The BWA recently did a major website redesign, and we produced our first volume of the Borehole Water Journal Online. It was an epic project and we learnt a lot along the way. Shelley Smith of Action Light designed the website and did a lot of the copywriting and so we’ve asked her to share a few tips and tricks with BWA members who are looking to update the design of their websites, or to design a new website for their businesses. - Editor
Ensure that you have some control over the content on your website.
When commissioning a web designer, ask them how you will be able to make updates on the website. Will all the changes have to be done by the web designer? Or will you be able to make changes to the content directly? My advice is to make sure that you will have some direct control over the content on your website. Things in your business are constantly changing – you want to promote certain products, you want to share company news, contact details change, and so on. If you’re constantly having to ask your original web designer to make these changes, it can become costly and it is quite inefficient.
The BWA’s website is designed using a tool called Squarespace. One of the major benefits of using a tool like Squarespace is that the website owner will be able to keep the website updated very easily – there’s no programming knowledge required. In the case of the BWA website, I designed the entire site and then I did a short training session with the people inside of the organisation who would keep the site up to date.
Less is more!
The trend in modern website design is to go for a clean, uncluttered look, with lots of white space. I also like using a few big, high-quality photographs to visually communicate what the business is all about. Big headlines are also great.
It was a challenge to keep the BWA website uncluttered, I must say! The association is all about information dissemination, so we had to structure the website carefully to keep the clean, modern style we were aiming for while still getting all the information across. We had to make sure that people could find the information they were looking for, whether they were potential members, end-users, or members of the media.
Have a plan to update your content
Keeping your content up to date is a good idea for many reasons. It counts in your favour with search engines like Google if you’ve got new updated content. But even more than that, it creates a good impression for site visitors. If they see fresh content, they’ll feel that this is a thriving business that pays attention to detail.
But you have to be clever with the way you update your content. Set realistic expectations about how much new content you’ll be able to add to your website in future.
For example, you could set up multiple blogs on your website, one with the aim of sharing company news, the other for educational articles relevant to your target market, and another for case studies of how your products are being used at your clients. The reality is that if you’re going to keep all three of these blogs up-to-date and of good quality, and keep your standard pages up to date, then you’re probably going to need to hire a full-time person for this role. For most small to medium-sized businesses, this is just not possible.
Instead, consider setting up just one blog with a general title like “News” and then put all your news items, educational articles, and case studies in there. But then don’t let all that good content hide there. Highlight specific blog articles on your home page and give a catchy headline to entice visitors to view that content.
If you don’t see yourself having the time to write regular blog posts, be it news items, educational articles, or case studies, then rather don’t include a blog on your site.
For the BWA’s website, we were going to have a blog, as well as the Journal Online, but we quickly realised that we should concentrate all of our efforts on sourcing and writing good articles for the Journal, rather than trying to spread ourselves too thin by trying to keep up a blog as well.
We’ve also used tags and categories for each of our Journal articles, for example the tag "Rural Water Supply", so if someone is interested in a particular article, they’ll be able to read more on that topic by clicking on the tag or category.
As a rough guideline, set aside about an hour each month to do basic website updates. If you’re going to be writing longer articles, then you’d have to allow 1-2 full days per month.
Make your call to action clear and easy
Every website has a purpose or aims. It’s important that you make this purpose clear to your visitors. Then your website will have some sort of action that you want your visitors to take, for example: send an enquiry, place an order, get product information, etc.
The BWA website has several aims – to communicate the mission of the BWA, to get potential member companies to join the BWA, to give end-users information (and specifically to get them to request the Layman’s Guide), to provide BWA members with educational information, and to get any visitors to contact the BWA telephonically if they need more information.
This is how we met the aims:
Communicate the mission of the BWA
As this aim underpins all the other aims, we have tried to communicate the mission of the BWA front and centre, on the “Home” page. We’ve used one sentence to sum up the BWA’s mission: The BWA promotes the sustainable use of Southern Africa’s groundwater. In this way, any visitor will be very clear about the BWA’s purpose. We then used three columns, each with an icon to steer a visitor to the section of the website that they’d most likely be interested in. The icons also help to break up the text on the home page and communicate the message in a visual way. Broadly speaking, we’ve identified three main groups of visitors – end users (“End Users” page), potential members (“Join” and “About” pages), and members (“Journal” page).
Next on the “Home” page, we outline the BWA’s vision in terms of its benefits to various groups of people.
In the final two sections of the “Home” page, we pull the latest articles from the Journal, as well as events happening in the industry. The articles will change at least every two months, so this will help to keep the “Home” page looking fresh.
