Small Business Websites: How to Develop A Site For Any Business

Small Business Websites

The Definitive Guide (2018 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!

FREE Website Analysis

Get a free no-strings-attached analysis of your website and find out if your online presence is living up to its full potential.

contents

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

UI/UX

chapter 8

Get Found With On-Page SEO

Chapter 1

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.

WordPress is a giant in the website development community, powering 40% of all websites in use today. There are over 50,000 plug-ins available to expand the functionality of the platform ranging from online stores, membership sites and forums.


There are new plug-ins being developed every day, which means that it’s hard to find a functionality that WordPress websites can’t have. There is an incredible amount of manpower behind the WordPress platform, which means that it’s not going anywhere.


By the way, did we mention that the WordPress platform is COMPLETELY FREE? You read that correctly, it doesn’t cost you a license fee or any type of payment to WordPress for you to be able to use this platform.


You will need to find your own hosting solution and register your own domain with the wordpress platform. Domain registration will cost you around $20 per year. Website hosting hovers around $20 per month for rock solid hosting that’s blazing fast. (You can skip to the Domain and Hosting chapters here.)


When it comes to what your website looks like, (think the body of the car.) WordPress handles that by offering thousands of free Themes for you to choose from.


These themes are built by designers to give you a look and feel for your site that matches your corporate brand. In addition to the many free themes available, there are as many or more paid themes that have been put together by the web design community. These premium themes range from $20 all the way to a couple hundred, and can make your website look like a completely custom site.


WordPress is very search engine friendly, with a hundred’s of plug-ins available to help with on-page SEO. When it comes to integrations, there’s hardly a provider that won’t work with WordPress when it comes to accounting, traffic generation, email and other software solutions.


The interface is very user-friendly, and you don’t have to work with html code if you don’t want to. There are often multiple ways to accomplish a given task where you can use simple drag and drop interfaces or code to obtain the same result.


With a robust community eager to help others take their first steps in the space, it’s hard to go wrong with the WordPress platform for your small business website.

If you’ve been paying attention to the commercials during the Super Bowl, you’ve probably seen a few of the commercials that Squarespace has leveraged to gain momentum. From Jeff Bridges (Dreaming with Jeff) to John Malcovich (Make Your Next Move), Squarespace has been gaining ground in the drag and drop website platform space for the past few years.


Squarespace is simple and easy to use for beginners that don’t have any background in html code or design. Many of the website templates have been designed by professionals, and are driven by the photography and images that you choose to bring to your site.


The Squarespace platform does have its limits, as you are limited by how many pages you can create and how many users can login to the website. Currently you can have up to 20 pages, 1 blog page and 2 users, which can easily be enough for most small biz websites.


Enough for starting up is the key here, as with any growing business your website will continue to grow over time and these limits will become a challenge. There is a rather robust help section on the Squarespace website full of help videos to walk you through common sticking points as you create.


Squarespace is set up to handle Ecommerce shops and portfolios as well as traditional small business websites. With a drag and drop interface they’re well suited to anyone thinking about their first website.


All of the templates on this platform are responsive, which means they’ll look great on mobile devices, tablets and computers.


One thing to consider with Squarespace is that you’re building a website on their proprietary platform, and that means that if you ever decide to leave, you won’t be able to take your website with you. Once you build a website with Squarespace, you’re going to be with Squarespace until you decide to abandon your website or hire someone else to create a new site for you on another platform.

Like their competitor above, Wix is no stranger to the Super Bowl commercial. You might remember the campaign with Brett Farve (Farve & Carve) or with Jason Statham and Gal Gadot (The Restaurant). Like most of the drag and drop builders that we’re going to walk through here, Wix exists to help non-coders create a website.


There are dozens of templates that are included in their monthly fees, but a word of warning here that once you pick a template, you’re locked in and won’t be able to change in the future.


Wix offers built in hosting for all of their plans, and with some of the higher priced plans they even include the first year of your domain registration in your monthly cost.


There are some third party applications that you can add to your Wix website, but they are limited when compared with WordPress and other competitors. There is a completely free option with Wix where you can set up a small initial website for your organization. As a trade off, Wix will leave branding across your website letting your visitors know where your site is being hosted and designed. If you’re looking for an absolutely free website to start out with, Wix might be just the platform that you’ve been looking for. There is not an ecommerce option with the free account, so if you’re looking to sell things online the free account won’t be a good fit.


