Discover the best practices when planning to launch a new corporate website.
This article outlines the common requested features for corporate websites as requested by clients and also some of the best practices in regards to implementation.
It's meant to give our prospective customers, and anyone else thinking about commissioning a new corporate website, an easy to use reference guide when considering which features to include and what the options are.
Please note that this guide only covers standard informational corporate websites, not any websites or web app that have eCommerce or product listing functionalities.
There are a few key points to note when discussing about mobile responsive design.
The first, is whether the website should be "mobile first". By this, we mean that the website was design primarily with mobile access in mind, and then the design was scaled up to desktop. This is especially important in emerging markets where the vast majority of website traffic for consumers is via smartphones as desktop and laptop ownership is low.
At Mäd, our approach if we are redesigning a website is to check out any existing analytics and then make the decision on the approach based on the % of current users that are visiting from mobile devices.
The second, and much rarer use case, is if the website should have a completely separate mobile website. This is normally not required except for very high-traffic news websites or web-app like experiences.
Whichever option is taken, it's highly important that in the final stages of the website development project that testing is done with real-world devices to ensure that the user experience is optimal.
There are several options in regards to analytics, with the most popular being the free Google Analytics. This is a free service provided by Google that just requires a small snippet of code to be added to the website and you'll then be able to see lots of real-time analytics of how many users are on your website, what pages they are browsing, and how long they spend on your website.
There are also far more sophisticated analytics platforms that provide mouse tracking capabilities so you can actually see how users interact with your website. Generally speaking, unless you have a significant amount of traffic and are very serious in regards to converting website visitors into paying customers for your products or services, these solutions are overkill for the standard corporate website.
You may also want to consider Facebook Pixel. This is a small snippet provided by Facebook that enables Facebook to provide you with analytics on how your paid ad-sets are converting into key actions on your website. For instance, you may consider a conversion as someone reaching the clicking on a "Sign Up" button, and you can set up your Facebook Pixel so that Facebook shows you in the analytics which ad-sets led to the most clicks on that particular button.
We strongly advise clients against using the dated page-view counters that show how many users have visited the website and from which country. These were extremely popular in the late 1990s and early 2000s, and have now fallen out of favor and communicate that either the website is out of date, or the thinking of the organization is.
Contact pages are a key requirement in almost every corporate website project, as is it's important to have potential customers, suppliers, joint venture partners, and job candidates be able to easily get in touch.
Depending on the organizations, contact pages can be as simple as a listed email address or a straight-forward form to significantly more complex for multi-national organizations with dozens of offices and a significant number of contact persons.
There are multiple ways that website visitors can reach out to your organization on the contact page.
The most direct way to ask website visitors to contact you online is to list an email address on your contact page. This can also be included in the website footer so you have an email displayed on every page of your website. If you do list an email, it should be as a clickable link that will open the user's default email program to make it even easier for users to contact you.
A contact form can be a better alternative to listing an email address because you don't divulge an email on your website (although there are strategies to do this well) and also because you can structure the information that you receive in your enquiries by choosing which fields to include in your contact form.
Additionally, you can also include checkboxes or multi-select dropdowns in your contact form and route these enquiries to the right department based on the user's selection. This means that you do not need to have a shared inbox with multiple team members having access, and inquiries can have faster responses because they go to the right team immediately.
Best-Practices state that contact forms should not just send an email to a specific email address, but should also do the following:
- Automatically email the user. You can send the user who completed the form an automatic thank you email informing them that your team will be in touch soon.
- Save the form contents in a database. There are lots of reasons why emails may not be received, and it is best to save all form data into a database and expose it inside the CMS so that there is a backup of each form submission. This ensures that no customer enquiries are lost if there is an issue with email.
For extra security and to minimize SPAM, you can also add a Captcha or Robot-check to the form. We will discuss this further in the security section later in this article.
