Small Business Websites
The Definitive Guide (2017 update)
It’s no secret that small business websites are vital for growth in today’s digital economy.
There used to be a time where you could put up a simple webpage for your business, and customers would come flooding in. Sadly, those days have come and gone, and it’s harder than ever to carve out a niche online in an overcrowded digital marketplace.
In fact, if you want to author your own website, you need to master skills in design, SEO, hosting, writing, engagement and good old fashioned marketing to generate traffic and leads from your site.
Bottom line? If you want to leverage the power of the internet to grow your business, you need a killer website that people love to visit and share with their friends.
In this guide, I’m going to show you everything you need to have a website that works hard for your business 24/7.
Let’s jump in!
How To Choose The Right Web Platform
So just what is a web platform? If we think about it from the perspective of automobile manufacturing, the platform of your small business website would be like the chassis and engine of a car. The chassis is the large rectangular piece of metal that the wheels, engine, body, seats, and just about everything else in the car attaches to.
Without the chassis, you’d just have a pile of parts that wouldn’t connect together. The engine is of course the large grouping of parts that provides power to the car, and without it you’d have a very expensive driveway decoration.
When considering a website platform, it’s important to understand just what it is you’re selecting. Many of the newer do-it-yourself models have started to bundle more and more options along with their monthly payment plans, and it blurs the lines when trying to compare one service to another.
There are many determining factors that you want to consider when selecting the website platform that is right for your organization. The last thing you want is to spend hundreds of hours creating your perfect website and then learn that a core ability isn’t possible on your selected platform. To make sure you are selecting a platform that works for you, ask these questions first.
Is It Easy To Use?
Easy is relative, but you want something that’s going to allow you to make edits easily as your organization grows. If you find yourself wrestling with programs like Microsoft Excel and Gmail, hiring an agency might be the best solution for you. If you’re a hacker that knows their way around HTML code and CSS, the sky’s the limit.
When evaluating a platform, consider the simple tasks and how long it would take you to accomplish each one. How easy is it to switch out a photo? How long would it take you to edit a block of text on a page? When it comes to publishing a blog post, how easy is it to design a layout that matches your brand and looks great? Knowing the answers to these questions can help you narrow down your options and choose the best one for your business.
How Much Should Small Business Website Design Cost?
A very common question that we hear all the time is, “How much do I need to pay to get a quality small business website?” In today’s global economy, you can get a website developed for almost any price, but the ease of which it’s developed and the polish of the final product are reflected in the price of the site.
Are you working with a freelancer that speaks a different primary language? You might be getting a rock bottom price, but how much of what you’re asking of your developer is getting translated correctly into your final product?
Have you hired an agency with a team of interns that crank out 10 websites a day? Are they writing a website that will represent your brand and encourage your visitors to stick around, or are they just customizing a template with the text you send them?
While there’s no cookie cutter answer for every small business, there are some factors to consider when looking at price.
- Who’s doing the work?
- Are you writing the text for your website or are they composing the content for each page?
- Are you responsible for taking photos of your team and your organization or is a photography session built into the price?
- Who is doing the layout and design of each page?
- Have you bought into a small business web builder where the design is done already for you and you just plug in your text?
There are hundred’s of questions that could be asked in order to determine the price that your website should cost, but only you really understand the value that your website will bring to your organization. If hiring a designer is the way you’d like to go, a good rule of thumb is to look for one that charges between $60-$100 per hour.
Is It Easy To Customize?
How easy will it be to match this small business website platform to your brand? Whether you’re working from a website builder template or hand drawing your future website on a napkin at a lunch meeting, how easy will it be to translate your ideas into reality?
When considering a web platform, customization is key to ensure that your website stands out from the thousands of other sites using the same platform. There’s nothing like investing 100+ hours into your new website design and then finding another site the next day that looks the exact same. Website design for business should reflect your unique company brand.
Many of the website builder services available today have this problem. They have 20 or so templates available, but thousands of businesses are using the exact same template to create their website.
Customization is king with these types of platforms, and if you’re having trouble out of the gate doing the customization that you’d like, it’s probably time to switch gears to another platform. You’re going to be spending quite a bit of time on the back end of your chosen website platform, so find one you feel at home with.
