Investing in a new website or a redesign is a big deal. You want to see measurable results in your leads or sales, and in customer satisfaction with the online experience. Many small businesses don’t have a marketing department to handle analysis, reporting, and updates on their new website – but that’s okay! You can cultivate a successful website using free tools, tutorials, and your own documentation.
Let’s look at how to grow your website in the first year after launch.
Phase 1 of a successful website: create and learn
In the first three months after your new website is launched, you have a lot of work to do to. The most important tasks are establishing strategies, setting consistent routines, and learning how to read your data.
In an ideal world all of the items in this first list are in place or get set up during the web design and development, but we know sometimes that’s not possible. You might not have the resources, or your site might already be live when you start to learn about digital strategy.
1. Establish KPIs – How will you measure whether or not you’ve got a successful website? It’s crucial to know the most important customer actions that drive business goals. Learn how to set up and track important goals in our article, Top 12 Website KPIs for Small Business.
2. Configure tools and accounts – In order to measure all those KPIs, you’ll need tools that track data and help you create reports. Make sure you have Google Analytics installed on your website. You might also use Google Tag Manager, Search Console, HotJar, an SEO tool (see the next section for our picks), and social media management software like Buffer or Hootsuite.
3. Keyword strategy – How are you being found in search, who is your competition, and how do you compare? Every page and post on your website needs to be unified around a common keyword strategy. Optimize old content around your current strategy, and make sure new content is optimized for those target keywords.
You can use free versions of SEO tools like Moz Keyword Explorer, SEMRush, Answer the Public, and Google Trends to hunt for optimal keywords. If you’re unsure where to start, try running a keyword report on a competitor’s site to see how they rank and for which terms. The free versions of most tools will work, although the results will be limited. Pay attention to keyword difficulty (how hard it is to rank for that word) and search volume (the average number of monthly searches within a country).
4. Content strategy – Google and other search engines like fresh websites. Every time your site is re-crawled and new content is found, it’s an opportunity to be re-ranked – and hopefully to rank higher. That means you need a plan to regularly produce optimized content:
- Who is your audience?
- What are their biggest problems?
- What kind of content do they want? Blogs, case studies, white papers, and downloads are the easiest to get started
- Who will create the content?
- When are the deadlines for drafts, revisions, reviews, designs, and publication?
5. Amplification strategy – Which social platforms does your audience use? Do you have an email database, or are you building one? Optimized content can only do so much of the legwork for itself. You need to share your creations to drive a successful website.
Document a plan for social profiles, posting schedules, content curation (articles, videos, or user generated content), and any additional content creation needed such as custom graphics
If you have or are building an email database, set up an account with email design and automation software, and create an email marketing plan that works with your content creation schedule
6. Take online courses – There’s no time like the present to learn new skills! Especially how to analyze your website’s data and improve your marketing knowledge. We assembled a list of our top 10 free digital marketing courses, from social media to Google Analytics and ads. Many SEO tools like SEMRush and Moz also offer their own courses.
Phase 2: measure and adjust
A few months after your site launch, you should be in a groove of content creation, amplification, and locating basic website and marketing data. If you haven’t already become a self-taught data nerd through those online courses, now is the time to start digging deeper into the story your numbers are telling.
You can learn all kinds of great insights about your content and your audience from the default dashboards. Check out our handy intro to Google Analytics data, and learn where to look for potential problems.
7. Keyword rankings – How’s that keyword strategy paying off? Regularly checking your rankings using an SEO tool will help you stay on top of the game. Remember that Googling your own business isn’t enough – search engines will show results based on proximity and search history, among other factors.
If you’re slipping on target keywords, you can create more content around them or look for other opportunities to improve around any of Google’s 200+ ranking factors.
8. Heatmaps – We love using a heatmap tool in tandem with Google Analytics for a full view of website performance. Heatmaps can help you spot issues with your user experience, such as which parts of the page people are engaging and which parts are being ignored. This can help you make design and copy adjustments.
9. Content performance – Use Google Analytics to see how your content marketing is working (and how to fix it if it’s not). A high bounce rate is okay on some kinds of content, but if your longer pages and posts have short read times or your videos have no plays, there might be a problem with the design, or the content itself.
Content is what drives a successful website, so make sure you’re delivering value with everything you create.
