An online presence has become mandatory for any business, regardless of your size. With search engines being such a popular source for information on any topic or place, you are losing out on business opportunities if you don't have a website that explains your brand/service/product and tells potential customers how they can contact you.
Below are the seven key ingredients needed to create a successful website for your small business.
1. Begin with the domain name
Your website domain name is the URL or address that tells people where they can find you. Try to choose top-level domain names that have the suffix as .com or .net or .biz. You will need this to define your online presence on search engines and social media.
For example, let's say Jim owns a bakery called Jim Bakes. He can see if the domain is available for purchase on a WHOIS lookup site or any other domain registrar like Godaddy, Wix or Hostgator. If Jim resides in the U.K., he might decide to buy a .co.uk domain name, which makes it more relevant to the region his bakery is established in. A domain name should cost approximately less than $20 for a standard .com name.
2. What does your website do?
The common mistake small business owners make is not putting enough thought into what they intend their website to do. Is it going to be an information-only site? Will it allow people to leave feedback on their product? Will there be an online chat agent ready to assist the visitor to make a purchase? Do you have a reservation system? Is it a forum based/discussion- oriented business? The list is long.
But before you jump into any of that, ask yourself what is possible and what makes for a successful business website. Let's go back to the Jim Bakes example. Jim might want to let people know where his store is located and that they can preorder special occasion cakes two days in advance. He also wants to let customers know that if they sign up for his newsletter and follow his social media accounts, they qualify to win a goodie bag each week.
3. Technical to-do's
As an entrepreneur, you can learn and build the website yourself. (It is possible; you just need a lot of time and patience.) You will need to purchase a hosting server with email accounts.
Using a content management system like Wordpress or Joomla will depend on the nature of the functionality you wish to achieve through your website. If creating a website from scratch is not your thing, hire a website designer who can do this for you for a reasonable cost. If you have more complex tasks to achieve, get a developer to do the programming for you.
4. Website must-haves
As with every business, there are certain elements that your website must have. The home page welcomes the potential customer or existing one into your website. All the navigation links should be clear and accessible. If you have an online shop with products, it is best to highlight them on your home page. Keep in mind that many people will be visiting your site on a mobile device.
Here are some additional tips:
- Make sure people visiting your site can contact you easily. List your phone number, email address and other contact info prominently
- Carefully plan where you want to put your call-to-action buttons. Strategic placement of your CTAs, e.g., "Buy now" or "Learn more," help visitors engage with what you have to offer
- Avoid using large images and long blocks of text
- Make sure that your website quickly loads. A quick loading time plays a significant role in the success of your site
- Like CTA buttons, place links to your social media accounts strategically so people can easily find you via those channels
5. Setting up your payment gateway
If you sell or plan to sell products online, you'll need to set up a secure payment gateway or integrate with third-party processors. Third-party processors usually take a small fee to maintain secure gateways that protect your customers' data.
And if your site has a lot of online sales, set up a firewall to boost your website's security.
6. Be consistently ‘alive’
There's nothing more unattractive than a dead website. Take the time to have your website search-engine optimized, make a list of keywords you want to target, add tracking codes for analysis of your website traffic, and test your traffic flow using A/B testing methods.
Going back to our Jim Bakes website example, let's suppose that Jim had two variations of a "Buy now" button on his site. One was a flat, grey button with no effects, while the other version featured a brightly colored button with a hover effect and a small shopping cart icon next to the button. Jim conducted A/B testing, which showed customers were quick to click on the brightly colored button. This is a small example of A/B testing to see if your new idea works favorably or not.
7. Maintain your website
Once your website is complete, don't stop there. Regularly update your site and invest time regularly into updates and upgrades to your site that can result in a more user-friendly website and increased sales. Consistent effort and maintenance are what will set you apart from your competition.