By Jessica Kinnear on 24 November 2018

So you’ve got a great idea for an online business but no experience with website development.  Where do you start? Here are the three key things you should consider if you want the business to be successful.

1.  Find the right development agency

A referral from someone you can trust who works in the digital space or who has founded their own online business is a good idea.  From there, it’s working out what services they can provide to get the website built and whether they can continue to work with you to help it grow.

I’ve found that working with a small agency who are hands on and whose fees aren’t as steep as larger agencies has worked for me.  It helps if they believe in you and the concept of your business so that they are engaged and motivated to go along the journey with you.

Regarding the different services you need, there’s pure development aka coding (backend and front-end), design (backend and front-end), user experience (how easily does a user navigate your website and do they do what you want them to do), understanding of your business model/conversion rate optimisation which underpins good design and user data/analytics (e.g. traffic, conversions, demographic, behaviour).

For me, it was great to find an agency that did all of these things in-house including coding which can often be off-shored.  This way, communicating intended functionality was easy and they were quick to respond to small changes.

The downside of a small agency is that they may also want to grow so have competing client demands while on-boarding new staff and so you find the work takes longer and longer.  If they were only focused on the website build and not the resources required for ongoing improvements to help it grow, this can be a problem.  Understand from the beginning what their vision is and outline what you see them helping you with going forward.

If you’re a two-sided marketplace, data is important not only to see how your online business is performing (and imperative if you’re looking for funding), but for your customers to know how their listings are tracking and to encourage new customers to come on board.  It’s therefore important to have someone who is familiar with the tools required to track relevant data and can interpret it for you/your customers.  This can either be your development agency or digital marketing agency (more on this below).

2.  Find the right digital marketing agency

Finding the right digital marketing agency can be challenging, especially if you have no marketing experience.  You’ll need to get your head around certain acronyms like SEO (Search Engine Optimisation), SEM (Search Engine Marketing) and PPC (Pay Per Click).  SEO optimisation is optimising search organically through a number of different ways, but ultimately your site needs to be the most relevant when it comes to the particular search done e.g. with relevant content.  This takes time to develop and grow.  SEM, on the other hand, is paid search where you can pay your site to rank with certain search terms and you will “pay per click” on these terms.  However, relevant content is still important and if your site isn’t relevant to the terms bid on, your ranking will be downgraded and you’ll pay more.  This is to ensure the user finds the most relevant site to what they’re looking for which is essential for the user search experience.

Again, it helps to get a recommendation for a good digital marketing agency or person.  They’ll need to understand your site, how it works, your offering and the industry in which it operates in order to put together a decent SEO and/or SEM campaign.  Knowledge of competitors also helps.  You’ll have to drive and nurture this understanding if you really want it to succeed.  If you’re an aggregator or comparator service, ask if they’ve had previous experience with these kinds of businesses to give you the best outcome.

Also, have a budget and ask them to give you an expected return on investment.  Some search terms will be more competitive and therefore expensive, which will eat up your budget, so it’s important for your agency to develop a strategy around which terms are worth targeting within your budget.

Ensure that they appreciate how you make money and what is a conversion event on your site – for example, is it a click on a phone number, form submitted or purchase made?  They need to understand this properly in order to track paid search through to conversion events in order to optimise the paid search strategy, i.e. what search terms are giving you the most conversions.

As with a data/analytics tracking account (e.g. Google Analytics), it’s useful to have paid search accounts (e.g. Google AdWords and/or Bing Ads) and any other optimising, tracking or tagging accounts (such as Google Search Console and Google Tag Manager) in the company’s name, not only to change agency access if necessary, but so that you have visibility into these accounts.

Ask what other digital and other marketing services they can provide if this is important to you, e.g. social media marketing, email marketing and other advertising.  A good agency will have insight into your users (both sides if this is the case) and will be able to work with you to put together a suitable strategy.  It may be that certain marketing activities don’t fit within the values of your business, so discuss these with them and work out what you’re comfortable with.

3.  Don’t forget to market your business offline too

Just because your business is an online business doesn’t mean your consumers don’t consume traditional media such as radio, TV, newspapers and magazines.  A strong traditional advertising or publicity campaign can drive traffic to your site.  Find interesting angles to raise your profile, or that of your business, and either pitch those to the editors or producers of the media or employ someone to do this on your behalf such as a PR agency.

As a start-up business, I’ve found that working with a PR agency is a cost effective way of achieving good exposure and credibility.  If you’re the founder, be prepared to tell the story that lead you to launch your business baby, as people want to know who’s behind it.

Choosing the right agency can be difficult.  Again, a recommendation from someone is ideal and it helps if they’ve had previous experience with your sector, if not, your consumer demographic.  That way they will have the relevant contacts to pitch your story to.

Another bonus from PR is any online publications that feature your business and publish a link to your website will help with your website’s SEO.  Ensure your website address is stated on your media release or pitch email and is also hyperlinked in your copy.