14 Key Steps To Building A Small Business Website
Building a Small Business Website
In 2021 it is critical to have a website for your business or product brand. Whether you are a business coach, a painting contractor, or own a retail store, building a small business website is essential for your company’s success. Yet, many small businesses still do not have a website.
Building a small business website can be an overwhelming task for many small business owners; I understand that. But it is not impossible. It helps break the entire process down into more manageable steps.
I have been building websites and online stores for small to mid-sized businesses and professional service providers for almost 20 years. While individual projects varied greatly in nature and scope depending on the company, the required steps are always the same.
Are you looking to build a new startup website or want to make your current site more effective? Follow these 14 critical steps to building a small business website to help you compete effectively in the online marketplace.
14 Steps to Building a Small Business Website
1. Choose Your Domain Name
The first step in building a small business website is to choose a domain name. Your domain name, also known as your website address or URL, is often the entry point to your site. It is crucial that it makes a good impression for usability purposes and search engine optimization (SEO).
Ensure to purchase your domain from a reputable domain registrar, such as GoDaddy. Lesser-known registrars may not offer the same level of security and support.
Domain registrations are available for one-, two-, five-, and ten-year periods. Since search engines do not index one-year period domains I always recommend five- or ten-year domain registrations.
Here are some tips for coming up with an optimal domain name:
- Make it easy to spell. Try not to use slang, made-up, or extremely esoteric words.
- Keep it as short as possible. The shorter it is, the easier it is to remember and type correctly.
- Use the proper domain extension. Try always to make it a .com domain name (as opposed to .net, .co, etc.) unless it is more appropriate to use another extension, such as .gov, .edu, or .org.
- Avoid numbers and hyphens. They are difficult to remember and less elegant and memorable than word-only domain names. And numbers especially are often misunderstood when vocalizing the domain name.
- Make the address broad to facilitate future growth. For example, Amazon.com is a much more complete website address than BooksOnline.com. It allows Amazon to sell pretty much every consumer good instead of books only, as was its original purpose.
- Ensure it is memorable. With so many websites on the internet, your website name must be catchy so people will remember how to access it in the future.
- Research the domain name. Google it to see if a similar website address already exists online, and search on uspto.gov to make sure it does not contain any registered trademarks.
- Check if the price is right. Determine if you can purchase your desired website address at a reasonable price. Most good domain names are already in use, and you may have to buy from the current owner.
- Avoid nonsensical names. Choose a name that conveys a meaning so that users will know immediately what your business is. Yahoo and Google are catchy names, but they were costly to brand, and your small business may not have the same budget.
- Create an SEO-friendly URL. When appropriate, try to develop an SEO-friendly website address that includes keywords and geo-location; for example, “www.seattlewebdesigner.com.”
2. Select Your Website Hosting
The next step in building a small business website is to select a reliable and secure website host or hosting provider. A website host is a company that offers the technology and services necessary to view a website on the internet.
You connect your domain name to your hosting provider. When users visit your website address, they see the website that you store on your hosting account.
There are several different website hosting options. Here are some guidelines for selecting a website hosting provider and hosting plan:
- Although you can get a “shared server” hosting plan for as little as $2 per month, I strongly advise against this. Shared hosting means you are sharing a server and its resources with other customers, which can impact your site’s performance and security.
- A “dedicated server” hosting plan is the most expensive option. Monthly costs range from around $100 to $2,000. But it will make your website perform the most optimally.
- Having a dedicated server plan means that only your site is on the server. Therefore, all the resources are yours. It is more secure than a shared hosting plan with optimal technology.
- However, it is much more expensive than what most small businesses usually are willing to pay. Once you have a very high-performing site, this may be what you need, but it is overkill for most early-stage and small businesses.
- The compromise I typically recommend is a “virtual private server” (VPS) hosting plan that offers both worlds’ best. The cost ranges from around $20 to $50 per month, which is affordable for most small businesses.
- A VPS is one machine partitioned to act like multiple machines. VPS provides similar affordability to shared hosting, with similar security and performance potential as a dedicated server hosting plan.
- Ensure your hosting company has phone and chat support to help you if you have a problem. Email support can often take too long and become frustrating when you need to resolve an issue immediately. Phone support is best, but chatting works well, too.
- There needs to be an easy-to-use server interface like cPanel to access your server. This option will save you the expense of hiring a professional server administrator to help you.
- Check to see what kind of server security is in place on the server you are considering. You will want to be able to access your server via Secure File Transfer Protocol (SFTP).
- There should be daily backups of your website and server contents. There should also be an easy, one or two-click method to install Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) certificates.