Is Code Knowledge Required?
Let’s face it, designing a website is working with code. Regardless if you’re using a template website platform or coding it from scratch, the process of creating a website is the process of bending HTML code to your will and whim.
Now, this isn’t to say that all website platforms are created equal. Far from it! If you aren’t comfortable working with web code, make sure that you select a platform that uses a WYSIWYG editor. (What You See Is What You Get)
WYSIWYG is a designer term for an interface that allows you to create, drag and drop elements onto a page without ever having to see the code that makes it all work. Website building software from GoDaddy, Squarespace, Wix and the like are all based on this premise. There are even WYSIWYG editors available within WordPress through customizable themes, so know that you can choose a platform that meets the needs of your business from many different sources. The best website designers for small business will handle the code for you or help you understand what you need to know.
Will You Be Able To Sell Goods And Process Payments?
The process of selling goods online is often referred to as ECommerce. Simply put, it’s the ability to sell goods and services online while being able to accept a payment in a secure environment.
When it comes to selecting a website platform for your business, we always recommend choosing one that allows for ECommerce transactions. Even if you don’t see the need for accepting payments and selling goods right now, how about in the future? If you ever see a day where you might sell something through your website, don’t limit your future options by choosing a platform without this function.
How Will This Website Platform Grow With Your Business?
Let’s say that you currently offer 30 products on your website, and you’re building a site that supports this amount. In 3 months, you may want to add another 30 products and their corresponding sales and marketing pages. Will the platform you’ve selected be able to handle the additional pages and items?
It’s easy to overlook future expansion capability when doing an initial website build, but it’s vital for a good platform choice.
Will The Look of This Platform Match Your Brand?
Your company has worked hard to establish a brand that represents you well in the marketplace, and your website is one of the primary extensions of that brand. It’s not enough to be able to match the colors of a few straight lines to your company colors and enhance your company brand.
When your visitors stop by your website, they should be awestruck by the awesomeness that is your brand from the second your page loads. If you’re not feeling the brand match between the platform you’re considering and what you know to be true about your company, it’s time to keep looking.
Don’t settle for anything less than a perfect brand match for your organization.
Let’s take a look at the most popular platforms available today.
Where to next?
Chapter 1 | How To Choose The Right Web Platform
Chapter 2 | Launch Faster with the Right Development
Chapter 3 | Attract Clicks with your Domain Name
Chapter 4 | Provide Superior Speed with Hosting
Chapter 5 | Build Authority with Great Branding
Chapter 6 | Capture Attention with Great Content
Chapter 7 | User Interface/User Experience
Chapter 8 | Get Found with On-Page SEO
How To Launch Months Faster by Choosing the Right Development Method
There are three primary methods you can use to create your small business website. Let’s review the pro’s and con’s of each method to help you make an informed decision about how to bring your site to life.
DO IT YOURSELF
There’s never been a time like the present to design your own website. A plethora of website builder options are available to small business owners today that simply didn’t exist just a few years ago. With drag and drop builders and pre-designed templates, many business owners are set to have their own website up and running in just a few weeks.
You know exactly what you’re looking for without having to translate your desires to a third party designer or agency. This eliminates the potential confusion of trying to make sure you’re all seeing the same end goal.
As long as you have a great eye for layout and design, you can get the look you want all by yourself and in your own timeframe. The cost of working with one of the drag and drop website builders is very minimal. Most of the big players in the industry include your hosting cost in the low monthly fee, and for less than $50 per month you can have a website you build yourself.
Website design for small business takes time, and if you don’t have ample time to invest you’re adding months to your build time. If you struggle with decisiveness, creating your own website can feel like a never-ending project.
When working with the individual website builder tools, your website has potential to look like many of the other cookie cutter websites that were published before you. There’s also the potential that the website you design doesn’t look professional or function correctly. Not everyone is a designer, and an eye for design is vital to achieve a look that wow’s your visitors.
If you haven’t spent any time in marketing, there’s great potential that your marketing messages won’t connect with your audience and your website will function like a digital brochure. People may visit your site, but may not be moved to action, which results in very few leads and sales.
