7 Steps to Take Before Building a Website

Creating a website takes collaboration, time, and resources, even if you’ve hired a web designer. Failure to take the time to plan a site correctly leads to a less desirable outcome and can cost you a lot of money.

Here are seven things you should do in advance of building a website to make your project more successful.

1. Register Your Domain

This may seem fundamental but too many businesses go to build a website only to discover the domain name they want is already reserved. Registering a domain is simple and affordable but it’s best to get an early start on reserving a domain for your business before it’s too late.

A domain name is important for a website. It’s what many people use to find your website and one of the first things people see in connection to your business. You want to ensure that your domain is branded properly.

If you are able to reserve the domain of your choosing, you may want to consider also purchasing different domain extensions such as the .net or .org version to better protect your name and for other business uses.

2. Have a Logo Ready to Use

Helping to define a brand image is a big part of a website. It’s important to have your logo in place for a new website. A logo is a vital aspect of the company that is used and seen in many places and needs to clearly represent your organization. Some companies will create their own logo in-house while others will seek the skills of a logo designer.

If you’re considering a logo redesign, it’s best to do it before starting a Web design project. While they can be done concurrently, it can be helpful to have assets in place before development begins. If you already have a logo you’re happy with in place, you’re one step closer to launching a new site.

website launch 7 Steps to Take Before Building a Website

3. Use a Placeholder Website For a New Domain

Once you have a domain reserved and you’re ready to develop and market your website, it’s a good idea to create a placeholder website. There are a variety of different free templates in different platforms that are easy add to a domain that provides the company logo, contact information, or launch date to provide visitors basic information or when the new website will be ready. The launcher theme is one example of a placeholder template.

4. Identify Websites You Like

While your website should define your own brand, taking a look at other websites, including your competitors, can be helpful. What do you like or dislike? Incorporating different components, designs, features, or colors into your own site can make the decision making process easier and set the stage for a more successful project.

5. Plan Your Content and Features

A great website needs to have content that people want to absorb. Whether it is graphics, images, videos, calculators, testimonials, case studies, comparisons, FAQs, trust badges, or just plan product or service description, your website should be a valuable resource. A website that doesn’t have the content or features available to enhance the user experience can make achieving search engine rankings more difficult.

6. Create Compelling and Relevant Content

What good is a website if you have valuable information/compelling content to present? Invest time into creating long content pages that provide a strong landing page for your clients with the information they are seeking. The content you create should be original and compelling to provide a better user experience and for more favorable search engine visibility and social media share-ability.

Targeted, useful content is also very valuable from a search engine optimization standpoint. It’s a good idea to discuss content strategy and other on-page SEO factors with a SEO professional when developing a new website.

trust badges 7 Steps to Take Before Building a Website

7. Gather Testimonials and Create Case Studies

In addition to more traditional written content, images, graphics, and video, testimonials, including video testimonials, can take time to request and gather. It’s best to have them in place beforehand as you look to develop a new website.

Encourage customers to leave reviews on Google, Yelp, other websites, or have them email them directly to you. Also look to prepare case studies with customer success stories. Testimonials, badges of accreditation, and case studies are great content that provide useful information and the trust and assurance your prospective customers are seeking.

Wrap Up and Next Steps

By having these seven elements in place in advance, your Web design/development project will be prepped and ready to roll, running a whole lot smoother and more efficiently. It also helps lay the groundwork for better success in your marketing efforts and the bottom line.

See our post on elements of effective websites for factors to consider once your new site is ready for development.


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The Easy, Affordable Way to Double Your Website’s Speed

As Benjamin Franklin once said, “Time is money” and how valuable time can be on the Web. In 2012, Amazon calculated that a page load slowdown of just one second cost them $1.6 billion in sales over a year. While most companies aren’t going to measure sales from the Web down to a millisecond, website speed is an important factor that is too often overlooked. Not enough businesses make it a focus when developing a website or in their SEO.

slow road The Easy, Affordable Way to Double Your Websites Speed

The Culprits & What You Can Do About It

So what makes a website slower or faster than others? What effects how quickly a website load has to do with the amount of data being sent through the pipe and how quickly it can be transported. The more files and data being sent, the slower the website is.

Speeding up your website can get a bit technical but there are some simple things you can do to make it load quicker. Typically the main culprits contributing to a slower page load speed are large media files like images and the number of scripts running on a site.

Resizing image file sizes (check to make sure that resizing doesn’t adversely affect resolution) is an easy task that helps a website perform quicker. Condensing scripts and consolidating images in the code are also effective ways to speed up a website but require more technical know-how.

