“Join the rest of the world online and launch your business!”
Sounds easy, right? Sounds terrifying? Well, it’s neither.
With a little bit of structure and some basic know-how, you can get your small business website up and running in a matter of days.
Back in the old days, to get your business up and running, all you needed was a landline and a fax machine. Well, times have changed a lot and the expectation of your customers is going to be quite different. No matter what your business, be it a brick-and-mortar store, a craft business that ships custom widgets around the globe, or remote technology consulting, you should have a well-designed and easy to navigate website.
Your website will show the world your professional ‘face’ and provide every bit of information to make it easy for your customers to get in contact. You’ll need a clear mission statement, on-page SEO, and a mobile-friendly presence online.
Appearing professional and reliable on the global stage of the Internet is a must these days. With a well-designed online presence, combined with strong SEO, your website can act as a 24-hour marketing campaign. By taking the time to craft a professional website, you’re putting your best foot forward in presenting a polished image to the world. Take the time to go through all the stages of building your small business website properly, and you’ll have in the end a solid marketing and sales tool at your fingertips.
Follow our simple guidelines to help take the pressure off, and lead you through the steps in a clear and easy-to-follow manner.
Are you starting from scratch? This is a great opportunity to get creative! Let’s begin with the basics and purchase a domain name. This name will be your calling card for a long time to come, so it’s important to make the choice that is right for your business.
Have you ever asked yourself, "What is a domain, anyway?" Well, take a look up there at the top of the screen. See that part at the top of your browser window in the URL bar? It's the part that starts with "http://" in the address bar. The second part of the URL is the domain. In our case, it's namecheap.com.
Registering a domain reserves it so no one else can register it. It might be smart to snatch up a domain now—your personal name, company name, or other things you're involved with, like a book title, band name, or hobby—just to take it "off the market".
Have you decided on a name for your website? Be careful not to get too clever with your domain name. Remember, you want to make it easy for customers to find and remember you! Your domain name is a major part of your brand identity.
Your domain name should be easy to pronounce. Imagine you’re at a loud networking event and your new potential business partner or customer or publicist asks the name of your website. Do you have to spell it out for them and trust they’ll remember what you said? Make it bold and easy. Avoid dashes, punctuations and numbers. Include a relevant keyword into your domain name for SEO purposes.
Your website name should have a ring to it, like a brand name that is unique and stands out from the competition. It should feel intuitive and, as we mentioned, easy to pronounce. If it sounds too good to be too true, take a look and see if it is already trademarked. You don’t want to go to all the trouble of brainstorming the perfect name only to have to change it later!
Think about the long-term when it comes to choosing a name. Will your business change, or is the name you’ve chosen trendy? Think about the future and try to choose a timeless name for your website that will be in fashion no matter the trends of the day.
So you decided on your domain name, now what? Well, there are a few steps to consider. If your domain name is available, you’ll want to purchase it immediately.
Don’t panic, go to your fallback hierarchy. What is that? When your preferred domain name is already taken, your fallback hierarchy is a strategy of 2nd, 3rd, 4th choices in case you can’t get the name you want.
You can alter your original choice by playing with word order in a way that isn’t too complicated — “GuitarsByJohnSmith” could become “JohnSmithGuitars”, for example —, and see if it is available as a .com. Tinker with your original idea but don’t stray too far. At a certain point, you will have to come to terms with the fact that your .com name is already taken.
Obviously, you want to choose an effective domain name with (ideally) a .com TLD (Top Level Domain). However, we suggest you make a list in advance of this of subsequent choices like:
Namecheap has a huge selection of new TLDs to choose from to get you started.
Not all small business websites are the same. You can tailor the structure of your site to specifically direct your customers to purchase pages, information, or contact resources. While there are universal basics for websites (such as a description of your business, contact information, and images), from there you’ll branch off into more specific territory. Remember, you want your website to be customer-friendly, so people keep coming back to your business.
What is your business about anyway? The answer to this question will frame the entire structure of your website. How you guide visitors to become customers is all in the site architecture, so let’s begin with the vital answer to this simple question.
If your business is selling widgets, you’ll want to feature your physical product clearly on each page, starting with the homepage. Think about making it as easy as possible to get to the checkout page, and consider your own experience when purchasing items online.
Is your business a consultancy? This is something a bit more abstract since you’re selling your professional expertise and not a physical product. In this case, you’ll want to feature case-studies, portfolio pieces, and other examples of your work to convince future clients that you are the only genius for the job.
Affiliate businesses rely on the creation of strong content. To make a profit, you’ll be reliant on well-crafted content that really grabs the reader and holds their attention. Standing out from the rest of the competition is key, so your website should be of high-quality design and navigation. You’ll want to inspire readers to consider you a trusted source or reviews and commentary, returning again and again to click more outbound links to stores that are paying you for the traffic.
What are your competitors up to? Who in the widget world is the highest rated among your industry? Find out and study their sites.
