A Small Business Website Guide for First Timers
So you need a small business website. You look around at some popular company websites, maybe your competitors and they have sleek, modern, fancy websites with a lot of videos and moving parts. It looks great and does a lot of great things. You hatch out a plan for your website and find a designer and developer to do it all for you. Then you almost have a heart attack because the quoted price is much higher than you expected. But you need a website and you want yours to be the best one ever on the Internet. You fork over the cash, spend months worrying about how you will make ends meet, struggle for weeks to get content to fill out your site, and then when it is all done, it doesn’t quite look like what you had in mind.
Worst of all, no one seems to care.
This happens more often than not. There are an endless amount of bells and whistles it can have but each one incurs additional costs. It is easy to keep tacking on features to the site because you want it to be comprehensive or “cool”.
Your small business website doesn’t need to be “cool”. It needs to be effective.
What is an effective small business website?
Before you run out and get a small team of designers to create a website for you, it is important to first sit down and really think about what the purpose of the website should be. Now, depending on the type of business you have, the website will need different things. In general, the two main functions of a company website are:
- To attract new customers
- To give current customers information
Think of your website as your company’s #1 marketing department and #1 sales person. This is where a lot of people will eventually find out about your company. It needs to sell your product or service and it needs to enable visitors to become customers. In terms of that goal, bells and whistles are more distracting than not. I have seen people build a business with just one landing page. That one landing page did everything it needed to get people to become customers.
Adding too much stuff that doesn’t help a visitor become a customer can break the bank. As my Grandpa used to say, “Keep It Simple, Stupid.”
Making Your Website Market for You
Your website will be a forward facing part of your company. More and more people searching for products and services online from their mobile devices. It is therefore imperative that your site effectively communicates what your company does and why they should consider you.
On the most basic level, you need compelling copy that is clear and concise. It should also be organized so it is easy to read. There are a lot of strategies and tactics you can use on your copy writing and I am not going to go into all of them here. But, the general idea behind good copy is as follows:
- Be clear about what you do or what you offer
A visitor should know within 30 seconds or less if your company can help them solve their problem. If it takes more than 30 seconds before they understand what it is that you do, you have lost them.
Expanding your site and making it useful
Think about the times when you have whipped out your mobile phone to look up information about a company, product, or business. What were you looking for? Perhaps it was open times. Maybe it is product offerings, or a menu if you are a restaurant.
If you are just starting out, make a list of all the things someone would want to know about your business that you can quickly provide on a website. Then think about all the things you have looked up on a company’s website and see if those apply.
Think of the common questions you get about your company and/or business. The same questions you have to answer all the time for every new client. Can these be answered with a web page on your site? The goal is to make your website as informative about your company and product as it can be, while also giving somewhere to refer people to for information. This keeps clients and visitors informed about your services and make them a bit easier to handle. The chances are good that you receive a lot of emails on a daily basis and cutting down on that will free up your time. It also gives people a reason to revisit your website from time to time.
Don’t confuse this with the marketing copy we talked about previously. This part of your website is supposed to be informative and helpful to people currently engaged with your company and for those who are evaluating if you will be a good fit.
Make visitors do something
Having a website give information is great, but the other thing you want to consider is having visitors take some action while they are there. This can be offering something for free in return for their email, but this is getting into fancy marketing territory. Even if it is just a contact form, or having them call your business, it is enough.
Basically, the idea is that new visitors should be compelled to do something on your site. This can be done by adding a contact button in places on your site where it makes sense, with compelling copy.
For example, if you spend half a page explaining the reasons why you can solve their problem better than the competition, you might want to throw a button in there that they can click to contact you. In their minds, they should be thinking, “Hey, this looks exactly like what I was looking for!” Then they see the shiny button that encourages them to contact you. You want to make it easy for them to reach out when they are thinking about you the most.
Bam, a new potential customer. Don’t stop there, though. Other examples of stuff you can have them do is sign up for a newsletter, download some premium content like reports, engage with you on some forum or connect with you on social media. But as I said, it doesn’t have to be fancy. When you browse the web, you might have noticed that a lot of pages, especially blogs, have these social media buttons urging people to share the content.
This counts. As I said, it doesn’t have to be something big, but there should be something. It varies slightly, but generally falls into 3 broad categories:
- Subscription: Where the visitor does
something to stay engaged with your company over time or get added to
an email marketing list. This can include a newsletter, blog, a social
media like or follow, a premium content download, etc.
- Exposure: Where the visitor is
encouraged to bring others they know to the website, or at least
increase their exposure. This can include sharing content, writing a
review, email information to a friend, etc.