You can also list one or more phone numbers on your website, but it's important to state which department each phone number will call if you list multiple phone numbers. These phone numbers should also be clickable so that users on mobile devices can tap on the phone number to initiate the phone call.
Maps are also a often-requested feature, and Google Maps is the best mapping tool out there to integrate into the website. If you just need a simple map with a point to one or multiple locations, then this can easily be integrated.
If you need any specific functionality or you want to customize the design of the map, then you'll need to sign up to Google Cloud and provide billing details to receive a Google Maps API (Application Programming Interface) Key that allows far richer functionality. This is a paid service, but Google provides an extremely generous monthly free tier plan than 95% of companies will not consume in a given month.
One question arises, is if you have multiple locations, should you have all your locations in one map, or multiple maps showing just one location each? This really depends on the distance and geography of your locations. If you are showing offices in different countries, then having separate maps is the superior solution because otherwise the map would have to be significantly zoomed out to show all the locations on an initial view. If all your locations are within the same city or country, then multiple location pins within one map is more than sufficient.
A nice touch is also to allow visitors to get directions to your location from their current location. If they do this on their smartphones, this will open their default map application (generally Google or Apple Maps) and immediately give them directions to your office or place of business.
One final consideration is using third-party form providers for your contact form. This is especially useful when you have a very complex contact form because you need to pre-qualify customers due to a high number of enquiries, and you do not want to build and manage/upkeep a solution yourself.
One of the market leaders in this area is Typeform.
Sharing & Social.
For certain organizations, it is key to promote social sharing and following on various social media platforms. There are a multitude of ways to integrate and connect with social media via your corporate website.
The simplest is to include links to your various social media platforms so that users can click on them and visit. This is normally done by including icons of the social media channel with a link that opens into a new tab (as you do not want users to leave your website fully!).
You can also add sharing buttons, and this work particularly well if you have any blog, news, or listing functionality on your corporate website, as this lends particularly well to social sharing. This approach is not required if you do not have these types of pages, because it is less likely that a user will want to share your contact or about page on their social media. Depending on the type of brand the organization has, it may also not be advisable to have large sharing buttons on every page as it can weaken your brand.
The opposite approach is also possible, instead of sending users to your social media pages, you can integrate elements of your social media pages into the website. It's possible, for instance, to showcase Instagram posts, tweets, and even the entire Facebook newsfeed into your website, so that users can interact with your social media without leaving your main corporate website.
Finally, you also have the option to include a newsletter sign up, and this can automatically send the information that is inputted by users to a third-party email email system such as MailChimp. Some corporate websites, such as that of Mckinsey & Company, take this a step further and actually offer a membership sign up feature where you can bookmark articles, save things to read for later, and, of course, receive various notifications of new articles. This type of setup is only required if you expect significant traffic to the publication part of your website.
SEO (Search Engine Optimization).
Search Engine Optimization is a complex topic that deserved a completely separate article (or series of articles!) by itself. However, this does not mean that it is not something that should not be carefully considered.
Essentially, SEO is about optimizing your website to ensure that is ranks well in the search results for particular keywords. The focus in generally on ranking well on Google Search as they hold a monopoly position in the search engine market, and if you rank well in Google Search it is highly likely that you will rank well in other search engines as well.
At the very least, best-practices in web standards should be followed, and all pages should have key meta-tags and descriptions enabled and filled in, to ensure the best discoverability on particular keywords.
You should investigate if your potential partner for your website is able to study the market and your competition and recommend keywords to focus on and also then write and shape the copy to ensure maximum discoverability.
It is also important not to confused SEO with SEM (Search Engine Marketing) which is the practice of buying advertising to be shown when users search for certain keywords. See the example below, in the red highlighted area, of how we purchase adverts for certain keyword searches:
Accessibility & Privacy.
- GDPR Compliance. Europe has strict guidelines on how you handle user data and how clearly you communicate to users how you'll handle handle their data. If you Readability deals with European users or is registered in Europe, you''ll need to follow the GDPR rules and guidelines.
