Website Strategy – The first steps
This is the start of a series of articles outlining the business strategy development before you create a website. One of the common issues that emerges when I consult with business owners about their website is the lack of a well thought out strategy. The process is similar to deciding where to place a bricks and mortar storefront, you need to consider traffic flow, visibility and competition. Websites are created fairly easily with with the popular free content management systems such as WordPress, Drupal and Joomla. These three products alone occupy about 75% of the market share of websites. When I started working within the web industry in the mid 1990’s content management systems were just being developed, I often hard-coded HTML pages to interact with back-end systems. This lead to higher costs and larger maintenance issues, reasons why businesses did not have effective websites, rather they tended to use simple technologies that just enabled them to have a few pages lacking interactivity. With this background in mind, the reality is that in the modern world businesses need to advertise their services online. The effectiveness of traditional Yellow Pages services has reduced as the popularity of search engines, particularly Google (and Bing) has risen. How often do you now go to Yellow Pages when looking for a service compared to just jumping on Google? In this series of articles I will explore some of the work businesses need to have completed before engaging a web designer. By developing a clear strategy the effectiveness of your online presence is increased and will result in your business appearing higher than your competitors in search engine results. Developers can develop websites, but without the business strategy you are more likely to have an ineffectual website. Providing the developer a clear set of goals and business logic to incorporate into your website is a priority. This is in essence Search Engine Optimisation. (SEO)
Step 1. Branding Strategy
The way that search engines work will be one of the two factors you consider when thinking of a building a website. “User experience,” or the “human experience” is the other which needs to be balanced against the SEO goals. Without considering both together you may have a beautiful website that no one ever finds, or a website that occurs frequently in search but is repellent to your potential clients. Getting both goals working together provides the best solution.
Branding on the internet, specifically to drive traffic to your products and services through Google is slightly different to the branding that occurs at your storefront, and especially so if you have a new brand. To explain this fully I will use the analogy of storefront business decisions throughout this discussion. In the modern world I think it would be unlikely that Coke or Pepsi would have chosen those names for their products as the branding does not describe the product without huge sums being spent on advertising. It is cheaper to leverage the search terms that customers now use and to attach your business to those terms rather than trying to build a branding strategy using unfamiliar words.
Brands and Slogans
As search engines such as Google essentially read text from your website and associate those terms with a series of words typed by their users into the search query box, it becomes obvious that a successful strategy starts with linking search terms into your branding. For example if you are in the business of selling food consulting services (menu design, cooking classes etc.) your online branding will have a better SEO impact if you use a slogan that includes the services that you provide. The fictitious company name “Townsville Food Obsession” has not indicated to Google what its products are, rather than the broad terms “Townsville” and “Food”. Therefore we will need to develop a branding strategy that better interacts with the search engines. I would recommend by starting this process by developing 4 or 5 slogans that would work for your business. Potential examples in this fictitious case would be:
- “Townsville Food Obsession” – Providing menu design and cooking classes
- Menu Design and Cooking Classes – “Townsville Food Obsession”
- Cooking and Menu Design – “Townsville Food Obsession”
As you can see if you use these slogans on every page on your website, you are sending the search engines a message that your business name is associated with some specific services. So far so good, but we now need to take the next step of the branding strategy which is checking whether the branding is associated with relevant search behaviour from the users of Google. An analogy would be doing a business plan considering whether there are demands for your service. Instead we will be checking to see what sort of traffic Google potentially will offer to your business.
Google Keyword Tool
Google provides a tool that allows you to see what the search volumes are for particular words and phrases. Using this information you can refine your branding to include relevant yet high volume search terms. The danger of developing a branding strategy without considering search volumes is that you will use words that your potential clients are not typing into the search query to find your product. Or using the analogy, whether you are placing a store at the end of a dead-end street, the products are great but you will find your business limited by the lack of traffic. Unless you have a very well-known brand (Pepsi or Coke), you will need to use the phrases that are known and used by your clients.
Google Keyword Tool requires you to create an account with Google AdWords, the advertising arm of Google. The tool is free, you do not have to spend money nor even give your credit card details. There are other keyword tools around, but I find that the Google product is the most accurate at knowing search volumes. After logging into Google AdWords, under Tools there is an option for the “Keyword Planner” select the option to “Get search volume for a list of keywords or group them into ad groups.” N.B. You can select particular cities and regions under the “Targeting” option. Depending on what sort of service you give you should use this option to get a realistic volume for your particular service area. In this case we have selected the three main cities in North Queensland namely Mackay, Cairns and Townsville, to get some idea broadly on the user behaviour.
When the results appear, select the option “Keyword Ideas” which is next to “Ad group Ideas”. Google will then display the average monthly search volumes for these words.
The results for my example of “Townsville Food Obsession” are
|Keyword||Average Monthly Search||Competition|
Competition refers to the amount of advertising that is done on those words through Google. If you plan to eventually spend money advertising using your business terms it indicates generally the amount of other businesses currently paying for advertising. The Google AdWords model is a “bidding” strategy, therefore high competition will cost more per click.
The Google Keyword tool has provided us with the business intelligence that will frame our branding strategy. It is clear that “menu” and “classes” are two terms that relevant clients are not typing as often. Our online branding will be more successful if we use the two terms “food” and “cooking” as the main part of our branding strategy. If we relied on “menu” and “classes” the amount of times our website would be seen in the search results would be limiting our business. Like placing your store on the dreaded dead-end street. Therefore considering the information that Google has supplied the branding will be chosen as “Townsville Food Obsession – Cooking and Food.” From a SEO perspective this would be the right approach, but as I mentioned earlier we have also to consider the human interaction aspect to our brand. “Cooking and Food” as a slogan sounds rather bland and boring, therefore we will go back to the Google Keyword Tool and search for more terms that will add some further appeal to the brand while having high monthly search figures. You may need to refine your branding using this process multiple times. Using this process we find that the word “healthy” has fairly high search figures (40) and is relevant to our products. “Townsville Food Obsession – Healthy Food and Cooking” sounds better to our clients and includes three words that are regularly searched using Google.
Conclusion – Branding and Slogans
Using this method of considering the search engine data in conjunction with business products we can develop branding and slogan ideas that are more likely to place your website in an area that is associated with traffic. Ignoring the search behaviour of your potential clients could cause your new website, regardless of its appeal to not gain the traffic and attention that it rightly deserves.
Next Article – Choosing a Domain Name (Coming soon)
If you need advice and help we can offer consulting services to aid you!