Your website server also contributes to your website’s speed. Using a more powerful, dedicated server can also improve your website’s performance.

cdn The Easy, Affordable Way to Double Your Websites Speed

Use a Content Distribution Network

A Content Distribution (or Delivery) Network (CDN) is a system that serves files on a website from multiple data centers simultaneously. So instead of all the data being served from one server, the data is spread out and returned in smaller chunks, allowing the data to flow more freely and making your website faster.

CDN’s provide a site superior performance. They’re reliable with high availability and if you are using a widely used Content Management System such as WordPress, easy to install. Besides images and graphics, CDNs also serve scripts, documents, live streaming media and applications.

If you’re paying for data, CDN’s can actually reducing your costs as it uses less bandwidth. And CDN’s use servers internationally, meaning your customers will get performance no matter where they are.

Real World Tests & Results

At Ascent, we have been using MaxCDN on over half a dozen sites and have been impressed with the results. Here’s a before and after screenshot of a website:

Website speed test Evergreen The Easy, Affordable Way to Double Your Websites Speed
BEFORE CDN

Website speed test Entrada2 The Easy, Affordable Way to Double Your Websites Speed
AFTER CDN

Test performed on Pingdom Website Speed Test.

While results may vary, we have consistently seen nearly a doubling in website speed in before and after CDN tests.

Setting up a CDN

If a website is already in a content management system such WordPress, the process of setting up a CDN is easy and usually takes no more than a half an hour. In addition to MaxCDN, there are numerous other CDN providers as well such as Cloudflare, keycdn, and Edgecast.

If you would like help setting up a CDN on your website, please contact us and see how much faster your website can perform.


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Why Local Directories Are Surging in the Search Results (And What You Can Do About It)

The Google search algorithm update known as ‘Pigeon’ rolled out on July 24, 2014. It affected both local and natural search results with some of the most notable changes being an increase in the amount of large local directory websites and decrease in the amount of the ‘local pack’ map listings. And when local map listings appear, increasingly directories are present.

The update continued a trend that has been going on for the past couple years in the search results – a flight towards larger brands. In the local search space, this means seeing more page one results for Yelp, Yellowpages.com, Superpages.com, local magazines, newspapers, Yahoo local pages, Google business pages, and niche directories.

We aren’t talking about spammy ‘SEO friendly’ directories. In the restaurant space, it’s seeing more of sites like TripAdvisor, Urbanspoon. For lawyers, it’s directories like Avvo an Lawyers.com instead of individual lawyer listings. In real estate, it’s Zillow, Trulia, and Realtor.com showing up more rather than real estate brokerage or individual agent websites.

trip advisor Why Local Directories Are Surging in the Search Results (And What You Can Do About It)

Why the Shift to Local Directories

In 2008, Google’s CEO Eric Schmidt famously said, “Brands are how you sort out the cesspool (of the Internet).” Identifiable brands tend to be more trustworthy and these larger directories have more user-generated content than small business websites are viewed as being more impartial. After all, Google does want to yield the most useful results for searchers. And if pushing small-to-medium sized business websites off the first page makes them more apt to do a paid search listing, that’s a nice side benefit.

But it’s not just that bigger is more trusted. Three other reasons for the shift to local directories being more prominent in the search results are:

1. Provide Better Answers and Information for Users

Most people who search a phrase like ‘ Restaurant’ aren’t necessarily wanting to see primarily individual restaurant websites. They want choices with pictures, users reviews, and menus. Users can be better served by clicking on the Yelp result as it may provide more of the information the user is seeking.

7314722180 4608b05398 z Why Local Directories Are Surging in the Search Results (And What You Can Do About It)

2. Better Experience on Mobile

These large local directory websites are more likely to perform better on mobile devices. Many small business websites still aren’t mobile friendly and can provide a lesser user experience. With the amount of mobile search results increasing, Google doesn’t want to show mobile users a Web page where the content is cut off and doesn’t fit their screen size.

3. Better Performance.

Large directory websites are more likely to have better on-site optimization with quicker page load times with more development work and testing involved to produce better results.

What You Can Do About It

1. Better Provide the Information Users are Seeking. Have a content-rich website that has detailed pages on the products and services your business offers and the communities you serve. Have testimonials and customer reviews for trust signals and to provide more user-generated content. And answer frequently asked questions about your business. In short, make your website the go-to resource in your industry.

2. Get the Technicals Right. While what users see on the page is critical, it’s also important to implement Schema markup language to allow search engines to more easily capture and show the information on your site.