- Sitemap. A sitemap is a list of all the various pages in your website. Many CMSes allow this to be created automatically so it does not have to be updated manually each time there is a new page. Sitemaps are usually linked from the footer as they are not a part of the website that most users will visit, but they can be invaluable to users who are looking for a specific page in a website that has a large number of pages.
- Cookies. It's important to inform users if you'll be adding any tracking code (also known as a "cookie") to their browser when they visit your website. A cookie notice does precisely that on the first time the user visits your website. It shows a notice that informs that your website is indeed using cookies, and then provides a link to more information about what is a cookie. We generally recommend our clients to link to the website Cookies and You that clearly explains, even to non-technical users, what a cookie is.
- Privacy Notice. This is a page that is often required to comply with GDPR, and will state how you will use any information collected from users, and how they can contact your data privacy officer to ask for deletion of their user data.
- Terms & Conditions. Depending on the size of your organization, this is not 100% required. However, we recommend that you add it anyway just to be in the clear. There are generators available for default Terms & Conditions.
- Bread-crumbs. Bread crumbs are navigational aids that provide clear guidance to the user in regards to which section or sub-section of the website they are on. They are normally shown at the top left of the page.
- Permalink Structures. This is the structure of your URLs in the browser's address bar. Having a clear and logical permalink structure ensures that users easily understand where they are in your website. Additionally, a good permalink structure
- Cloudflare. Cloudflare is a security platform that sits in between your website and the end user, automatically protecting your website against a multitude of attacks, as well as providing you with numerous speed and optimization benefits. The free tier is generally more than enough for most corporate websites, but there are numerous paid tiers that unlock further optimization and security modules.
- CAPTCHA. These are the tests that you need to complete to prove that you're a human and not a robot, and generally should be put in place if you're experience a significant number of SPAM submissions on your forms.
- Server-Side Security. Apart from securing your CMS system, if you are running your own server then you must ensure that this server is secure. This means that the latest security patches needs to be added as soon as they are realized, and that the web server follows best-practice in regards to the initial setup.
- Backups. We recommend that a backup policy is put into place and automated. Generally speaking, weekly backups of all code and content/data at a server-level is highly recommended. These can also be automatically backed up to file storage systems such as Dropbox or Google Drive.
- Password Protected Pages. Certain CMS systems allow content writers and administrators to password protect specific pages or the entire website, which may be useful in certain cases.
CMS (Content Management System).
- Wordpress. This is the ubiquitous CMS that is used by a significant portion of websites across the globe. Extremely flexible, but the user experience for content writers and editors is not as good as Ghost CMS mentioned above, but the richness in features and extensibility always rank this as a key option for websites that require advanced functionality or extensibility. Note that the total cost of ownership for Wordpress websites is significantly higher than most of the other options
- Webflow. This is a unique CMS in that it is a design and development solution rolled into one. A highly recommended choice when design and speed is the number one priority as it does not require developers to take a website live. The designer who designs the website can port the design to Webflow and take your website live. It has an extremely powerful and clever "collections" system to create relationships between data sets so that you can display different types of data across different pages, and if you update one item it will update across the entire website. They also offer their own super-fast hosting (which runs on AWS) and that further abstracts away IT management from the website. This choice places the website in control of the marketing and communication teams instead of the IT team.
- Ghost. Ghost is an excellent choice for a CMS if your website is going to be content heavy with a significant number of articles or news pieces. It has the best content editor in the market and is a joy to use. It's all extremely fast and easy to work with from a development standpoint of view. Ghost was started with the goal of addressing all the short-comings of Wordpress and focussing on running online publications.
- Squarespace. Squarespace is comparable to Ghost in regards that it can be a fully managed platform that abstracts a significant amount of work required to keep a website online. It has a really rich ecosystem of themes that can only be described as "beautiful" and it is moderately priced for their offering. Please note that you cannot self-host a Squarespace website.
