6 Website Design Tips for SMBs

6 Website Design Tips for SMBs

6 Website Design Tips for SMBs

Small to mid-sized businesses have unique needs and constraints when it comes to designing a website. More so than with larger businesses, who can hire their own in-house web design teams, SMBs have the challenge of finding a great web designer or firm, keeping on top of the process, and, of course, finding money in the budget for the project. Here are 5 website design tips for SMBs to help guide you through the process.

#1 Remember That it’s Always a Work in Progress

A website is never really “done.” Which is exactly the opposite of what you want to hear, but it’s true. The internet is constantly and rapidly changing, as is the way people interact with it. This means that your website needs to roll with the punches and be adaptable to change.

Unlike the standard, static marketing assets of the past, like billboards or pamphlets, your website is dynamic. Visitors aren’t just looking at an image or reading text—they’re looking at your images, reading your text, submitting forms, clicking on menus and links, and hitting the call button. This means that all of those things need to be working, all the time and that those things can break or become outdated, and they’ll need to be updated.

Plus, the internet loves things that are new. Regularly adding and refreshing your website design and content are critical to providing website visitors with the best experience and to achieve your desired ranking in search results.  

#2 Hire a Professional to Design your Site

We cannot stress this enough: Hire a professional to design your site. There are a lot of reasons why you should do this, but the most compelling are that your site is too important to DIY and that when it comes to website design, you’re usually getting what you pay for.

Yes, there are a lot of programs out there that claim to allow you to design beautiful custom sites for free, and some of them are great—for bloggers or personal websites. 

If you have a niche Etsy business knitting Game of Thrones costumes for cats, and you think it’s time for a website, one of those free website builders is probably a good tool for you. 

You don’t have the budget or the need for anything truly custom on your site, and you’re not going to lose potential customers with a less than perfect user experience on your site—if someone really wants a GoT cat costume, you’re probably the only place they can get it.

But if you’re running a small to mid-sized business that operates more in the professional realm, those free website builders don’t have what you need. 

While they claim to offer custom sites, you’re provided with a limited range of templates to choose from, most of which are fairly basic in their appearance and functionality. You might be able to customize those templates, to an extent, if you’re skilled with CSS (and often, embark on a paid subscription with the solution). And, quite frankly, there are a lot of things those free website building platforms just can’t support, things like external landing pages, employee or client portals, and complicated site maps with extensive menus and pathways.

#3 No Really, Hire a Professional

Okay, so you might see this and think, “that’s fine, I won’t use a free website building platform. But I still don’t have to hire a pro. The IT team/person can code a website for us for free.” Please, we beseech you, do not do this. 

While we’re sure that your IT team is full of skilled professionals with great levels of talent, this isn’t a great idea for a couple of reasons:

The first being that a custom hard-coded website will be inaccessible to non-coders. If your IT team builds it, there won’t be a user interface that say, HR can log into to update the job postings. All changes will have to go through someone who knows how to code.

Additionally, if the person or people who built your site ever leave your company, you could be left with a website on your hands that no one can update, and in the worst-case scenario, a PR nightmare when a disgruntled employee who built the site has complete control over it.

Especially since you run an SMB, you don’t have the bandwidth or the payroll to have all your website design handled in-house. But hiring a website designer can provide you a high-quality, attractive, functional website that you can access and update. 

#4 Choose a Good Platform to Build it in

We already touched on this a little in the previous section, but don’t use a free website builder. It’s not going to be a robust solution or give you all the functionality that you need. Instead, choose a platform that is going to give you all the functionality you need, and be something that you can use. So stay away from Wix.com and opt for something a little more heavy-duty, like Drupal, Joomla, or WordPress.

There are a lot of internal stakeholders in a company website, even in an SMB. After all, a website isn’t just a marketing or sales tool, it’s also an asset for customer service, HR, employees, and other people and departments internally. 

This can mean that there are a lot of cooks in the kitchen; HR needs to update job postings, customer service needs to live chat with site visitors who have questions, the marketing manager needs to log in to approve and post blog posts, etc. 

All of these people (and more) need login credentials, so your site’s backend needs to accommodate that. But not only do these people need to log in to the back end, they need to have clearly defined permissions, and they also need to be able to find and do what they need to do, without having to become coders themselves. The back end UX needs to be almost as good as the front end UX to ensure that all of the moving parts keep moving in sync.

