As template or ‘themed’ websites become better looking more flexible and sophisticated, they are gaining in popularity. For a lot of businesses they provide an affordable but professional first rung on the website ladder. But how do you get the most out of themed sites, avoid the ‘bloggy’ look that screams ‘template’ to create a site that really does something for your brand and your business?
Step one (and of course we would say this) is to choose an agency with plenty of expertise when it comes to themed sites. There are good reasons for this. Have a go on your own and you get that nice warm moneysaving feeling but you can end up with a site that’s difficult to navigate, insufficiently optimised and disappoints in terms of design and content.
So start by getting in touch with Two Lizards. And once you have, here are some pointers to ensure you get the very best out of your template format and that the development of your new site goes smoothly, and on time, from start to finish.
1. Time spent choosing your template/theme will repay itself ever after. As with everything that presents a choice of thousands there are good and bad templates … some that look snazzy but have been badly constructed and aren’t fit for purpose and others that tick all the boxes. Consider the number of pages you will need to explain what you do. Think how the designs relate to your specific needs. Is your business visually appealing? Plenty of photos and a slideshow on the home page will help. Is your chosen template viewable on all devices (increasingly important)? Is optimisation included? Google your shortlist of themes to check ratings and user experiences.
2.Once you have a shortlist, consider how your business works with the layouts you’ve got in front of you. For example a single image and introductory content with 3 featured sections in columns below it (a popular layout) works well for a business with 3 service areas or categories. A home page with white type on a black background isn’t going to work if you have a lot to say – it’s going to be hard work to read. This is a chicken and egg process. You need to shortlist themes that look roughly right, then see what the different features could be best used for.
3. Give some thought to navigation. Most websites have similarly-named ‘top tabs’ (the primary navigation) because Google will recognise ‘Latest News’ but not ‘What We’ve Been Doing’. Your navigation should enable site visitors to get as quickly as possible to what they want to find. It’s that simple. Make a site map that shows how this will happen. As you develop the content, put in plenty of internal links (links from one web page to another) to make life as easy as possible for visitors. It doesn’t just have to be links to the Contact page. A web page about showers could have a link to the page giving choices of glass screens, for example. If you must put in links to external sites, make sure they open as a new window so visitors they don’t have leave your site to view them.
4.How much do you need to say? How much do you want to say? With any website you can, in theory, say as much as you want. But there are limits. Long, keyword-rich scrolldowns of content may be good for Google but hard work for readers. The nature of your business should influence how you approach your content, too. A technical business that needs a lot of explanation can bear a lot of content on most of the pages. A site selling high ticket fashion items might need to let the photography do more of the talking and not feature too much written content. Which leads us to …
5 … photography. Stunning sites have stunning photography. Whether it’s your own or stockshots, the pictures can make or break your site. You can’t put second rate photography in a well designed site without dragging the whole look of the site down. There, we’ve said it. And the same goes for logos. If your current brand identity isn’t that great, now’s the time to do something about it. If it isn’t that great but it’s graven in stone, consider versioning it for your website to make it stand out. Unfortunately a muted or out of date logo sets the tone for the whole site.
6. Google likes informative content and it likes new content. You won’t want to keep re-writing your home page, nor should you. But a blog, a Twitterfeed, a news page and other ‘built-in’ features create a framework for new content and, to a certain extent, a process that means you’re likely to make changes on a regular basis. Which is good for Google and your visitors too.
7. A word about key words. Before you start writing your content we can research key words/phrases for your new site. We take a lot of trouble over this, looking at search terms that work for your existing site (if you have one), what your competitors are doing and using our own skill and experience to shortlist key words and phrases to build into your content. These may not be as obvious as you might think. And if you’re a business with a geographical catchment we’ll also advise on local area marketing – something you can find out more about here.
8. Apart from weaving in your shortlist of key words and phrases where possible, what else should you do once you’ve started writing the content? You can aim to repeat a key word or phrase within a page. You can vary the spelling of words which might be googled in different ways – for example alternate ‘makeup’ with ‘make up’. Try weaving key words and phrases into headings to make them work as hard as possible. Put calls to action (‘Call us now’ … ‘email us’ etc) clearly on every page and at every point where you want the visitor to get in touch with you. Try to make the most of every page – and that includes your Contact page. There’s no reason why you can’t repeat some sales messages, give visitors more information about how to find you, your offices, your services. Contact pages are often bare and neglected, but yours needn’t be.
9. Make a checklist of what needs to be done, and a schedule. One problem with websites is that there often isn’t a deadline. Unless you need your new website for a trade fair or a product launch, you can end up spending months (and months and months) on developing the ‘perfect’ site when you really need to get your site finished and out there, so Google can start picking it up. A website isn’t a brochure. Repeat after us: ‘We can change our site after it’s built and this will be good for SEO too!’
10. Finally, when you near the end of the project and your site is almost ready to go live, make sure you show it to some friends or colleagues who can look at it with fresh eyes. Ask them to move around the site and feed back to you what they like and don’t, what works and what doesn’t. Then, take a deep breath and GO LIVE. There’s a whole new process that starts once Google starts ranking you and the sooner you get on with it, the faster your business can start to benefit from your new site.