Creating a website for your small business
Every business needs a professional website, but getting started can be intimidating for those that have never handled a website before. A website can be one of the most important elements of a business, helping build trust amongst clients or turning away potential customers. Creating an impactful website can be one of the biggest challenges that small business owners have to face.
The task becomes even more difficult as the options are unlimited and the costs can swing from one end of the scale to another. The focus of a professional website designer must be to create a website that can drive more meaningful and relevant traffic to your business, generate more leads and minimize the problems that users across the spectrum might run into while navigating through the website for various reasons and needs.
Here are 16 tips for small business owners when creating a website.
ONE: Choose a good domain name
Your domain name, or website address, is the first impression visitors get of your website. It should be chosen for usability purposes, as well as for search engine optimization (SEO).
Here are some pointers for choosing an optimal domain name:
- Make it easy to spell. Try not to use slang, made up, or extremely esoteric words.
- Keep it as short as possible. The shorter it is, the easier it is to remember and type correctly.
- Use the proper domain extension. Try to always make it a .com domain name (as opposed to .net, .co, etc.) unless it is more appropriate to use another extension, such as .gov, .edu, or .org.
- Avoid numbers and hyphens. They are hard to remember and less elegant and memorable than word-only domain names, and may be misunderstood when vocalizing the domain name.
- Make the address broad to facilitate future growth. For example, Amazon.com is a much broader website address than BooksOnline.com and allows Amazon to sell pretty much every type of consumer good instead of books only, as was its original purpose.
- Ensure it is memorable. With so many websites on the internet, it is important that your website name is catchy so people will remember how to access it in the future.
- Research the domain name. Google it to see if a similar website address already exists online, and make sure it does not contain any registered trademarks.
- Check if the price is right. Determine if you can purchase your desired website address at a reasonable price, since most good domain names are taken and will need to be bought from the current owner.
- Avoid nonsensical names. Choose a name that conveys a meaning so that users will know immediately what your business is. Yahoo and Google are catchy names, but they were very expensive to brand, and your small business may not have the same budget.
- Create an SEO-friendly URL. When appropriate, try to come up with an SEO-friendly website address that includes keywords and geo-location; for example, “www.LasVegasElectrician.com.
TWO: Purchase secure, scalable website hosting with good tech support
A website host is a company that offers the technology and services necessary for a website to be viewed on the internet. You connect your domain name to your hosting provider so that when users visit your website address, they are shown your website that you store on your hosting account. You can usually get a discount if you purchase a yearly plan as opposed to a monthly plan.
Here are some guidelines for choosing a good website hosting plan:
- Although you can get a “shared server” hosting plan for as little as $2 per month, I would typically advise against this. Shared hosting means you are sharing a server and its resources with other customers, which can make the performance of your site suffer. Also, if one of the other websites on your shared server is hacked, it is possible for your website to also be infected.
- Make sure your hosting company has phone and/or chat support so you can be helped quickly if you have a problem. Email support can often take too long and become frustrating when a problem needs to be resolved immediately.
- Check to see what kind of server security is in place on the server you are considering. You will want to be able to access your server via Secure File Transfer Protocol (SFTP). There should be daily backups being made of your server contents. There should also be an easy, one or two-click method to install Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) certificates. Make sure the hosting company performs regular security maintenance. Ideally your hosting company has a published security protocol you can review so you know how they keep their servers safe.
THREE: Prominently display a clear description of your business
It is important to let people know who you are and what you do right away, so they don’t feel confused when they visit your small business website. Make sure your main homepage banner (also known as a “hero image”) and subsequent banners are visual representations of your services, and also that you have an introductory text blurb near the top of the page that describes who you are and what you do. Additionally, make sure both your main and footer navigation menus have “About Us” page links easily accessible so people can click them and read more about your business in depth.