10. Social media and email performance – All of the major social media and email marketing platforms have native analytics that can help you analyze your accounts. Use this data to test adjustments in different areas of your programs:
- Social posting schedule and frequency
- Social post copy
- Post headlines and images
- Email template design and layout
- Subject lines
- Email tone and language
- CTA button copy and placement
- Audience segments
11. Goals and events – At the same time as you’re analyzing your website and amplification methods, you can reassess the goals and events you set up to track website KPIs. Add new events for changes to your content strategy or objectives, and pause Analytics goals that aren’t currently relevant.
12. Custom dashboards and reports – If you haven’t already, consider setting up custom dashboards and reports in Google Analytics to make analyzing your website performance a quick and easy process. For example, you might create reports that show multiple areas of data by country, or a report showing data on all of your downloadable content. Google Analytics even has a library of pre-built dashboards that you can download and try out.
13. Maintain security and plugins – Search engines favour secure websites, and routine maintenance is an easy SEO win. This includes hosting, plugins, and the CMS itself. If you use WordPress, keep an eye on your dashboard for plugin updates, especially those relating to security.
We recommend waiting a short time to ensure the update has no bugs, and that changes won’t conflict with other plugins and break your site. Check with your web developer if in doubt! Many agencies offer post-launch maintenance packages that cover all updates and support.
14. User research and testing – A website is a living organism, and leaving it static for years is a big mistake. If your site is floundering in a few areas, it’s a good idea to do some user research, make adjustments on a staging site or use A/B testing pages, and use the results to make a bigger site improvement.
Phase 3: expand!
Once your website has been showing positive trends in performance (often anywhere from six months to a year after launch), look for opportunities to increase your efforts in content, SEO, and marketing.
What areas you expand, if any, will depend on your budget and resources. Ads and sponsored posts are great, but we’ve also seen clients triple their website traffic in just one year with dedicated organic growth methods – content marketing, SEO, and social posting.
15. New content – Is there a medium that your customers love, one your competitors use successfully, that you can try? Adding a new type of content like videos, audio, or eBooks, is a great way to further engage your audience and drive growth.
16. More content – If your content mediums are working great, can you increase the frequency? Often small businesses will start with one new piece of content per month. Publishing twice per month could increase traffic and engagement – as long as it’s still great content (not cranking out blog posts for the sake of filling your site).
17. Digital advertising – Have you got a small business marketing budget that’s increased since site launch? Ad targeting has become so granular that most businesses will see some success from paid search (Google Ads), display ads, remarketing, social media ads, and sponsored social posts.
18. Link building – Although Google changes its algorithm almost daily, some SEO practices have remained staples to a successful website. Link building is the practice of creating a backbone of links from trusted sites to your pages. It’s time-consuming, which is why it often gets bumped for high priority website fixes and content production. But if you can afford to spend an hour or so each week on link building, you can improve your site and pages rankings.
19. Guest blogs and UGC – If you’re short on resources, or want to increase content production and community engagement, guest blogs and user-generated content (UGC) are solid ways to achieve that. You might get a post written by a partner company, board member, or relevant industry professional.
Using custom hashtags can help you amass content on social media. Then you can easily seek out permission from the creator, and repost happy customers’ stories and photos to your own profiles.
20. Micro-influencers – You’ve probably seen influencer posts on social media, and maybe even been approached by them at your business. Although it can be intimidating (and annoying) to be asked for freebies in exchange for ‘exposure’, many businesses find success partnering with influencers.
Make sure to choose someone your audience would legitimately care about and trust. Forget the celebrities! Micro-influencers have smaller followings (anywhere from around 2,000-500,000) that are much more highly engaged.
Think of it this way: an A-list actor might post about a pair of cute heels, but how many of her followers like fashion (versus follow her for other reasons), wear heels, can afford that brand, and live where those shoes are sold? Whereas a micro-influencer likely has a local audience, unified around a niche topic like a sport, parenting, cooking, gaming, or a breed of animal. A post from them is way more likely to pay off!
If you’re struggling to maintain a successful website, you’re not alone. A big part of what we do at Forge and Smith is designing websites set up for success, and offering post-launch services to help clients get started with their own digital strategies. Our blog topics also answer the biggest questions we get about how to grow your website.