When you need a website, you probably wanted it up and running last week! Using website builders like Squarespace and Wix are perfect for certain businesses, but before you decide if it’s right for yours here are some things to consider.

In this post, I’m going to give you an overview of how to prepare and plan your website from design to launch, and what you need to be online in 30 days.

BRAINSTORM

Time spent: 8 hours or 1 business day

Thinking through your business goals will focus your project.

Questions to answer before starting:

Some of you love the DIY lifestyle. There is a lot of satisfaction is envisioning what you want and creating it. However, for your business, you need to consider a couple of things.

First, do you have the time to put into creating your website. Designing a website, picking out templates, and creating pages and content is time consuming. If this is just a resource website and not something you are updating often, putting the time into doing a DIY website is probably perfect for you. There are a lot of large companies, like Pixar, that use a Squarespace site because it gives them an online presence and that’s all that they need.

The second thing to consider is how you are using your site: Do you want your website to maintain an online presence or is it more of a sales tool? Our team has worked with a lot of businesses who have outgrown their website builder site. We often hear, “if it just did X it would be fine.” Since these sites have to be flexible to all kinds of businesses, they miss a lot of industry specific features. This is where a design and development team can take you to the next level.

DESIGN

Total time spent: 10 business days or 2 weeks

After you have decided the route to go, it’s time for the design phase. In design, you will start to get a feel for what your site will look like, but there is still some more work you need to do before passing it off to a developer or before selecting your website builder template.

REBRAND

Internal time spent: 1 business day

This is usually the time when a client questions whether they need a new logo, new typeface selections, and a fresh color scheme. The design phase is definitely the ideal time to have these discussions. If you think it may be time for a rebrand, we highly recommend conducting a branding session with your team.

Branding sessions can take some time, but after a few hours, you know what personality you want your brand to have and where you want to take your business moving forward. This type of strategic thinking is critical in making sure that your website accomplishes the goals you have for your business.

CONTENT

Internal time spent: 3 business days

With a brand personality, you can also work on crafting your message. The notes from your branding session will be helpful in writing the text for your internal pages. This is also the point where, if you aren’t a writer, you can bring in a content creator to flesh out your message and get it ready to go online.

Having your content written during the design phase will give your web design team more direction when creating your wireframe. From your content, they can focus their design on the user experience and effectively guide them through your website and ideally take them from casual visitor to your newest customer.

WIREFRAME + MOCKUP

Time spent: 10 business days

Once your brand and your content starts coming together, its NOW time to think about your website’s design. The first phase is wireframes.

With a wireframe, you want to sketch on paper the main blocks your site. When you draft a wireframe, the question you are answering is “Where does my content go?”

The wireframe will outline where photos, video, text, and CTAs are placed. This quick sketch is basically your website at 30,000 feet. Make sure you can visualize where the content will be place. If you see something missing or the flow feels off, make a change. If you are working with a design team, this is the hardest, but most important time to speak up. It’s hard because you can’t physically see the whole thing, but it’s important because this is the easiest time to make adjustments.

From the wireframe comes the mock-up. Your designer will take the wireframe and drop in your content so you can now see what the finished product will look like. This is usually where revisions start to be requested. If you are working with a team, make sure that there is a meeting scheduled to review your mockups. Before that meeting, get your notes together on what you like (and why) and what you dislike and want changed. These notes will be the guide your development team will use when making adjustments. If it’s not in there, it will stay as it was in the original mockup. Be honest, be critical, and know that you aren’t going to hurt someone’s feelings. Your design team wants you to be happy with what you see.

After a couple of rounds of revisions it’s time to bring your site from concept to completion.

DEVELOPMENT

Time spent: 10 business days

For the DIYer, this is where you will select your template and start dropping in in your content. Testing the site and making sure all the features that you need are available and functioning as you expect them to.

If you have chosen to work with a design and development team, this is where they takeover. You have done some solid heavy lifting and put a lot of thought, now’s the time when your developer will take all that and bring it to fruition.

You may be a little worried to step back for a bit, but knowing about what you will receive at the end of it will relieve some of that anxiety.

WORDPRESS

If you aren’t familiar with WordPress, here’s a little background. WordPress runs over a third of all websites on the internet. As open source software, developers can tailor the needs for an client making it work for business large and small.

We have helped clients of all skillsets increase sales with their WordPress websites by

The backend of WordPress is easy to manage so you will get a website at the end that doesn’t can be updated internally, but can also be adjusted as your business grows.

QA

Time spent: 2 days

Once your development team has coded out your site. It’s time for you to test it. Click everything. Go to every page. Make copious notes about what works and what doesn’t. The QA phase is your final stage before your website is launched so you want to make sure that it is exactly as you want.

Website Launch

At the end of your website journey, you will be excited and a little nervous for the world to see what you have been working on. While you want everything to work and be perfect, minor imperfections are expected. Most development teams you work with will follow-up with a few complimentary adjustments that weren’t caught during QA. As long as these are kept to a minimum, they shouldn’t add to the cost of the website.

Now is the time to share your new site with your customers by promoting it! Shout from the rooftops, send out an email to your customers, highlight your new site on social media, or add a blurb to your email signature. You want people to know that you are investing in your business and that they should think of you when they need you.

CONCLUSION

You are going to be involved in your website design. Whether you do it yourself or hire a team of developers, you need to commit time to making sure the design, content, and functionality will showcase your business in the most accurate way. Set aside at least 30-days to plan, design, and create your site for the best results. If you don’t have the time (or desire) to do it yourself, hiring a professional will give you a site that functions as you want it to with the ability to grow as your business grows.

Chances are your website isn’t perfect. Nothing against you or your website. But, to be honest, our website isn’t perfect either. With tools and needs changing so quickly, a website that functioned perfectly when it was first launched, probably needs a few tweaks and updates just a couple months later.

When we are approached by a new client, reviewing their current website is the first thing on our to-do list. If their current site functions fine, then we know that it’s editing the design to make it more user-friendly and accessible. When we are getting ready to draft a proposal, these are the steps we take to assess where our expertise will be most beneficial and how to effectively implement those changes.

