People love freebies. Usually, if you’re like me, the best freebies are some sort of black plastic-encased thingy that flashes and plugs into a computer – or at least into the wall. But, if you’re here to get a little freebie info about the basics of a good small business website strategy, please read on.

Have you ever been to a “bad” website, where you didn’t need an expert to tell you it was phooey? Maybe it was a combo of things that you looked at and then intuitively went for the back button. I get frustrated with websites like these and quickly start my search again for a website that focuses on the information I was looking for.

Keeping this in mind, as a user, is critical to a successful website plan for your business. As you remember what it’s like for a customer (you) to come up empty at the front door – in this case, your website is your business’ front door – make sure you don’t make the same mistakes.

A well designed website can either make or break your online success. The tips below will help you get started and to learn what works for a successful website. At SafeHouse Web, I have learned that simple, basic and straight-forward equals good. And that good equals success! These tips are by no means all-inclusive; you will also learn a lot through “trial and error” just as with any brick and mortar business. These basic tips will however, help you to avoid web blunders that hinder even your most well-intentioned plans.

Basic Tip #1: Make it clear what you do. Find a niche market and don’t try to be a “jack of all trades” selling multiple and unrelated products, services, or information. Instead, figure out who your target market will be, and what products and/or services you provide that will appeal to this market. Then, stay on topic; don’t throw in a bunch of irrelevant information just to try and lure visitors. They may resent the distraction, or even feel somewhat deceived, and you’ll lose customers.

Note: It’s important to note that search engine crawlers index and categorize your website based on the content you provide on each page. The content on each page is also compared to all other pages on your site, so having a cohesive set of pages that focus on your niche product or service is always better than trying to provide too many products or services.

Basic Tip #2: Make sure your contact info is easy to find. Do your visitors know how to contact you? You would be surprised how many websites leave no way for a customer to contact them with questions or to order their products and services. Think about it this way: if you stopped into a store that sold monkey wrenches, and no one was around to help you or answer questions, how comfortable would you feel buying monkey wrenches from that company? Most likely, you wouldn’t, because if they can’t even make themselves available for questions before the sale, they certainly won’t take time for you after the sale.

If you worry about getting too much spam, or receiving unwanted phone calls by leaving your contact information on your site, make sure to add your business phone to the federal “Do Not Call” list, and use a contact form instead of just providing your email address. This won’t eliminate the problem of spam (nothing is spam-proof) but it will make it more difficult to abuse your contact information.

Note: Always respond to email in a timely manner. Treat emails as you would any business phone call. Customers typically expect a higher-than-average response rate when shopping or doing business on the Internet; if it takes you longer than 24 hours to respond to an email you will probably lose a customer. Even an “I received your email and will respond to your question shortly” is better than waiting too long to get back to a customer.

Basic Tip #3: Don’t use flash introductory pages. Using flash flies right smack-dab into the face of my premise – Keep It Simple. Many people find them entertaining or catchy. But if your site is designed for sales, a business, or for a professional purpose, they will add nothing but delay to your site’s effectiveness. In fact, for many (me included), these things are just frustrating wastes of time that make me click-away; an added aggravation people have to wade through to get to the information they really want.

Not to mention, flash is not conducive to easy (inexpensive) updates or maintenance, and they are reputed to be less SEO friendly.

Note: If you must use a flash intro, be sure there is a “SKIP” feature clearly marked so visitors can bypass it if they choose.

Basic Tip #4: Focus your web copy on satisfying the needs of your customer. Content will make or break the sale, or determine whether a visitor stays or finds another site to do business. Be sure to provide your customers with unique, interesting and accurate words to help pique their interest and differentiate your products and services from your competitor’s.

A well-thought-out home page and a few articles or headlines that prompt a desired action, while simultaneously providing information to help your visitors quickly (in one or two clicks max) find and pay for products and services will keep them interested. And it may keep them coming back again and again for future information, service and purchases.

Note: Consider hiring a contracted writer if you’re at a loss for web content. This may be a significant investment, but the results, and the success of your site, will definitely be worth it in the long run! SafeHouse Web partners with 2 different sources that provide professional copy and marketing writing; send me a note about your needs and I will put you in touch.

Basic Tip #5: Update, update, update. This cannot be stressed enough; if you provide no reason for visitors to show up on your site again, why would they? If the information is the same week after week, month after month, who would want to? Take note that your local Wal-Mart  provides weekly sales flyers to entice shoppers back to their store. Keep your site fresh and updated!

…did I mention that fresh content is important?

That sums up the Top 5 list and it is my hope that these foundation-level tips will help you build a better website. Don’t get me wrong – this applies to those who are going to build their website themselves, along with those who want to be enabled with this knowledge when they select & hire a person to do the work directly.

As always, SafeHouse Web stands ready to assist you!