#5 Make Sure That You Can Make Changes

This goes back to what we said before about hiring a professional and not hard-coding a site, as well as choosing a good platform to build your website in. It even hearkens back to point #1: remember that it’s always a work in progress. You’re going to need to make changes to your website—all the time. You need to make sure it’s easy to do that.

For the things you can change internally (updating some text, etc.), you need to make sure the platform you build your site with and the content management system (CMS) has multiple logins and permission levels, and that it’s user-friendly.

For the bigger things, you need to make sure that you can easily get those changed when you need to. Part of that is having a good relationship with your website designer. Are they transparent and communicative? Do they follow through and stick to the schedule? 

Another aspect is using a CMS like WordPress that’s somewhat universal. If your web designer goes on vacation or the firm you were using shutters its doors, you’ll need a site that another designer can access and update as the need arises.

#6 Work With Your Website Designer

Designing a website is not something your website designer can do in a vacuum. You’re going to have to provide your designer with information to go on—more than just your company name, your logos, and the pages that you want. Your website designer is going to need to have a sense of not only what your company does but how you do it, and what your brand is. This includes your logos and colors, but encompasses so much more, like the tone of your content and the kind of language you use, as well as the most intuitive ways to structure the information on your site.

Your website designer is going to need to get a sense of your company’s identity, so that your site can adequately communicate your brand identity to website visitors and your future customers. The designer is creating the site, but it needs to look and read and navigate in a way that is authentic to your brand, relevant to your industry, and inviting to your potential clients. The designer is going to need your collaboration and cooperation to do this.

So, share as much information as you can about your company, your processes, and your needs and vision for your new website design. They’re also going to need access to things like originals of your logos, brand style guides, and other image assets. Any marketing materials or other public-facing company documents can also be useful to your website designer, too.

Thinking about building a website for your SMB? We’d love to help. We’ve got serious experience building sites for SMBs in a variety of industries, from manufacturing to home building to construction. We’d love to help build yours too

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Advantages of an Outbound Marketing Strategy

Advantages of an Outbound Marketing Strategy

Advantages of an Outbound Marketing Strategy

Why are we talking about outbound marketing? Isn’t everything about inbound marketing now? We’re not knocking on inbound marketing, and we don’t think it’s a mutually exclusive, either/or situation. We just think that outbound marketing strategies have been getting a bad rap lately, and we want to correct that. 

Used strategically, outbound marketing tactics are an essential component of a balanced, holistic, and effective marketing strategy. Here are the key advantages to an outbound marketing strategy that you should be aware of, so that you can take full advantage of all available tactics and strategies to get what you really want from your marketing efforts: more conversions, more leads, and ultimately, more sales.

An Outbound Marketing Strategy gets Immediate Results

Inbound marketing works, but it’s a long game. You have to create a lot of content, strategically share that content via every available and relevant platform, and you have to do it consistently, over a long period of time to truly see results. While that doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing—it’s definitely worth doing— you are going to have to be patient.

Sometimes, you just can’t play the waiting game. You need to get something out there and in front of the eyes of your potential clients, and you need to do it now. That’s where an outbound marketing strategy comes in. 

When you’re willing to pay to play, you’ll start seeing results a lot sooner. Why? Well, it’s partially because if you didn’t, those advertising platforms wouldn’t be able to show ROI, and they wouldn’t be able to get or keep clients. These advertising platforms are motivated, therefore, to present your ad to the right people, people who have a potential interest in your products and services and are likely to take action on your ad.

It Allows You to Target Messages Strategically

With inbound techniques, you’re drawing in people to your brand and your offerings. They are people who are actively in the market for your product or service and who are searching for what you have. This is great because these leads are already qualified to a degree; they’re much further down the funnel or the buyer’s journey than someone who doesn’t yet know he has a problem to begin with, let alone one that your product or service solves.  

Outbound marketing strategies bring your messages to the people you want to see them—whether they are already searching for your products and services or not. This is useful to supplementing your inbound marketing efforts, which while effective, may not be working as quickly as you’d like. With inbound marketing, you can’t choose who is seeing your content. You can optimize your content for search and share it strategically, but you can’t guarantee that the purchasing manager or another key decision-maker at your ideal account is going to see it.