Hire A Freelancer
There are thousands of self-employed web designers ready to help you bring your website to life. There are former agency employees who decided to go out on their own, talented college age students that have built a few websites and are looking to make a career out of it and many others willing to accept your money to make your site for you. Here are the pro’s and con’s of hiring a freelancer.
You will be working with a self-employed project based individual that has skills in web design and digital media.
Depending on who you hire, they could have impressive former agency experience working with huge brands that they could bring to the table.
You will be working with an individual, so it is much easier to communicate effectively throughout the duration of the project.
You get to play the role of manager since you’re going to be calling the shots on this project. Freelancers aren’t just local either, and can be found all across the world.
You can find a freelancer’s portfolio that you really love and get to know them through a few emails back and forth. If you see their work and it moves you, most likely it will be a good match for a project together.
Finding the right freelancer can keep the cost of designing your small biz website down while utilizing the skill and experience of someone who writes websites for a living.
In the world of the freelancer, I believe that Forest Gump said it best. “You never know what you’re going to get.”
Working with a freelancer is a bit like working with a building contractor. You’re pretty much completely at their mercy when it comes to getting the job done.
If they decide to take a vacation in the middle of your project, there’s not a whole lot that can be done until they get back. If they decide in the middle of the project to move to a more lucrative client and push you to the back burner, it’s quite difficult to get the code from freelancer A and take it to freelancer B and have a seamless transition.
Success in working with a freelancer is completely dependent on hiring the right one. Good freelancers will charge more, but they’re almost always worth the bump in pay for their hourly rate. Something to consider when hiring a freelancer is that you’re hiring the skill set of a single person, not a team of people.
If the freelancer you’re hiring knows HTML code but is a marketing novice, you may get a fully functional website that won’t capture your client information or move them to action. If you hire a freelancer that’s a code monkey and knows how to write the cleanest HTML code this side of the country, you might get a fully functional website that just isn’t that attractive. There’s a balance between design and small business web development, and you want someone who understands the merits of both sides.
Design and development are important, but understanding your target market and creating marketing messages that resonate with people is what really sets you up for success. You can have the most beautiful website with the cleanest code, but if your site doesn’t move people to action it’s not going to grow your business.
Hire An Agency
Website Design agencies exist for the sole purpose of helping you create a website that will make your organization rocket to the top. Agencies are made up of talented designers, developers, marketers and writers ready to tackle your web project backed with years of experience. Here are the pro’s and con’s of hiring an agency.
Website design agencies are a one stop shop with everything you need all in one location. You don’t have to worry about them not having the technical experience to execute that custom widget that you have been dreaming up. They have a developer on staff that can knock that out for you chop chop.
Agencies are experts at what they do, and they are going to help walk you through best practices when it comes to your digital presence. One of the huge benefits of working with an agency is that they’ve done this many times for many types of businesses, and they’ve learned boatloads in the process. You’re paying for their expertise as much as you are paying for them to sit down and develop a website for your organization.
With an agency, you’re also hiring a business partner. Most agencies don’t function like an employee, but more in a consulting role with your team. They bring their massive experience to bear on your project and walk you through what you need to do to make it successful.
Most website design agencies have marketing experts on staff to help you create an effective website. This is what sets most web design agencies apart from freelancers and DIY-ers. They are working to help you create a website and a strategy to use it to promote your business.
Since you’ll be working with a team of people at the agency, this isn’t the cheapest way to get your website designed.
There’s a reason that the agencies you’re looking at are successful, and that’s because they bring results to their clients. You will pay more by working with an agency compared to working with a freelancer or doing it yourself, but the end result stands for itself.
Agencies have specific processes when working for clients, so make sure you completely understand how they work when you’re getting to know them. How will they submit designs for approval? How do you approve them or send them back with edits and changes?
You’re paying for the expertise of an agency and the relative ease at which you will have an effective new website. This is by far the easiest method to have your website created, so if you can afford it just sit back and enjoy the ride.
How To Get More Clicks With the Right Domain Name
There’s an immense amount of power when you find the right domain name for your business. You feel a level of success that is hard to describe until you’ve achieved it, but it’s the golden goose in the web design world.
Finding the perfect domain for your organization involves three steps.
Finalizing your company name
Researching what domains are available regarding that name
Purchasing the domain that best represents your business
While this may seem simple, it can be incredibly difficult to achieve. Most savvy business owners today will start with an idea for a business name, and then check to see which domains are available before finalizing their name. If this is possible for you, I can’t suggest this method strongly enough.
Selecting your business name and then searching for a domain can necessitate a very expensive domain purchase to match your new business name. Avoid the hassle and come up with your business name and check available domains at the same time. You’ll thank me.
Here are our best practices on how to select the best domain name for your business:
Is It Easy To Type?
Shorter Is Better
Can You Include Keywords?
Punctuation Be Gone
We’ve seen many companies across the web try to get close to an unavailable domain by adding hyphens and other punctuation. If you’re considering hyphenating your domain name, just don’t do it. Every time you talk about it verbally, you’ll be saying, “that’s woods hyphen refrigerator hyphen service dot com”
By adding punctuation, you’re assuming that people understand the correct punctuation symbol. On more than one occasion, I’ve had clients tell me that some customers didn’t know the difference between a hyphen and an underscore, and after 30 minutes on the phone, they finally came to this realization after sending each other pictures of the right key on the keyboard. There are better solutions, just avoid this.
Fight for the Best Extension
Everyone knows that .com domain extensions are pretty hard to come by these days, but they’re not impossible to find. If you’re any type of company based in the United States or do any business in the U.S. it’s worth fighting for the .com extension. Top level domains are being added all the time, and you can find anything from .guru to .co for your new business domain. For now, the assumption of most human beings is to try the .com first and then branch out into other extensions if the other fails.
Register First & Think Second
In many aspects of business and marketing, the old adage of measure twice and cut once still holds true. Registering a domain name isn’t necessarily one of the tasks that we recommend following this old adage. If you find a domain name that you think might be a good fit, we recommend that you register it right away. The cost in usually under $15 per year, and you can lock it down for a year while you consider your options. If you decide to wait and roll the dice while you’re deciding, it’s still available for anyone else to grab, and missing out on the perfect name can cause years of regret all to save $15. If you see one you like, grab it right away.
Plan for the Long Haul
If you’re a company that makes custom baby bibs, it might be a good idea to incorporate babybibs into the domain name. Before you lock in a domain this limiting, consider future expansion. If you sell baby bibs now, do you see a future where you offer an entire line of baby themed products? If your domain is babybibs oriented, will that have a negative effect on how people see your site for future products? If you expand into manufacturing cribs and baby wipes, how would you like your domain to represent your brand rather than just a single product? We suggest to select your domain around your brand rather than your product if you have any intention future expansion.
Increase Your Visitor’s Time On Site With The Best Hosting
What Is Hosting?
Hosting is essentially the computer server that your website is going to be stored on that is always powered on and connected to the internet. For years, webmasters would keep an old PC in their basement to serve their website to the internet. Over the years, we’ve all learned that our home internet service providers can be less than reliable, and when your home internet is down, your website is down when using this solution.
It didn’t take long for website hosting solutions to pop up all across the world during the digital revolution. The question is, “How do we know if we’re contracting with a reputable hosting provider or just getting ‘Jim’s old PC’ that’s stored in his basement?”
Website Hosting for Non-Techies
Let’s think of your hosting server like it’s your local gym. You have a running track, weights room, raquetball courts, cardio classes, sauna and a lap pool.
This is like being a member of the gym. You can come and go at any time you want, but you won’t be able to guarantee that every time you want to use the bench press there won’t be someone else using it and you’ll have to wait in line.
There may be rules about pool use in this gym, and just because you want to practice your belly flop doesn’t mean that you’ll be able to do it whenever you want. During busy times of the day, you can still use the gym, but it will be more crowded with everyone attempting to use the same resources.
It’s much less expensive to have a gym membership rather than owning the gym, but it’s not always the most convenient and you can’t always have it your way.
This is like owning the gym. You can install whatever equipment you want, hire the instructors that teach the way you like, and even paint the walls Turqouise. It’s your gym and you get to decide what happens there.
The question remains, who has the best hosting on the internet? There are many different providers that aim to meet every need imaginable, and there are a few methods you can use to sort through and find the hosting solution for your organization.
