Wednesday, February 13, 2008

How Do I Know if My Site is Ready?

As I’m teaching people how to build a website, there comes a point where the site is ready. Often the students I’m working with are still nervous. The fear of clicking that big ominous “Publish” button looms pretty heavy. They ask me to go through their site page by page and help them see that it is, in fact, ready for the public.

In a lot of ways, it’s like sending a child off for the first day of college. Maybe he’s not ready to go to law school, or become a doctor, but he’s ready to leave the house and start working on his own a bit. He’s a work in progress, and he’ll learn and grow with every class he takes, but it’s still time to step out.

It’s the same with the website. It will evolve and adapt. It will grow. But if it’s never actually launched, no one will ever see that growth, and more importantly, no one will ever buy anything from it. Not because it’s necessarily “bad” or even “good”, but because they’ll never even see the site to begin with!

To help secure that confidence that the site is ready, I’ve made a checklist. If you’ve got everything on this list, the site is ready for the public. It’s time to launch it, and let it fly.

This checklist is based on a format for a basic 5 page website. It has all of the necessary elements for success. Your site might launch with more pages than that. I should hope that eventually, it would grow well beyond 5 pages. But this is the starting point.

Basic 5 page website checklist

  1. Before you build your site:
    1. Choose a focus – Your site should have a clear topic. What is the site about? All of the content and products of the site should blend nicely into that focused topic. This will make it much easier to attract the right buyers to your site, and to rank well on the search engines.
    2. Identify the audience – It’s important to know who you’ll be drawing into the site. Resist the temptation to say, “The world is my audience!” If you’re pursuing everyone, you’ll catch no one.
    3. Register domain name – buy a “dot com” name that’s easy to remember, easy to spell, and reflects your site’s focus.
  2. The First Page: The Catalog
    1. As few as 1 product, as many as 10 to start – You might well want to have hundreds of products on your site eventually. That’s fine, but you only need one to get started. All of the products you sell should relate to your focus in some way.
    2. Keyword rich, benefits driven text – Your catalog page should have some content on it, not just a list of available products. Tell your site’s visitors why they want your products, and how they will benefit from owning them. Make that text full of good keywords that relate to those products, so that the page will rank better on the search engines.
  3. The Second Page: The Landing Page
    1. 500-1000 word article, informative, with lots of good keywords – Pick one of your products (or a line of products if they’re similar enough) and write or acquire a good informative article about the need for that product. Make sure that it’s full of good keywords.
    2. Multiple links to catalog page – Every few paragraphs in the article, set up a link to your catalog page so the reader has several chances to click and buy the solution to the problem the article presents.
  4. Home page
    1. 250-400 words, keyword rich – Write an exciting overview of the focus of the site, showing how the products enhance the experience of the focus. Make it full of good keywords.
    2. Some pictures, possibly featured products – Your site visitors will like to see what the site is about, so include a few pictures that represent that.
  5. Contact Us page
    1. Encourage newsletter signups – Your site’s visitors may want to get ahold of you to ask a question. Make sure there is a contact us page, and encourage them to use that to sign up for your regular monthly or bi-weekly newsletter.
  6. About Us page
    1. Background in the focus area – Your customers will want to get to know you. Introduce yourself, and tell them all about your background in the area the site is focused about.
    2. Testimonials, if you’ve got ‘em, will help to establish your credibility. If you don’t have any immediately, perhaps your supplier will have some testimonials about the products you’re selling.
  7. Publish
    1. Make it live on the web! Tell family and friends! Submit it to the search engines.

After the site is launched, your site can benefit from these suggestions:

    1. Add a links page for relevant link exchanging. Bring in more traffic, and boost your search engine ranking.
    2. Create a blog page. Having a page where you’re constantly adding new thoughts and information that relates to your focus will bring extra search engine value, more links, and more traffic.
    3. More products, more content and more landing pages. Just keep building your site!

Mark is the co-director of http://seotrafficmagnet.com, the search marketing consulting arm of Clickincome (http://clickincome.com). Mark also has other sites and blogs, including MarkHansenMusic.com and his MoBoy blog.

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