One challenge that non-designers may face when working with Wix is the drag and drop capability of the platform. While it’s great that you can drag and drop almost anything you want anywhere you want, those without design training may find it difficult to create a good looking site. The more customization you bring to a Wix template, the greater the opportunity that you may end up with a website that isn’t quite as appealing as the original template design.


A word of warning, not all Wix templates are built with responsiveness in mind. If you’re looking to create a site that works well on tablets, mobile devices and computers, be sure to choose a template that is built for the task.

Weebly is another contender in the drag-and-drop website builder category. Their goal is to allow you to create gorgeous websites fast and with ease.


While Weebly is very similar to Wix, one notable difference is that you can’t drag and drop everything on the screen. There are limits to what can be moved around and where it can be moved to. This might be preferable for those who like a little more constraint in their design options to keep the template looking as the designer intended. For those looking for total customization, that can be found more easily with a WordPress solution.


Unlike Wix, you can switch templates as often as you’d like with the Weebly platform. If you’re feeling a different mood the day after you’ve launched your website and want a visual change, it’s just the click of a button away. There’s no limit to how many times you can change the visual layout of your website, so the sky’s the limit for those who don’t want to be chained down with one look for their site.


Hosting for your website is built into the Weebly platform, and they can help you register your domain as well.


All of the templates have some degree of mobile responsiveness built in, but not every template is completely responsive. Be on the lookout for templates that are built with all devices in mind if you think Weebly is the right platform for you.

When it comes to Ecommerce website platforms, there are two primary players. The first of the two is Shopify, and you’ve probably visited a Shopify website if you’ve done any online shopping in the past few years.


Shopify has a series of free and premium templates to match the type of business you own. While many Shopify websites look similar, there is some ability to stand out from the crowd with the purchase of a paid template for less than $200. If you’re worried about looking like everyone else, the premium templates can give you a platform that isn’t as prevalent as many of the free layouts created here.


Shopify has included website hosting and website security into their websites, so you don’t have to worry about being secure when it comes to processing credit card payments. Secure Socket Layering certificates (https://) are included in the monthly price, so you can accept payments freely and not worry about your client payment information being compromised.


The ability to accept credit card payments is included in the monthly pricing, and the more you pay for your website, the less you will pay in overall credit card processing fees. If you’re new to having a business merchant account, Shopify takes the guesswork out of the traditional credit card pricing model.


If you’re not planning on having an online shop, then Shopify might not be the best solution for your business. Targeted directly at ecommerce businesses, Shopify is a better solution for companies looking to move larger amount of product through the internet.


If you’re hoping to have an online store and have all of the bells and whistles of a custom website, there may be other solutions that better meet your needs. Inventory management with Shopify is one of their best assets, and integration with the likes of Quickbooks and other accounting platforms can be a huge asset to new Ecommerce website owners.

Like their main competitor listed above, Big Commerce is known for specializing in Ecommerce websites. There are a number of free templates and paid templates that you can choose from to design the look and feel of your new website. Paid templates hover around the $200 mark, and have some very nice designs if you can afford the design upgrade cost.


One of the best reasons to consider a platform like Big Commerce is for their integrated payment gateway and included security certificate. With other solutions, it’s up to you to figure out how to make your website secure and get that https:// ability, but with Big Commerce it’s built right in.


Hosting is included in all Big Commerce plans, so there’s no seeking out and vetting the best hosts for your particular site needs. Responsiveness is built in to almost every Big Commerce template, but with new templates both paid and free being added to the mix, be certain to check that you’re working with one that supports mobile devices. Shopify still has about three times the template options as Big Commerce right now, so if you’re not finding the look and feel that you want, consider the WordPress or Shopify platforms.


One of the major benefits that you get with a Big Commerce website is the advanced functionality that is included with each site. With Shopify, you can get a trial period with some of their advanced applications, but you’ll end up paying for each of them over time if you decide to keep the integration. With this solution, there are many more added functions that can be utilized right from the start without adding to your monthly cost.

Wondering why your website isn't working?

Download our FREE website health checklist and find out today!

Chapter 2

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.

  • Pros
  • Cons

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.

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.

  • Pros
  • Cons

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.

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.

  • Pros
  • Cons

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.

Chapter 3

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.


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.

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

Here are our best practices on how to select the best domain name for your business:

Is It Easy To Type?