Qualifiers for selecting a website hosting provider
Build Authority With Great Branding
There’s something almost magical about companies who really nail the branding piece of the puzzle. When you come across a website of a company that really gets it, it’s like you’ve fallen into a world where everything just fits perfectly together.
Sadly, this is the exception in today’s small business economy. Brand is often an afterthought in a rushed business proposal and plan to “go ahead and get started already.” Taking the time to get the branding piece right will provide unimaginable clarity for the rest of your business journey.
So, just what is an organizational brand and why does it matter? A brand represents people’s perception of your company’s logo, reputation, advertising, and customer service. Your brand represents all that people think, feel and believe about your company.
Maybe you’ve owned a business for many years and are now at the point of wanting to redesign your website to make it more effective. If this is you, there’s no time like right now to invest in creating an amazing brand.
There are many benefits that great branding can bring to a small business. What follows is but a few of the many good things to come out of the clarity of brand.
The Benefits Of Great Branding
The Core Essentials Of A Great Brand
Name – Your name informs potential customers why you exist and who your product or service is for. The name of your business also usually indicates why your product or service is a better option than that of your competitors.
Personality – if your brand was a person, what kind of person would it be? Is your brand the kind of person you’d find in a three piece suit sipping bourbon at a bar or is your brand the type you’d see wearing a bikini at the pool?
The personality of your brand informs the consumer what to expect from your company before they understand the specifics. Color, look and feel all inform your brand personality, so before you go making any of the choices below, get crystal clear on the thoughts and feelings you hope to elicit.
Logo – The single representation of your brand in visual form. From a swoosh on a tennis shoe to an apple with a bite out of the top, logo’s are powerful symbols of brand representation.
Color Palette – Color has meaning. There are many fantastic infographics on Pinterest about color psychology and how each color makes us feel, so get out there and do some learning!
If there’s a color that really resonates with you, dive into the why. If you’re thinking that your company logo just must be red, what does that say about your company’s personality? A couple of my favorite infographics can be found here and here.
Typography – Fonts give style to your substance. With each word that you write on your new website, the font that you choose can either enhance or detract from your company brand.
If you’re an extreme outdoors apparel company and you’re looking at frilly serif fonts, it might be time to call in a professional to give you an unbiased opinion. The style and feel of your font should reinforce the very same for your company.
There are thousands of fonts available to you in the web design process, so don’t just assume Arial is the best font choice for your company.
Supporting Graphics – It’s widely touted that a picture is worth 1,000 words, and it’s true that every graphic and photo on your website share a part of the narrative. Whenever possible, shoot custom photos to add authenticity to your brand.
Use stock photography when absolutely necessary, but make sure you play a role in your brand. Let your team, your face and your corner of the world be visible to inform visitors of who you are and what you’re about.
How To Capture The Attention Of The World With Amazing Content
You’ve probably heard the saying that “Content is King” when it comes to your website. This statement is absolutely true, and if you think about it there’s no other way we should want it to be. We control our destiny when it comes to what’s on our website, and if we create the right content for the right audience, there’s no limit to the traffic and engagement our websites will obtain.
It’s immensely important the understand the role that content plays for your new website. Let’s dive into why content is called the king.
The Five Primary Types Of Website Content
These are primarily articles that are narrative in nature rather than a fully designed webpage. The blog article is very similar to the newspaper article in that there might be a few pictures here and there, but it’s primarily communicating a story through text. There is immense power in the article, and well leveraged can bring your website hundred’s of thousand’s of visitors each month.
Online video can be found on YouTube, Vimeo and a handful of other places, but this type of content works to convey a story through moving picture. When it comes to engagement, there’s not a medium more effective at holding the attention of your audience. Video has the ability to draw your visitors in and help them see in detail who you are and what you’re about.
Like the aforementioned blog article, a web page is any page of content you find on the internet. A video is posted on a web page, a blog is posted on a web page, and every other page of your website is also a web page. Web pages are content too, not just content holders. While a blog article usually depicts a story, a web page can be designed to display any type of information you can come up with. A web page can take any form to use the most powerful and appropriate means to deliver information to your site visitors.
