SMEs column: Demystifying digital marketing


Dalton Ndou
AS more Zimbabwean companies look to go digital and become active online, the pertinent question is, “Where does one start?”

The answer is quite simple – start by creating a website. This is because the website will function as a physical-store-equivalent, address, anchor and hub for all the company’s online activities.

The process of getting a website for your company can be daunting especially if online platforms are unfamiliar terrain.

The best approach to creating a website is to treat it as a long term project and an investment in your business.

Creating a website can seem deceptively simple especially since there are free templates online and the temptation to DIY can be hard to resist for those who are trying to cut on costs.

Given the many pitfalls involved in process of web development and having already stated that a website is an investment, I strongly advise against taking shortcuts.

It is always best to build a website from the ground up and this is done by making a list of expectations, functionalities and specifications for the website.

This will provide a guideline that will inform the website plan.

The list of expectations, functionalities and specifications can be compiled by comparing your competitor’s websites and studying the websites of companies in more developed countries to determine what specifications might best suit your needs.

The website plan is very important for specificity of a website. For example, an e-commerce website should emphasise the products and promotions so the call-to-action buttons must be easily found by the users/visitors and the images should be of high quality.

A corporate website on the other hand must be impressive, formal and its design should inspire confidence, be easy to navigate and be functional so as to meet the expectations of the clientele.

For a kids’ products related website, lots of bright colours, with illustrations and themed backgrounds of animated characters can be used to show an understanding of what appeals to kids whilst ensuring parents can enjoy visiting it too.

Doing research and deciding in advance on the kind of widgets, plugins and add ons you want before designing saves a lot time and money as the full cost of the website can be predetermined and agreed upon.

This greatly reduces the likelihood of adjustments having to be made in future as alterations tend to attract additional charges from the web developer.

Choosing a good web designer is a very important consideration because designers who don’t understand that websites are business assets which must achieve specific business objectives can be a liability.

Some designers are more invested in providing artistic rather than functional work.

You can tell what type of designer you are dealing with based on their own website so you should always check the portfolio of a designer before hiring them.

For example, a web designer who has done corporate websites will be familiar with terms such as “revenue goals,” “lead generation” and “increase sales”- and is therefore capable of designing with such objectives in mind.

Familiarity with business objectives means that the web designer can understand the purpose of the website and is likely to put effort in designing and creating a website that will fulfil the desired goals.

It is crucial to familiarise yourself with the portfolio of a web designer and have at least three to choose from.

When giving website specifications to the web designer, keep in mind what the current website trends are based on research you would have done on competitor’s websites and similar businesses’ websites that you conducted earlier, you may go through the samples with the potential developer.

Based on the portfolios of the designers, opt for the one whose past work is closely related to your field or whose work closely mirrors what you aspire for based on the samples you’ve seen in your research.

Here are a few tips on how to best benefit from your contract with your web developer.

I recommend you ask for a Content Management System (CMS) based website, try to avoid HTML based websites mainly because you become dependent on the developer to manage the website and see to any adjustments.

Some developers may charge you whenever you require adjustments to be made.

On the other hand if you choose to use a CMS based website, it is important to note that your website will need to be secured as it is an open source platform.

This can be done using various widgets, plugins and modules that can be used to select features you would like to keep concealed.

Website security is important so I will further elaborate on this. It is critical to create passwords that meet complexity rules such as containing letters, numbers, special characters and a minimum number of characters.

The site should also include a captcha feature, especially if you have login forms on your site or filling in forms online.

Before contracting developers to design your website negotiate for the following;

– As many design revisions as possible
– As many pages as possible
– Unlimited website widgets/additions/functionalities
– Unlimited technical support over a reasonable period after the site is running
– Unlimited email accounts and forwarders
– Help you understand how to get the best domain name
– Help you choose the best hosting company for your website
– A Content Management System (CMS) based website like Word-press and Joomla so that you can manage the website and content yourself after the technical support tenure runs out
– Teach you how to use the content management system of your website
– Total disclosure on all costs, including anticipated costs that might incur eventually.

It is also advantageous if your web developer’s company can offer you a full range of services that relate to your website.

Using one company to handle everything that relates to your website and online presence is a good idea because all the marketing activities can be easily coordinated during campaigns and the quality of work can be consistent across the board.

These services could be anything that supports your business’s online presence such as graphic design services, copywriting, domain name search, hosting, support and most importantly digital marketing.

Dalton Ndou is a qualified Digital Marketing expert and trainer affiliated with NUST’s Centre for Continuing Education (CCE). Feedback or questions are welcome via whatsapp on 0778640871.

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