FOUR: Implement the best content management system
A content management system (CMS) is a software program or application that is used to create and manage digital content. A good CMS will help you maintain your site, and you don’t need much technical knowledge to use it. You should choose a CMS that is designed for your unique needs; different systems are used for different reasons, such as user-friendliness, extensibility, and budget. I prefer WordPress for most businesses.
WordPress Business-level benefits:
- Search Engine Optimization tools
- Pre-installed SSL certificates
- Integrate with analytics software to track page and site performance
- Highly customizable
- E-commerce capable with ease and fluidity
- Advanced tools
- Plugin-ins to boost your site’s visibility, design, and impact
- Automated backups
- Live Chat support
FIVE: Create an interesting, memorable, and engaging website user interface
Make sure your small business website interface leaves a positive impression that drives results.
You can do so by implementing the following suggestions:
- Use beautiful graphics and easy-to-read fonts.
- Make sure your graphics are compressed and optimized for fast loading. If your website is slow, search engines like Google will penalize your ranking.
- Research the competition to see how they have designed and optimized their websites; implement similar components that will work for your small business website.
- Research your target audience to see what they want from your site and make it easy for them to accomplish it.
- Stay consistently on brand throughout your website design.
- Design an intuitive navigation system which allows users to get to the pages they need quickly.
- Publish easily accessible contact information.
- Incorporate obvious call-to-actions (ex. “buy now” buttons).
- Create pages that are standard for small business websites, such as:
- About us
- Products/Services (with descriptions and visually appealing images)
- Sitemap (for SEO purposes)
- Management team
- Contact us
- Additional pages relevant to your specific small business
SIX: Optimize your small business website for search engines
SEO is a set of practices you apply to your website to ensure search engines index and rank your website appropriately and then show it to search engine users. Once your website is “crawled” by search engines, it competes with websites that have similar content. The better your website design and content is, the higher your site will show up on search engine result pages.
SEO mainly includes the following practices:
- Keyword research and implementation
- Optimal website code
- Fast loading speed
- Being secure and having an SSL certificate installed; SSL is the standard security technology that ensures data passed between web servers and browsers remains private
- Having a mobile-friendly site
- Existence of high-quality backlinks (links on external websites with related content) that lead to your site
- Having lots of positive reviews online (Google, Yelp, Facebook, etc.)
- Using internal links throughout your site to keep people clicking and reading
- Using social media to link to your site (LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, etc.)
SEVEN: Regularly create and publish quality content
Both content quantity and freshness are important to search engines, so it’s important that you create a plan to publish quality articles and/or blog posts on your site and on external sites that link to your site. The relevance of content on your website plays a major role in getting indexed by search engines. The more qualitative and quantitative your content, the easier it is for search engines to find and index your site. Poor or irrelevant content is also a game changer when it comes to attracting or putting off viewers. Headlines are where you need to pay extra attention as this will decide the difference between a visitor leaving your site or continuing further to browse the rest.
Research shows that there are more mobile users than desktop users now and that’s why it is imperative to have a business website that loads faster and without any frustrating glitches. Google also expects businesses to take care of this critical feature and is using page speed as a key ranking element. According to experts, a small business website must load completely in no less than three seconds to pass the efficiency test. The Google Page Speed Tool is a simple way of measuring page loading time.
EIGHT: Install webmaster tools
Make use of vital data to help you analyze traffic and site performance by installing Google Analytics and Google Search Console, and Bing Webmaster Tools.
These tools can be used to track the following types of information:
- Daily, weekly, and monthly visitors to your site
- Number of views on each page of your site
- “Bounce rate”—the percentage of users who come to your site and leave after having only viewed one page (Google algorithms give higher rankings to websites that have a low bounce rate, on the theory that visitors are spending more time on the site and find it valuable.)
- Average time spent on site by visitors
- Crawl errors on your site (errors that the search engines found on your site in crawling its content)
- Broken links on the site
- Keywords that lead users to your site
- Backlinks to your site
- Web page download time
- Other information that can help you enhance your SEO
NINE: Implement a website maintenance plan
A website shouldn’t be created and then allowed to grow stale. In order to have a successful website that ranks well in search engines and doesn’t get hacked, you need to make sure it is properly maintained.