Here’s where it can get tricky. Just because a brand name is successful doesn’t mean it has a good website. They might already have a popular brand name that wouldn’t rely on a new website to generate sales. If you’re looking at a product such as Oreos or Coca-Cola, they’re using their websites for brand awareness and not the checkout counter. Remember that you’re a *small* business (for now), so look to those businesses online that are modestly successful and dependent on Internet sales.
This advice goes for all small businesses, be they law firms, graphic designers, consulting or carpentry. Spend the time on your research and you’ll learn a lot about what to do, and what not to do.
When looking at a competitor’s site, look for a few key things such as :
If you find yourself frustrated in trying to answer these questions, you are probably getting ideas for how to make your small business website better and stronger than your competition!
Here’s the fun part before we get into the nitty-gritty of putting the pieces together. Get inspired, this is your time to surf the web and not call it procrastination. Take a look at everything that you find pleasing to your eye and your mind. Imagine what those websites would look like as a page that features your business endeavors.
Take screenshots and notes on their navigation, types of images, inspirational mission statements, etc. Everything that makes you feel excited to stay on a website and learn more is a source of inspiration.
Think of this process as an artist who goes to a museum seeking a spark of creativity for their own work. Be open to ideas that you may not have considered. Compare and contrast websites that seem to work in different ways using different platforms.
Questions to ask yourself:
Now that you’ve studied the competition and are inspired by great examples online, you’re ready to get started. Don’t panic, it’s relatively easy to build a small business website all on your own. Get acquainted with the terminology and be clear on your goals, and you’ll be up and running in no time at all.
There’s a lot of terminology associated with creating websites, but it doesn’t have to be intimidating. Let’s break down these definitions of what it all means. Take a look through these terms and explanations and you’ll see that it’s very self-explanatory. These are the terms you’ll want to be familiar with to get going.
For those who find CMS doesn’t quite fit their needs and wants, and requires a more advanced structure, there is custom coding. Tech-savvy users, businesses with complex needs and others require more flexibility. If you’re well-versed in using different programming languages, a custom-coded website is a good option to consider.
Open-source content management system, WordPress, simplifies the process for you. The go-to for millions of publishers from all walks of life, WordPress has become a standard in the industry. Roughly 75 million websites use WordPress because of its versatile open-source code. A lot of brand names are built using this platform including Time Magazine, Sony, LinkedIn and CNN.
It’s a fast, efficient tool for online publishing allowing you to get going without any coding skills necessary. WordPress uses a database to store and organize everything which takes the pressure off the everyday website owner. It’s easy to manage your accounts, media, posts and URLs from your dashboard and acts similarly to an old-school word processor.
The best part about WordPress is the price, it’s free to use. No annual costs or setup fees, just get down to it with their themes and plugins to guide you. With over 31,000 plugins and 2600 themes to choose from, you can create a unique and easy-to-use website.
Because of its popularity, there are a wealth of forums and help-desks dedicated to WordPress assistance. You’ll easily find a robust community online to answer any of your questions should you need assistance during the setup process, and while you maintain and update your site.
Consider the development cycle; the process for planning, building, testing and launching your website. There are many opinions out there as to how long this should take, but you can average it out to roughly 12-16 weeks depending on complexity.
If you want the most basic websites, theoretically you can finish in a week, but that’s not what we’re aiming for here. In terms of a small business website, you’ll want to take the time to put your best foot forward in presenting yourself to the online world.
The stages of your development cycle all take a certain amount of time, and it is considered best practice to break it down into blocks and measure how long you’re spending (too long?) on any given phase:
If you are doing all the work yourself and get stuck in a certain stage, finding that you’ve already spent more than originally estimated, it’s time to call the professionals.
If you’ve answered an emphatic ‘YES!’ to the last question, it’s time to call in the pros.
What do we mean by ‘Site Architecture’?
It is the organization and structure of your website which includes the planning and design of all functional and visual aspects before implementation.
The building blocks of your business website is like a storyboard for a film or a flow-chart of an organization. Sketching out the plan for your small business website will help you see things clearly and keep the overwhelm to a minimum. We suggest taking pen to paper and drafting an outline before you get started on your computer.
Depending on your business model, what pages are absolutely needed for your message to get across to your customers? Every page of your site should have a very clear goal and call to action.
Users should be able to:
For Affiliate sites, users will want fresh content in the form of:
For e-commerce sites with product pages, users will expect to see more than one photograph/illustration of your product. Show various angles to the product with well-lit photography.
Does it come in different shapes and sizes? If so, you’ll want to show examples either on the same page, or create a new page for that product with different colors.
Are you selling clothing? A handy size-chart with a breakdown of measurements is a must if you don’t want to get a lot of returns!
If it's a digital product/subscriptions, then the product landing pages should include demo/overview of the product.
A great way to plan this out is to think about your experience when shopping online and go to those sites you use the most. What do you like about their product pages that work best in relation to what you’re selling? (Amazon is always a great go-to for examples of this.)
