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Website 101: Five to get done, five to shun

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There is much to think about when you are in business. Like it or not, marketing is one of them.

And you can't think about marketing without thinking about the Internet, because they have become so intertwined. Yet there are so many awful websites that make a powerfully bad first impression. Sometimes, it also is the last impression.

So how do you fix that? Here are five things that you should and shouldn't do when creating a website.

First, the to-do list:

Make your website mobile friendly.

According to the Pew Research Center, “Nearly two-thirds of Americans are now smartphone owners, and for many, these devices are a key entry point to the online world.”

The gateway to your business is held in your customer's hand – literally. If you create a website, make sure that it works properly on a mobile phone.

Also, think about using the features of the phone to make the website visitor's experience the best it can be. Touch the phone number to dial, touch the address to open the GPS.

It will make you look professional, and visitors will appreciate it.

Use video to enhance the experience.

Many people would rather watch a 30-second video than read, especially if it involves cats playing the piano or raccoons in a swimming pool.

But videos aren't only about cute animals thinking they're human. There also is an amazing amount of value that a short video can bring to your product or service. Use video to educate and entertain, and you will create a higher level of engagement with visitors.

It's easy to create a YouTube account and embed videos on your website.

Tell your story and have a call to action.

So many times websites drone on and on about how a company is wonderful.

OK, we get it. But there must be more.

Tell the story about how you are going to help your visitor, give examples, make your company approachable and relatable.

If you only talk about how great you are, then you are not making a connection. But if you get people to understand how your company can help them, you're on the right track.

Also, you need a strong call to action, and it should be eye-catching and sprinkled throughout your website. After you get them “hooked” with the story, reel them in.

Make your site look nice.

Is this too obvious? If you think so, randomly choose a dozen websites and note how many you think look really nice. The number will be low. (There is a website, webpagesthatsuck.com, where you can see what not to do.)

Remember, the website is your “front door” where a large percentage of potential customers will get their first impression. Make it a good one.

Know your statistics and visitors.

Google Analytics is free and will tell you things about your website that you could never have imagined.

People used to ask, “How many hits did I get on my website?” They probably didn't even know the meaning of a “hit.”

Today, analytical tools drill down to what times of day certain pages are most popular, how people are finding you and more. If you take the data and make some observations, you could have a guide for making strategic changes to your website.

If you want to dig even deeper, there are marketing tools that allow you to recognize visitors (either generally or specifically), track their actions and react accordingly – all automated.

Products such as HubSpot, Kentico EMS, Marketo and others make this possible.

Now onto those other things … the proverbial “Don't Do This” website guide. There are hundreds of these, but these five are a good start:

Don't let your content stagnate.

Sometimes a company has a news section on its website in which the last story posted is a year old.

Is there really nothing to report or is its Web team taking time off?

Either way, no news is bad news. If you are not going to be able maintain a news section, don't include it.

Remember, a website is a commitment by your company to maintain a fresh, online presence at all times. It's what visitors expect, so even if you dedicate just an hour a week to posting new content, do it.

Don't try to outsmart search engines with keywords and text bloat.

Search engines are smart. Really smart. So smart that they know when you are trying to trick them.

If you do, you could get your digital hands slapped or even be forever banished from the land of search engines.

The days of “keyword stuffing” (using a word over and over on a page) are over.

Think of your website as a well-written news article, with the important stuff at the top, and the less important stuff lower on the page or deleted altogether.

If the page needs to be found by search engines, it's important to have content, probably a minimum of about 300 words, but keep it focused and pertinent. If you bloat your page with information nobody cares about, you will lose visitors.

Your pages shouldn't load slowly.

Big pictures are great, but remember that people are now viewing your website from computers, tablets and mobile phones – sometimes with a data plan.

Unless you want your website visitors converging on your establishment with pitchforks and flaming torches, be respectful of their expensive data plans and keep images optimized. (Search engines will like you better, too.)

Keep It Simple, (Gene) Simmons.

That's the “KISS” principle, right? It is so tempting to take this canvas that is a website and use every last word in the dictionary, create many, many pages and complicate it so much that nobody can find anything.

Instead, you must tell your story in a simple way and keep visitors engaged and interested.

Your forms are too long.

Imagine people on a smartphone looking at a form with 20 questions. They will not complete the form and may even look for your competitor.

Online forms should be used to gather the minimum amount of information necessary for you to continue the conversation. In many cases, it is a name, email address and a question/comment.

Take a good look at your website. Use this as a guide to start making your website the best it can be.

And, in an emergency, you can always post that video of your cat playing the piano.

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