But with outbound marketing, you can. The targeting options for pay-per-click (PPC) ads have expanded over the years to include a wide range of demographic and interest-based criteria that allow you to be extremely precise in how your ads are served. For example, with LinkedIn Ads, you can target your ads by job title and company. With this targeting capability, you can serve your ads to nearly the exact person you want to see them.

It Still Gets Qualified Leads

If You Do It Right

While the inbound process does a lot of qualifying of leads for you, it doesn’t mean that inbound is the only way to get qualified leads, or that the leads that you do acquire from outbound techniques are necessarily unqualified or lower quality. You have to be strategic with your outbound marketing efforts, but you can still get qualified leads, which makes it a valuable part of a balanced marketing strategy.

Strategic is the key word here. A lot of the people who say outbound doesn’t work are usually doing it wrong. It’s not going to be as effective for an industrial manufacturer to run Facebook ads for a whitepaper as it is for a publisher to run ads for the release of a new book, right? 

Facebook doesn’t have the information about its users that would be most effective in targeting professionals in the right industry for whatever you’re manufacturing, but it does have information on people’s interests like authors and books they like.

If you’re going to use outbound strategies, you need to have a clearly defined target audience: what they do, where they work, what are their roles and needs, what is going to appeal to them. It’s the same information you need to create an effective inbound strategy and create good content. You also need to know where to find your audience, which platforms are they using, and where can you reach them with your messaging most effectively. 

Clear and effective messaging is also essential to obtaining qualified leads. Misleading or vague copy and less-than-relevant keywords might help you get more clicks, more impressions, or more email addresses, but if you’re not delivering on what these leads want and expect, they’re not really qualified. 

You’ll get more leads, but they’ll be lower quality. And quality is the name of the game here. One perfectly qualified lead is better than 50 leads more dubiously qualified. Which do you think is going to lead to the most sales, and the greatest lifetime customer value? 

An Outbound Marketing Strategy Supports Your Inbound Efforts

If you have an inbound marketing strategy already in place, integrating outbound tactics is a great way to support it. You have great content, whitepapers, guides, ebooks, blogs, etc., and you shouldn’t let it languish unseen on a landing page or your blog that gets very little organic traffic. 

Sure, you share it on social, and that gets you some clicks and engagements, but most organic social content is seen by only a fraction of an organization’s or page’s followers. Organic reach (meaning how many people see a post organically, through it showing up in their feeds) can be abysmal. According to Hubspot, on Facebook, organic reach can be as low as 2%. This means that your posts aren’t getting seen, at least, not as much as you want to be.

What’s one way to guarantee that your social posts that contain your amazing and thoughtfully-created content get in front of people’s eyes? Promotion. Depending on your industry, messaging, and the platform, this could be as simple as boosting already-well performing posts with your content. It could also mean creating new sponsored posts or even display advertising on those relevant platforms. 

Maybe you have an amazing email list and amazing emails that your subscribers love, and that’s one way you disseminate your really good content to them. Cool, awesome, we love it. But, how are people finding out about your newsletter? How are they signing up? Outbound lead generation campaigns can garner sign-ups for your email list, and get them in the pipeline for receiving your content that’s sure to convert.

Outbound marketing has been a little less popular lately, but when done properly, it can offer some serious advantages. Let us help you develop a plan that works. 

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What to Know About the Website Design Process

What to Know About the Website Design Process

What to Know About the Website Design Process

Designing a new website is an exciting—and anxious—time! It can open your business up to a whole new set of prospects and leads and modernize your marketing and sales strategy. But if you’ve never done it before, or it’s been a good long while since your site was last updated, the web design process can seem opaque and confusing. 

Here’s what to know about the website design process to ensure it goes smoothly:

Share All the Information You Can at Your Initial Sessions

The web design process begins with a discovery phase or a brainstorming session, where you share information about your business. This covers the gamut, from what you do and how you do it to your products to your logo to your design preferences to your ideal customers. 

Everything and anything you can share with your website design team will be valuable. 

Why? 

Because your site not only needs to be beautiful and functional, it needs to convey important information to website visitors, convert those visitors into leads, and do it in your brand’s voice. In order to do this, the team designing your website will need to know your audience—who is going to be visiting your website—so your site can communicate with them effectively.

Give Your Designer Somewhere to Start 

Sharing all you can with your website designer or design team doesn’t only apply to information—it also applies to documents, images, and other useful resources and assets.

Any existing marketing materials like brochures, photos, logos, flyers, and customer-facing informational documents can be extremely helpful to your designer in:

(a) understanding what your company does

(b) understanding your brand voice

(c ) including those assets (like logos) on your site

Share All Logo Files

When it comes to sharing assets, particularly logos, make sure you share everything. This helps ensure a smooth web design process.

The .jpg of your logo that you use in your email signature isn’t going to be enough: your website designer will need access to the originals in any and every format you have them in order to format them correctly to display on your website and provide visitors with a consistent brand experience. We’re talking .psd, .png, .tif, .jpg, all of them.

If you don’t have these assets, and you’ve just been using a 20 KB .jpg image in all of your brand communications, talk to your website designer about your options. They may be able to create a web-ready version of your logo, or direct you to someone who can.

Hand Over the Reins

For a website design process to be successful, you have to relinquish some control to the designer. If you want total control over the design of your website, you’d have to design it yourself. And with your existing responsibilities, you just don’t have time to do it. Plus, even though you’re an expert in your field, you’re probably not also a web design or graphic design expert. 

This is true of your employees as well. Even if your technical writer is amazing and you think she could write your website content and you have an IT guy who knows a bunch of coding languages, it’s still best to hire pros. 

Website designers have the expertise and the time that your employees with other specialties and duties simply don’t have. Your IT guy needs to be troubleshooting computer issues, not tied up hard-coding your site. 

Plus, hiring professionals to design your site ensures that your site is up-to-date with the latest web design best practices, future-proofed for upcoming changes, and that a disgruntled employee with admin access to your site doesn’t cause unprecedented damage to your brand and reputation on their way out the door.

Let the Designer Do Their Job

This goes along with the last point. You have to trust the designer to do the job you hired them to do, and you have to let them do it. This means that while you’re allowed to share your vision for the appearance and function of the site, you can’t dictate every last thing down to the placement of every button.

Web designers are skilled and credentialed professionals with years of experience designing websites, and they know the best practices for how your site navigation show work and where buttons should be placed. 

If they say you shouldn’t only have one page for all of your services, but to break them out into multiple pages, there’s a good reason for that. If you choose to go against your website designer’s recommendations, the designer might give you what you ask for, but you’ll be hamstringing your site in terms of user experience and SEO performance. 

The Web Design Process Doesn’t Happen Overnight

Website design is not as easy as just plugging your information into an already created shell and just changing the colors. It takes time to lay out the sitemap, write the page content, create visual assets and design elements, research keywords, gather information about your company and offerings and put all of that together to create a website. 

Plus, there are many factors that will influence how long your site design takes. How quickly do you get back to the designer with information? How quickly do you approve concepts or content? How many pages will your site need to be? What special features or design elements does your site require? Adding on to any of these factors will add to the length of the design process.

Some designers will tell you that they can create a custom website for you super quickly and super cheaply—this is usually too good to be true. In these cases, you’ll likely get what you paid for: a “custom” design that looks mysteriously like a bunch of other sites you’ve seen on the web, stretched out and pixelated graphics, broken links, and typos. While a good solution today might be better than a perfect solution tomorrow, a bad solution is never the right option, even if it could have been implemented yesterday.

Interested in building your own company’s website? We’d love to help. As an inbound marketing and growth agency, we develop websites that are both beautiful and functional. Get in touch to see what we can build for you.

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How to Get Your Social Media Ad Campaign Off the Ground

How to Get Your Social Media Ad Campaign Off the Ground

How to Get Your Social Media Ad Campaign Off the Ground

If your organization is like most, you’ve probably been using social media platforms organically for your business for a while, posting occasional company updates or sharing your content. To level-up in the social media space and use social media to its best advantage for your business, you need to start investing in outbound marketing and running social media ad campaigns. But that can be a daunting task. Here’s our guide on how to get your social media ad campaign off the ground.

Why Run a Social Media Ad Campaign?

You want to reach people. Everyone is using social media. It’s really that simple. According to Hubspot, 42 percent of people in the world are using social media. That’s 90.4 percent of Millennials, 77.5 percent of Generation X, and 48.2 percent of Baby Boomers using social media, and on average, they’re spending over two hours every day on social networks. If you want to reach people, social media is where you can find them. Click To Tweet

Because of this, social media ad campaigns are scalable, relatively inexpensive, and can have a huge ROI. Most social media advertising platforms also have great analytics to help you analyze and hone your strategy and report on campaign performance.