Get potential member companies to join the BWA
Our “Join” page is in the top navigation tabs, which are always visible. So at any point in their browsing, a potential member could click “Join” and then fill out the membership form. We also decided to do a completely online membership form, rather than putting a PDF or Word form that people would have to download, print, fill in by hand, and then scan and email back to us. We felt that the online application would make the process a lot easier for new members. The benefit for us is that the form comes straight to the BWA administrator and she can be assured that the information in the form is pretty close to accurate (and there’s no deciphering handwriting!).
Give end-users information (and specifically to get them to request the Layman’s Guide)
Again, we’ve got a dedicated “End Users” page, which is also in the top navigation tabs. On the “End Users” page, people can get the End User’s Checklist.
We’ve then used nice clear action buttons for people to request the Layman’s Guide or BWA Membership Directory. Again, these buttons take the person to a quick online form that gets sent straight to the BWA Administrator for further action.
Provide BWA members with educational information
The Borehole Water Journal Online has been specifically targeted to members of the groundwater industry, with BWA members particularly in mind. The Journal is therefore the place on the website where we will share any articles that would contribute to the continued professional development of our members.
At some stage in the future, we'll be looking at creating members-only content that can be accessed through the website.
In a future post, I'd like to explain our thinking around putting together the online Journal, so look out for more in the coming issues of the Journal.
Contact the BWA
The last aim of the website is to get people to contact the BWA – the “Contact” page is again in the top navigation panel and is the last tab, in keeping with convention.
Visitors should easily be able to find the BWA’s contact details this way. We’ve also given a number of communication channels for people to use and judging by the calls coming in over the past few months, we are meeting this aim successfully!
Get your website to the point of “good enough” and then launch
There was a lot to do on the BWA website and there are still many things we’d like to add to the site. But we needed to launch at some point.
So for all you perfectionists out there, get your website to a point of “good enough” and then launch it! “Good enough” means no spelling mistakes, no broken links, no obviously missing information, and so on. Maybe you don’t have every section you’d like on your site, or you haven’t finalised your latest product catalogue. That shouldn’t prevent you from launching a website that looks professional and has enough information on it. You need to see website maintenance as an ongoing function – keep adding to it and tweaking it if you want to, and eventually it will be the masterpiece you want it to be! In the meantime, get it out there!
Search Engine Optimisation
Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is essentially about making it as easy as possible for search engines like Google to index your website, so that your website comes up towards the top of the search results if someone uses keywords related to your business in their search.
For the BWA website, we made sure we included relevant keywords in main headings, which helps with SEO.
Your web designer should be able to take other steps to optimise your website for search engines, including submitting a site map to Google, using Google Search Console and including relevant keywords in the metadata of your website.
Just a word of warning – building up credibility with the search engines does take some time. And if you are upgrading an existing website, you might need to wait up to a month before your search results start reflecting the new website. I must say, we spent a tense month waiting for our search results to work properly for the BWA website, but before long, it was working beautifully. There are also steps that your web designer can take in order to smooth the transition from the old to the new website in terms of SEO.
Get some good metrics
Once you’ve done all the hard work building your website, you’ll need to see how it’s doing. And for that you need some good metrics. For the BWA website, we use Squarespace’s built-in metrics, as well as Google Analytics.
Both Google Analytics and Squarespace Metrics can give us an astounding amount of information, including: how many people have visited the website for any time period, how people are finding the BWA’s website, popular content on the site, where in the world visitors are coming from, and much more.
For example, on 1 March 2016 when we launched the Borehole Water Journal Online, there were 130 visitors to the site, with 567 page views (one visitor would look at several pages during a visit). Over the last 30 days, we’ve had about 876 visits to the website and 2307 page views. This is pretty good for 2 months after launch!
But good metrics are not just there for interest’s sake. They will also help you make decisions about your broader online marketing strategy, and help you to answer questions like:
- How are our visitors finding our site? Through direct links, Google Search, or referred from other websites? Let’s see how we can expand our referral base.
- Which articles are our most popular? Let’s write more like that.
- Where in the world are our visitors coming from? Let’s add some customised content for them. For example, after South Africa, the BWA’s website gets its most visitors from Kenya – so let’s consider writing a Journal article about a Kenyan site to leverage that audience.
- Should we do a paid Google Ad campaign?
- Should we set up a Facebook page, or a Twitter account?
So on that note, we’re planning to do more articles on online marketing, specifically for the Borehole Water Journal Online readers. Topics could include online advertising, specifically Google Ads and Facebook Ads, as well as using social media to market your business. Would this be something that interests you? Let us know in the comments.
How have you handled your website for your business? Are you just looking into this aspect of your marketing and have some questions? Do you have any tips you’d like to share, or any comments about the tips we’ve shared in this article? Please let us know in the comments.
Shelley Smith (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the owner of Action Light, a web design and copywriting business. She designs and writes up beautiful websites, particularly for small- and medium-sized businesses.