There are two main areas that I look for when doing a website test:

  1. Website performance (aka. the visual side of things)
  2. How the internet views your website or how your site’s SEO is doing

1. 5-Second Test

Before looking at a site, I grab a sheet of paper, browse to the site, and scroll through the homepage for no more than 5 seconds. I close the window and jot down what I think the organization does.

A well-structured homepage makes your business goals clear. No one should have to search to figure out what you do.

You might ask yourself, “how can someone not know what I do? They searched a term linked to my business and landed on my website. There shouldn’t be a lot of ambiguity.” And, you’re right. There shouldn’t be, but there is. Let’s consider three businesses: Blue Apron, Instacart, and Epicurious

All three are food prep related, but in different ways.

Instacart makes it clear that they will just deliver your groceries. They provide you with no plan for those groceries, but you get what you ask for. While Blue Apron, lets you order their recipes. This is a little ambiguous at first, but as you scroll down, you figure out that they send you the ingredients with the recipes as part of their meal subscription service. Lastly, Epicurious allows you to search recipes. Since it is just a recipe site, it’s up to the user to figure out how to get the food into their homes to prepare the meal.

When I am first looking at a website, if I can’t get a pretty good idea of what the company does, then the content and the calls-to-action need to be worked on during the design phase of the website project.

2. How Are Your Calls-To-Action Structured?

Once we have an idea of what your business does, the next thing we check on is how your calls-to-action (CTAs) are structured.  Here are the questions I want to answer.

Do you use consistent colors, styles, and font weights for buttons/links?

This is important so that as people navigate your site, they are met with consistent styling triggering the same response. Ghost buttons don’t elicit the same urgency as buttons that are filled in with a solid color. This is also a place where the classic color mood rules apply. Reds and oranges are great for energizing and engaging customers while blues and greens will provide a calming response.

Do you use phrasing that prompts action from the user?

If your CTA doesn’t compel people to act, then they aren’t doing their job! Make sure they the CTAs are answering the customer’s tacit question.

If they are looking at a product “ADD TO CART” is the obvious CTA. It answers the question, “How do I get it?” If they are looking at a service you provide “GET A QUOTE” or “CONTACT US TODAY” is the first step to get them to purchase your service.

There are certain phrases that work better than others, so try some out and see which works best for you. I look to see if the CTAs are compelling me to take action.

Does the content around the CTA guide customers to their solution?

If your product is multistep, providing customers with a peak into the process can help alleviate some of their concerns. If all they see is “contact us today” you are giving them no information and no peace of mind. While some people are ready to jump in with both feet just from the homepage, others may need some handholding to get them to take action. Answering some basic questions about a service’s process, or a product’s features, or a return policy will help someone who is  more tentative to take action.

3. Test site on mobile, desktop, and tablets

The next thing I look at is to make sure that the website functions correctly across different platforms. Responsive design is common now, but older sites can still have issues. Since 2014, mobile traffic has overtaken desktop traffic, but since most sites are designed at a computer, it’s still worth a second look.

The most common problems are with image size, headers not displaying correctly, and menus that are difficult to navigate. These are all easy fixes, you just have to work with the right team.

4. SSL Certificate

Checking that your website has an SSL certificate is quick. On most browsers, when you look in the address bar you will see a lock (🔒) icon. If you don’t see that lock, it’s time to get your SSL certificate. Having a certificate will let your users know that when they land on your website, it is actually your website and not a similar site, that is imitating your website. It allows them to feel secure in any purchases they make or any personal information that they may put into your site.

Another reason to get one is that Google likes them and will improve your ranking if you have the certificate. A lot of hosting providers partners partner with Let’s Encrypt where you can get a free certificate.

5. Working Links

Making sure your links work is critical. Whether they external links or links to other pages on your site, finding links that don’t function as a user expects and fixing them will improve the user experience. Since you can’t always control what other people do on their sites, I check to see what we can control on your site and how to fix it.

First, I like to make sure that any external links open in a new tab or window. This ensures that if they are redirected to a page that no longer exists, they have an easy way to get back to you and don’t have to re-navigate.

Next, I check to see with links on your site are broken. Using a tool like Ahref’s Broken Link Checker will help to identify any problem links and where to find and fix them.

6. Speed tests

A slow website makes for a bad user experience. You might think that your site loads quickly and there isn’t a problem. And it may, for you. But, I challenge to you clear your cache or use a private browsing window and open it again. Since you probably visit your site a lot, it will load quicker for you than for most people.

Checking site speed lets me know if your files and images are web ready or what changes need to be made. By using a service like Pingdom, I can get a list of all files being included on the website and how long they take to load. This helps me to identify what problems need to be solved and helps me to solve them quickly.

7. Review Google Analytics

Checking to see if you have Google Analytics installed on your site is more for your benefit than the customers. It’s free and will let you see how customers are finding and engaging with your site. You will be able to see which pages have the most traffic and capitalize on that by adding CTAs to those pages.

Here’s a real life example: I was working with a client who wanted to improve his business as a speaker. The page that was getting the most traffic was not his contact page, it was actually a page that just discussed his past speaking events. This meant that the page people were landing on didn’t have a call-to-action. This was a great opportunity to utilize the information and help people get the product that they wanted, in this case a speaker, by prompting the action that needed to be taken (“Contact Me For Your Next Event”).

Another thing you can do within Google which will help is making sure that your sitemap has been submitted. If you haven’t don’t this, you are missing a lot of traffic. This is an easy task to take on, and essential to helping large search engines index your sitemap for searching.

8. Search Ratings

Another thing I look for is how your website ranks for relevant search terms. Using the tool Uber Suggest, I can see who ranks above (or below) your site for specific terms. Using this, we can improve your website’s content and help you rank higher for terms that your competition may not be using.

I was working with a client recently who was having a difficult time trying to get their website being the featured snippet on Google. Customers were searching for “John’s Restaurant menu” but site that collects menus from all different restaurants was showing up higher in Google than them. We dove into the data and found out the the “menu aggregator” site pulls in tens of thousands of page views per day, while John’s Restaurant only pulls in a meager thousand. Google views the “menu aggregator” as more authoritative and therefore shows it higher in the list of results.

