As a water treatment professional, your primary area of expertise probably is not website design. But an online presence is an integral part of any modern business that wants to connect with customers on their own terms and present a reputable first impression. No matter what your skill level when it comes to website design and maintenance, your knowledge of your company's business goals and customers’ wants and needs is the basis of a comprehensive and engaging online presence.

We spoke with experts in the field of marketing and website design to get behind the scenes information on how to plan a great website and connect with customers in other online capacities and what details are better left up to the professionals.

It’s all in the details

Most of the work that goes into building a website happens before anyone starts writing code and copy and resizing images to go online. According to our experts, the planning process is the most important step in building a website that truly meets the needs of your company and customer.

The first thing you should do is understand your target audience, whether they are homeowners, office managers for commercial businesses or engineers working in municipal and industrial applications. Brainstorm what they are seeking when they visit your website. Do they need contact information? Do they want to buy a product online? Do they want easy access to manufacturer websites?

“Think like your target audience before getting started. Then, structure your website accordingly,” says Bradley Good, partner, Good Marketing Group, an advertising, marketing and web design agency.

Thomas Mirabella, president of Wingman Planning, a website design and development firm, agrees: “When starting the planning process for your website…align your website with your marketing strategy and target audience. Keep your customer’s needs in mind.”

After you have established your target audience and understand the capabilities you need in a website, you need to choose the software that will allow you to build it.

“Just as important as the live site that potential customers sees is the back end software that controls your site,” reminds Mirabella. “You want to be sure that your website is built with a user friendly administration panel that allows you to easily update your website.”

Then, you can go back to thinking about your customer. Whatever people are coming to your site looking for, Good explains, it should be easy to find: “Remember, not everyone looks or finds things the same way. Be sure to give more than one way to connect to your information/solution. Start with gridding out your site map and be sure to have multiple people test finding certain information before going live. This will also help keep the user engaged on the site longer which helps with credibility in the eyes of the search engines when calculating their algorithms.”

In addition to creating an accessible interface, Good also emphasizes the importance of understandable information. Make sure your copy is not too technical for those visiting the site, while still maintaining a professional, expert tone. You can always get more technical with in-person conversations; the important thing is not to alienate anyone from contacting you in the first place.

In addition to understandable text, according to Good and Mirabella, photos are another important part of a website’s design, and take more consideration than you may expect.

While photos can showcase your company’s work and keep visitors engaged, they must be relevant and balance well with other page content. In addition to product photos, consider graphics and diagrams that explain how your products work or installation photos that show them in action. Employee and team photos are also a great way to build familiarity with customers before they even meet you.

Going mobile

Having a great website involves a lot more than it did a few years ago, as most people access the Internet through devices other than computers a significant amount of the time.

“Long gone are the days of flipping through the Yellow Pages for a service,” says Mirabella. “Not only are consumers scouring the web via computer, they’re increasingly using tablets and phones as well. According to a February 2014 statistic from Cisco, global mobile traffic grew 81 percent in 2013. This growth can’t be ignored, and it provides a huge opportunity if you plan accordingly.”

You truly need a website that is optimized for both desktop and mobile, Apple and Android, as not to lose any customers that try to navigate to your page and are unable to access it.

“If you just created a new desktop site within the last year, find out if it is mobile compatible. If you are planning to develop a site soon, be sure to add a mobile site at the same time as your desktop site is being built. It will save you money to do it at the same time,” advises Good.

The key to mobile optimization is Responsive Web Design, explains Mirabella. This allows your site to automatically adjust to any size screen that is being used, with all content automatically resized to fit while maintaining the website’s look and feel.

Common pitfalls

Even with all the tools out there to create great online content, there are a number of common mishaps that befall even the best business owner when building a website. Mirabella outlined some common mistakes:

  • Don’t crowd the site with too much content, too many pages to navigate or too much text
  • Make sure font and photo sizes are easy to read and see
  • Don’t forget contact information and a toll-free number
  • Consider incorporating Responsive Design rather than creating a separate mobile site
  • Make sure all information is current and relevant.

Good adds to this advice:

  • Stay away from Flash player, as Apple devices do not support it
  • Hire professionals.

This last point is one that Good emphasizes. There is so much that goes into creating a website today, from choosing a development platform, to coding the website for customization to Search Engine Optimization (SEO) to Responsive Web Design, that even the most technologically savvy water treatment professional will get lost at some point. Unless you have training in website design and regularly use and update your skills, a professional website developer is an important part of the equation for building an online presence.

“To keep up with what is relevant is a full time job,” notes Good. “Consider the do-it-yourself water filtration homeowner who probably knows enough to be dangerous and will eventually need to be bailed out by an experienced, licensed and trained professional — for more money than it would have cost to start properly.”

While a web development professional will need your input on the audience, product, service and industry, Good explains, you need their expertise in online marketing.

Beyond a website

Unfortunately for your busy schedule, a business needs to move beyond a basic website and communicate with customers on multiple online platforms to be successful today. Social media, blogs and consumer websites are all important components of how customers understand and choose your company.

Social media and blogging are vital for businesses today. They can also be incorporated into your site for cross-promotional use. A blog section on your website can be helpful for customers looking for more information and can also help with your SEO results,” says Mirabella.

The number one piece of advice Good and Mirabella give regarding social media and blogs is to keep the content current and relevant. Posts should be made at least once a week. Content should always be positive and upbeat, with company news, current events and interesting links.

“There is nothing worse than seeing that a company’s last blog post was six months ago,” says Mirabella. “That tells consumers that you aren’t engaged and will leave them doubting your timeliness and follow-through. If you don’t have time to keep your blog updated yourself, you can enlist the help of your sales force, other employees or even use guest bloggers to help you keep information fresh.”

Positive testimonials should be actively sought out from successful projects, which can be posted to social media or review websites like Angie’s List and Yelp. Negative testimonials should be dealt with immediately and professionally in the same public forum where they originally appeared, so that potential customers can see you handled the problem successfully.

“Stay in the forefront and be a part of their regular conversations, not just when there is an emergency,” says Good. “Social media moves just as fast as all other online tools.”

While there can never be a comprehensive guide to the multi-faceted project of creating an online presence, try not to get overwhelmed. If you go into the project with a good understanding of what your target audience needs, what you need and the goals that you want to achieve, and remain engaged, you will have all the tools you need to be successful.