What Does it Take to Launch a Successful Small Business Website?

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Everyone’s diving into social marketing these days to build an online presence, but for aspiring restauranters the most important first step in business marketing is launching a good website. What does it take to create a successful website? We asked Los Angeles-based design, marketing, branding and social media expert Maxine Torosian for some answers, and here’s what she said:

How do you develop a great logo for a business?

MaxineTorosian: The first question I ask my clients is what direction they are headed. That is, what kind of industry are they in. Are they in an industry focused on children? Is it an industry involving therapy or relaxation? Is it food and restaurant? All that plays a significant role in determining the design and colors of a logo. Every logo should reflect the core foundation of its business. That’s why the first thing I do is to immerse myself into the business of my clients.

The idea is for me to get familiar with their mission statement and goals. I also my clients about the background of their business and where they see themselves in it. That’s because behind every business there’s a story—or there should be.

I also ask them about their target market. That’s important because there are some businesses that have high-end clients and other businesses that have average customers. For example, you Ross Dress For Less has different customers than those who shop at Nordstrom or Bloomingdale. Nordstrom or Bloomingdale have a very modern, sleek, elegant appeal and they cater to the luxury market. Ross caters has a much more average clientele.

So, I don’t design logos based entirely on what my clients want. I try to make them aware of how their logos will be perceived by their customers. If my client has a spa business, I’ll use certain colors such as blues, greens and pastels to promote a feeling of tranquility and relaxation. If my client has an organic products business, I would use a lot of greens and earthy colors.

And I’ll integrate the colors into the logo. I design every logo with intention—that is, with a purpose meant to affect potential customers, regardless of what the logo actually says or looks like. Take the Zankou Chicken logo. It has a lot of red in it because the color red subconsciously makes people hungry. McDonalds also uses a lot of red in its logo as well as its interior design. That’s why a lot of restaurant logos have red in them, along with yellow, which signifies emotion.

The other thing to remember is that all the colors and typefaces should match. If you’re going to go with a modern design, stick to modern—don’t mix. Otherwise people could assume, both consciously and subconsciously that you don’t know what kind of product you’re selling.

How do you go about choosing colors for a logo?

There are several factors that go into such decisions. Although how customers perceive logos are a key element, a client’s personal preferences are important, too. That’s because a business is an owner’s baby. Owners need to be just as motivated by their logos, through the ups and downs of their business. If they feel there’s something not tasteful about their logo—or they’re not enthusiastic about it—that could affect them psychologically.

So if a business owner likes darker colors or pastel colors, I try to accommodate them in designing logos just as much as I lighter colors. If my client likes vibrant colors and they’re in the restaurant industry I’ll do a vibrant red in the logo. If the client is more traditional—conservative—maybe I’ll use a burgundy red. So I try to use a fusion of the client’s personal taste and what works from the point of view of psychology. But what you wouldn’t want to do is use red in a spa logo or a blue in a restaurant logo. And I also emphasize that the color itself does not draw customers’ attention—it’s the combination of everything.

But I also lay down the fundamentals by making it clear to clients that if they’re going to start a restaurant, for example, they should use red as the primary color. At the very least, I tell clients that they should combine their color preferences with what has been tried and tested in the world of advertising and marketing. I also work with colors that tend to draw people’s attention. These could be colors that work well with the overall design. And I usually design a variation of three logos for clients because I don’t want to assume what they’re going to like, based on one conversation. From the three they select their favorite design, which is usually close to what we’ve spoken about.

How has the Internet changed the design and creation of logos?

The challenge still is to keep the appeal of logos universal, that is, logos that are simple and meaningful and can be adapted to multiple platforms, including print and online, with little or no tweaking. The Apple logo is a good example. On the Apple website, the logo is simple and clean—black and white. But on newspaper and magazine ads about the iPad, iPod or the Nano, Apple changes the color across the rainbow. I’ve seen red, I’ve seen blue, there’s a green Apple, a blue Apple and so on. But just the change in color does not confuse customers and lead them to believe they don’t know the brand. They are still able to identify Apple because of the universal appeal of the company’s logo.

A lot of companies have redone or modified their logos because of the new era of Web-based technology that we’re in. There’s a new trend of 2-D logos sometimes referred to as the “flat logo” look. Apple has such a logo—a modern look, with some shine to it.

Coca-Cola virtually owns the color red. Apple has distinguished itself in the market for its white background—on the company website as well as in ads. How can businesses identify with colors so that customers think of them as soon as they see a particular color?

That all depends on how—and how much—a business invests in its brand. It takes a lot of time, a lot of effort, a lot of money. I don’t want to use the word “own,” but yes, you’re going to be recognized as the only entity identified with a particular color if you brand yourself well enough. On a related note, brands have a tendency to become a culture or a lifestyle for so many consumers. Besides color, think of business names, which are an important part of branding as well. People don’t say, I’m going to go get a tissue. They say, I’m going to get a Kleenex.

