The team here at Black Nova are of course huge fans of websites, but we are not the only ones – turns out the fabulous Fiona Scott can tell us a thing or two about how it can benefit you in the PR world as well! Have a read below to find out more from Fiona and her opinion on websites:

Too often I’ll hear so-called experts saying things like ‘websites are dead, they are a ‘thing’ of the past’. It can be easy to think that with the rise of various social media platforms and the age of the influencer.

I rate these comments alongside those people who say that we don’t need physical business cards these days – yes we do – we simply have more choices when it comes to connecting with new people.

When it comes to websites though – I believe they are absolutely essential in running a business that you want to be successful and sustainable in this digital age.

It is, in my view, your most valuable digital asset because you control it in partnership with your provider (Black Nova Designs in my case) – as much as anyone can control anything on the internet. It’s one of your shop windows and often arguably your only shop window.

Social media platforms do not belong to you. They belong to another company and you can lose your audience, your pages, groups, or be banned (often inadvertently) at any time. Also your social media can be infected by trolls, spammers and other nasties and the risk of this is far higher than on a website because they are often open source and badly policed. If this happens then you can find your ‘success’ disappears almost overnight.

This may sound strange coming from a PR professional – wouldn’t I just say work with the media and that’s all you need to do?

Absolutely not. Public relations requires a healthy marketing mix and as your business or organisation grows so should your budget for all things PR. This keeps things consistent, moving, relevant and ahead of the curve. All of this drives visibility and the more visible you are, the more business you will get. It’s inevitable. Unless of course you are rubbish at closing a sale. If so, do get some training.

Your website is central to all of it. Almost as central as you – the founder and the creator.

Now that I’m 15 years in to running my own business, I often won’t start work on someone’s PR (the media bit) unless their website is up to scratch first. You’d be amazed how many small businesses have no website at all, or rely on an old one which cost £100 and their aunt’s cousin’s son built it – or they built it themselves using a cheap service.

This can work in the very early days to get going yet very quickly it will stop delivering the right brand message about your business. Unless of course, your business gets stuck or you are happy staying ‘small’. There’s nothing wrong with small if your goals are modest yet even then those cheap options can run out of steam very quickly.

It can also increasingly eat up your valuable time if things go wrong. Getting in touch with some faceless organisation, often in another country, in another time zone, is time-consuming. And if you have paid pennies, their motivation for solving your problem is, to say the least, low.

I’m firm about ‘website health’ because when we do press relations we need to ensure that when journalists check you out – especially when it comes to national press – your website is clearly about you, your product and service, is responsive, media friendly and is up to date. It gives those journalists confidence that you are credible and in business for the long game.

As journalists represent the public – they are story-tellers of what’s going on in the world – the same applies to your clients and would-be clients. Your website will be checked out in most cases before someone considers working with you and you need to consider what it’s saying about you, your product or service.

Is it saying ‘cheap’, ‘uncared for’, ‘out of date’ or ‘old hat’?

If you are convinced that it’s fit for purpose then check out its stats, get an audit or even ask trusted contacts to check it out and give you honest feedback.

From a public relations point of view, here are ten things your website must do to be seen as credible and to get and stay ahead of your competitors:

*It must load quickly on all devices – it doesn’t matter how great it looks if it takes three weeks to see it, your viewer has long gone.

*It must clearly be ‘you’ and your brand and make sense instantly. If it doesn’t a viewer may soon lose confidence and move on – even if they’ve met you in real life. You want your website to cement and bond a relationship, not fracture it.

*It must give an overview of what you do – it must not be an encyclopaedia online detailing everything, no one has time for that. The exception to this is e-commerce when your website is your shop or if your business is about archiving information eg. Library, online museum or similar.

*It must be easy to navigate, so the customer journey needs to be taken into account. If you can anticipate what a customer might want you can take them quickly where they need to be.

*It must have credible and several ways to contact your company – really important if you want to do press relations. An online contact form only means you are telling your visitors that you are trying to control who contacts you and they won’t have confidence that you will get back to them in a timely manner. Many won’t bother to make contact and they often won’t be back.

*It must be modern and up to date with content. This also is vital for good SEO and helps your website become a valuable resource for information about your sector, expertise, geographical area (this often is downplayed) and advice. The more engagement you get, the more search engines will make your website visible.

*It must not be left just to vegetate on the internet. Your website does not exude magic lifting it above all others on the web. You need to drive traffic to it through PR tactics including media coverage, social media posts, blogs, guest blogs, podcasts etc etc.

*It must not be full of generic stock images – no one is fooled by that. It must have personality and feel like it’s valued by you the business owner. We are very sophisticated now in making instant judgments when it comes to navigating the internet. Personality, personality, personality. Just consider shop windows on the High Street – which ones pull you in? Does that retailer make any effort with that ‘look’? Or do they just throw a pile of products in the window and hope for the best?

*It must evolve over time – good websites are always a work in progress. Business doesn’t stand still so it’s essential to work with a good provider who will work with you over and over again to take your business where it wants to go. It’s an ongoing investment.

*It must reflect the value you place on yourself. If you offer a luxury product or service, then a website which looks like you’ve spent £100 on it five years ago – then what is that saying about you? Is it saying ‘I’m expensive but I look cheap?’. That is not aligned. Those who visit it will know instantly that it’s out of sync. Some may tell you this – however most likely it will be you who will find your website increasingly irritating and annoying. Bury your head in the sand if you like. However eventually you’ll have to own it and it will be a much bigger investment than investing consistently over time on its health. You will have a bigger digital mountain to climb.

And if you’ve not got the vibe – my website is hosted and now designed by Black Nova Designs. I’ve had four websites in my 15 years and now I know this one will evolve with the Wiltshire-based team to my agenda, with me listening and learning from those who know more than me when it comes to my most valuable digital asset. When it comes to your website you need a partner who is a provider – it is not just about a financial transaction.

And for reference, here is my current work in progress –