- Make sure the hosting company performs regular security maintenance. Ideally, your hosting company has a published security protocol you can review. Hence, you know how they keep their servers safe.
Some popular website hosting companies include:
3. Choose Your Content Management System (CMS)
Building a small business website for your business or product brand means you will want to create, update, and otherwise manage the content. To do that, you need a content management system that is both reliable and simple to use.
A content management system (CMS) is a software program or application used to create and manage digital content. A good CMS will help you maintain your site without requiring much technical knowledge.
Select a CMS designed for your unique needs. There are a lot of CMS platforms for small businesses. Some content management systems offer additional benefits, such as user-friendliness, extensibility, and cost.
Here is a brief rundown of the most popular CMS for building a small business website:
WordPress is the world’s most popular CMS. It has a vast, active support community and many useful plugins to extend your site’s functionality. WordPress is also free and relatively simple to install.
Most website developers are familiar with it, so it is not hard to find an individual or agency that can work on your site. I highly recommend that small businesses use WordPress to create their websites due to its flexibility and extensibility.
I should point out, however, that WordPress’s biggest weakness is security. Because it is so popular, hackers target it the most. Your WordPress site needs to be regularly maintained and secured to keep it protected from malicious attacks.
Drupal is another popular CMS. It offers many of the same benefits as WordPress, including flexibility, ease of use, and a large support community. Notably, it is a more secure CMS than WordPress (safer from malicious activity.)
However, it doesn’t have as many plugins or theme options, which makes it less extensible.
Joomla! is another popular CMS. Out of the box, it has better SEO, security, and multilingual capabilities than WordPress; however, with the help of a few plugins, WordPress surpasses Joomla!’s capabilities.
Squarespace is a service you subscribe to monthly or annually that makes website and blog creation an easy “drag and drop” experience.
It is especially suitable for creatives and provides you with top-notch design templates. If you are on a tight budget, need a beautiful and straightforward site but cannot afford a website designer, this is an excellent service for you.
There is a much smaller learning curve with Squarespace than WordPress, Drupal, and Joomla!, but it doesn’t have nearly as many extensibility options. However, suppose you have little or no technical knowledge and need a quick and easy way to put up a website. In that case, Squarespace is an excellent option for you.
Wix is very similar to Squarespace but a bit more user-friendly. It offers a monthly, not annual, subscription and includes similar features. Wix is also a drag-and-drop builder—you can freely drag and drop elements anywhere on the page.
The learning curve to using Wix is even shorter than Squarespace, so if you need to publish a site quickly, this may be your best option.
Wix has many more templates than Squarespace to choose from, but once you select a template, you must stick with it, or you must completely rebuild your site. With Squarespace, you can change your template anytime without having to rebuild the entire website.
4. Select an E-Commerce Platform
If you plan on selling goods and services through your website, you will need the right technology to do so. Even if you are not selling online, you should consider starting an e-commerce business. Retail and shopping have changed, and by having an online store, you will meet the expectations of modern consumers.
Here are some e-commerce platforms for building a small business website:
WooCommerce is one of the world’s most popular e-commerce platforms; it can turn your WordPress website into an online store. Like WordPress, there are many plugins available, and it attaches to WordPress, which makes it highly flexible.
If you are not tech-savvy, you will most likely need a WordPress developer to help you set it up and use it. WooCommerce also offers advanced capabilities and scalability that your small business might need.
Shopify is a cloud-based e-commerce platform that allows you to create and customize an online store and manage products, inventory, payments, and shipping. It is not a WordPress extension like WooCommerce; it is a standalone platform hosted on the Shopify server.
Features include unlimited products, unlimited bandwidth, fraud analysis, discount codes, reports, and much more. The key benefits of Shopify are that you do not need a developer to set up a store, and everything on the backend is already set up for you when you subscribe.
The downside is you do not have as much control or flexibility over your store as you would with WooCommerce.
Shopify Plus is Shopify, but with a higher level of customization, more staff accounts, and international e-commerce options. It also has a higher level of support. However, all this comes with a higher subscription cost. It still does not have all the flexibility and customization abilities as WooCommerce.
Squarespace has an e-commerce subscription option, so if you chose Squarespace to build your site and have simple e-commerce needs, you can choose this route. Business Squarespace charges a transaction fee, but you can bypass this by upgrading your subscription to the basic online store plan.
This option includes a free domain, SSL security, SEO, abandoned cart recovery, discounts, real-time carrier shipping, and more. However, it is not as user-friendly as Shopify. And like Shopify, it is simply not as flexible as WooCommerce.
5. Set Up an Online Payment System (if applicable).
Many small businesses and professional service providers need the ability to accept online payments. Accepting online payments allows users to pay for appointments or seminars, online classes, and membership fees.