Here are some tips to create a small business website maintenance plan:
- Check Webmaster Tools data at least once a month and have any vital errors emailed to you in real time.
- Use traffic data to learn more about your audience so you can better cater to them.
- Use performance data to optimize and fix warnings and errors.
- Make sure all software is always up to date.
- Run security scans so you know your website is clean of malware and hasn’t been hacked.
- Use “split testing” to see if certain variations of your website help performance; for example, if you are selling a product, you might have two versions of a particular landing page with different images and wording—the split testing allows you to see which version has a higher conversion rate.
- Follow my advice about SEO, and continually publish quality content.
- Find on-trend and effective ways to market your business online.
- Allow website users to provide you with feedback about your site.
- Continue to check out your competition from time to time to see what they are doing with their online presence and see if what they’ve done can work for you as well.
- Make sure your website is backed up in multiple ways at least once a day and at least 10 days back.
TEN: Focus on capturing inbound leads
One of the most important functions of any small business website is to focus on the inbound leads and capture as many as possible. Usually before purchasing a product, people like to do an initial research and comparison and may not be ready to buy immediately. This time should be utilized in acquiring their e-mail addresses so that you can keep them informed and gauge as to when they are ready to purchase. However, you should avoid being too persistent as this could annoy a potential customer.
ELEVEN: Ensure contact details easily visibleThis may seem like the most obvious thing to do, but small business website design companies tend to overlook this factor at times. Your phone number and e-mail address should be displayed prominently on the website and, if possible, at the top and bottom of every page. Create a ‘CONTACT’ page at the end which includes not just the contact numbers but email address, physical address of the company, and a map, along with directions to and hours of operation of your company.
TWELVE: Branding should be professionalAvoid any frivolity on your small business website and focus on giving it a professional look which is consistent with your brand. Use colors that are prominent in your brand logo. Hire a website design company like Marketing Simplified, if required, to give your website a professional look. Choose one or two fonts and ensure that they are used consistently throughout the website. The graphics and the images that you use should also be in sync and complement the website.
THIRTEEN: Showcase products and services wellSeveral small business web designs are unable to showcase their products effectively or show too many products and services on one page and clutter it. Remember that you only have the luxury of a few seconds to win or lose a potential customer. So make sure that the first impression is professional. If you are a company selling products online then the product photos, images, and descriptions should be crisp and appropriate. If you have a great website design but your products have not been displayed well, your customers will think twice before buying from you.
FOURTEEN: Quick site load time is vitalViewers get impatient if a site takes too much time to load. Ensure that your small business website design has the right server infrastructure and bandwidth to support it. A graphically intense design could eat into your loading time and put off prospective customers. Site load time can also be improved by picking up good hosts.
FIFTEEN: Implement easy navigationOne mistake many businesses make when creating their site is only focusing on aesthetics. However, as much as your visitor wants to see a beautiful website, they also need to be able to easily navigate it. Narrow down the places in your website that a visitor is most likely to look for. For example, a potential customer might be looking for the prices of your products, your hours, or a way to contact you. This means that each of these areas should have clear and obvious links throughout your site, allowing the visitor to find exactly what they’re looking for quickly and painlessly. You also want to identify what direction you want to point your customer to. For example, if you have a new product that you’re looking to send traffic to, be sure to link this product in several sections of your website.
SIXTEEN: Make your site mobile-friendlyHaving a website that was also mobile-friendly used to be a luxury, but now it’s a necessity. Not only does the majority of site visitors come to you from a mobile device, but Google now penalizes sites that are not mobile-friendly. This means you can actually hurt your search engine ranking by having a website that cannot be easily seen on the phone or tablet. The good news is, most website builders come with the option to view how your site will look on the mobile device. However, these previews are not always accurate and will vary from device to device, so it’s important to test out any changes that you make on a phone or tablet before making it public.
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