Building a strong web presence isn’t something we should put off. In our last publication, we discussed the keys to digital marketing success in 2015 and, supported by some interesting statistics, we explained why those items were so important. With your web presence becoming a deciding factor in customers’ purchase decisions, your web presence should be a major focal point of your marketing for 2015. In order to better understand your existing web presence and to help you evaluate options for improvement, it’s important that you become aware of how to build a strong web presence and the terminology used in the process.

Hosting/Domain

Every website consists of a bunch of files. These files describe the layout, look and feel, functionality, and more of your website. These files have to be accessible to users on the Internet, so the files must be hosted on a server somewhere that enables this function. Hosting the files that drive your website is a key component of your web presence, and it’s an important point of discussion, since not all hosting is created equal. When evaluating hosting options, keep in mind the skill of those in charge of your hosting, whether there is an uptime guarantee or not, how/when security fixes get applied and who is responsible, the customer support quality and, of course, the cost of the service.

Another key part of your web presence is your domain name. The domain name describes the address which users will use to access the files stored on your hosting server. It is your “www.whatever.com.” It’s also an important factor in your search engine optimization, which we’ll discuss later. There are associated costs with domain names, since you are reserving the rights to that domain name for your own use. The business through which you will register your domain name is known as a “domain registrar.” Domain registrars all offer pretty much the same service, so it’s really just a matter of finding the best price.

Content Management System (CMS)

All of our clients have inquired about the ability to update content on their website at their own discretion, on the fly, without additional help or costs. The software behind a website that powers this sort of functionality is known as a Content Management System. There are many options when it comes to choosing a CMS, but a quick Google search on the topic will give you the stats you need to know to decide which CMS deserves your trust.

Web Design vs. Web Development

Web design and web development are often used interchangeably in conversation. However, in reality, they refer to two different processes within the grander process of building a website. Web design refers to the process of visually designing the look and feel of a website, while web development is taking that design and building it. Not all design is equal, so don’t be fooled by whatever title is on a business card. Browsing and comparing portfolios is your best bet for finding a great web designer.

Mobile-site vs. Mobile App vs. Responsive Design

When Internet-enabled mobile devices first came into existence, websites had to have entirely separate pages to support mobile browsing. This eventually changed as smartphones and mobile apps grew in popularity.  However, a business still had to have a completely separate codebase developed to create the mobile app, which was cost prohibitive for many. More recently, we’ve hit the age of “responsive” design, where the website being viewed responds to the device it is being viewed on and readjusts itself for an optimum viewing experience. This really broke the cost barrier and opened the doors for many small businesses to have a mobile optimized website (which affects search engine ranking on mobile searches) without astronomical costs.

Accessibility

The Ontario government has published their plans for a fully accessible Ontario by 2025. This includes all public, private, and not-for-profit companies and their websites. The website accessibility guidelines set out by the government are detailed in the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0. Within these guidelines, there are three different levels of accessibility ranked ‘A’ through ‘AAA,’ with ‘AAA’ being the highest degree of accessibility. Included in the WCAG 2.0 are guidelines for ensuring proper content structure, sufficient contrast, captions for multimedia objects, keyboard-enabled browsing, sufficient time to complete website tasks, optimization for screen readers, avoidance of blinking lights, sufficient form validation and feedback, and more.

Our mantra while building web presences for our clients is “remove barriers, build trust.” This refers to the relationship between our clients and their customers. We believe very strongly in the importance of removing barriers to avoid alienating any potential customers. Although responsive design is trendy at the moment, we encourage our clients (and all other businesses) to seriously consider early adoption of the WCAG 2.0 as a gesture of inclusion and acceptance for their customers who have accessibility requirements.

Conversion strategy

As business owners, you’ve probably all heard the word “conversion.” In terms of website design, when we speak of a conversion strategy, we are speaking about how we’re going to get a user to do what we want them to do on your website. This can be anything from getting a user to sign-up for your mailing list to making a purchase decision on the spot. There are some key strategies for improving conversion. Working with a web developer who knows these strategies and knows how/when to use them will be a significant advantage for your business, as it greatly increases the return on investment (ROI) for all of your other marketing efforts.

Validation

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) sets out coding standards to enable a universal understanding of written code between web developers and web browsers. Ensuring that the code written to produce your website meets these standards greatly increases the likelihood that all browsers will be able to view your website as it was intended to be viewed. Code validation can also affect your website ranking by search engines and thus is another component of your search engine optimization strategy.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

Many people think about where their page will rank in search results as the only significant piece of search engine optimization. However, equally important is how your page will display in search engine results. With Google’s new Structured Data Markup (SDM), we can control how results will appear for a specific result type within Google. Some of these result types include articles, reviews, events, products, businesses, and restaurants. Having a website optimized using Google’s SDM will create eye-grabbing search results, which will maximize the number of users who land on your page from Google searches.

As for your website rank, as we’ve seen, just about everything involved in good website design and development affects your search result rank. There are some other important aspects of ranking in search engine results, including the quality and freshness of your content, the optimization of your content to be returned for specific searches, the amount of links linking back to your content (backlinks), etc. Since the release of their Penguin search algorithm, one very important key to ranking with Google is to avoid black-hat SEO techniques and simply focus on the quality of both your website and your content. As marketers say all the time, “content is king.”

Analytics/Metrics

As a web marketing agency, we never build a website without giving our clients a way to track usage/performance stats. What good is any marketing effort without a way to measure its effectiveness and adjust it as needed to maximize your results? It would be about as useful as fishing without a line in the water. The industry standard tool for measuring website analytics/metrics is Google Analytics. Through Google Analytics, webmasters (those who are in charge of administrating a website) can see how many people landed on their page, which page, from which source, from which geographic region, using what search terms, and more. This information provides imperative insight to ensure we optimize our site to the people who want to find it.

We hope you have found this article informative, and we would be happy to answer any further questions you might have via phone or e-mail. It’s very important to us that our business community become empowered with the knowledge required to make informed purchasing decisions when it comes to their web presence.