 Let’s be really honest here, cute domain names are nice, but what you really need is a domain that someone can type into a browser to visit your website. If you’re looking at a domain name that resembles www.craziecutekiddyes.org, it might be time to head back to the drawing board. In this example, potential visitors have a really good change of misspelling crazie or kiddyes as well as mixing up the .org and .com extension. Give your organization the greatest chance of being found by making it simple for the humans you want to visit.

Shorter Is Better


This is an area where length really does matter. The longer your domain name, the greater the opportunity that potential visitors and linking domains will misspell your URL and end up in the wrong place. If you need to make a choice between two equal domains, we always recommend the shorter domain as it helps to eliminate human error.

Can You Include Keywords?


Descriptive domain names are perfect, especially if your domain is actually what your company does. Now, I’m not saying to run out and register a domain like www.wecutdowntreesinpekopsie.com – this is a little too descriptive and too long of an example. On the other hand, if you’re located in Kokomo and you’re a tree service, you could do a whole lot worse than www.kokomotreeservice.com.

Eliminate Numbers


When someone tells you a domain name with a number in the address, how do they know if it’s the numeral or the spelled out name of the number? Numbers just add confusion to domain names, and we suggest that you just stay away from the added confusion that they bring. We know a company that ends their domain with a 5, and they regret that decision years later. Every time they tell a customer on the phone to visit their website, they have to end the address with, “that’s the number five, not the spelled out name. No, you don’t need to put a number sign in front of the 5, just type 5…” and so on. Don’t fall prey to this trap.

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.

FREE Website Analysis

Get a free no-strings-attached analysis of your website and find out if your online presence is living up to its full potential.

Chapter 4

Increase Your Visitor's Time On Site With The Best 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?”

What Is Hosting?

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.

Shared Hosting

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.

Dedicated Hosting

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.

The Two Primary Types Of Website Hosting:

Shared Hosting – Shared hosting is a computer server that you lease space on to store your website. It’s designed to always be connected to the internet and powered on at all times. Many websites will be hosted from a single server with shared hosting, and cost is minimal since the burden for cost is shared among many different website owners.


Dedicated Hosting – Dedicated hosting is a type of hosting where you lease out the entire computer server rather than sharing it with others. Any website you have can be hosted from this single server and you can determine all of the specifications regarding the setup and performance it provides.


Managed WordPress Hosting – I know I said two primary types of hosting above, but this is really a variant of shared hosting that warrants mention. If you’re looking into creating a WordPress website, managed hosting might be the right solution for you. For those who are less technically inclined, a managed WordPress server comes with WordPress pre-installed and a temporary domain to build your website on. It’s as plug and play as it gets for WordPress website hosting in a shared server setting.

Website Hosting For Non-Techies

uptime

Let’s face it, your website won’t be doing anyone any good if it’s not online. If your website host is down for any reason or if they’re experiencing an outage, none of the rest of the items on this list will matter. Be wary of any hosting company that promises 100% uptime. In the real world, it’s just not realistic to be up every second of every day. Outages happen, and you want to find the provider with the least outages or most uptime. The difference between 99% uptime and 100% uptime is 3 days per year, so while it seems like a small difference, it can have a huge effect on your business.

security & Automatic Backups

If there’s one thing that you don’t want to take chances with, it’s website security and automatic backups. We hear stories from small business owners all the time that didn’t worry about their website security and then found themselves battling an injection attack. Online security isn’t something to skimp on, and with some hosting providers you can add-on peace of mind in this area. Look for options like automatic daily or weekly backups of your website to a secure off-server location. If your site is ever compromised, you can just load in the backup and you’re back up and running with minimal effort or loss.

customer support

Understanding the customer support ability of a hosting provider is extremely important. There’s nothing like having your website go down because of a server side error and not being able to get anyone on the phone to help you get things back online. Customer reviews are a great place to look to learn about how they help their customers whenever they find themselves in a pickle.

Storage limitations

While most websites don’t ever exceed 100MB in size, it’s good to know the limitations of the hosting provider that you’re partnering with. If you’re putting together a site that is going to use video heavily and you’re looking to host each video on your server, storage limitations will quickly become a problem. Be sure to match the plan that you choose with the size demand of the site you’ll be building.

bandwidth limitations

While storage limitations refers to the size of the files that you store on your leased server, bandwidth limitations is all about how many visitors are accessing your content. Are you a local service business that is likely to see 1,000 visitors per month? How about a blogger that is consistently retweeted by celebrities with a huge following?


