10 Difference Between A Cutting-Edge Rock Solid Business Website And A Free One

free vs paid website

Every minute about 571 websites are being launched… as in right now. Most of them don’t survive beyond the first three months. Want to know why?

How many times have you thought about going for a free website because you don’t have a budget? And how many times you’ve been told that paid websites are better because they are professionally done? I have a different take on this.

The real question is: How much are you willing to spend to make more money?

That’s not some superfluous, marketing stuff. Think of it like this: do you gain business by investing in a website? Or do you lose business by investing in a website?

As you will see during the course of this article, web-presence is not about just being present on the web. It is about outshining your competition. It not about starting small and growing. It’s about making a hero entry, making a solid first-impression and being taken seriously rather than presenting your business in tatters. There are few who’d do business with someone in tatters.

If you haven’t already read the previous article in this series then stop and please read it to help put things in context. Understanding What It Takes To Design Your Own Website Like A Professional.

So here’s how a business website stands out from the crowd.

1. Speed

  • Quality of Code: Performance, maintainability, organization and structure, reliability, adherence to standards, Extensibility. Code must be smart and efficient. Good code does the same thing in fewer lines, breaks down repetitive routines into separate methods and functions for optimal speed gains. Often there are several built-in functions to achieve the same functionality. Good code employs the best method possible. The quality of code doesn’t lie in how much or how little is coded — that’s just the quantity part. Also , smart code is coded to be cross-platform. If it works on Apache, it will seamlessly work with Nginx. If it runs on PHP 7, it will run on PHP 5.6 as well and will be fault-tolerant with reasonable fallback in place. How many times have you noticed that you move your hosting and the site breaks? Let me give you another example. How many times have you downloaded a WordPress plugin from WordPress.Org only to realize that it doesn’t work on your website? How many times do you realize that the plugin you just installed clashes with another one? Good code is speed-wise efficient, is well documented so that it’s maintainable in the long term, is well-structured so you know where to tinker and where to make the change, adheres to established standards and best-practices to avoid common well-known pitfalls and is extensible so that you can modify or extend the functionality without having to change the code itself. An excellent example of this extensibility is the WordPress action and filter hooks.
  • Hosting: There are two factors that determine the quality of hosting. The first one is the stability or availability of the hosting server. If the server is not stable it will crash, it may just go out of resources like memory, CPU and hang thereby making the website slow or unresponsive. That’s where you have to decide that you want to remain on a shared hosting or a dedicated hosting. The second factor is the choice of hosting software and configuration. Good software that is mis-configured will give you a lot of trouble. Poor choice of software that is well configured will be on the slower side but more stable and break-proof. Let me give you an example. I have a special apache module installed on my hosting server. It’s called ModPagespeed. Its purpose is to optimize css, javascript, images etc. before they are sent to the user’s browser. This means lesser data travelling. This in turn makes website serving faster. But optimising the images too much affects my photography site because I really want to display high resolution images without any compromise.  So I have to make sure that the configuration uses a lossless way to compress images so that they retain the original quality while reducing the data being transferred. It’s rare to find anyone using ModPagespeed. But that’s what makes my hosting special. It just flies.
  • Caching: And just when you thought your page loads fast, I’m sorry to break your heart. Only the first time counts. That’s because caching comes into play. When a visitor opens your website for the first time, it takes a little while to download that 10Mb of images you have in the slider on the homepage. But next time they visit, all that is already cached in the browser. Seems blazing fast&hellp; but not really. All that caching that gives an impression of your website being fast doesn’t deliver results. The first time a customer lands and waits one and a half minute to see the website… oh they’ve already clicked the second tab and gone elsewhere. Non-caching has an SEO penalty in addition to the costs of losing the customers.

2. Site Architecture

These are small things wherein the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Small structures comprise to form the larger one and one missing piece can make or break it — not in the traditional sense; but where competition is concerned, every bit matters.