Outpacing a large, national company, when you’re small or local can be hard, but knowing what powers are at play helps you improve your results over time.

9. Image Alt Tags

Visual search is on the rise. You can benefit from it by including alt tags in your images. This will help improve your sites SEO by creating more information that can be indexed and searched by Google and other search engines.

Conclusion

These website reviews don’t take a lot of time, typically under an hour, but doing them helps me to provide customers with a structured game-plan for their business. If I look at a site and an overhaul is obvious, then I can pretend they don’t have a site at all and suggest a build-from-scratch approach. However, sometimes it takes some digging to see where our services can provide the most impact.

If you have been thinking that WordPress is just for bloggers, we have to talk about what’s been going on the last 10 year or so. WordPress has become one of the most versatile content management platforms allowing people from all different backgrounds to get on the web. The system’s evolution allows business and individuals with varying needs and skill levels to use the platform successfully. Let’s answer the burning question: What is WordPress?

History of WordPress

Where WordPress Got Its Start

In 2003 a blogging platform called b2/cafelog was created by Michel Valdrighi and was built with PHP and MySQL. Two key features made b2 unique. First, it was one of the first systems that allowed for content to be stored in a database so people didn’t have to code out every page of their website by hand. This made it easier for developers to write code while also allowing non-technical users to continue adding content to their sites without having to write code. Secondly, it was also a trailblazer for the GNU General Public License. This means anyone can use the code to do whatever they want with it – in shorter terms: open source.

However, there is an inherent problem with a lot open source software because once the primary creator decides he or she has better things to do, the software is no longer supported and all of its users are left to find the next best thing. This is what happened with b2/cafelog – Michel disappeared one day and left all of his users in the dark. One of those b2/cafelog users was Matt Mullenweg. He knew he wanted to create a new platform that was open-sourced so other people could pick up the torch whenever he had to drop it. Since b2/cafelog was already open-sourced, he decided he could use all the cool pieces from that and add new features to it as a new release. He wrote a blog about it and decided to take the b2/cafelog code and make it better. On May 17, 2003, Matt launched WordPress 0.7 which would be its first release to the public.

WordPress Gains Some Momentum

Let’s zoom forward to 2010. WordPress 3.0 is released in June with a new feature called Custom Post Types. Up until this release, WordPress was mostly used for blogs as it only allowed for two content types: Posts and Pages. Custom Post Types opened up a new realm of possibilities for developers. If you were a restaurant owner who ran a franchise, now you could have a section on your site called Restaurants with each restaurant having a name, address, phone number and email address (amongst many other pieces of data). This new development was the conversion point of WordPress transitioning from a blog-only platform into a full-blown content management system. The 2011 year saw WordPress climb from a 13.1% market share to a 15.8% market share. This may not seem like a large leap, but WordPress’s closest competition (Joomla) only had a 2.8% market share the same year.

In short: WordPress increased by [almost] the size of its main competitor’s market share. Not too shabby for 12 months worth of work.

How is WordPress Built?

The two primary components of day-to-day WordPress shenanigans are themes and plugins. At its core, your theme controls the look and feel of your website while plugins add interesting functionality to your site that you don’t have to code yourself (ie. shopping carts, contact forms or even discussion forums)

Developer Aside: As we discussed before, WordPress is built upon a primary foundation of PHP and MySQL. As of WordPress 5.0 (or “the Gutenberg update” as most people call it), WordPress also introduced React into its development stack as well. This was a huge change from all the server-side systems that were currently in place. As a developer, it might be time to start introducing some more JS into your day-to-day activities so you can evolve with the changing WordPress landscape. Soon, WordPress may even be used primarily as a headless CMS.

Themes

Every style that is on your website is derived from the theme you have installed. And one of the biggest pros of using WordPress is the ease of switching from one theme to another. Let’s say you have had your current site for a year or two now – it might be time for a facelift. Once you find a new theme, you can upload it to your site and with a single click, activate it as your website’s new look-and-feel. However, if you do a quick search for WordPress Themes on Google, you will be required to navigate a plethora of choices. Some of them will be free while some costing $150 or more. You might find some on a marketplace that sells hundreds or a boutique company that only sells one or two. With so many options to choose from, where should you start?

Free WordPress Themes

For starters, WordPress.org has its own marketplace for free themes and one of the great things is that they are vetted for quality standards by the “code police” that run WordPress. The “code police” are volunteers that have a passion for WordPress and want to make sure it remains the high-quality product it is known to be. While this library of themes might not have the largest quantity of ones to choose from, you can rest [more] assured that you are using a theme that has quality coding behind it and thus is more secure. If you go the free route, you need to be very careful that the theme does not have anything malicious inside of it. It would be very easy to sneak in a few lines of code on a free theme that may send passwords for your website back to the creators of the theme to use however they want. This is hard to detect, as themes are typically made of up quite a few files, and perusing each of them line-by-line would take quite a bit of time. This is why I highly recommend using the WordPress theme repository if you want to go the free route since they are vetted for quality.

Normal-Priced WordPress Themes

Now we start talking about money. As of writing, normal themes cost anywhere between $40 – $70. The majority of these themes can be found on marketplace-style sites that sell hundreds (if not thousands) of WordPress themes. Classic City Consulting has had the most long-term success with ThemeForest.net. Much like with WordPress’s theme marketplace, Theme Forest goes through a quality check before allowing authors to post a theme to their site. This allows them to filter out a lot of bad themes so they maintain their quality standards.

Even though there isn’t a way to determine a theme’s usability before purchasing and installing it, there are a few things we always look for that tend to narrow down the field.

Numbers

On the right-sidebar, ThemeForest publishes some useful numbers:

Features

Before you make a theme purchase, you need to know what you want to do with it. If you are going to be running an e-commerce store, make sure the theme is compatible with WooCommerce. If data collection is going to be vital for your site, make sure it’s compatible with Ninja Forms or Gravity Forms. Below is a list of the basics that should be considered for a handful of different use cases:

One-Click Demo Install

You have finally found a theme that checks all the boxes and have installed it – but what’s next? You want to be able to get your website looking exactly like the preview you loved so much, yet don’t want to have to rebuild everything from scratch. That’s where the last feature comes into play: when you are scrolling through the theme’s information, make sure they advertise a “one click demo install.” This phrase isn’t always the same, as there isn’t a standard phrase all theme developers use, but be on the lookout for something like it. If a theme doesn’t state they have a “one click” content import process, then don’t purchase it. You’ll have to rebuild the entire theme from scratch and will waste a lot of your time – which is the whole reason for buying a theme in the first place.

