Building a Business Website: A Small Business Guide

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It’s no longer feasible to run a business, even a brick-and-mortar one, without a web presence. Consumers turn to the internet for everything, from product research to company location and operating hours. Even a simple, well-designed website can give you an edge in your field and if you have products to sell, your site can open up new markets and expand your business cheaply and easily. 

Here’s our step-by-step guide to creating a successful business website.

1. Determine the primary purpose of your website. 

A business website generally serves as a space to provide general information about your company or it may function as a direct platform for e-commerce so you can sell online. Whether you create a simple site that tells consumers a little about your business or a more complex offering for online shopping, the most important thing you must do is say what your company does right on the homepage in plain terms. Don’t make customers root around to discover if your enterprise can do what they need, said Erin Pheil, founder of The MindFix Group and the website design company formerly known as Followbright.  

“Think about your specific user experience and the journey the user will go through as they navigate your site,” said Gabriel Shaoolian, CEO and founder of Digital Silk. “Whatever the fundamental goal of your website is or whatever the focus may be, users should be easily able to achieve it and the goal itself should be reinforced as users navigate throughout your site.” 

If you don’t plan to accept payments like Apple Pay through your website, you won’t have as much work to do in setting it up. However, if you’re a retailer or service provider and want to offer customers the option to pay online, you’ll need to use an external service to receive your payments, which we’ll discuss later in this article. 

2. Decide your domain name.

Your domain name is one of the most critical features of your website. It’s the URL you’ll share with your current and potential clients and promote on social media. Therefore, you want it to be descriptive and easy to remember and type into a web browser. Try to keep it short and steer clear of abbreviations, acronyms and numbers, if possible, to avoid customer confusion. 

You also need to decide your top-level domain (TLD). This is the suffix at the end of your domain name, such as .com, .net or .biz. However, nontraditional TLD names have grown in recent years. These TLDs can be based on location, such as .nyc, or type of business, such as .marketing, .agency or .law. While these can be descriptive, .com is still the main go-to.

3. Choose a web host. 

Every website needs a host — a server where all its data is stored for the public to access at all times. Hosting your own website is probably too large an expense for your small business, so you’ll need to select an external host.

Depending on your business’s budget, you can choose from two different routes. A shared web host, the less-expensive option, means you’ll share a server with other sites. The other option, dedicated hosting, costs significantly more, but it means you get your own private server and won’t have to compete with other sites that could drag down your website’s speed. Some web builder platforms, such as Squarespace and Wix, include web hosting in their monthly packages.

When choosing a host, consider how well the vendor can answer questions about its server locations and reliability, said Jim Cowie, co-founder of DeepMacro and former chief scientist at cloud-based internet performance company Dyn. 

“It’s good to ask, ‘Can you show me how close you are to the major markets my customers are going to be in?’” Cowie said. “Any good hosting provider should have the tools to show you … measurements of their performance.”

As your business grows, you may find that you need to upgrade to a different web host or even work with multiple providers to handle your website traffic and operations. Cowie advised keeping a close eye on your site performance and the experience your customers have using your website so you can determine your hosting needs. 

4. Build your pages.

A good website is more than a static homepage. Using platforms like WordPress, Wix or Squarespace, you’ll want to create multiple pages dedicated to different aspects of your business, such as a detailed catalog of your products or services or a blog section for company updates. As for your overall website, make sure each page supports the site’s primary goal, has a clear purpose and includes a call to action (CTA), such as “Learn More,” “Sign Up,” “Contact Us” or “Buy This,” that leads the user somewhere.

A contact page, your customers’ direct link to you, is one of the most vital sections of a website, so 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 graphic designer or create a logoyourself to use on your website, business cards and social media profiles. A cohesive brand image will help your clients identify your company quickly and easily on the web. 

Justin Zalewski, senior user experience manager at Evernorth Health Services, offered a few basic tips to help you create efficient, content-rich pages for your website: 

  • Be clear about what your business does: Distill what your business 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 CTA: 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. Similarly, a page listing customer reviews might have a button that takes the reader to your available products and pricing.
  • Automate speed improvements: Set up as many automated speed improvements as you can through online tools. If you use a content management system, installing the right plugins will cache parts of your site so visitors don’t need to download anything more than once. For WordPress users, Zalewski recommended WP Super Cache or W3 Total Cache, which compresses files and allows visitors to browse your site more quickly. Some of the more technical aspects of caching and compressing files may require a web development partner if you’re not particularly tech-savvy. 
    • Avoid stock photos: Tacky stock photography is the quickest way to turn a great site into a mediocre one. If you’re looking for photos to use on your pages, it’s best to use a picture of your actual team or office. Pheil added that high-quality images of products increase sales, so invest in good photos of the items or services you sell.

