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February 13, 2009
Begin with the End: The Key to Successful Web Site Design and Promotion
Stephen Covey is famous for advising people to “begin with the end in mind.” This piece of advice is also very useful when thinking about your web site and your online marketing. When it comes to building their web site, companies spend a lot of time thinking about what the site should look like, but far too little time thinking about what they want the site to do for them. When designing a web site, you need to think in reverse! If you run a business, you don’t build a web site to win design awards – you do it to gain customers. Do what Covey advises: begin with the end in mind and then work backwards.
So how exactly do you do that? It helps if you will ask yourself the following questions before you ever begin building your web site.
1.     What action do I want visitors to take when they arrive at my web site? This is not as obvious as it seems. Your answer might be “to sell stuff,” but it’s probably not that simple. You need to define in advance exactly what you want your visitors to do once they arrive at your site and focus your design and copy on getting them to take that action. You also need to think in terms of giving people a very good reason to come back to your web site. If a person visits your site, doesn’t buy anything, and then never comes back, then you have lost any opportunity to do business with him.

2.     How do people search online for my type of business? This is also not as obvious as you might think. If you sell widgets, then people will search for “widgets” right? Not necessarily. The search terms you think your prospective customers use may not be accurate. You need to do some keyword research to find out exactly what keywords you need to target, and then optimize your web site for those keywords. Probably the best tool for finding your keywords is Google’s External Keyword tool, which is completely free to use. If you combine keyword traffic data with competition data, then you can pinpoint the keywords for which you have the best chance at ranking AND that will drive traffic to your web site.

3.     What are my competitors doing? If there are specific competing web sites that already rank highly for your target keywords, then you would do well to investigate why those sites rank so well. Emulate what they do, but then do it better. It may be that the top-ranked sites are not even well optimized, but just have lots and lots of links pointing to them. If that is the case, then optimize your web site better, and then build an even bigger link catalog. You will find that knowing what you’re up against will give you a good idea of what you need to get done.
The core message to take away here is that you need to do your research before building your web site, not afterwards. Do not build your web site until you have specific answers to the above questions. They will guide you.  
For example, for a service business, the desired action is typically to get the visitor to fill out a contact form or request for proposal. In that case, the site should be designed from the very start to emphasize that action. A design decision like that can be expensive to implement after the fact, so you will save yourself a lot of money and frustration by designing the site properly to begin with.
With regard to keywords, your web site should be specifically optimized for those keywords. This will have a major impact on the copy of your web site, and can also have a dramatic affect on how a web site is constructed. So again, know in advance what keywords you will be promoting, and build your site properly to rank for those keywords.
Finally, make a study of your competitors to learn what it is that makes them successful. There may be certain industry portals or other web sites that link to your competitors that could also link to you. Or you may find that the top-ranked sites for your target keywords are very highly optimized for those keywords, in which case you would probably want to emulate their optimization variables (things like keyword density and keyword frequency).
Is this more work? Yes, in the beginning. But in the long-run it will save you time by saving you from having to re-do your web site after it has already been developed. Answer these questions and create a blueprint for how to make your web site successful. Then you will be much more likely to end up with a site that actually does what it is supposed to do – deliver sales or leads to your door.

Jerry Work is president of Work Media, LLC, and co-author of The Law Firm Internet Marketing Book, which explains how a law firm can combine search engine optimization, paid search, and content distribution into a cohesive Internet marketing plan that will deliver prospects at a much lower cost than any other form of advertising. To learn more, check out Law-Firm-Internet-Marketing.net.

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Jerry Work is president of Work Media LLC, a Nashville SEO firm that specializes in orchestrating Internet marketing campaigns that blend organic search, paid search and social media. He is also the author of "Be the Magnet," a new book on using social media and content distribution to promote websites. For more info, click here.

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