That vacation you took with your family where the photos came out better than ever is something to share on Facebook, not with your clientele. Leave the fluff and personal blog updates for your family and friends. Customers like a personal touch, but be careful going overboard. Keep your messaging friendly, personal and light on content that doesn’t immediately apply to your business goals.
Now that you’ve got the basic building blocks in place, what are you going to fill these empty spaces with?
“Content is king” - Bill Gates 1996
This is a mantra that has been overused by many since ’96, but to break it down it simply refers to the fact that content marketing drives Internet traffic to your site. Good quality content will help drive more traffic to your site, increase the inbound links from prominent websites and blogs, increase your visibility above your competition, and generate revenue flow in the form of new clients and customers.
As Bill Gates pointed out in 1996:
“Content is where I expect much of the real money will be made on the Internet, just as it was in broadcasting.
The television revolution that began half a century ago spawned a number of industries, including the manufacturing of TV sets, but the long-term winners were those who used the medium to deliver information and entertainment.
When it comes to an interactive network such as the Internet, the definition of “content” becomes very wide. For example, computer software is a form of content - an extremely important one, and the one that, for Microsoft, will remain by far the most important.
But the broad opportunities for most companies involve supplying information or entertainment. No company is too small to participate.”
Search Engine Optimization makes it easy for users to find your website via applicable keywords used throughout your website. While you want to use keywords where they make sense, try to fit them into numerous places such as:
Make use of WordPress SEO keyword plugins and other software applications during the build of the website itself.
Clear descriptions of your business and a friendly, relatable writing style are a must! Start with a solid mission statement, and build out your communications from this point. Figure out what you want to tell your customers in an outline first. Think about it in terms of pages:
An important thing to remember when creating content is making sure your website is mobile-friendly. Users generally don’t want to read long-form articles on their phones, just enough to get the gist of what they need. Keep your descriptions of products short and clear and you’ll hold the attention of your customers. Useful tips, and information may drag more attention to your products. The search option on the blog, tables of content and navigational sections will make the engagement more pleasant as when users seek something specific they will be able to easily find it on the website.
Content comes in various forms: writing, photography, music, video, etc. What type of media you choose to add to your small business website depends on your goals and the product you are selling.
If your products or services require an elaborate explanation, perhaps it is a good idea to add a few demonstration videos.
Are you selling clothing or jewelry? Of course, it is a must to include photography, but you might also want to include short clips of models walking down the runway in your latest creations. A key factor to think about is load-time. Websites that are heavy on unnecessary audio, video or Flash animations will take a while to load for a customer that may not have a high-speed broadband connection. Also, these elements may not work as well on mobile. Proceed with caution when adding a lot of media to your website if it is not absolutely necessary for the message you’re seeking to convey. In order not to overload the website as long loading times detract potential audience, you may embed media like videos from Youtube.
Make sure your content is useful and relates to your mission statement.
So you’ve completed your masterpiece and think you’re ready to go live? Don’t rush it!
While you’re going through all the steps from planning to execution, you’ll have already purchased your URL. Consider a placeholder page, a one-sheet that says something like ‘Coming Soon’ and a field that captures email addresses of future (or current) customers can be informed when your site is live.
Take a few days to review with this checklist:
|Proofread||Check your writing for spelling and grammar.|
|Copyedit||Reread your messaging. Does it make sense and communicate clearly to your audience?|
|Readability||At a glance, is your website easy to read? Make sure paragraphs and topics are visually spaced out and not run-on text.|
|Test (desktop & mobile)||Surf around your site on both mobile & desktop and check for any issues that need fixing before going live.|
|Review links||Do all your links work and go to the correct page?|
|Send test messages||Send yourself & a colleague a test email from your contact form. Does it work?|
|Review load times & Image Optimization||How long does your website take to load? Test it out from your home and a cafe with WiFi. If the load-time is long, consider resizing your photos and media.|
|Browser testing||Review your site in multiple browsers including Firefox, Chrome, Opera, etc.|
|Social Media Links||Did you remember to link to your social media accounts?|
|Favicon||Include a small icon that represents your website in the address bar to increase your brand awareness. These are a standard among businesses nowadays.|
|Metadata||A basic for being SEO friendly, this is the snippet of information that describes your website which will show up in search engines.|
A soft launch is a preview of your website to a restricted audience before announcing it to the general public. This is the phase of beta testing, where you’re almost ready to go public.
Recruit your friends and family to test your site before announcing it to the world. Ask a small group of trusted contacts, from tech-savvy colleagues to your grandparents. Listen to their feedback and fix any bugs that might’ve escaped your due diligence.
It’s finally here! Your big moment to hit publish and go live. You’ve gone through your checklist, read and proofread all the text, double-clicked on every link and plugged in the SEO.
Send a broad announcement to your email lists and pin the link to the top of all your social media accounts.
Congratulations, you’ve just joined the global community! Get set on a journey of rocketing your business into the 21st century. From here on out you can reach the rest of the world with your products and services. Creating a small business website takes a lot of focus and effort, but worth it in the end.