  • SSL / HTTPS URL: Google gives you extra marks for SEO if your site is running on SSL. Data transfer on SSL website is more secure with less risk for man-in-the-middle attacks. You can read more on why you need SSL here.
  • www / non-www: As dumb as it may sound, a lot of thought goes into this because it has long term implications. And moving a site from www to non-www  is neither trivial nor is done frequently. Also this tends to be a long debate. And people debate it for various things such as ease-of-use, memorization, URL length and all that. Also by default, www and non-www versions of the website basically point to the same website. One will redirect to the other. However purely from a technical standpoint, the www version of a website means a different website. It’s as different as mail.google.com and google.com — one goes to gmail and another one to the search engine. Depending on your use case you may want to carefully decide the implementation. As another example, when doing a google site search, I can try the site:google.com operator query which will also return sub-domains of Google and if I do site:www.google.com it will return all pages inside google.com/*. there’s no right and wrong. But you have to decide according to your own use-case and implement.
  • Schema: Schema is relatively new to the web even though the word has been around for a few years now. Schema is microdata that is used to describe content. While this is not an authoritative guide on schema, the purpose of schema is to describe to the search engines what the piece of content is about so that search engines can understand the context of the content. This is basically the same as understanding user-intent — the brain behind Google’s ranking logic termed RankBrain.
  • other on-page SEO

3. Content organization

Organization of content plays a huge role in navigation and also the flow and relevancy of the content’s topics or themes. It also aids user navigation. Also well-organized content is the most prominent SEO factor which even outshines off-page SEO.

The primary goal of SEO is to improve the website so that the site is about more than targeted keyword phrases – it is about the themes matching those keywords.
Bruce Clay

For the benefits of content organization and an in-depth hands-on guide, please read: Benefits of SILO Information Archicture and Implementation in WordPress

  • Categorization of content: In order to organize content, you need to categorize it. For this purpose you can use a taxonomy that helps you maintain a consistent URL structure and canonical location of the content.
  • Hierarchical content organization: How easy is it to find things when they are spread all around the room? I bet it’s definitely easier to locate a thing when they are well-organized and stored in drawers (unless you are a bachelor— that’s a joke). Hierarchical organization not only helps users but also search engines understand what kind (topic, relevance) of content it is. I’ve written about it at length in WordPress SILO architecture.
  • Internal linking: Internal linking is another type of  grouping related content. This is called a virtual SILO. The search engines are able to identify the related content and their relevance via these internal links. This means more relevant ranks. And remember there’s a difference between better rank vs rank relevancy.

4. Page Structure

Page structure falls under the territory of technical SEO. Search engines use various elements (and the tagged microdata) to identify the important and un-important elements on the webpage and to identify the contextual relevancy of the webpage. The elements include the following in addition to others.

  • Breadcrumbs: Breadcrumbs should reflect and reinforce the navigation path and the hierarchy and organization of the content.
  • Navigation: Navigation menus serve as a navigation aid and the labels and links are not to be given prominence at par with the actual content.
  • Headers: Headers are used to identify the primary topic or subject of the webpage and other metadata like date published, author etc.
  • Footers: Footers are used to identify content metadata and other secondary information.
  • Main content of webpage: Marked with microdata such as schema, it helps identify the actual content unique to the webpage.
  • Sidebars: Sidebars add related content or asides (related) to the primary content of the webpage.

All these elements add various aspects of relevancy and context about the actual information or content of the webpage. Rest of the elements are repetitive in nature and have little or no value as far as search ranking or relevance to the search query is concerned. Thus it becomes important to help search engines identify the insignificant parts of the webpage. Business websites are built on WordPress Theme Frameworks. Professional WordPress themes have good on-page SEO and employ microdata like schema to weigh various on-page elements. Do note that there’s a difference between paid themes and premium or “pro” themes. You may buy a theme from ThemeForest but it won’t necessarily be a professional theme. The internet is plagues with themes pitching themselves as premium whereas all they are is cheap trash that you buy with your hard earned money.

5. Landing Pages

 

Landing pages are the star pages or hero pages of the website. They are the ones that drive business and are responsible for converting visitors into paying customers. But strictly, technically and literally speaking, every URL where a visitor lands is a landing page. It a different matter altogether whether the site owner treats it as a landing page. And it is totally normal to see a site owner treat some specific pages as landing pages. In that sense of a landing page, good overview of the product (make sure the purpose of the page is understood immediately), establish the value of a product of a service and finally allow the user to take an action like a purchase, subscription, triggering a download etc. To this end, landing pages employ several elements to convert visitors into customers:

  • A headline that impresses and addresses the goals of user-intent.
  • Images and graphics that are contextually relevant and supplement the headline and content.
  • Content or description that is optimized to establish the value of a product or a service.
  • Social proof: Social proof is a neuromarketing concept basically building on the fact that people follow people. (I strongly recommend that you subscribe to Roger Doodley’s neuromarketing blog and some must watch videos by Prof Dan Ariely)
  • A Proper CTA (call to action) that prompts use to take the “money action” wherein a transaction of some sort takes place be it subscription or a free ebook download etc.