How can people create a website with integrated SEO?

The first thing to do is to make a list of keywords to be integrated into the SEO behind the scenes. Ask yourself what keywords would draw people to your website. Let’s take the example of Zankou Chicken. The keywords would include Mediterranean food, Schawerma, Garlic, and other entrees on the menu. It’s also a good idea to include spelling mistakes for uncommon or foreign-sounding words that potential customers are likely not to spell correctly. Business owners need to think like users—they should put themselves in the users’ shoes.

The same advice applies to blogs on business websites. The blogs should contain keywords in the headline, the subhead and the actual body of the article. I also recommend posting blogs to microblogging websites such as Blogger.com or to your Facebook business page. This will help increase traffic to your website. Email marketing is another way of reaching potential customers and pointing them to your business website.

What’s your advice for creating an excellent website from all the choices available in the market?

I would say WordPress is the way to go, especially for people who want a website that’s simple and fast to publish. WordPress is also something that people can learn on their own. What’s more, WordPress can be used by people who want a very fancy, trendy, advanced website. Besides being easy to understand, another reason why WordPress is so good is its SEO-friendliness. That’s because WordPress communicates very well with internet search engines—and that helps improve the search-engine rankings of WordPress websites. Custom-made websites face far more obstacles to getting higher rankings. A lot of users enjoy the user-friendliness of WordPress websites.

For businesses websites that have an e-commerce component, I would recommend Magento instead of WordPress. Magento is a very efficient and SEO-friendly platform.

What are some of the tabs or categories that every website should have?

You would always want to have a home page—and an easily identifiable tab or button that takes readers there. Make it as easy as possible for people to locate the home page tab—otherwise you could lose customers. Usually, this is a matter of spelling out the word “Home” on the tab instead of expecting people to click on your company logo or some other abstract icon. If you want, you could link the logo to your Home page while also having a clearly distinct tab for the page.

A home page is considered to be the summary of a business. You should have an introduction to your business, with header. And you should have a little bit about what’s going on in your business—which could be the latest news. Next, you should have what’s called the “footer,” that is, what you want customers to do on your website.

An “About Us” page is also good to have. Make it personal. That allows people to get into your world and know about you and your business as well as how it started. A “Contact Us” page is also useful. You would want the details there to be very easy for customers to comprehend. Try to include a variety of different mediums on the page—whether it’s phone, email or social media. A “Services” or “Products” page is also a must because you would want to describe what your business offers to potential customers.

What are your key tips for business owners from the point of view of marketing and advertising?

First, it’s very important to brand your business. By branding, you’re displaying the personality of your business, you’re telling clients what you and your business is all about. You’re creating a certain culture. And that is very important because these days, more than any other time, people want to be part of something—a lifestyle. You don’t need to have a budget of thousands of dollars for branding. You could start small, do everything on your own, including the logo. But again, remember, be consistent in what you do. Use the colors that are in you logo on the Internet and for your menu as well.

And second, once your business website is up and running, try to keep up with social media trends. A lot of people tend to reach your Facebook page or your Twitter or Instagram account as a decision-making end result wherein they will either give you business or they won’t. They won’t even visit your website. They like what they see of you on social media and that’s good enough for them. So you really want to consider where most people are hanging out. If they’re on Facebook, you’re going to have to be on Facebook. Otherwise they’re not going to be able to find you. And remember, each social media platform is different.

How important is the name of a business?

Very important. It’s a good idea to have a catchy name. Zankou Chicken is very catchy, for example. It’s fast, short, to the point, and not a generic name. Some catchy two-word names have the same letter—and/or syllable—in the first word and the second word. Chucky Cheese is an example—the sound of ch followed by ch.

Always think about what the name of your business means—and what it conveys to customers. I know a businessman who had a mishmash of merchandise. He had medical equipment, gifts and natural therapy. And he had named his business “Infinity.” Now, that really doesn’t say anything. People thought the name referred to Infinity, the Japanese car brand. He got a lot of calls from insurance agents. And he got really annoyed. He had to change his phone number multiple times. But the problem was in the name. So you always want to make sure that the name of your business doesn’t conflict with other names. And you want to make sure that the name is not too vague. You want to give people a hint of what it is that you’re selling. At the same time, you’d want to have a name that has a long shelf life—not something that is likely to be outdated in, say, 10 years.

Now, people could select an exotic name such as Zankou, but they would have to spend a lot of time and effort in branding the name because Zankou could stand for anything. It could be a supermarket. But with branding efforts, you can market the name as a restaurant that sells famous chicken and garlic.

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