We don’t need to remind you how crucial a company website is in 2017. Most interactions with your company will happen online and just as in person, first impressions are everything. In fact, 38% of online users will stop engaging with a website entirely if its content or design is unattractive, according to HubSpot. B2B websites are no exception, with 40% of smartphone and tablet owners using their devices to search for B2B products. For most small to mid-size businesses, the web development world is uncharted territory. So once you’ve hired an agency or outside contractor, use this comprehensive guide as a starting point for your project planning.
Step 1: Research Your Competitors’ Websites
This stage can be executed internally or with your agency or developer. Here are a few tips on the competitive research process:
- It’s best to examine comparable company websites as well as indirect competitors’ for inspiration
- Compare features across all competitors: What works? What doesn’t?
- Seek new trends to stay competitive and look outside of your industry for a unique perspective
Step 2: Choose a Website Platform
Before you can begin producing your perfect B2B website, you need to select the right host to house your new site structure. Most businesses opt for a content management system (CMS), and we typically recommend WordPress to all our website clients. WordPress is a popular, easy-to-use CMS platform and offers online forums to help its users solve issues without the expense of an on-site developer. But the real beauty of WordPress lies in its fully customizable nature. With the use of various plugins, you can easily make a website your own.
Step 3: Create a Complete Timeline
Collaboration and communication is key in building a successful website. Work closely with your agency or contractor to establish a development timeline, which will include:
- All the stages of website development from creative concept development and copywriting to development and testing
- Due dates for each milestone and those responsible for each next step in development
- Target date for launch (soft and hard launch dates, if applicable)
It’s important to remember that each task is integral to the next, so skipping around in the process will backfire in the end. Stick to the timeline by delivering timely, consolidated feedback to avoid lost revisions.
Step 4: Discuss & Approve Designs
After discussing a client’s expectations and brand identity, designers will typically begin by creating homepage and sub-page concepts. Here are a few site design best practices to consider when communicating your needs to a designer:
- Create a mobile-first site
- Use large, high-quality and preferably custom imagery
- Utilize a clean, semi-flat design to allow users to easily find what they’re looking for
- Use simple icons to communicate services and solutions
- Users can spot a templated look, so make sure your site looks unique and on-brand
Step 5: Define the Site’s Structure
Once the creative imagery is defined, finalize the layout of your website:
- Start with the sitemap: Define the structure, hierarchy and basic requirements of your website based on your stated objectives and brand strategy.
- Ensure adequate functionality: Some features are easier to develop during the coding process, so determine which functionalities are important to implement first. One feature that B2B clients generally desire is the ability to “gate” content, which helps generate leads via form submissions.
- Consider SEO best practices: SEO warrants a blog of its own (here’s one: SEO Hacks Everyone Should Know in 2017), but keep broader SEO ideas in mind to ensure your site is optimized for search engines:
- Speed is everything. Choose a reliable host and be mindful of elements with large file sizes
- Always be aware of UX. Users rule the web and Google knows it. Make sure your site is built logically, to help visitors can’t find what they’re looking for, your search rankings will suffer.
- Incorporate keywords. Make a list of the keywords you are ranking for, as well as the ones you wish you were ranking for. Incorporate them into your copy, title tags and meta descriptions.
Step 6: Start Wordsmithing
The goal of most B2B websites is to fuel the sales pipeline with marketing qualified leads (MQLs), rather than close deals. To help your site achieve this goal, follow these tips for B2B website content:
- Keep copy simple and succinct: B2B products and services are often highly technical or specialized and because subject matter experts aren’t always the primary buyer persona, it’s important to use digestible language to explain your offer.
- Include strategically placed CTAs: Provide a compelling offer such as a free demo or consultation in exchange for contact information. This establishes a need and educates visitors on offerings, helping jumpstart the sales process.
- Maintain brand integrity at every level: It’s important that content on your site carries a steady personality and features a writing style that resonates with your buyer personas. Achieve this by aligning all content with your established brand strategy.
Step 7: Develop & Launch
After design and copy approvals, the coding process begins. Depending on the size of the website, this can take anywhere from 2-6 weeks. Then, you’ll want to conduct an internal quality assurance (QA) or review process on the finished product by testing links, double checking copy and ensuring that all imagery is in place. Once this is complete, execute a soft launch by pushing a site live during a time when traffic is low, such as on the weekend. This will enable you to test the site in a live environment where you can uncover final edits prior to officially launching the website. The process of creating a new website is difficult, but let this guide serve as a reminder that your prospective customers WILL judge a book by its cover. So take a moment today to review your B2B website and decide if your cover and the story inside are the best representations of your brand.