One of the key considerations previously when hosting websites was the decision of whether to host on the cloud or in-house, however this is now not a topic that should be given any serious consideration – cloud is obviously the way to go.
Companies like Amazon, Google, and Microsoft have spent billions of dollars on setting up their cloud infrastructures, including addressing security issues, patches, and giving you hundreds of tools and services that are available on a "pay-as-you" model based on consumption. For 99% of corporate website use cases, your website should be hosted on the cloud. This will free up your IT resources on looking after mission-critical IT related matters and ensure that your website is highly performant.
With that in mind, the next question is of course which cloud provider to choose? As usual, this type of question does not have a clear answer but depends on numerous factors. However, we strongly advise clients not to use services like GoDaddy or HostGator as these are generally shared servers with multiple other companies using the same infrastructure, and they do not provide the response time or level of security required by corporate security policies.
Generally speaking, DigitalOcean will almost always be the right choice for a corporate website due to their simple setup and maintenance, low fixed fees, and the ability to abstract away topics such as firewalls, backups, and fixed IP management. Depending on the expected traffic, you can often run your typical corporate website servers on DigitalOcean for as little as $20/month, which is an inconsequential cost.
If you already have other systems in the cloud, then it might well make sense to use your existing cloud provider which is likely to be either AWS (Amazon Web Services), Microsoft Azure, or Google Cloud. While there are differences between their various offerings, these are only really apparent when dealing with far more complex setups such as web applications or mobile applications. For the scope and requirements of a typical corporate website, these three cloud options have essentially the same offering.
There is also a third type of hosting available which is the one provided directly from the CMS developers themselves. If you want to use Webflow or Squarespace with their full functionalities (and not just export the code) you need to host on their Saas (Software as a Service) platform. This will completely abstract away all your hosting and scalability requirements to these platforms. Ghost CMS also has a similar offering called GhostPro.
In most cases, you will have more performance from a fully optimized server on one of the Cloud providers than using the hosting available from Webflow, Ghost, and other providers, but this comes at a significant overhead in managing your own server and ensuring that updates are applied in a reasonable time frame. For our website, we decided that the slightly faster experience that we give our users by self-hosting was not worth the overhead in managing our own server, and so we host our GhostCMS instance via GhostPro, and that works fine for us.
Blog, News, and Thought Leadership.
At a minimum, most corporate websites will include a news section to keep website visitors updated with the latest company updates. Often, this is also mixed with some type of blog functionality to post opinion pieces or non-news items on the website as well.
If the organization is very serious about thought leadership, then they can consider to make this the center-piece of the website, and have links across from each to page to relevant thought leadership articles. This is an especially good strategy for companies offering B2B services or online digital products.
Another option is to completely split out the publication / thought leadership part of the website away from the main corporate website and run a separate online magazine. This often can have its own domain name and branding, with "powered by [org name] included. A significant number of brands go with this direction, but it requires a strong commitment to regular publishing and is overall more expensive and time-consuming as you will be launching and maintaining two separate websites.
In our opinion, this should be more of a strategic choice that a technical one, as the benefits of a well-run and frequently updated separate publication that connects well with your target audience should far outweigh the additional required to make a separate publication site.
Career pages are often the first touch-point that potential candidates interact with, and so it's important that they clearly provide key information as well an inspire and motivate a candidate to make a strong application.
A thoughtfully designed careers page that showcases the organisations core values, the work methodologies, can significantly improve the hiring process because it allows candidates to self-select themselves prior to sending their application, which means your hiring team will receive a larger percentage of high-quality application, and will spend less time explaining to candidates about company policies, benefits, and workflows.
We encourage clients to list out or link to as much information as possible, including benefit lists, certain SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures), key insights, and so on. This gives the potential candidate a complete picture of your organization.