Expensive WordPress Themes

These themes typically offer the highest level of customization – but they do take some time if it’s the first time you’ve used them. We’re going to focus on Divi, however, most themes in the “expensive” arena work very similarly.

It’s a Framework

A framework structure means that most users can create a website that meets their needs by using the elements included to create a functional site layout. Frameworks, like Divi, are like the building blocks of WordPress design. You have a lot of different elements and it just depends on how you choose to create within those confines.

Built-in Page Builder

Divi comes pre-packaged with its own page builder. This will allow you to work with the various elements that come with Divi to create a customized layout for your company’s website. Everything is drag-and-droppable on the front-end of your website – you can see what your site looks like while you edit it.

Layout Templates

When you are using the Page Builder, one of the options it gives you are Layout Templates. These are pre-packaged/pre-laid-out groups of content blocks. Take a look at the screenshot above. This is a layout template for Team. It contains a row with three columns. Each of the three columns has a place to upload a team member’s square photo, name, a brief bio as well as a link to view their entire portfolio. By using this Layout Template, you don’t have to spend time creating each column individually.

Page Templates

One step above Layout Templates are Page Templates. Divi has pre-built entire layouts for pages for your use. These combine a variety of Layout Templates together on a single page so all you have to do is copy your content in, delete the sections you don’t need and “voila!” You could have an entire page built in less than ten minutes.

Wrapping Divi Up

As you can see, Divi is more than just a page builder or a basic theme. It’s an ecosystem where you can create customized experiences from the ground up. It does take some time to master (just like any other framework-style theme), however, it provides you with quite a few options for customization once you get the hang of it. If I was a business owner who was just starting with WordPress, I recommend starting with a theme that falls under the Theme Forest area first and then move up to a framework theme (like Divi) once you have gotten used to WordPress.

Changing WordPress Themes

Life is great: you have a theme, it’s worked out well, but it’s been a while since your site has had a change of scenery. You can go out, buy another theme and just activate it, however, there are some potential roadblocks you might run into if you just click the Activate button and hope for the best.

Back Up Your Site

Before you do anything, run a backup of your site. There is always the potential for problems when you run scripts on your website (ie. the theme activation). You always want to make sure you have an accessible copy of your site and you know how to roll your site back if there are any issues.

Are You Using a Framework Theme?

If your current site uses a framework theme (or a page builder), make sure your new theme also has support for it. If it doesn’t, chances are the content on your site won’t be transferable from one page-builder to another. A lot of page builders inject their own syntax into the content of your website (think of this as the difference between Spanish and English) and if you try to use a different page builder, it won’t be able to translate it from one language to another.

Are Your Widgets Areas the Same?

When you are using a theme, each widget area has a name that has been assigned by the theme’s creator (ie. Right Sidebar or Header). When you install a new theme, the widget areas might have different names. You’ll want to make sure you populate the new widget areas with the appropriate widgets you will need on your new site – as they won’t transfer over automatically.

Custom Menus

The same thing applies to menus as it does for widget areas. Each theme creator will name their menu areas differently, so you’ll want to make sure your menus are transferred over correctly (even if that means you have to re-create them).

Staging Area

Does your hosting provider give you a “staging” site? This is a version of your site that you can use that is not public-facing. It is used for testing out new changes on a copy of your site so if something breaks during testing, your customers won’t know the difference. This would be a great location to test out your new theme to make sure it doesn’t break anything.

Plugins

Plugins are what gives your site the functionality it needs to help you run your business. Whether that be anything from a shopping cart (WooCommerce) to data collection (Ninja Forms), WordPress has the plugins you need to accomplish quite a few (if not all) of the tasks you need your website to do for you.

Differences Between WordPress Themes and Plugins

I want to point out one big difference where the lines get blurred quite often. Let’s take a real estate theme as our example. This theme you installed on your site allows you to load in the houses you have for sale in an organized fashion. That’s fantastic unless the functionality of saving/organizing your houses is stored in the theme, what happens when you want to switch to a new theme? That property management piece will disappear. The line between a plugin and a theme is typically black and white, however, when you start looking into themes that provide you core functionality out of the box, that’s when you might want to throw up a red flag before you dive too far into purchasing a theme for your business.

Plugin Pricing Options

Just like with themes, we also have differences between free and paid plugins.

Free

WordPress.org has a fantastic repository of free plugins you can use on your site. These plugins have been vetted, however, there are 50,000+ at the time of writing and a lot of them are not maintained very well. What should you look for when going through WordPress’s list of plugins?

Paid

Paid plugins are a great way to go – especially when your company’s revenue is dependent upon it working correctly. Most of the time, a paid plugin is built by a company that is actively maintaining it – hence why you pay for the license to use it. You still need to do research into the plugin to ensure it’s not coming from a source that will halt development within a few months. However, there are a few things you can do to help guide your decision:

Differences Between WP.com and .org

This is probably one of my top-five most-asked questions over the course of my career. I hear it mostly from people who are about to start their first website and are trying to figure out whether they should go with WordPress.com or WordPress.org. However, it gets a little confusing when you try to figure out the differences between them.

WordPress.com

WordPress.com is a service owned by Automattic. It’s just like every other website building service, except it’s powered by WordPress. It’s 100% free to start your own website – you choose your template, toss your content in and you’re off the races. However, it does come with its limitations. We’ve talked a lot about installing plugins and finding custom themes, and unless you sign up for WordPress.com’s Business Plan, you can’t use any of them. But for a lot of people, that’s a perfect launching point for their business. They already know the WordPress system (or have at least heard of it) and just need to get a website up and running for their business as a proof of concept. The great thing is that all the content can be brought over into their own custom WordPress site when that time comes.