If you’re signing on for hosting, be sure that your bandwidth needs match your plans for the site. If you’re purchasing hosting that covers 200,000 visitors per month and you suddenly have a video that goes viral, what is the cost for going over your usage bandwidth? Go in knowing that you’re covered for regular monthly traffic and that you won’t be over-charged for any future viral content your creative mind comes up with.

speed

Like any small business owner, speed is a primary qualifier of any hosting solution you’re looking to partner with. Google uses website loading speed as one of the nearly 270 factors that determine page and article rankings in their search engine. If all other factors are equal, speed is a great determining factor. To test the speed of a website hosting provider, Pick Up Host is a great resource to check speed of different providers.

FREE Website Analysis

Get a free no-strings-attached analysis of your website and find out if your online presence is living up to its full potential.

Chapter 5

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

Branding provides differentiation.

Understanding your unique place in the market is key to make sure your business stands out among your competition. If your business is simply a run-of-the-mill version of what you do, why would a customer choose you over your competitors?


Taking the time to create a brand that makes you stand out can mean the difference between one lead a week and 20. Don’t sell your business short by skimping on what makes you special. Branding is gives your company a sticky factor, which enables your customers to recall your business as they have a need you can fulfill.

Branding expresses quality.

There’s a promise you make to your customers as you sharpen your brand. In the automobile market, it’s how your car doors sound when they close. In the retail goods market, it’s the feeling your customers get when they see your packaging. No matter what market you’re in, your customers are receiving a promise from your brand regardless if you’ve taken the time to refine it.


There’s an expectation set by the look and feel of your marketing materials, and your website is one of the most important elements of your branding strategy. Define your look and feel before you start the website design process, or you’ll find yourself going back to the beginning too soon after you’ve finished.


Here’s a real life example. You see two people standing across the room. The first is in a trendy suit and tie and the second is in nice jeans and a button down shirt. What quality do you automatically ascribe to each person? Do you assume that the person in the suit is more serious than the person in jeans?


This is the same with the website you’re creating for your business. You could create a simple one-page online brochure that tells people where to find you and how to call, but it communicates volumes about your business.


If the design of your company website conveys feelings and thoughts of quality and seriousness, your visitors will automatically attribute those qualities to your business.

Branding determines price.

Why is it that people are willing to pay $100,000 for a Cadillac compared to $40,000 for a Chevy? There is a brand distinction between these two brands, and they’re aiming at separate portions of the same market.


There’s an expectation that comes with the brand promise that these two companies make, and this distinction has a dramatic effect on what customers are willing to pay.


What story is your brand telling, and how is it informing the price that your customers are willing to pay?

Branding reinforces trust.

Contrary to what some believe, branding doesn’t end with the logo that you design and the photos you shoot for your new website. Branding is the tone you write with and the words that you use to convey your message. It’s the feeling that people get when they browse your new web pages and interact with the different modules of the site.

Branding defines your business.

It’s plain and simple. Perception is reality in the minds of your customers, so what they perceive is their truth. If you’re not intentional about defining your brand, your brand will define itself. A brand that defines itself is rarely cohesive and is often a poor representation of the reality you’re working to hard to convey.

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.

Wondering why your website isn't working?

Download our FREE website health checklist and find out today!

Chapter 6

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.

Great content equals more time viewing your website.

The images, text, and videos on your website give your visitors a reason to investigate further. If your visitors are spending more time on your website, they’re gaining a better understanding of your brand and what you offer. More time on your site leads to a deeper level of trust with your brand, which in turn leads to higher conversions.

High quality content leads to higher visibility with the search engines.

Google and friends are crawling every site on the internet to find who has the best page for any given search term. Give yourself the best chance of being found by engaging in authoring content that the search engines can pick up.


The more content on the page, the more the search engines have to index. If you’re thinking that a new webpage only needs 300 words of content and you’ll rank on the first page of search engine results pages, it’s time to rethink your strategy.

Content leads to a trustworthy domain.

All of the search engines are constantly trying to figure out what websites are legitimate and which are just spammers looking for a quick buck. One of your goals in creating this new website for your organization needs to be showing all of the search engines that you’re legit.


Write content that people stick around to read and even share with their friends and colleagues. This is the best way to get the search engines to fall in love with your domain. Don’t let thin or flimsy content keep you from the traffic and leads to grow your business.

Amazing content brings increased social traffic.