In regards to listing available positions, there are several ways to go about this:
- Don't show open positions. Simple give an email address or contact form for open application, but don't list specific open positions. This means that you will generally rely on posting on job boards or targeting head-hunting or outreach for filling your open positions.
- Link to your job portal. If you're hiring at scale (i.e. hundreds or thousands of open positions) it generally works better if you have a separate job portal that is run on an SaaS (Software as a Service) platform or hosted in-house with a software solution. Candidates can follow the link from your careers page and review/search for open positions and then send their application via the job portal.
- Integrate the job portal. If your job portal has an open API that can be connected to, then there is the possibility of listing the latest open positions and various details directly on the website. Each time the job portal is updated with a new available position, the website will automatically reflect this. Please note that this is generally the most initially time consuming and expensive option presented here.
- Use the website as a job portal. If the number of open positions is not incredibly large, you can simply use your website CMS as a job board and showcase the latest open positions. Each job will then generally have its own website page with the job description and requirements, and if there are enough positions to warrant it, filters can be applied to the job listings by department, expertise area, or location. This often what many companies do, and we will discuss best practices for this approach below.
If you post jobs directly on your website, you'll normally want potential candidates to send you certain structured information to ensure that the hiring process is efficient. This generally means that for each open position you'll have a specific contact form that has required fields. Typically, the fields will include the ability to upload CVs/resumes as well other required documents such as a cover letter.
If you have multiple departments or offices, the contact form can automatically direct the application to the correct individual, team, or department based on the selections made during the form completion by the applicant.
Often, there are key documents that need to be accessible from the corporate websites. There are two main ways to host these:
- Upload them directly to the website. You upload the files via the backend of the CMS and then link to the particular file. This is the more straight-forward approach.
- Host them on file sharing and link. However, if you need only specific people to access files, or you have a large number of files, you may consider making specific files or folders sharable on your file sharing solution (i.e. Dropbox, Google Drive, Sharepoint) and then linking that in your website for users to download. For instance, we do this with our insurance and employee contract documents, but they can only be accessed by our employees, not the public.
The above works well for managing individual set of documents such as annual reports or a document library, but if you have extensive documentation that you need to make available to your end users, such as API documentation, SOPs, or details "how-to" documentation, then the best practice is to split this away from the main website and host in on SaaS documentation platforms.
For instance, we host our SOPs on a platform called Gitbook:
This has the advantage of allowing us to redesign our main website without having to worry to port across dozens and dozens of SOP pages, and it also makes the SOP instantly searchable.
Multi-language is something that needs to be considered carefully, because it makes the long-term TCO (Total Cost of Ownership) of the website significantly more expensive as each time you make an update to the content, you need to make sure that it is translated in each of the languages that are available on your website.
However, if you do required multi-language capabilities on your website, then there are various options available to you.
Many CMS (Content Management Systems) actually come with extensions that enable multi-lingual content management. An example of this is WPML that gives Wordpress strong multi-language features.
There are also third-party tools that not only provide translation management features, but also automatically track changes of content and allow you to notify your internal team to translate these changes or hire translators on-the-fly (paid by the word!) to make those translations on the fly.
In regards to best practice on how to give users the ability to change the language, it's always best to show the country flag and the language or country name in their native language. Many websites make the mistake of just using English to state all the languages, but the word "Mandarin" to a person who only speaks Mandarin and doesn't read English is not a useful button to change the language of the website.
- Cloudflare & CDNs. We discussed Cloudflare in the security section, but it is also a fantastic platform for automatically making complex optimizations without having to do the low-level technical work to make it happen. So there are two great reasons to host your DNS with Cloudflare.
- DNS pre-caching and Asset Prefetching. This is a highly advanced technique where pages that users are likely to visit next are fetched before they are even clicked on. This means that when the user does click on a link, it will load immediately as the page has already been downloaded to their browser. This has the downside of creating a significant larger amount of traffic to your server, but can improve the user experience immensely. For the average corporate website, this is not required, but for extremely high-traffic websites that have a particular funnel with conversions, this may provide large benefits.