WordPress.org

You have this site on WordPress.com and now you’re ready to take it to the next level. You want the ability to customize your site with plugins, themes and possibly even a developer to help you code out that special feature you can’t find a plugin. Meet WordPress.org.

All of WordPress is 100% open-sourced – which means anyone can download it and change it however they want. All you need is a hosting provider that runs the appropriate systems (which most do). Once you make the transition to this version of WordPress, you own the code and the design and can take your website with you wherever you want to go. Are you done with cheap hosting and want to move to something more secure? That’s no longer a problem. Want to install a backup system that saves your backup files to a separate location from your website? That is also solvable.

Conclusion

WordPress is a pretty powerful tool that is very widely used. It gives you the ability to add new features with the click of a button and completely change the look and feel of your site in with another button push. It also has the ability to be customized so much that people don’t even realize WordPress is running the show behind the scenes. What will you create with WordPress?

With the average website visit lasting only 15-seconds, it’s important to be smart with your homepage real estate. There are a few tweaks and changes that can be changed in order to ensure you are putting your best foot forward and keeping people on your site long enough to take the next action in the process of getting to know you and your business.

Tell them who you are and what you do

Before you move forward in trying to sell or educate, being clear in what you do is critical. The first thing someone should see, is your business’s definition.

Before scrolling down, include a statement that briefly and accurately describes your business

Look at the homepage for TREK bikes.

Trek homepage screenshot

You’ll notice that there are rotating images of people on their many types of bikes, but more importantly, you’ll see the tag line “Ride bikes. Have fun. Feel good.” and then a very clear call to action “FIND A BIKE”. You know exactly what you are expected to do on their homepage, find a bike that you can ride so that you can enjoy your life in spandex shorts having fun and feeling good.

While an ambiguous headline can make someone dig deeper into your site, it could also increase your bounce rate if they don’t want to take the time to piece together what you do.

A great headline will answer the key question

What do you do?

In this example, it’s very clear: They sell bikes and you should buy one.

Compelling imagery

I would like to take this opportunity to be very open and honest about stock photos.

Your business in unique and, while stock photos are great on interior pages, your homepage should really distinguish you from your competition with custom imagery. Whether your industry is business-to-business or business-to-consumer, the relationship is always human-to-human.

Now you may enjoy camping or you don’t, but after viewing the images on the REI homepage you want the experience that these people are having.

REI homepage screenshot

When the images that you put on your website reflect the aspirational view of your visitors people will want to be a part of your brand. Project the happiness that a customer will feel after engaging with your brand. If after viewing your website they want to go buy a tent, pack up their dog, and take their Subaru to the mountains then you are winning — this is assuming you sell either tents, dogs, or Subarus.

Identifiable calls-to-action

Now that you’ve explained who you are and what you do and shown how happy people are after engaging in your brand, you need to show what the next steps are.
This is a great chance to use a tech superstar and advertising Goliath as an example.

Apple has two primary actions for their users: “Learn More” and “Buy”.

Apple Homepage scroll screenshot

Apple offers twenty-seven products in more than 200 versions. Apple has also sold about 2 billion devices since the 2018 keynote event in September. Yes, their marketing is brilliant, but it’s a case when keeping it simple works. By not overwhelming people with all the options, it makes the showcased items easily digestible.

Conclusion

In the fifteen second window, you want people to take a look at your homepage and know that you can solve your problems. Presenting a compelling message with unique imagery and clear calls to action will encourage people to view your brand different from others out there and you will stand out amongst all the noise. Your homepage is how you make a great first impression.

Setting up your website is a daunting task especially for a new business. Having a team of developers that you can work with that know current trends and techniques in your corner will help your business create a something that you can be proud of. We think we are that team.

We built Classic City Consulting with top specialists in our industry. Our developers, designers, content creators, and marketers have a wide range of interests, talents, and skills that all work to maximize our creativity power. We are dedicated to showcasing and sharing a company’s story in web, print, and applications.

5 Steps to Getting Your Website Launched

(1) Kick-off Call

The hardest part of any big project is getting started. We can’t offer suggestions unless we know what you want and you don’t know what you want until you know what is possible. During this first meeting, we like to hear about your goals with your website.

Questions that you should think through:

It’s during a Kick-off call that we learned the problem that Georgia Engineering Foundation [https://classiccity.com/code/application-development/] faced was that they were overwhelmed with too many hiccups in their scholarship application process. They needed a system to accept the applications and then a backend system where they could be easily reviewed. We were able to do research on the most cost effective way to streamline the process for the scholarship applicants and the reviewers. From what we learned in that first meeting, we implemented a system that allowed their annual scholarship applications to grow from 300 to 800 in the first year.

(2) Drawing up a Plan

Whether you need a new website or updates to your old site, we want to create something that you can look at to see our vision for your website. The colors won’t be quite right and the pictures won’t be yours, but it’s always easier to tell what’s wrong than to picture, from nothing, what is right.

Organizing all your wants and needs into a single document is the hardest part of any project. A part of our process is taking the time to think through all the backend problems and present you with a solution that we think will help you to accomplish your goals.

What we need from you:

(3) QA – Your Feedback

We don’t get it right the first time. We never have and probably never will. It’s hard to get our own site right the first time and we know what we are looking for. This is the stage where you can come in and tell us what you like, what you hate, and what you think matches your preferences. Our QA calls are some of our most productive when a client has fully reviewed their site and compared it to the list they originally gave us. Sometimes, we will get a “I really wanted <X>” but X wasn’t in the original plan. That’s okay. We can add it! That’s what QA is for.

Before a QA meeting:

(4) Putting the Plan in Action

Web development is a daunting endeavor, but that’s our problem. We’ll keep you in the loop on the progress and will do what we do best: Code.

The key to a flawless development stage is putting the right people in the right place. I was reading recently an article from Brad Frost, a web designer, speaker, consultant, writer, and musician. As a developer who also has a myriad of interests, Frost discussed how his company has changed in the past five years.

Near the beginning of the article, Frost cites one of his favorite elements of effective web development,

… straddling the line between in-the-weeds technical/design issues and fuzzier cultural/people issues.

Frost argues that technical issues tend to work themselves out, a clear result in mind to fix the problem. However, people problems tend to be difficult to resolve…and he loves these sorts of problems. We echo this sentiment in how we run our team. We assign specialists to where they best fit within a project.

It’s about people: I get to work with a talented team.

Client’s Role:

(5) Go Live

After a few short weeks, your website is ready! Our team isn’t going away though. Learning your new site is our top priority. We will do screencasts explaining how to make edits and updates. Additionally, if you find something we missed, let us know and we’ll make the change.

Creating a website is a team project. Don’t expect us to just disappear after this is over. Keeping you up to date on necessary upgrades is what we’re good at.  We are reaching out to clients right now since the release of PHP 7.2 and WordPress 5.0.

[ccc_inline_callout title=”Let us help with your new or current site” content=”Get in touch to start the process today.”]

Calls-to-action (or CTAs for short) are useful tools for creating engaging websites. In order to understand how to place them properly to get the most effective results, we first need to answer the obvious question…

What is a CTA?

A call to action is a defined area of your site that prompts a user to take a desired action. This can take on a couple of different looks. It can be sections of content with a header, a few sentences, and a button to take the action or simply just a button. Whenever a website visitor is pushed towards an outcome, it is a call to action. Structuring your website around your calls to action will make it work effectively for you.

Using Calls to Action

In content-first design, your design and layout are developed around

You want to make sure your website is laid out in a way that will solve a customer’s common problems and have them take a desired action, whether that be sign up for an email list or buy a product. This is where CTAs come in.

This is an example from our website.

On the homepage, we took common problems customers have and linked those to areas on our site that shows how we solved that issue for other clients. At the end of each section, there is a button that allows them to get in touch with us about that specific service area.

Where Should I Put CTAs?

There isn’t one master plan that dictates where you should put calls to action, but there are a few guidelines that work universally.

Above the Fold

You want to make sure you have a single, prominent CTA that is seen before scrolling. This CTA should define the single problem that the majority of your site’s visitors will be having along with a clear solution in your action text. To be effective, analyze why your customers landed on your site in the first place. Understanding that will allow you to craft a sticky call to action on your homepage.

In Your Footer

Make it easy for customers to get in touch with you by providing a CTA within your footer. Not everyone will make it to the footer of a website, but your footer should summarize your business and provide easy links to key areas of interest across your site. Use this real estate to leave a lasting impression on visitors and give them a way to contact you with any unanswered questions

Strategically Within Content

Everything you write about your business provides a reason to work with you! All of your content from the “About Us” page to your blog gives you the opportunity to invite engagement. Depending on the content and the types of CTAs, you can have one or multiple within a single page.

Here’s an example of a post on Mashable where they invite you to read other articles on the site.

They inject a text link into the article that is connected to the topic you are currently reading. It is helpful to the reader and doesn’t draw any unnecessary attention away from what you were already focused on, and now Mashable kept you on their website engaging with their content longer.

A pop-up ad can be effective, but in your face CTAs can cause a bad user experience.

This is an example of a pop up box that shows up when your cursor moves toward the “close” button in your browser. This obvious CTA is the company’s last effort to keep you on their site, collect information about you, and engage with you some way. For the right type of person, this may work, but it is usually considered bad form.

Are my CTAs working?

The best way to find out is by installing heat map tracking on your landing page. To gauge the success of a call to action, knowing that the customer has seen the item is key. If a page has zero clickthroughs, you might assume that the content doesn’t resonate with visitors. However, what if no one ever saw the CTA that redirects to the page? That’s a critical piece of information needed judge a CTA effectiveness

Scrollmap

Click to enlarge to see our whole page’s scrollmap

A scrollmap shows us how many people scrolled down to which parts of  a webpage. From the scrollmap above, we can see that almost everyone views the header section of this landing page. As we move down, only 50% of total visitors even scrolled this far to read the content. Even further, only 25% got to the blog posts in the footer are being seen.

This gives us actionable data. We know that we are getting pretty much 100% viewership on our hero image. But, the section right below the fold drops down to  about 60 percent. Knowing this, we will structure tests to decide how best to increase viewership of our CTAs. A couple of ideas to try would be:

  1. Shrinking the banner’s vertical height some to expose more content that will invite visitors to scroll further.
  2. Moving our  solutions CTAs further up on the page, right below the header, to drive people to specific pages relative to the problems they are having.

Heatmap / Click Map

Now that we know where people are scrolling to, and what content segments are being viewed, it’s time to take a look at what elements users are interacting with. The heatmap and click map (also termed “confetti map”) show us exactly where visitors have clicked. This isn’t a generalization. It shows us the cursor position when someone clicked their mouse on the website.

We see that a lot of people have clicked on our menu icon. Unfortunately, we can see that our main calls to action aren’t being clicked on as much as we want. By combining the data from both the heat maps and the click map we can see how often areas of the site are being used relative to how many people are actually viewing them. Only by interpreting the data can we make logical decisions on how to structure the pages on our website to best fit our customer’s needs.

We Don’t Know What Our Customers Want

Identifying what someone will be looking for on the landing page is what makes the CTA most effective. If they are getting to your CTAs but not clicking through, there are a few tests that you can do to quickly identify the solution.

A/B Testing

In an A/B test, different versions of similar content is presented to customers, and their responses are measured. Doing this type of split testing is most effective when you only change one piece of data per test. If you change too many pieces, you won’t know what made the difference, and you may attribute success to the wrong update. The example below is from ‘Merica Clothing.

In this example, they  changed two characteristics of the CTA button. First, the color was made softer and less aggressive. Second, the text was made to excite action by capitalizing “ADD TO CART”. Now this page converts 50% better than it did before, but the reason for it is unclear

Color (and Style) Matter!

Color is a powerful tool: red excites, blues calm, and yellow energizes. Since you can influence emotion with color, combining it with consistent styling gives your customers a cohesive experience throughout your website.  If you lack consistency, you’ll lose your audience’s attention.

Almost all the buttons on the Classic City website are completely rounded, are set in bold text, and have gradient backgrounds. The button’s coloration matches that of the page it’s on. Our CTAs are not always the same color, but they are styled in the same way throughout the site.


Without CTAs, a website is just an electronic brochure. They turn your website into a platform that not only represents your company, but invites the customer to engage with you. This is a broad and diverse topic that can be applied in creative ways. Have Classic City look over your website and help you make the most out of CTAs.

This week, we posted about some of the various issues that come across our screens in a days work. Bad images, bad navigation, and bad CTAs are just the tip of the iceberg. When a website redesign is coming, here are a few other articles to review before you sit down with a developer.


Top 5 Website Design Mistakes Killing Business Bottom Lines

Your website can have all the right words, but if they are hidden within clutter, confusion, and chaos no one will be able to engage with you.

“A website’s design often provides the first impression customers have of a company,” Joseph Putnam of Crazy Egg explained.

If a service listing is posted on the internet and no one finds it, does it help your customer?

Read More…


4 Reasons Why You Must Kill Your Drop-down Menu (and what to do instead)

Sometimes the standard needs to be challenged. When redesigning a website, the navigation is not where your creativity comes out, but it is what makes sure your hard work is justified. Maybe you could benefit from rethinking your navigation

Read More…


On Vacation? 5 Tips on How to Shoot Great Travel Photos

With the advances in phone camera technology, everyone can take good photos. However, there are a few easy tricks you can do to take your good photos into photos you want to share.

Believe it or not, even a couple of filters can turn your dark and dull photos to vibrant and appealing ones.

These tips work for both personal and business use!

Read More…


Under the hood: How Chrome’s ad filtering works

Announced in February, Google Chrome will begin filtering ads that do not follow the Better Ads Standards whose goal is to create a better user experience. Ads that prevent a visitor from accessing content, being playing music with sound, or cover of most of the content are on the list of bad practices.

Although a few of the ad experiences that violate the Better Ads Standards are problems in the advertisement itself, the majority of problematic ad experiences are controlled by the site owner — such as high ad density or prestitial ads with countdown.

Read More…

There are a lot of websites out there that look fantastic – there’s no question about that.  With so many options, how do companies take a potential customer from “I’m just looking around” to “This company understands me – and I want to buy.”  The difference between having a simple “brochure website” and one that constantly works for you is one where the design of the website is dictated by the content.

Knowing what content is going to get visitors to interact isn’t always clear.  There isn’t a formula that will output well-written content for you.  That’s where having a clear understanding of your business and your customers will help simplify your content goals.

Your Business’s Goals

If you are about to overhaul your company’s website, the design and creation of “Version 2” can be an exciting time. You and your employees have numerous ideas for improvements that you can’t wait to implement. But first, answer the simplest question:

What is the main goal of the business?

The goal here is to define your business in a short snippet that illustrates how you make a difference for your customers.  This is what the content plan and site’s layout will be built around. This idea may be communicated in different ways across the website to connect with a variety of customers. To generalize, here are some well-known companies’ main goals to give you some ideas:

[ccc_boxes id=”website-goals”]

A well-defined business will provide you the direction needed to stand out in the marketplace.

Your Customer’s Goals

Now that your core goal are clear, it’s time to figure out how you communicate your value to your customers.  Your company isn’t just about the services or products you sell, it’s also about the problems that you solve.  People want to buy from you because what you do makes their life better.

Let’s take a construction company – Bob’s Construction – as a quick example. Let’s keep their scope simple – Bob’s Construction build houses from the ground up and repairs current homes.  They could have a list of Services on their website’s homepage to display all the different things they do:

[ccc_boxes id=”construction-services”]

Having that list is fantastic as it shows the breadth of what they do.  However, it doesn’t make a connection with potential customers, and it doesn’t show how Bob’s Construction can solve their problems.  They still have to figure out what they want and how to get in touch with you.  What if Bob’s Construction phrased these in a way that made a connection with their potential customer and solved one of their pain points?

With these simple tweaks and helping to identify pain points, Bob’s Construction is now meeting people right where they are.  Those who click on these links are now more qualified because they have identified with that problem and the call to action, or the “solution,” works alongside the content.

What You Want To Target

Now that your goals are defined, there is one last question to answer to help your website come to life.

What do you want to be known for?

If you want to be known for “Atlanta Homes”, then you shouldn’t be wasting your time putting content out there about plumbing in Nashville.  That is rather farfetched, so let’s bring it to a micro level.

If you owned a wedding venue in downtown Atlanta,  what are some key areas of your business that you want people to know about?

What you want to be known for will drive your website’s added-value content. These would be blogs, podcasts, and videos. This will ensure that you are focused and don’t lead your customers on tangents or discuss topics that are irrelevant.


Content is what connects you with your customers. It provides them with insight into your expertise and how you can bring your skillset to solve their problems. Designing a website with an established content plan will expand your customer base through well-thought out solutions.

There are some beautiful websites out there – and yours very well could be one of those.  It is an immersive, engaging experience, pleasing to the eye and formatted well across different types of devices.  Your developer tossed around terms like “UI” and “UX” during the design process for you to think more critically about your brand new website. Now that it’s live, customers should be buying even more of your products, right? You should be closing a lot of new deals, right?

User Experience (UX) is what makes a site easy to use.

User experience is the ability for a user or customer to be able to complete their intended action with ease and efficiency. Users expect a site to function in a particular manner. For example, when you head over to Amazon.com, you expect to be able to find items, add them to your cart, then checkout. If that three-step process wasn’t simple, Amazon would lose customers en mass. It’s the similarity between checkout on Amazon, Walmart, or Target that makes each site easy to use.

You have to lay out your site in a familiar structure that provides a clear path to all your customer’s end goals. Brand-consciousness can be communicated with styling (like font choice or color palette) to ensure people know it’s your business and not someone else’s.  But the process of purchasing a product is the same everywhere: search, add, pay.

You’ll see that on one product screen, you can: see multiple views of the Porg, read a quick description, determine its Prime eligibility , assess its overall rating, and add it to your cart. Everything a person might need to make a purchase decision is right there, one stop.

Customers buy the same product for different reasons.

But, the issue here lies in the fact you have different types of customers that might take different routes to buy products. How on earth do you sell the same product to completely different people with varying needs and motivations? Can’t you just point people to your global Shop page and call it a day? No. People don’t want to to search to find the one thing they want – they want you to anticipate what they want.

Apple is a perfect example of this. As we all know, Apple sells lots of different products: laptops, desktops, phones, earbuds, tablets and much more. However, my needs as a business owner versus the needs of an elementary teacher are very different. If we’re shopping for a computer, both the teacher and I might buy the exact same laptop model, but how we made the choice to spend our money is not the same.

The images and text immediately help customers recognize themselves on your site. They feel welcome because it is obvious that you thoughts of them when building it: the busy workplace professional and the educator or parent.

The images and text immediately help customers recognize themselves on your site. They feel welcome because it is obvious that you thoughts of them when building it: the busy workplace professional and the educator or parent.

Landing pages show your customer you anticipated their needs.

Apple has created two completely different landing pages for Business and Education. They are selling the same products but  are talking about them differently. Separate landing pages address separate audiences. They are tailored to show off different aspects of the product that might be important from different perspective.  In this case, they are talking to two different verticals of consumers, Business and Education. They have simultaneously expanded their audience and made each niche feel welcome.

You can do this too. First, define your main customers – boil it down to the basics: age, gender, occupation, and location. Figure out why these “buckets” of people visit your website and want to purchase. Record how each type of customer walks through the sales process and, voila! Now, convert that buying journey into a landing page.  Good design will lead the targeted customer “bucket” to make the purchase.

Successful design is tailored to the consumer, not the company.

Success boils down to content and process.  You have to know how your users (i.e. customers) think. Know their motivations and objections.  Know the steps that contribute to their buying decision (process), and provide the right info to overcome their objections (content).

If you do the hard work to learn your consumers, then your site can use layout design, text, and images (i.e. UX) to successfully land sales.  The goal is to make a crystal clear path of the actions for your user. If it’s filling out a contact form, don’t bury it at the bottom of the page.  If you want people to call you, make sure your phone number is in a high-visibility place. (As a bonus, get a special phone number so you know who is calling from the website versus who is calling from your business card). If you want people to buy a product, collect all the relevant details into a single view.

The term User Experience says it all: created by you, for the customer, with clear design to compel action.

[ccc_inline_callout title=”Want a free UX evaluation of up to 5 pages of your site?” content=”Connect with us today to let us know how we can help you discover your client buckets and create landing pages with meaning.”]

Having an impressive looking website doesn’t always mean a lot in today’s world of technology. Sure, on the outside, these websites may look trendy and cool, but click around enough and you’ll find that many have terrible functionality and could be compared to wandering through a maze. Why should you settle on having a half usable website when, after following a few do’s and don’ts, you could have a truly great site?

There’s no place like Home(page)

Do This Make your homepage easy to navigate

No one likes to be confused upon arrival. Not at the airport, not at a grocery store. So why would you make your website’s homepage confusing? It is the first thing customers see when they visit your site, and it needs to be concise and clear. Make sure visitors are certain what you want them to do – whether that’s to purchase an item, view a gallery, or enter an email address.

Not That Clutter things up

This is one thing many new web sites fall prey to. It’s easy to want to jam pack your homepage with all possible information about your business. However, too much content can run potential clients off. Treat every visitor as if they have the attention span of a goldfish – if they can’t figure out what to do in two seconds, you probably need to reconsider the structure of your homepage.

Don’t hate, navigate!

Do This Make it easy for visitors to find your navigation

Going along with the above do and don’t, making your navigation readily available and obvious is another important aspect to your website. You don’t want to make people spend their valuable time searching for navigation. Spend as much time creating your navigation page and visitors will having an easier time traversing your site.

Not That Cram too many links

One thing that can serve to be overwhelming to visitors is too many links under your navigation page. Not only does is clutter up your page, it also can confuse and bemuse people. If you must include lots of links, be sure to break them up under categories, so it feels a little less intimidating.

Knowledge is Power

Do This Give people a chance to leave their information

An impressive looking website, combined with easy navigation tends to instill trust in visitors. This is where you can grab their attention and ask them to leave a record of them visiting. This can be as simple as leaving their email or signing up for a deal. Whatever the case, this information will help fuel your business. Make sure the submission form is easy to find and even easier to fill out or people will just skip it.

Not That Make visitors uncomfortable

No one likes to be visiting a website and then be bombarded by pop-up windows every ten seconds, begging for your information. Not only is this annoying, it’s also intimidating. Be sure to ask for basic information, and take care that visitors don’t feel like they have to leave their age, sex, or location in order to be kept up to date with your website. Also be sure to give people a way out – letting them know how to unsubscribe to notifications.

When in doubt, hire an expert

Do This Be willing to hire someone who knows what they’re doing

There is nothing more valuable to you and your website than a web site designer who knows his business. These people will work closely with you to make your website come to life. Yes, designers cost money. But in the long run, your website will run smoother and look nicer for it. Working with a designer will also help keep your project on track.

Not That Cut corners

We all appreciate trying to save a few bucks. However, your website is not the place for penny pinching. In today’s tech world there are people who are good designers and people who don’t have a clue. And we all know who the less expensive hire would be. A professional website should be worked on by a professional. Period.

Phone Home

Do This Guarantee your website looks good on mobile devices

In today’s tech world, the mobile device is king. From iPhones to iPads, to Kindles and smart watches, everyone has them, and these devices are generally what your website will be viewed from. To ignore this trend towards mobile design (also called responsive design) would be nothing short of disastrous. Make sure whatever designer you go with is both familiar and competent with responsive design, and can show you examples of sites they’ve done. If your site looks like trash on mobile, then why bother even having a site at all?

Not That Rush into things

We all know how it feels to be excited about a project coming to completion. You have waited for it, and you’re willing to skip steps in order for it to be ready. You could be convinced to just stick with the desktop version of your site. However, at the risk of alienating many visitors, you need to commit to having a mobile version. Having this will push you and your website into the mobile age and help garner support and visitors.

Conclusion

Obviously there are many ways to successfully go about building and maintaining a website. Enumerated here are just a few suggestions. However, should you decide to follow all, or even a few of the do’s and don’ts listed here, you will notice a drastic increase in traffic to your website and potentially new business.