If building a small business website includes letting users financially transact with you online, you will need to choose your business model’s right platform.
This step won’t apply to all small business websites. But companies that want to offer customers the option to pay online need to integrate an electronic payment system on their websites.
There are many online payment processors, including PayPal, Stripe, and Square. Other options include accepting Apple Pay or Google Pay. Do some research to make sure you get a solution that is easy to work with and flexible enough to meet your needs now and in the future.
6. Focus on User Experience
As you are building a small business website, be sure to focus on the user experience your online presence will provide. Make sure your small business website interface leaves a positive impression that drives results.
You can do so by implementing the following suggestions:
- Use beautiful graphics and easy-to-read fonts.
- Make sure your graphics are compressed and optimized for fast loading. If your website is slow, search engines like Google will penalize your ranking.
- Research the competition to see how they have designed and optimized their websites; implement similar components that will work for your small business website.
- Research your target audience to see what they want from your site and make it easy for them to accomplish it.
- Stay consistently on-brand throughout your website design.
- Design an intuitive navigation system that allows users to get to the pages they need quickly.
- Publish easily accessible contact information.
- Incorporate a prominent call-to-action (especially “buy now” buttons).
7. Describe Your Business
An essential aspect of building a small business website is to describe your business. It is necessary to let people know who you are and what you do right away, so they don’t feel confused when visiting your small business website.
Make sure your main homepage banner (also known as a “hero image”) and subsequent banners are visual representations of your services. It would be best if you also had an introductory text blurb near the top of the page that describes who you are and what you do.
Ensure both your primary and footer navigation menus have “About Us” page links easily accessible. That way, visitors can click them and read more about your business in-depth.
8. Build Your Website Pages
A good website is more than a static homepage. You will want to create multiple pages dedicated to your business’s different aspects, such as a detailed catalog of your products or services or a blog section for company updates and related news and information.
Include pages that are standard for small business websites, such as:
- About Us
- Products/Services (with descriptions and visually appealing images)
- Blog Page
- FAQ Page
- Sitemap (for SEO purposes)
- Management or Team
- Contact Us
- Additional pages relevant to your specific small business
Make sure each page supports the site’s primary goal, has a clear purpose, and includes a call to action (e.g., “learn more,” “sign up,” “contact us,” or “buy this.”)
As your customers direct link to you, a contact page is essential. Include as much information as you can (your business’s phone number, email address, and physical location if you have one.)
It’s also a good idea to include information about the founding team or staff on an “About” page so customers can put real names and faces to your brand.
If your business doesn’t already have a logo, hire a logo designer to create a logo to use on your website, business cards, and social media profiles. Your brand logo will help your clients identify your company quickly and easily on the web.
Here are a few simple tips to help you create efficient, content-rich pages for your website:
- Be clear about what your business does. Distill what your company does into a clear, concise statement and lead with that. Visitors should be able to understand what you do within seconds of landing on your homepage. A few well-written pages are more effective than dozens of poorly written ones.
- Place strategic calls to action. CTA buttons tend to perform best when they match the information on the page. For example, a “buy now” button makes sense on a product page, but a “contact us to learn more” button might be more appropriate on the “about us” page.
- Automate speed improvements. Implement as many page speed optimization recommendations as you can. If you use a content management system (CMS), installing the right plugins will cache parts of your site, so visitors don’t need to download anything more than once.
- Avoid stock photos. Tacky stock photography is the quickest way to turn a great site into a mediocre one. If you’re looking for images to use on your page, it’s best to use a picture of your actual team or office.
9. Test and Publish Your Website
Part of building a small business website is to thoroughly test it before launch.
The first thing is to make sure it works on all major browsers, such as Safari, Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer, and Microsoft Edge.
Click through each page and feature on every browser to ensure images show up, links are correct, and the format looks smooth. This process will take some time, but the effort you put in now will save you future headaches and fixes.
Check to make sure that your website displays correctly on all mobile devices, including smartphones and tablets.
Do not overlook this step, as Google and other search engines have migrated to mobile-first indexing. Google prioritizes the performance of the mobile version of your website when it comes to search engine rankings.
Another essential feature to incorporate from the very beginning is an analytics program. I cover this part in more detail in step #11. Setting this up before the website is live can iron out any issues and coordinate a proper setup.
10. Promote Your Website on Social Media.
Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Pinterest, or YouTube, and Vimeo are the best way to increase your audience reach and alert customers to what’s going on with your company.
Whenever you update your website, post about it on your social media outlets, but make sure to balance self-promotion with genuine, nonpromotional engagement.