Somewhat like video above, a podcast is a piece of audio only content designed to educate your visitors. Podcasts are consumed by many just like talk radio. People will save the podcast to their phone and listen to it on their way to work or during a lunch break. A podcast allows you to record an audio show that educates and helps your visitors get to know your brand while you assist them with their problems that only you can help them solve. Audio podcasts are easy to have auto-downloaded to your phone and accessible whenever your audience is ready for a listen.
An infographic most likely isn’t a term that you’ve heard thrown about if you haven’t spend a considerable amount of time on the web. There are many ways to lay out a piece of content for your visitors to consume, and one of the most visually appealing is the infographic. Think about the content that you might lay out in a blog article or web page, and then consider what it would be like if you laid it out entirely in graphical form. This is an infographic. It’s all of the statistics, facts and thoughts usually incorporated in text form converted into a gorgeous layout that brings all of the important data together for people to quickly consume.
Keep Your Visitors Around With The Right Usability and User Experience
When you’re writing a new website, there’s a tendency to major on the content of the site and neglect how the end-user experiences things. This is incredibly common in first few websites you might have, primarily because it isn’t something that many business owners are aware of.
There’s a distinct difference between usability and user experience, so let’s unpack them a little bit.
Usability is how easy it is for your visitors to navigate your website.
Whether consciously or unconsciously, your users are asking the following questions while they visit your site.
- How easy is it for me to perform basic tasks on this website without getting confused?
- Can I navigate this website easily and find what I’m looking for?
- Is the information that I’m looking for easy for me to find?
We all ask the same questions every time we visit a website. Most of the time it’s on a completely sub-conscious level, but the usability of the websites we view has a direct correlation to how users experience our website.
User Experience on the other hand, is all about how a visitor perceives your website.
It’s often said that perception is reality, and in the case of your new website this is absolutely true. If people feel that your site is enjoyable, they’ll like your site.
When we talk about user experience, we’re talking about feelings. Every person who visits your site is going to feel something while they visit. Our goal in writing a great website is to understand what feelings you want your visitors to have and build your site to do exactly that.
8 actionable steps to achieving user-centered design
Make your website easy to navigate. Make your end user happy enough to convert into a lead.
Minimize the steps a user has to take to reach their goal.
Create an emotional connection with your users.
Create value and meaning in interactions with your website.
Install a heat map plugin.
Keep all of your content relevant.
Speed up your site loading speed.
Choose simplicity over complex page design.
How To Draw In The Masses With On-Page SEO
Before you hit the publish button on your new website, run everything through the filter of search engine optimization. On-page SEO is the process of optimizing the content of any web page to rank higher on search engine results pages. It’s about making sure that Google and friends know exactly what to do with each page of your site as people search the internet.
There are more webpages than you could ever read on the topic of on-page SEO, but there is a common thread of best-practices that you’ll find on almost every one of them.
To start, know that the #1 factor that determines your on-page SEO success is your content.
This may seem to be a no-brainer, but it’s absolutely the main element that enables you to succeed or causes you to fail when it comes to getting found online. If you haven’t read the content chapter above and are wondering what the hubbub is all about when it comes to content, check it out here.
Here’s a qualifier before we get into the nitty-gritty of on-page SEO. Your content absolutely must be unique. You can’t expect to take an article that’s been published somewhere else and have the search engines push you ahead of the original article source for search rankings.
So, if you’re a part of a franchise or have a national content distribution network like would be commonly found with realty teams or network marketing organizations, you’re going to need to write your own exclusive piece of content for any on-page strategies to work.
Actionable SEO Tips To Attract More Traffic
We’ve referenced the Google “algorithm changes” here in the SEO chapter, and I want to let you know that it’s entirely possible to greatly minimize the effect they have on your site rankings. Every now and then, the search engines like to upset the apple cart when it comes to how you optimize pages for SEO. When someone figures out how to game the system and cheat to get ahead, algorithm changes are certain to be right around the corner to keep thin and unhelpful pages from rising to the top.
Now It’s Your Turn
I hope you enjoyed our guide to small business websites.
What did you think of the guide?
Did it raise any questions for you?
Either way, let me know by leaving a quick comment below right now.