3. Focus on the Visuals. Unique, original high quality images and graphics can really make a website stand out. They provide valuable content and are more likely to shared on social media and linked to than words alone.

4. Make Your Website Mobile Friendly. While mobile websites can still have their place, responsive web design makes for a more enjoyable user experience. Search Engine Land and Search Engine Journal have both done a good job with this in their recent redesigns.

website speed Why Local Directories Are Surging in the Search Results (And What You Can Do About It)

5. Speed Up Your Website. No one wants to be on a website that has pages load slowly. Use an experienced Web developer who can help you minify image files along with other coding techniques and use a CDN to speed up the delivery of the website.

6. Complete Your Online Profiles. Make sure your profiles are complete and optimized on your Google business page, Bing Places, Yelp, and other directories in your business’ niche. This can help your position on these websites and the last thing you want is for people to get incomplete information about your business online. This can also be a good time to evaluate advertising on directory websites to capture more the traffic they are garnering.

7. Be Forward Thinking. Industry leaders are out in front. They stay ahead of the competition by adopting and implementing practices that give them a leg up. One example of this is the Web realm is to make your website secure. Web security is likely to become a larger issue over time (it already is a Google ranking factor) and being out in front and instituting https security shows a company’s commitment.

Conclusion

In the end, if your website can provide the most useful information for a local search query, there’s no reason why it shouldn’t be prominently included in the search results. By providing more long-form content, high quality images and graphics, and optimizing the performance and usability your site, you can compete no matter how big your competition is.


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Getting Started With Bing Advertising

It’s lonely being second – in search. Despite being the 2nd and 3rd largest search engines in the U.S., respectively, combined Bing and Yahoo only account for about 30% of all search engine traffic.

Microsoft, which owns Bing and operates Yahoo search, has a lot to gain by increasing it’s share of search engine traffic. Each percentage point they gain in search share is tens of millions in additional revenue.

bing ads vs google adwords  Getting Started With Bing Advertising

Why Bing and Yahoo?

Google’s the big dog in search with nearly 2/3 market share so when most people think about pay-per-click (PPC) search advertising, they think Google AdWords and Bing/Yahoo are overlooked. However, with hundreds of millions of visits from U.S. searchers each month, Bing Ads (combines Bing & Yahoo) can still be a valuable source of traffic and customers.

While demographics and usage behaviors have subtle differences from Google, Bing and Yahoo still have the same targeted buyer intent that has made search engines so profitable for advertisers.

The Benefits of Bing Ads vs. AdWords

First and foremost, advertising on Bing and Yahoo and their search partners tends to be less expensive than on Google search. While not always the case, this can make it a good value in contrast to AdWords, which seems to be increasingly more expensive.

Bing also provides fantastic service. They are more engaged in the search engine community and if you would like help with your account, Microsoft’s reps are easy to reach and committed to addressing customer questions and meeting their needs.

bing search  Getting Started With Bing Advertising

Bing also makes it easy for advertiser’s to get started. It’s interface is easy to use and campaigns are easy to setup. There aren’t as many options to confound new users such as AdWords Express vs. regular AdWords. And if you already have campaigns up on AdWords, Bing offers an import feature to import AdWords campaigns into Bing Ads. This feature also allows you to ‘sync’ the campaigns – a nice feature when you have a successful PPC campaign.

One drawback in advertising on Bing Ads. vs. AdWords is that there is obviously less volume on the networks than on Google. But if you are looking to keep your ad costs lower and test out new campaigns, ad copy, or keywords in a less expensive environment, Bing Ads is a great alternative or complement to advertising on AdWords.

Additional Bonuses

If you have advertised on AdWords, you know that AdWords has a 25 character ad title limit. This can be pretty limiting in some verticals. For example, Personal Injury Attorneys is a pretty bland title but that’s all the room you have in Google. On Bing and Yahoo, there’s a 40 character limit, offering more flexibility with your ad copy headlines.

Bing also offers clear visibility into search partner performance, and you can block sites that are not relevant to your campaign in the Search Partner Performance report. And it’s safe to say that Bing or Yahoo both offer a more engaging home page experience than Google’s Spartan home page.

bing ads  Getting Started With Bing Advertising

Differences from AdWords

At a basic level, AdWords and Bing Ads share many common features for search engine advertisers. Campaigns, ad groups, bid settings, keywords, negative keywords, quality scores, and match types are found on both platforms. Both also offer retargeting ad options, where Google calls it ‘remarketing’ and Bing Ads calls it ‘remessaging.’ However, remessaging is handled by a different Microsoft advertising team separate from Bing Ads whereas AdWords remarketing is all in the same interface.