- Image Optimization. The leading cause of slow page load speed times is large unoptimized images. We recommend Squoosh App, a freely available image optimizer that offers real-time preview and it's made and supported by Google. In our tests, we managed to edit images that were approximately 400kb in size to just 65kb in size (845 reduction!) without a noticeable drop in quality. It is worth noting that many CMSs have image optimization built right in, so you can go ahead and upload those large images directly into the backend, and the CMS will create multiple versions of that image for different devices, and even provide lossy or lossless compression to further reduce the size.
- Server Response Times. Every time that a visitors browses to your website, the server will respond to their browser's request for all the various files that make up your website. This is why it is incredibly important to have a server that provides a fast response time, because otherwise it can cause significant delays in loading your website and frustrate your users – some who may leave before the page is loaded and never come back again.
- Google Pagespeed Insights. This is another tool provided by Google to test your website and see where the problem areas are that are causing slow page loads. At Mäd, we are not happy unless our clients are scoring at least 85+ for every page of the website.
- AMP pages. These are Accelerated Mobile Pages that are simplified versions of your website that are specifically optimized for mobile devices. Google will detect if you have AMP versions of your pages available and will show them (and prioritize them) in search results. It is also worth sharing these pages vs normal pages if you are sharing to Social Media or other platforms where you expect the majority of visitors to be using mobile devices. Generally speaking, these pages will load essentially instantaneously on a mobile device, but you will sacrifice a lot of the design and functionality that you find o normal pages.
- Minimisation. When web developers write code, they tend to leave a lot of blank spaces to ensure readability. This is actually not required for the computers to execute the code, and yet it takes more space than it should. When the website is deployed, this code can be compressed so that it is smaller, resulting in faster page load times.
- Print Stylesheets. This is a separate website that is designed specifically for printing, and it is useful to implement when you expect your target audience to be printing out some of your webpages on a regular basis.
- Search. Most CMS systems come with a built-in search module that will often be good enough for most corporate websites. There are several options for enhancements here including adding "search-as-you-type" capabilities, and even using third-party systems that index your website and provide more advanced search capabilities. One of the market leaders in this field is Algolia, but do note that these solutions can be expensive and so require strong justification for their use.
- FAQs. Frequently Asked Questions are often a useful page to have in a corporate website to further explain your products or services. FAQs can also be within particular pages such as the about page or contact page (in order to minimize the number of customer reaching out with repetitive questions)
- Reading Time Indicators. It can be a useful guide for users to tell them how may minutes it will take them to read a particular article on your website. This is more geared towards publications vs your typical landing page. In addition, you can also place a reading line at the top of the page that moves left to right as the users scrolls down the page, which gives them a clear indication of the length of the article and how far in they are.
- Micro-Animations. Micro animations are the small animations that often make-or-break a design. They are supposed to give a clear indication that something can be interacted with, or simply add an extra level of class to a design. An example of this is when you hover on a button and it subtly changes color and moves a few pixels up the screen to prompt you to click on it.
- Special Announcement Blocks. These are blocks that can be used during special announcements such as emergencies or responses to news items of national or industry-specific importance. It is good to have these pre-made as it ensures that you can quickly respond to the changing business landscape.
- CTAs. Call To Actions are specific block of text and design that are spread throughout your website that incentivizes users to take a specific action, such as signing up for a newsletter, inquiring about a product or service, or just sharing their email address in exchange for a report or other digital product. If implemented correctly, CTAs can vastly increase the number of positive actions taken on your website and help you achieve your strategic and tactical website goals.
We hope that this has been a good reference guide as you're planning your new corporate website, and you can use this as a basis to evaluate your potential web design agency or partner, and also to take your corporate website to the next level.
If you have any questions or require clarifications, please feel free to reach out to our team at your convenience.
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