If you’ve ever managed a social media account, you understand the need to constantly feed the machine. Writing blog articles and recording videos are both great types of content that can be shared on your social media accounts. If you have 1 new blog post per week, that can easily be worked into 4-5 social media posts over the coming weeks. Combine this with new content every week, and your social media accounts will be full of great new content to serve to your visitors.

Content brings higher on-site conversions.

The more content you have, the more people get to know about you, your products, services and everything that you do. The more they read and watch, the better the chance that they’re going to hop on board and convert into a lead.


Give your visitors a reason to stay on your website by helping them solve the problems they’re experiencing. Use your content to solve the problems that seem elementary to you but might be completely foreign to them.


You’re an expert in your field, and you have knowledge your visitors are waiting to hear.

The Core Essentials Of A Great Brand

Blog Articles

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.


videos

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.


Web pages

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.


podcast

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.


infographic

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.


Chapter 7

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.

  1. How easy is it for me to perform basic tasks on this website without getting confused?
  2. Can I navigate this website easily and find what I’m looking for?
  3. 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.

Our tendency is to design our websites around products and services so that visitors can see them and make a purchase. To be successful in today’s digital economy, we must develop a user-centered design.


User-centered design is a term used in web design agencies to remember that the website being built is ultimately for the end user and not the website owner. This is tough because it’s the website owner who’s paying the bills! Building a website that fits the desires and preferences of the business owner may not necessarily result in a positive user experience for the end user. This is where a great web design agency really earns their paycheck during the build process.


We must constantly remind ourselves that the goal of any website is to create a feeling in the site visitors to lead them to the point of conversion. User centered design is one of the most effective ways to foster website conversions.

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.

Chapter 8

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

Use a keyword friendly URL address.

The URL of every page on your website should contain the keywords that you’re wanting to rank the page for. If you’re using a format where each post gets a number url title, it’s time to adopt a new naming structure. URL’s like www.yourwebsite.com/post158 isn’t going to give you any boost to your on-page SEO. Try a format similar to www.yourwebsite.com/your-topic for a more friendly on-page SEO result.

Put your keyword at the beginning of your title.

The title of your post can be whatever you want it to be, but in order to get the best result for each page, you should include your keyword. When deciding what to title your content, best practice is to begin the title with the keyword phrase you want to rank for. You could use www.yourwebsite.com/here-is-a-great-article-about-keyword but you’ll find much better results with www.yourwebsite.com/keyword-then-other-title-words

Customize your meta description.

A meta description is the one or two sentences of text that you see below any webpage title that you find on a search engine result page. 9 times out of 10, this description determines if your get the click over another web page that shows up in search results. If you don’t manually write the content for your meta description, the search engines will just pull the first bit of information from your webpage. If that information happens to be HTML code, your entire meta description will be comprised of less than helpful information. Write your meta description with the intent of telling the reader what’s in it for them and give them a reason to click on your page over your competition.

Use the H1 title tag on your article or page title.

The search engines are still looking for indicators to tell them what your web page is about, and the H1 title tag is one of the most surefire ways to grab their attention. The H1 tag should be the largest text on your webpage, and if it’s the largest, it’s also the most important, right? At least it should be. Don’t overuse your H1 tags on every heading on your page. Save it for the most important words, and this is almost always the keyword phrase you’re wanting to rank for.

Use video whenever appropriate.

When deciding how to rank a page, the search engines currently love video and reward you with higher rankings. Please don’t misunderstand, this doesn’t mean you can slap a video on any page and it will rank. If you can use video and it adds value to your content, by all means do so. Video has many benefits, including helping visitors stay on the page longer and improve their overall perception of your brand and expertise.

Put your sub-headings in H2 title tags.

Not all headings on your site are worthy of the hallowed H1 title tag, but that doesn’t mean they should be left out altogether. For each sub-heading on your site, use the H2 title tag. It’s still a ranking factor, just not as powerful as the H1 tag. If you’re using semantic indexing keywords, H2 titles are a great place to put them. (for more info on SIK, scroll down a few clicks)

Use your keyword at the beginning.

As you write your content, be sure to use your keyword or keyword phrase in your first paragraph of text. If you’re writing a web page on blue leather couches, don’t wait to use the term blue leather couches until the last paragraph of your text. A good rule of thumb is to utilize your keyword in the first three sentences of your content.

Use responsiveness in your layout.