Be sure to allow social sharing on your website or e-commerce store. Also include links to your social media on your website. The most common places to do this are the footer or the ancillary bar (the extra menu in the top right that often holds login or contact links).
11. Install Webmaster Tools
Part of building a small business website is tracking your website analytics. Analytics will provide you with valuable insights regarding user behavior.
Website owners can use these tools to track the following types of information:
- Daily, weekly, and monthly visitors to your site
- Number of views on each page of your site
- “Bounce rate”—the percentage of users who come to your site and leave after only viewing one page. Google algorithms give higher rankings to websites with a low bounce rate. On the theory, visitors are spending more time on the site and find it valuable.
- Average time spent on site by visitors
- Crawl errors on your site (errors that the search engines found on your site in crawling its content)
- Broken links on the site
- Keywords that lead users to your site
- Backlinks to your site
- Page load speed
- Other information that can help you enhance your SEO
12. Optimize Your Website for SEO
As you are building a small business website, be sure to follow best practices for search engine optimization. SEO is a set of rules that ensure search engines index, rank your website appropriately, and then show it to search engine users.
Once your website is “crawled” by search engines, it competes with websites that have similar content. The better your website design and content are, the higher your site will show up on search engine result pages.
SEO mainly includes the following practices:
- Keyword research and implementation
- Optimal website code
- Fast loading speed
- Being secure and having an SSL Certificate installed, SSL is the standard security technology that ensures data passed between web servers and browsers remains private.
- Having a mobile-friendly site
- Existence of high-quality backlinks (links on external websites with related content) that lead to your site
- Having lots of positive reviews online (Google, Yelp, Facebook, etc.)
- Using internal links throughout your site to keep people clicking and reading
- Using social media to link to your site (LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, etc.)
SEO is an essential ongoing process that can mean the difference between generating large amounts of free traffic to your website or resulting in no traffic.
13. Regularly Create and Publish Quality Content
Another critical aspect of building a small business website is to create an effective content creation and marketing strategy.
Both content quantity and freshness are essential to search engines. You must regularly publish quality articles and blog posts on your site and external sites linked to your site.
Suppose you want to rank highly in search engine results and encourage people to return to your site repeatedly. In that case, you will have to update your website with new and relevant content as frequently as possible.
In addition to static page content and articles, a valuable form of content to post on your website is testimonials or reviews.
Asking for your customers’ testimonials and then publishing them on your website is a great way to post fresh, high-quality content on your site. This effort makes your small business more attractive to search engines.
Make sure your content uses an appropriate, on-brand tone that people will enjoy reading.
14. Implement a Website Maintenance Plan
I often tell our clients that building a small business website and launching it is like giving birth to a baby. Just like you need to feed and nurture a newborn, you need to support and maintain your website.
A website maintenance plan provides valuable benefits to business owners, allowing them to focus on running their business instead of their website or online store.
Here are some tips for creating a small business website maintenance plan:
- Check Webmaster Tools data at least once a month and have any vital errors emailed to you in real-time.
- Use traffic data to learn more about your audience so you can better cater to them.
- Use performance data to optimize and fix warnings and errors.
- Make sure all software is always up to date.
- Run security scans, so you know your website is clean of malware and not hacked.
- Use “split testing” to see if certain variations of your website help performance. For example, suppose you are selling a product. In that case, you might have two versions of a particular landing page with different images and wording. The split testing allows you to see which version has a higher conversion rate.
- Follow my recommendations about SEO (see point #12) and regularly publish quality content (see point #13).
- Find on-trend and effective ways to market your business online.
- Allow website users to provide you with feedback about your site.
- Continue to check out your competition from time to time to see what they are doing with their online presence and see if what they’ve done can work for you as well.
- Ensure your website is backed up in multiple ways at least once a day and at least ten days back.
Building Your Small Business Website
Hopefully, this will give you some ideas for building a small business website or e-commerce store. As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I tried to cover all the basics. Follow the steps I outlined in this post. Your small business will have an excellent chance of succeeding in the online marketplace.
But building a small business website may not be as simple as you first thought. Sooner or later, you may run into challenges and obstacles.
Remember that unless you have a solid understanding of web development, it’s not a good idea to design a website by yourself. A website’s purpose isn’t just to put your business or product brand online; it needs to generate leads and attract and engage new customers.
Suppose you need additional help or have any questions. Why not request a consultation with the small business web design experts at PixoLabo.
Let us help you create the online presence you need to market your products or services online.
Do You Need a Small Business Website?
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Did You Build a Website for Your Small Business?
Do you have a small business website? What steps did you follow in building a small business website or online store? What results did you achieve? What challenges or obstacles did you face along the way?
And most importantly, if you don’t have a small business website, what prevents you from building one?
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