The art and craft of designing a landing page is beyond the scope of this article. However suffice it to say that crafting a landing page is some serious workmanship and there are professionals who have dedicated their careers to this art and science of studying user-behaviour, user-experience and technology to make the two ends meet.

6. User-Friendly Design

As much as I dislike the facade of design, a professional design makes the first impression of a business website. Thus I’d state “a beautiful design hides a lot of inefficiency of a website behind it” and move on. A professional design consists of:

  • Good branding.
  • Ease of use.
  • Professional appeal.

There are bigger priorities than design. Search experience, code, architecture, performance, page-composition, must always proceed eye-candy. But the fact is that just like everyone knows which dress they want to wear, everyone tends to think they have a great sense of design too. Leave it to the professional because professional put the user first, not your fits and tantrums. Ouch! That must have hurt.

7. Hosting & Security

Though security is supposed to be the first priority, it can’t be done in that sequence. Security is a function of your code and software setup. A professional hosting comes with some reasonable security. And then it is up to your application or website if you leave security holes open or create new ones.

Professional hosting plans are scalable often cloud-based and have a guaranteed minimum up-time of 99% or better. Premium WordPress hostings are optimized for WordPress (in the sense that there is some robust caching mechanism employed). Also there is provision for automated periodic backups just in case things go south and you need to revert back in order to fix things. There often are other features like free SSL, multi-level caching. etc.

On the security part, business websites are well protected against spam, DDoS, xml-rpc, brute-force and other attacks. And in my over two decade of career, I’ve seen vicious attacks ranging from spam WordPress posts to malware insertion and some more serious types where the entire server is hijacked. Professional website developers do a proper and periodic security audit of the entire setup and also routine website maintenance to keep things spick and span. Security extends to managing user roles and ensuring proper requisite access to users to be able to execute responsibilities entrusted to them.

8. Extensibility

Enterprise sites are built on platforms that are extensible and scalable. Businesses need features that allows the website platforms to integrate into other third-party software and systems they use internally and interface with various other processes. Businesses often have various communication channels for messaging and social media platforms including sales, customer support etc. Even a seemingly simple WordPress website that sends mail from form submissions is configured to ensure that mails are not flagged as spam and that there is genuine authentication via proper mail servers, proper DNS records, DKIM, SPF etc. Newsletter integration are a must as are contact forms.

9. Performance Analytics & Improvements

Business websites have a fool-proof setup of the features like:

  • Analytics / enhanced Ecommerce Analytics (for your online store)
  • Conversion Analytics: Google Tag Manager (for Facebook Pixel, GA Conversion goals, etc)
  • Search console integration to monitor website performance in SERPs
  • On-Page SEO:
    • Robots.txt tweaks to disable unwanted views like tag, author and date-time based archives.
    • Monitoring and fixing crawl errors
    • .htaccess tweaks to redirect www / non-www, canonical, SSL, HSTS policy etc.
    • Monitoring and fixing 404 pages and broken links
    • Content re-structuring and re-directs.
    • Proper use of  410, 403 instead of a 404 when required.

Often business websites employ conversion analytics software such as CrazyEgg or Open Web Analytics to understand user-behaviour onsite. The periodic maintenance process ensures that things work like a well-oiled machine. Data gather through various analytics helps understand the challenges and to address them in order to improve performance and achieve business goals. This often is done with the assistance of a vendor or employing the services of a business department internally.

10. Digital Media, PR, Off-page SEO

And finally in the course of business, digital media, PR and off-page SEO activities are the areas where most money is spent.

The average SMB spends $400/month on marketing.

Entrepreneur.Com

Digital marketing includes social media marketing, off-page SEO, email marketing, display advertising, content marketing, video marketing, lead generation and lots more.

Eventually it’s not about expenditure by ROI. Everything from seo strategy, conversion funnels, awesome content, lead magnets, push notifications, drip-campaigns, multi-media content like shareable PDFs, videos, infographics etc. is all aimed at bringing you more visitors.

Summary

If your visitors land on your website which is not ready to function towards business goals, you will lose money.

A business website is architected to accelerate your business. It is the hardest working component of the entire business system.

It is also important to understand and realize that investment comes before returns start coming in. And you eventually get what you pay for. The thing about dominating your market is that returns grow exponentially with investment which is at start contrast with law of diminishing returns. The reason is that the market is global, there’s infinite money in your prospects pocket and your digital strategy will decide what you take back home.

Next in Series: Assessing Project Requirements And Establishing Scope Of Work For A Website Design Project

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UX UI Front-end Development, Diy-design

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