Did you know that there are more smartphones on planet Earth than there are people? Today, more than 57% of all search traffic comes from mobile devices rather than from a computer. This points to a huge shift that has occurred in the past few years with online marketing. While you’re not penalized for having a static website for searches from desktop computers, you can receive a penalty for any searches from mobile devices. Even without the mobile search result penalty, you are still failing your readers in key areas. The usability and user experience that visitors are having on your site encourages your visitors to look elsewhere.

Link internally to other pages on your website.

Linking internally is like feeding superfood to your other website pages. When you link to other pages within your website, you increase the chance that your visitors will discover additional content on your site and stick around to read it. If you’ve gone through all the trouble to get a visitor to come to your website, don’t you want to encourage them to look around a bit?

Decrease your website loading speed.

Most website owners don’t take the time to look at how long it takes a visitor to load their website. The average user will wait for 3-5 seconds for your site to load before they hit the back button on their browser to find a better result. If your website isn’t loading for your visitors in a timely manner, your content will be irrelevant because they’ll never see it! The primary way to decrease your loading speed is to purchase faster hosting. Paying $3-$5 per month for hosting isn’t going to get the job done here. Invest in hosting that delivers your site to your visitors as quickly as possible.

Use Latent Semantic Indexing Keywords.

LSI keywords are possibly best described as the other search strings that pop up when you type a search into Google. Each keyword that you seek to rank for has other ways of asking the search engine to find the same information, and with Google Panda and Hummingbird, long tail SEO strategies are becoming a thing of the past. Include a few LSI keywords in the text of your content to send a strong signal that your page is authoritative and written to help the end user find the answer they’re looking for.

Place your keyword in Image Alt Text boxes.

For every image on your page, you have an opportunity to tell the search engines exactly what each image is all about. Since search engines can’t view a picture and understand what all is happening in the picture, we as website owners have to tell Google and friends what they’re seeing. The alt text box allows you to put in keywords that describe your image. The search engines read this information and decide how to rank images on their image search, in addition to how well as how well your page represents the keyword being searched for. Include your keyword as the first words in your alt text box to get the most from your images.

Longer is better for SEO.

Before the days of Panda and Hummingbird, you could stuff a blog post full of your keyword and write just 400 words and potentially see a good ranking with the search engines. Google and friends began to notice that all kinds of websites were going after these “long-tail” keywords with thin and unhelpful content. Since the search engines want to display the most helpful page for any keyword search, algorithm changes were implemented to show the best result for “searcher intent”. If someone is looking for San Diego Bike Rentals, the search engines now understand that the person searching is looking to rent a bike in the San Diego, California area. In this case, they’re going to show the best page available for any of the following keyword phrases.

  • San Diego bike rental
  • San Diego bike rentals
  • bike rental San Diego
  • bicycle rental San Diego
  • San Diego bicycle rentals
  • and more…

SEO agencies used to create a low quality and thin content page for every one of the keyword phrases above, but Panda and Hummingbird have rendered this tactic ineffective. Best practice today is to author lengthier content for any and all of the keyword phrases above, all in one master page or post.

Keep your visitors on your page as long as possible.

Search engines are known to rank pages based on some 270 or more criteria. One of the most powerful ranking signals that you can send Google and friends is the amount of time your visitor stays on your page. Do people find your page and stay for 15 seconds or 2 minutes? Have you written content that keeps them on your page for 5 minutes or longer? The search engines are looking for content that connects with the reader and keeps them around as long as possible. When writing your next piece of content, ask yourself this question. “What can I write that will make my page visitors say, “wow! this is exactly what I was looking for and it completely gave me the information I wanted.”

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.

Here’s the secret sauce. If you are hitting these marks below, you’re well on your way to minimizing the effect any algorithm change will have on your site.

Write content that satisfies the intent of the person searching

Getting linked to by people who love your content

Keeping users on your page for a good amount of time

If you write pages that satisfy searcher intent, you can maintain first page rankings while other sites have to rebuild from each algorithm change that comes along.


Additional Resources:


Brian Dean’s On-Page SEO Guide


Moz’s On-Page Ranking Factors

FREE Website Analysis

Get a free no-strings-attached analysis of your website and find out if your online presence is living up to its full potential.

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.

About the Author David Gafford

David Gafford is the CEO of Fusion Creative, a company that provides world-class website design and Digital Marketing services. He spends most of his day coaching business owners in marketing strategy and specializes in lead generation.

Leave a Comment: