Over the years, corporate web design has been very similar to refrigerators: obtrusive, tight-lipped, chilly, cluttered with messages, and useful only when they have something you need. Since there are so many vital issues to cover when planning a business website, we’ve set out to provide guidance that you can use at any stage of the process, from planning a design, to choosing a content manager, to generating leads.
We’ve noticed that companies get deluged with contradicting information on a daily basis, and that the fast-paced nature of the internet means that conflicting information swarms faster than ever. New trends emerge that often go unnoticed, and old tenets that work get thrown out with the bath water, in place of trendy styles that have no functional substance. What you’ll get in the this multi-part guide should lay the groundwork for helping your entire team handle the complex gauntlet of decisions now, and into the foreseeable future.
Examples of Great Design
Instead of giving you a bunch of websites to look over whose designs may or may not be in line with your corporate identity, we’ve chosen to customize this task to fit your exact team goals. There are many reasons for doing this, chief of which is the fact that no site design or brand identity will please all of your customers. In fact, when communicating with your design team (a task we highly recommend), there is a good chance that they will spend a good amount of time disagreeing on the optimal design.
As noted author Malcolm Gladwell states in numerous talks and books, every consumer has different views on what is good. As a result, your design will not please everyone; instead, it should have a strong affinity to your perfect audience. While your “ambassadors” have an affinity for your web presence and how it aligns with your brand, others can make do with the look, and praise the site’s functionality.
All that being said, let’s get started with the basics:
- Think of 3 sites in your industry, and 2 outside your industry that you like
- Use the WayBack Machine to see how these sites have changed over the years
- Without scrolling down, check out the top 10 websites in the world (use different devices, desktop views, etc)
- Write down at least 5 similarities or differences between what you liked in step 1, and what you witnessed for the top 10.
Check out how PayPal looked back in 2006:
This exercise will give you the reference point to be able to effectively communicate to your design arm, whether it be in-house or remote. You are now also armed with the differences between your industry and the most popular websites, giving you a functional blueprint for effectively attacking industry nuances.
Before we get to the good stuff, let’s cover the rest of what we in the industry call “yak-shaving”, meaning things that we know are essential and important, but are neither interesting nor urgent.
Choosing a Domain Name
In many cases the name of your business has already been chosen, but because of the importance of integration with social media for many industries, it may be necessary to create channels that give a welcoming spin to your name.
Here are a few things to keep in mind when you are choosing a domain name:
- Pick a name that is short enough to be memorable (2-syllables is the best), and ideally 15 characters or less (Twitter handle rules)
- The name should not be gimmicky or clever (save that for a logo)
- You could envision the name making sense on a T-shirt
- Names that depict function are ideal (ie, PaneraBread)
- The name could one day be associated with an event
- The name could be positively mentioned in an interview
- The name sounds like what it is (Onomatopoeia)
- Names that are socially engaging are ideal (ie, GoldiBlocks)
From a business standpoint, hosting’s prime objective is to maintain reliability. This means infrequent downtime, available servers, and flexible scaling – all in the hopes of ensuring an error-free customer experience.
For small businesses, shared hosting used to go a long way, but more recently, dedicated cloud hosting has become more affordable and desirable for consumers and companies. Without getting more technical than we need to, the main benefits of good cloud hosting are: more efficient and secure local and production environments, better uptime speed, level of access, and plethora of available platform offerings.
- For website speed, search Google for “free uptime monitors”, and compare some of the fastest and most popular sites on the internet.
- Checkout Google Chrome’s BuiltWith app extension or any related apps to find out the stack of technology and hosting provider your competitor or compatriot uses.
- Call or chat with your potential hosting provider and make sure that they allow shell access, cron jobs, and provide easy installation for the software you and your team have decided on.
Performing these tasks will not only answer the questions that serve as obstacles for 90% of companies; doing so will allow you to observe the customer service ability, responsiveness, and general friendliness of potential hosting providers.
Ecommerce & Marketing Email
Ecommerce sites have additional requirements in that they need access to some form of secure payment processor, and likely a reliable transactional and marketing email provider. As these providers change frequently, we will again, guide you to ask the right questions rather than possibly leading you to outdated material.
Using the BuiltWith, PageXray, or other site infrastructure app, we can sniff out which email providers and ecommerce platforms are currently being used by popular websites. Whether you are looking for custom email servers (in which case you have a technically-inclined team), or a simpler monthly solution, your company customer list and relationships may end up being your most important digital assets.
Here is the short list of necessities and niceties you want in an email provider:
- Real-time analytics
- Custom SPF/DKIM ability
- Manage multiple “From:” accounts
- Nice HTML forms and templates
- 1 & 2-factor authentication options
- 98%+ Deliverability
- Option for dedicated IPs
- Social analytics
- 3rd-party integrations (API)
- Spam filter testing
- Mobile-friendly HTML forms and templates
Now that we’ve initiated you to the kinds of tasks to perform and/or questions to communicate to your IT/development team, you’ll be on the same page, and ready to dive into the fun stuff coming up next. Stay tuned for part two, coming soon!