert. SEO has become big business, and we’ve seen an increasing number of scams, often in the form of unsolicited emails from overseas companies promising first-page first-result ranking. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.  Ask for client references and check out their website (note: if they haven’t got one or you can’t find it, it’s not a good sign!).

6. Myth or fact: Social integration helps my Google rank

If you asked five different digital marketing experts about whether or not social integration helps Google rank you’d be likely to get five different answers. While there is a lot of controversy, a few factors in particular are worth taking into consideration. 

Google uses Google+ to personalise search results for users signed in to their Gmail account or Google+ profile. If you’re connected to an individual on Google+ who has ‘liked’ a business Google + page or left a review that business could then rank higher in your SERP due to personalisation. 

Some people think that mentions your brand or business gets online (even without a hyperlink) can contribute to rankings. Social media offers a lot of opportunity for conversation that can lead to co-citation mentions.

While no one knows exactly how much social integration effects Google rank it’s safe to say good use of social media will increase your businesses profile and build engagement with your audience making it worthwhile to use it and use it well. 

7. What are some of WordPress’s limitations?

As with most things there are pro’s and con’s. Thinking carefully about your current requirements as well as future requirements can assist with making the right decision about which platform to use. WordPress is the most commonly used blogging and Content Management System in the world. It offers an easy content management system for non-technical users, along with thousands of plugins and templates to choose from.

However in order to create a unique look and feel (rather than simply looking like every other template site) you’ll need to be familiar with CSS and HTML, or you’ll need to bring in the professionals! If you choose to use WordPress (or any other open source CMS for that matter), be ultra careful to keep up to date with the latest version or risk being hacked!

All in all it’s suitable for creating simple websites, but if you’ve got more advanced needs or require custom functionality you’ll likely be better serviced by other options. 

8. What is a CDN, and do I need one? 

CDN, another confusing three-letter acronym in an ocean of three-letter acronyms!

Webopedia describes a Content Delivery Network as “a system of distributed servers (network) that deliver webpages and other Web content to a user based on the geographic locations of the user, the origin of the webpage and a content delivery server”.

In basic terms, websites have an origin server, which is where images, documents, content assets, etc. are stored. Every time a site loads in your browser it calls on those assets to load the page. Imagine that origin server is in Wellington, when some accesses your site from the other side of the world that can be a long way for the files to travel.

A CDN stores your sites assets across a network of servers based around the world, now the closest server to the user will send the content and with less physical distance to travel the content loads faster. A CDN can deliver faster page load time and more reliable page load. While it can deliver improved speed and performance it’s not really required unless you’ve got a high traffic site with global reach that requires protection from large surges in traffic.  

9. How do hackers bring down sites, and how can I prevent that from happening to me?

If you’ve got a website you’re likely aware of the threat posed by hackers. 

‘Hacking’ refers to bypassing a computer system/networks security. Common types of attack include Denial of Service (DoS/DDoS attack), SQL Injection, XSS (Cross-Site Scripting) and Session Hijacking. Without descending into tech jargon, there are a number of fairly simple defensive measures you should be aware of to keep your site as secure as possible. 

Keeping your software up to date is vital. This applies to server operating systems and any other software such as your website CMS. This is particularly important for open source software! You’ll also want to be quick off the mark applying security patches – keep an eye on your CMS providers developers blog or RSS feed to stay up to date about website security issues. Hacker’s attack where they see weakness and systems that haven’t been updated are laying down the welcome mat.

Beware simple passwords. While we all know we should use complex passwords it’s one of those things that often slips through the cracks. Tip: Your pets name or your address are not great passwords. It’s crucial to use strong passwords particularly to your server and website admin area, though it’s a good practice to do this everywhere. 

It’s also a good idea to encrypt traffic with SSL (with a properly-signed SSL certificate) when you’re passing personal info between your website and web server or database. 

10. What can I expect to pay for a website designer, and how are they different from the drag and drop applications like Wix? 

‘How much is it going to cost’ is often one of the first questions a client asks and understandably so. What you can expect to pay varies widely depending on the requirements for the site and how polished you want the design to be. There are a few key factors that impact the price of a website. Firstly the features and components needed, it’s worth being aware that some things look simple but are actually very complicated, while others may seem like a big deal but are actually easy. Bottom line, adding custom functionality is usually going to cost. 

The second factor is a designer’s skill and experience level, it’s worth remembering that you generally get what you pay for! A website that costs $1000 won’t be the same quality as one that costs $5000. Your website is an important investment and it’s worth getting it right the first time.  

There are a number of DIY options out there for building your own website with drag and drop applications like Wix. While this is possibly a solution if your requirements are quite basic, there are some big limitations and drawbacks you should be aware of before going down this road. A free website builder means choosing from a set of pre-defined templates, while some of the templates may look quite nice they have tendency to all look the same.

You can change the colours and add your logo but it will still look and feel like a template. You’ll also be limited to a basic site, often with a limited number of pages and with limited functionality. If you need any custom programming or database work done it simply won’t be possible. Along with less control over the look and feel you can’t move your site to another provider if you decide you want to take your site to the next level – you don’t really own your site you’re simply renting it.  

[Tweet “While we’re all capable of painting a picture, not all pictures are worthy of framing and putting in the living room.”]

Think about it like this, while we’re all capable of painting a picture not all pictures are worthy of framing and putting in the living room. Web design agencies offer specialist knowledge and experience and will deliver a site based on your specific requirements. Plus you’ll have the option of ongoing support and your website will be able to grow and develop as your business does.  

Firebrand is a full service Interactive Agency based in Dunedin. Our tight knit team of web, design and marketing specialists deliver expert advice and high-performing digital and print solutions. We’re passionate about driving results and exceeding expectations, so if you’re looking for results from your budget, supported by strategy and delivered by leading edge tech get in touch today.

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