Determine Your Social Media Ad Campaign Goals

Like any and all advertising campaigns, for your social media campaign to be successful, you need to begin with clearly defined goals. What do you want this campaign to do? That can depend on your industry, position, brand, and current situation. Some common goals include:

  • Brand awareness
    • We’re a new company and we want people to know that we and our products/services are out there
    • We’re an established company who wants to stay top of mind for our consumers
  • Engagement
    • We want people to like/share/comment on our content
  • Traffic
    • We want to drive traffic to our website or a specific page
  • Lead generation
    • We want leads for our new product line
    • We want leads to subscribe to our email list
  • Sales
    • We want people to buy this product or service

Social media ad campaigns can help you reach any of those goals, and your goal will determine who you target with your campaign, the ad creative and copy you use, and how you target your desired audience. Your goal will also determine how you calculate ROI and the effectiveness of your campaign.

Determine Your Target Audiences

One of the major benefits of social media advertising are the targeting options available to you, so determining your target audience is crucial to taking advantage of these options.On social media, people are just giving away useful demographic and behavioral information about themselves that you can use to find interested and decision-ready customers. Click To Tweet

Social media users enter their names, locations, age, gender, and other demographic indicators, plus indicate their interests by their behaviors: watching certain videos, liking and engaging with posts, people, and brands, and clicking on all sorts of things that catch their eyes. Social media platforms leverage this information to serve the most relevant ads—the ones most likely to result in a like, click, or conversion.

Who Do You Want to Reach?

So, you need to determine who you want to target with your ads. This will depend in part on the previous step, determining your goals. You might have various different groups of people you want to reach, but because of the differences in these groups, like their industry or stage in the buyer’s journey, you may have different goals pertaining to them. 

Check Your Buyer Personas

If you don’t already have buyer personas, creating them would be helpful to understanding who you want to target with your ad campaign. Knowing basic demographic information about your ideal client, as well as their roles, goals, and challenges pertaining to your offerings can help you know who to try to get your ad in front of.

Let’s say that you’re a book publisher who publishes historical fiction. You want to grow your email list to send marketing content to readers of historical fiction who are likely to buy your books. Your campaign goal is lead generation, and your target audience will be historical fiction readers… but you want to be more specific than that, and social media can help. You know that people who like certain historical fiction authors and titles will like your books—and you can target them based on their demonstrated interests.

Select Social Media Ad Campaign Platforms

Guess what? This depends on your industry, target audience, and goals (ugh, we always say that). 

That historical fiction publisher has an audience of women between ages 18 and 70, skewing toward 45-65, and they want to generate leads. For them, Facebook is going to be their primary advertising platform, though they might also use Pinterest, etc.

But for an industrial manufacturer who is selling to B2B clients, specifically, sourcing specialists/buyers who work for other large manufacturers, LinkedIn is probably going to be the most useful and relevant platform. This is both because that’s where professionals will be engaging with content related to their work and the targeting options that let you target audiences by their company and job title.

Maximize Your Budget

There are several factors to maximizing your budget, including choosing the right audience and targeting them precisely, using the right platforms, and having clearly defined goals for your campaign that guide all aspects from creative to targeting to placement. Another critical factor is actually setting the right budgets and parameters, and adjusting those as needed.

Keep an Eye on Your Social Media Ad Campaigns

One of the great things about social media advertising is that you can monitor campaigns in real time and make adjustments as necessary. “Set it and forget it” sounds nice, and if you’re a social media advertising pro with lots of experience, maybe you can do that. For everyone else, monitoring your campaigns is crucial. Why? You might find that your budget is too low or too high, and you’re spending too much without seeing results or seeing marginal returns for additional spending.

Adjust Social Media Ad Campaigns According to Data

If a campaign is spending all of its percentage of the lifetime budget for that day before noon, you might decide to end it sooner so the daily budgets would be higher and the ads would serve more each day. You might also discover that a campaign is working really well and you want to extend it past your original end date—that’s a great way to maximize your budget, because you already know it works and has the necessary ROI to be worthwhile.

Social media has so much potential in the marketing and advertising space because an audience—your audience—is already there, engaging with content. Taking advantage of that with advertisements can boost your advertising reach and ROI immensely, and the first step to doing that is getting a campaign off the ground. With a little practice and experimentation, you’ll see the benefits of those campaigns in your bottom line.

Still want a little help getting those social media ad campaigns going? We got you.

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