5. Set up your payment system (if applicable). 

While this step won’t apply to all business websites, companies that want to offer the option for customers to pay online will need to integrate electronic payment systems with their sites. The easiest way to do this is through e-commerce software or by employing one of the best credit card processing solutions.

Also, many web hosts offer an in-house shopping cart or integrate with e-commerce programs. Do some research to make sure you get a solution that’s easy to work with and flexible enough to meet your needs now and in the future. 

6. Test and publish your website. 

Before announcing your site is live on the web, make sure it works on all major browsers, such as Microsoft Edge, Firefox, Safari and Chrome. Click through each page and feature on every browser to ensure images show up, links are correct and the format looks smooth. This will take some time, but the effort you put in now will save you future complaints from visitors who can’t access certain features.

Another important feature to incorporate from the very beginning is an analytics program. By setting this up before the website launches, you can iron out any issues and coordinate a proper setup, Shaoolian said. Once the website is live, you can monitor page performance and determine why a certain page is successful or unsuccessful based on the analytics. 

“You can look at which of your marketing campaigns are showing the most conversions and examine any [user] metrics, such as city, browser, etc., to shed some light on how your audience is interacting with your site,” Shaoolian said. “If you … implement this [after] the site goes live, you’ll miss out on valuable data and have no way of seeing which elements of your site are successful or unsuccessful right from the start.” 

7. Market your website on social media.

Social media platforms, such as Facebook, X (formerly known as Twitter), LinkedIn and Pinterest, 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 accounts but balance those posts with genuine, nonpromotional engagement. 

Also, include links to your social media profiles on your website. The most common places to do this are in the footer or the ancillary bar (the extra menu in the top-right that often holds login or contact links). Learn more about social media for business in our comprehensive guide

8. Invest in search engine optimization (SEO).

Submitting your website to major search engines will help direct users to your page as will deploying a strong SEO strategy across your site. Shaoolian said that defining title tags, meta descriptions and uniform resource identifiers (URIs) that are relevant to your company and aspects of your industry can boost your rankings in search engines for the products or services you’re trying to market.

“Building relevant keywords into your content from the very first phases of your website and having a strong focus on SEO from website launch, will help you generate traffic early on,” he said.

As you build your business website, these important on-site SEO tactics can help you improve your ability to move up the ranks:

  • Choose the right keywords: Select keywords that are relevant to your business and that your potential customers are searching for online. There are online tools that can help you identify, analyze and track these keywords.
  • Publish fresh content: Regularly publishing on your website’s blog, adding to your site and updating your content all signal to search engines that your site is relevant for the chosen keywords. Choose topics that are relevant to your business and exciting for your industry to position yourself and your business as thought leaders in the space.
  • Place internal and external links:Internal links are the links on your website pages that lead to other pages on your site, while external links are your links to other popular, high-authority websites. Place these links strategically throughout your website. Make sure the links make sense, fit the context and provide value to the reader; otherwise, the linking may count against you.
  • Optimize images: Compress images so they don’t slow down your site’s loading time. Take the same approach with video, making sure any clips load quickly and don’t hamper how your site moves overall. Image metadata, such as tags and captions, is also an opportunity to work in your keywords and tell search engines what the images are about.
  • Maximize your site speed: Pages should load as quickly as possible; within a few seconds is ideal. You can use free site speed checkers like Google’s PageSpeed Insights to see if your site is performing optimally.

There are also off-site SEO tactics you can pursue, such as obtaining backlinks — links to your site from third-party web pages. This signals to search engines that your website is valuable and deserves to rank highly in search results.

9. Maintain your site. 

Staying relevant is important, so update your website frequently with blog posts on current industry events, new products and offers and company news to keep visitors coming back to the site.

You should also check at least monthly to ensure your website software and all add-ons are up to date. Pheil said that if your software isn’t up to date, it’s in danger of being hacked, even if your web host’s security is strong. If you don’t have time to do this yourself, delegate the task to a trusted employee or a freelance website manager. 

Conclusion 

Staying relevant is important, so update your website frequently with blog posts on current industry events, new products and offers and company news to keep visitors coming back to the site.

Starting a website for your business is a relatively low-cost investment that can help you establish credibility and reach a wider customer base than you ever could through traditional marketing techniques

Make your website appealing for visitors so they will return and buy from you.

Author

Jubril Damilare Somade

Tech | Childhood Educator | Entrepreneur

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