A carefully developed website – one that looks good and makes it easy to find information about your business and offerings – can generate new customers and repeat business. With thoughtful planning, it is not hard to create an appealing website.  These steps can help:

1. Think like a site visitor 
A great website is laser-focused on the needs of site visitors. While this may sound obvious, many sites provide what the business owner wants to showcase rather than what site visitors really want.

To make your website customer-oriented, make a list  of what you know matters most to your shoppers. Is it your inventory of difficult-to-find products? The ability to stay at the forefront with your leading-edge offerings? Your friendly and responsive customer service? Use this list to prioritize the features and functionality of your site. For example, if quick delivery is a key selling point, make it easy for site visitors to determine when a product will arrive on their doorstep. If your product knowledge is a key reason people buy from you, showcase it through tips, blogs, videos or another format your customers prefer.

Whatever priorities you choose to emphasize, the key is to keep every site element focused on your visitors’ needs.

2. Organize information carefully
Keeping your site design clean and uncluttered makes it easier for visitors to zoom in on exactly what they need. Give some thought to the best way to present information. Is it by type of visitor? Product category? The task they need to perform on the site? It may turn out that you want to offer several ways for visitors to navigate through your site.

Regardless of your site map, one crucial element to consider is your contact information. Make it easy for site visitors to find your address, phone number, email address, number to text message, live chat feature or click-to-call option, and/or your social media sites. Place some or all of this information, or at the very least a link to a “Contact Us” page, on every page of your site.

Once you’ve designed your site, don’t assume prospects and customers can find what they need. Ask a select group of customers to test it for you, perhaps in exchange for a discount or special offer. Once you’ve officially launched your site, ask visitors to contact you if they are having trouble locating the information they want, so you can spot areas that need tweaking.

3. Define what makes you unique 
Your site visitors will want to know what is special or different about your business. Tell them exactly what your unique benefits are in clear, concise language. A bakery might promote its homemade pies while a women’s clothing store could mention its collection of summer scarves for the office. Also tell visitors what differentiates you from similar-sounding competitors. Is it friendly, knowledgeable staff? Great selection? Convenient location or hours? Your goal is to make it a no-brainer for site visitors to want to call you, not a competitor.

4. Keep it current
A dated-looking site makes your business look like it’s stuck in the past. It’s a good idea to refresh the design every year or two and replace photos frequently. In addition to the design, keep the content fresh. A blog with new information about your business, current industry data or perspectives on relevant events can keep you looking up to date.

5. Suggest enticing purchases 
You don’t have to sell online to steer customers to your business. Instead, you can use strong offers to bring in foot traffic. For example, a florist might highlight new bouquets with the latest spring daffodils. A toy store might announce a new, special edition toy that isn’t available at big-box retailers. Discounts and special offers are a great way to keep visitors coming back to your site, so update them frequently.

6. Create a great “About Us” page
Share the story of how you got started or the philosophy or company culture that makes you different. Don’t forget to include strong visual elements such as photos or graphics.

People are at the heart of any business, so if you’re proud of your team, flaunt it. Publish interesting profiles and photos of your staff. The visuals don’t have to be formal. A group shot that shows the group in a meeting or enjoying the great lifestyle your business embodies—whether foodies or ski fanatics—can breathe life into your site.

7. Do your housekeeping
Visitors won’t stay on your site if it is riddled with broken links. Check all of the pages periodically to make sure the links are working. A well-functioning website tells customers and prospects that you pay attention to details. That impression can go a long way toward encouraging a visitor to become a customer.

Bonus tip: Make it easy to find your site 
Invest in search engine optimization (SEO) so your site doesn’t get buried on page 10 of a Google search for your type of business. SEO means developing your company’s website so it ranks higher in searches when an appropriate search term is used. One recent study found that the top listing in Google gets 33% of the traffic compared to 18% for the second position. Paid search advertising can be a smart way to build traffic if you’ve built a fledgling site and no one is coming.

Keep in mind that your site is never “done;” it is always a work in progress. Keeping your customer’s perspective in mind and taking the time to maintain your site will help ensure you have a great presence online.

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