There are also differences such as Bing Ads offers a ‘Content’ keyword match type. This applies when any word in your ad title, ad text or keyword matches the input from website pages that are part of the Bing Ads content network.

And while AdWords has a Keyword Planner Tool, the Bing Ads Intelligence Tool provides a variety of valuable insights. You can learn more about differences between AdWords and Bing Ads in this post.

$100 Free in Bing Ads

Having a properly set up and well-managed PPC campaign is critical to the profitability of the ads. As an agency that works with Bing Ads, Ascent Internet Marketing is pleased to be able to offer our clients a $100 credit on Bing and Yahoo advertising. This discount applies to our clients whom are new to Bing Ads and are using post-pay billing. Contact us to learn more and get started and give your PPC campaigns a boost.


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Creating a Customer Review Funnel

Having many positive reviews from customers is increasingly being recognized as a highly valuable tool to promote a business. In addition to building trust and being powerful word-of-mouth advertising, online reviews can also help your search engine visibility and rankings.

Simply having a profile on Google Plus, Yelp, Yahoo, City Search, influential industry review sites, other review sites or a place to capture them on your own website is great but creating a “review funnel”, a system to collect reviews about your business is the missing, all-important piece of the equation to maximize their value.

ea3dc3e34469ffde26bcde3dac8a0197b1f3 1 Creating a Customer Review Funnel

So how do you do it? Here’s a five step plan.

Laying the Groundwork

Providing outstanding service is fundamental to getting great reviews. Be helpful, be courteous, and be wary of your customer pain points that may make them disaffected with your business.

For example, if your business is appointment based such as a service business or professional service such as doctor or dentist, do all you can do minimize being unable to start the appointment on time. If you are a hotel, restaurant, or store, put up stickers and signs encouraging customers to leave reviews of your business.

In addition to helping maximizing the opportunity for positive reviews, laying the groundwork and providing excellent service also helps minimize the risk of the dreaded negative reviews. Negative reviews can look particularly unfavorable to prospective customers and drag down your overall star rating score. By gaining more positive reviews, you can push down the effect of any negative reviews received.

Implementing a Process

After providing service to a customer that exceeds expectations is the best time to gather a review. Their experience with your business will be fresh in the customers mind and they will be more likely to descriptively share it. This creates a framework for successfully getting reviews.

You want to make it easy for customers to spread the good word about your business. Have different means to request reviews and follow up on them and be sure to thank and reward customers who leave reviews.

Outreach and Collection

Typically the most effective way to garner more reviews is to ask the customer for it in person and provide them an email link or customized Google review sheet with clear instructions on how to leave a review. Having an easy to follow review form is effective and can also be a helpfu guide for customers to leave more reviews. The form can also be distributed in-person as a handout or as a mailer.

ascent google review 791x1024 Creating a Customer Review Funnel

Provide a concise, polite request with a link to the review site and be sure to thank the customer. Also have reviews links on your website including a dedicated review portal page and social media so there are additional opportunities for customers to leave reviews in addition to the direct request.

You also request reviews by phone and then send them an email with the link to the review website. This helps prime the pump for a higher capture rate. For consistency and best results, require this practice among all employees who manage customer accounts.

Below is an example email request:

Dear Client,
We appreciate the opportunity to serve you. We would be most grateful if you could take a moment and review our service on our Google business page – https://plus.google.com/+Ascentinternet/about. Thank you for your kind attention to this matter.

Best Regards,

Follow-Up

After sending out a customer review request, schedule a follow-up time within a week. The customer may have missed the email or it fell by the wayside. Follow-up calls and emails can help increase your success rate and the quality of reviews gathered. In addition to the above techniquest, promoting and linking to your review URLs on your social media and email marketing can also be helpful.

google reviews2 Creating a Customer Review Funnel

Promote Your Reviews

When particularly glowing reviews are received, make the most of them. With the customer permission, put them in the testimonials section of your website along with a picture. Positive reviews can also be useful for social media, email marketing, and in advertising.

If a customer is particularly pleased with your business’ service, you may want to consider asking them for a video testimonial. You may also want to consider gathering a case study from the customer, which is a longer form of testimonial and can be great content. As they say, “facts tell, but stories sell”.

Thrilled customers are fantastic for brand building and are critical for social media engagement, repeat sales, and customer referrals. Creating a customer review funnel and implementing the above processes is smart business. It can help you garner more glowing reviews for your business and is a low cost, effective form of marketing.


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