Many small businesses choose to have an online presence in some way. This could be a social media account such as Facebook or Instagram, a crowd-sourced review site such as Yelp, a business listing on Google, or a business website, to name a few. According to Bizmap, LLC having a website is important for small businesses for many different reasons. A website provides a way for people to quickly and easily learn about your business. A customer looking for a product or service may first do an online search to investigate options. In this way a website can build credibility with customers as well as allowing you to capture leads and track visitors. Your website should be an accurate representation of your company. It can also be the source for ecommerce if you decide to sell your product or service online. Ecommerce is discussed in its own session of this course.
How to set up your business website
There are several steps to setting up your business website, which you may remember from the Ecommerce session. These include:
- Registering your domain name
- Hosting your website
- Securing your website
- Building and designing your website
Registering Your Domain Name
Each website has its own unique name, such as Amazon.com or Google.com. This is your “domain name.” It is a unique name that identifies you to all of the other computers on the internet. There are a number of companies, known as “registrars,” that will assist you in registering your website’s name.
Registrar examples (among many):
- Google Domains
Find an easy-to-remember “.com” name for your site, and check to ensure that your desired name is available. You can do a quick Google search and many registrar sites will have a domain availability checker.
Once you’ve successfully registered your domain name, it will remain in your name and control for as long as you pay to keep it. Think of it as leasing the name for as long as you are in business operating your website. There are typically promotions that give you the first year for a low price, however, you can lock those low prices in if you pay for and register for multiple years. Always check the pricing, length of term, and any hidden fees. It is easy to gather information from a few providers and then compare the costs and terms to make the best choice. A domain name is something you’ll keep for a long time (and continue to pay to keep it), so generally thinking long-term is a good idea.
To completely secure a name, it’s not a bad idea to also buy the .co and .org and .biz extensions for it. You can even get creative with extensions and buy ones such as .coffee or .zone. Just be sure to evaluate the price of each to determine if it is worth the price to buy additional extensions.
Hosting your website
Securing a domain name does not mean you have a website, but it is the first step in setting one up. The files that make up your website will need a place to reside so your website can be available when someone types in your address (your domain name). You may choose to buy (by having your own network server) or lease (by having your site hosted by a web-hosting service). In the vast majority of cases, people lease hosting space (or pay for a hosting service).
Most of the companies that you can buy your domain from will also offer hosting packages for your site. You should also attach an email to your domain through your hosting provider. For example, if your domain name is “www.myownbusiness.com” your email could be something like firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, etc.
Cheaper is not always better. Check hosting companies’ packages to compare a domain with hosting and email, and read reviews on useability and reliability.
Consider what website builder platform you will choose to build your website as you pick a hosting company. Some hosting companies are more flexible and compatible with certain platforms than others. Also, take into consideration the amount of resources your website will need to function properly. For an ecommerce website, a more robust hosting plan would be necessary. Shop around for different hosting providers and do some research to find the best one to fit your needs. Many different comparisons can be found online such as this list of small business hosting services from PC Magazine.
Securing your website – add an SSL certificate
As mentioned in the Ecommerce Session, an SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) certificate provides authentication for a website and is used to secure and encrypt sensitive information like credit cards, usernames, passwords, and other private data sent over the Internet.
Most hosting companies offer SSL certificates that you can purchase for your domain. Website pages secured with SSL are those branded with the “https” rather than “http” in their URL addresses.
Building and designing your website
You will need to decide whether to hire a professional web developer to create your website or build your own. If you decide to create your own, look online for “how to” video tutorials, which can be very helpful.
Most of the companies that you can purchase your hosting and domain packages from have some website templates to make building your own site easier. You can customize the template with your own colors, fonts, images, text, and graphics to fit your brand. (It’s important to be consistent with the look and feel of your brand across your different marketing pieces.) If you plan to add ecommerce capabilities to your website, links to your social media, or perhaps a blog, be sure the template you choose provides a way to add these features.
Building yourself: website builders and CMS platforms
Website builder platforms, also called Content Management Systems (CMS) such as Shopify or Wix allow you to create and manage a website without much prior knowledge of web design. These WYSIWYG (pronounced “wizzy wig”) or “what you see is what you get” editors allow you to easily insert text and graphics onto your page without any coding required. You can see what it will look like as you go. They also may have pre-defined templates you can customize.