- Client: Where the visitor is
encouraged to make contact with your business with the intent of
becoming a customer. Contacting you for business, free consultation,
Start simple at first and add to it later. At a minimum, your site should have multiple ways of contacting you (phone #, address, email, contact form) and make it easy for visitors to connect with you on social media.
But make it punchy. Buttons that say “contact” or “subscribe” are trite and commonplace. Replacing them with phrases that are actionable and compelling may work better. Make sure to test this by checking your analytics. If you have a large number of visitors but a small number of clicks, then the text on the button might be a problem. Personally, I prefer buttons that say “Yes, I want to XYZ” or other similar actionable words.
How to create a sitemap
A sitemap is a basic hierarchy of the whole website. It shows what pages there are, as well as how they are connected. Before starting actual work on your site, a site map needs to be created. This will make it easier for the developer to understand how you want your site to be structured. If you are making the site yourself, it helps you to include everything you need.
The site map will determine the navigation of the web page and a general overview of what text and images go where. There are many ways to organize this information, and below are two possibilities. The most important part is how each page is connected, the name of the page, and the content of each page.
How to pick a theme
Now that you have a site map and the content of your website (or most of it), it is time to pick the theme. Even if you are using website builder services, they will present you with a selection of themes to pick from. This is a very important step in the process because once you have picked a theme and worked on it, it can be tedious and time-consuming to change. Also, it’s a pretty good way to annoy your developer. The more time you require from your developer, the more you have to pay for their time.
Themes come in all shapes and sizes, and some are free but the best ones usually come at a price. Investing in a theme that both accomplishes what you want and pleases you is a very important step. Shortcuts should not be taken here! At this point, it is also important to note the product or service you sell. If it is very visual (photography, food, art, etc.) you want a theme that is designed at showcasing images in a way that is appropriate for your company. If your company is more information based (technology, teaching, etc.) you want a theme that is designed to present textual information in a clear and easy to read way.
Visual pages will have text and informational pages will have images – it is all about priority. If you aren’t sure, I would suggest looking at similar sites to yours. Get an idea of how others present their information. Find an example that you like and that could fit your company.
If you already have a developer/designer on hand, it is an extremely good idea to consult them on themes. Make sure they have your sitemap first, though, as it will help them understand what is necessary for your site. Additionally, developer/designer feedback is great at this stage for WordPress sites, as some themes work differently, and you can get a feel of what your designer is comfortable working with. This can save money upfront as well as smoothen the development process.
Now that we have a sitemap and the content, it is time to add it to the website. Most of this is pretty straightforward, and if you are working with a good developer or designer, then this section might not be completely necessary.
Format of Text and SEO
content you add will mostly be copy-pasted from wherever you have it
stored. (You did type it up before hand, right?). Remember to use header
(h1, h2, etc.) tags. Not only will this make your text nice and bold
and stand out, it is also good for SEO. Headers are used to organize the
text on your website and blog. For example, notice the names of each
section in this article. Headers. The higher the number (H1, H2, H3, H4)
the more important it is, or it’s supposed to be. Search engines look
at these headers to help determine what your content is about.
Not only does it make it easier to read, it also helps your site get found.
One issue we constantly see regarding images is that we receive ones that are too “small”. This means that the image’s resolution is not big enough. Your designer needs a large image to work with. Providing a small one really limits their abilities and what they can do with it. Think about it this way, it is much easier to go from big to small than small to big. Remember that people will access your site from many different devices and screens. To correctly format the image to the screen, it is much easier for the browser to alter a large image than a small one.
However, you also have to think about optimization and images present a huge problem. The more images you have, the slower your page will load. Additionally, the bigger those images are, the slower it will get.
The best approach is to start with a large resolution image, get the biggest one you can, something like 1000 x 800 and up. Use that image to create the design for whatever you need it to do and then scale it down. Use the scaled down image for the website to optimize loading time. A good designer will be able to do this without problems, as long as you can provide them with a large image. Remember that image file sizes can be large and you might need to use a file storing system such as Drop Box or Google Drive.
Wrapping It Up
Now you should be ready to create (or have your designer create) a website for your small business. If I had to summarize this whole article in one sentence, it would be – plan everything ahead. You want a small business website fast and you want it to be good. The more time you spend on planning, the faster it will take to launch. You might also save on cost if you are paying people hourly. Planning also cuts down on adjustments that need to be made after launch. This could also help keep the website within budget.
Second, it is extremely important that you consider not just the function of the website, but also how it will help achieve your goals. There are many options and strategies involved with an online business, but I hope that I have given you a solid foundation for preparing and creating a small business website.