Example CMS Platforms, to name a few:
- WordPress (+WooCommerce)
- Google Sites
These platforms have powerful capabilities and some are more user-friendly than users. Do your research and also search tutorial videos which can be very helpful, especially to navigate advanced features.
Hiring a professional website developer
Before hiring a web developer, it’s important to determine the purpose and budget of your website, as well as the ongoing maintenance needs. It’s also helpful to have an idea of whether you would like your site to be one page, providing different information as visitors scroll down, or do you prefer a site with several pages, allowing users to click different tabs or menu options to find additional information. Consider how many clicks it will take for your users to find the most important information.
Look at other websites the developer has created and ask for references. Did the developer deliver the product in a timely manner at the quoted price? Did the developer listen effectively and present a product that matched the business owner’s vision?
Once you’ve identified your developer, negotiate through a written contract the specific responsibilities of the developer, the timelines for project completion, and a complete budget for the total project. Be sure the final publishing of the site is included.
This may include arrangements for ongoing maintenance of the site, depending on how frequently you need to make changes, how complex your site is, whether you use advanced features like a shopping cart or scheduling tool, etc. You may keep it very simple and hire a freelancer to build and publish your site, where you would be responsible for the ongoing updates and maintenance. Or you may choose to hire a developer for an ongoing contract to provide changes, updates, and improvements to your website.
Contracting out your website offers several advantages. A professional developer has the technical knowledge to create a site that works with all browsers and can help you follow best practices. Investing in a professional developer will allow you to spend more time on creating a successful business and less time learning the new trade of being your own website developer. Freelance web developers can be found through sites such as Upwork and Fiverr.
Adding ecommerce capabilities
Once you have your website built, you may want to add ecommerce capabilities so that you can sell or conduct transactions for your business online. Several tools allow you to incorporate “shopping carts” or other ecommerce functions into your website. Visit the Ecommerce session to learn more about selling online.
Tips for developing a successful site
Make your site easy to use
No matter how cutting-edge your website design is, never forget the basics of user experience. If a visitor can’t navigate successfully through your site, the chances of achieving your goals of the site (i.e. a lead or a sale) will decrease. If you have a multi-page site, provide a clear, easy-to-understand navigation bar which will appear on each page of your site so a user knows how to return to a page they had previously visited or visit a new page that has the information they are looking for. Keep in mind the goals for your website, and tailor the user experience journey to optimize those goals. A “call to action” is a button or question which prompts users to respond. Make sure you have a call to action on each page and that it’s easy to identify and aligns with your goals for the site. For example, if a goal is for the user to purchase a product, do you have a “buy now” or “where to buy” call to action that’s easy to see?
Make your site easy to find and identify
As you will learn below in the Search Engine Optimization (SEO) paragraph, the words you choose for your website can help your customers find you, especially the words on your home page. Search engines will pick up on words and phrases from your pages and use them in complex algorithms to share your site based on searches.
Also important are the descriptions that appear in the search engine results page (SERP) when your website is listed. Most important of these is the title tag, or meta tag. The title tag is the wording that creates the title of a web page. In the example below, a search for SCU MOBI yields this result.
The title tag, just below the URL address, is “How To Start Your Own Business – Santa Clara University.” As you can see, the title tag plays an important role in telling viewers what https://www.scu.edu>mobi is, rather than just repeating the URL address/domain. An effective title tag can help identify what your business does.
As you consider word choice for your website, it’s important to provide authentic, useful content for your readers and customers and not focus only on optimizing your words for SEO.
Website best practices
When having someone else design your webpage, once completed, ask for all the files related to the website, and be sure you get any important account information like usernames and passwords. This way, if for some reason the designer is no longer available and something happens to your site, you can give these files to another designer to work on.
Additionally, always backup your website. Your hosting provider may offer automatic backup systems that you would have to set up, usually with a small fee. Backups are best done on the hosting side, where all of the files reside. Setting up automatic backups will save you time and headache in case anything happens to your site. If you have a recent backup, you can always restore to a previous version of your website.