Creating a successful website for your small business is crucial for its growth and success. With experience in developing or promoting over 100 small business websites, I understand the components needed to create a great and captivating website. If you’re planning to establish a new startup website or enhance your current one, here are 10 crucial steps to help you launch your small business website and make it stand out in the online market.
1. Secure a memorable and relevant domain name.
Your domain name, also referred to as your website URL, is the first point of contact for users and it is important that it leaves a positive impression. It should be easy to remember and relevant for both user experience and search engine optimization (SEO) purposes.
Here are some tips for coming up with an optimal domain name:
Ensure that it is easy to spell. Avoid using jargon, invented, or highly specialized words.
Optimize its length. The shorter it is, the simpler it is to recall and type accurately.
Choose the appropriate domain extension. Whenever possible, use .com (rather than .net, .co, etc.) unless another extension such as .gov, .edu, or .org is more suitable.
Avoid using numbers and dashes. They are difficult to remember, less aesthetically pleasing, and may lead to confusion when speaking the domain name.
Keep the address general to allow for future expansion. For instance, Amazon.com is a more versatile website address than BooksOnline.com, enabling Amazon to sell a wide range of products, not just books as was its original purpose.
Make it memorable. With an abundance of websites on the internet, it’s important for your website’s name to be memorable so people can easily recall how to access it.
Conduct research on the domain name. Search for it on Google to check if a similar website address already exists, and check on USPTO.gov to ensure that it does not violate any registered trademarks.
Evaluate the cost. Assess if you can acquire your desired website address at a reasonable price as most desirable domain names are already taken and will have to be purchased from the current owner.
Avoid meaningless names. Select a name that clearly communicates the purpose of your business, so that visitors can understand your business right away. While names like Yahoo and Google are memorable, they were costly to establish, and your small business may not have the same budget.
Design an SEO-friendly URL. When possible, create a website address that is optimized for search engines and includes keywords and geographic location, for example, “www.LasVegasElectrician.com”.
2. Acquire secure, adaptable website hosting with reliable technical assistance.
A website host, also known as a website hosting provider, is a company that provides the technology and services needed to make a website accessible on the internet. By connecting your domain name to your hosting provider, visitors to your website address are directed to your website stored on your hosting account.
The cost of hosting services can range from $2 to over $100 per month, depending on the level of technology and support you choose. It’s common to get a discount when purchasing a yearly plan instead of a monthly one.
Here are some guidelines to consider when selecting an appropriate website hosting plan:
Avoid “shared server” hosting plans, which cost around $2 per month. This type of hosting involves sharing a server and its resources with other customers, which can negatively impact the performance of your site. Additionally, if one of the other websites on your shared server is hacked, it is possible for your website to be affected as well.
A “dedicated server” hosting plan is the most expensive option, with prices ranging from around $100 to $2,000 per month. It is the best option for optimal website performance and security, but it may not be necessary or affordable for most small businesses. Shared server hosting plans can be less expensive, but they may not provide the same level of performance and security. It’s important to choose a hosting plan that fits your budget and needs.
I usually suggest a “virtual private server” (VPS) hosting plan as a compromise. This type of plan offers a balance of cost, security, and performance. VPS plans typically cost between $20 and $50 per month, making them affordable for small businesses. A VPS is a single machine that is divided to act as multiple machines, providing similar affordability to shared hosting, while also having the security and performance potential of a dedicated server hosting plan.
Ensure that your hosting provider offers reliable and responsive customer support through various channels like phone, chat or email, so that you can quickly resolve any issues that may arise with your website. Phone support is the most desirable but chat support is also an excellent alternative.
Ensure that the hosting provider offers an intuitive server interface, such as cPanel, to manage your server without the need for technical expertise. This will allow you to access and make changes to your server without the need for command line interface.
Verify the security measures in place for the server you are considering. Look for the availability of SFTP for secure access to your server and ensure that daily backups are being made of your server’s contents. Additionally, check for an easy and straightforward process for installing SSL certificates and confirm that the hosting company regularly performs security maintenance. Ideally, the hosting company should have a publicly available security protocol that you can review to understand their approach to keeping servers secure.
3. Display a clear description of your business
Make sure that your website visitors are immediately aware of your business by prominently displaying a clear and concise description of your services on your homepage. Utilize visual elements such as a main banner or hero image, and include an introductory text blurb at the top of the page that clearly explains who you are and what you do.
Additionally, ensure that both the main and footer navigation menus have easy-to-find links to an “About Us” page, where visitors can learn more in-depth information about your business.
4. Choose the most appropriate content management system (CMS)
Popular CMS options include WordPress, which is known for its user-friendliness and wide range of plugins, Joomla, which is known for its flexibility and scalability, and Drupal, which is known for its advanced features and high level of security. Each of these systems has its own strengths and weaknesses, so it’s important to research and choose the one that best suits the needs of your business.
WordPress: Utilizing a CMS, such as WordPress, which is widely popular and has a vast community of support can greatly benefit your small business website. With the ability to add various plugins to enhance the functionality of your site and the option to find developers to create custom solutions, WordPress offers a high level of flexibility and extensibility. Additionally, as it is free and easy to install, it is also relatively accessible for most website developers to work on, making it a commonly recommended choice for small businesses.
It is important to keep in mind that while WordPress is a very popular and flexible CMS, it is also a frequent target for hackers. It’s crucial to ensure that your WordPress site is regularly updated and secured to prevent breaches. Additionally, since third-party plugins can also pose a security risk, it’s important to be vigilant in monitoring and updating these, and to only use plugins from reputable sources. Proper maintenance and security measures should be a continuous effort for a WordPress site.
Drupal: Another well-known CMS that provides similar advantages as WordPress, such as its adaptability, user-friendliness and a large support community. However, it offers a higher level of security compared to WordPress and is less vulnerable to malicious activities. One of its downsides is the limited options for themes and plugins, making it less customizable. It’s worth mentioning that the White House website (Whitehouse.gov) used to run on Drupal for many years, but has since switched to WordPress, which it still uses today.
Joomla!: Another widely used CMS that offers many similar benefits to WordPress and Drupal, such as ease of use, flexibility, and a robust support community. It is known for its built-in SEO capabilities, as well as its strong security features. Additionally, it has native multilingual support, allowing you to easily create content in multiple languages. However, when compared to WordPress, Joomla! may have fewer options for plugins and themes, which can limit its extensibility. With the help of a few plugins, WordPress is able to surpass Joomla!’s capabilities.
5. Select a reliable e-commerce platform for your business.
Select a suitable e-commerce platform for your business if you plan on selling products or services through your website. Having an e-commerce platform can potentially increase your profits. Therefore, consider carefully which platform is best for your business model. Some popular options include:
WooCommerce: An e-commerce platform that can be easily integrated with a WordPress website, allowing it to function as an online store. With a wide range of plugins and themes available, it offers great flexibility, and it is a popular choice among small businesses. However, it may require assistance from a WordPress developer to set up and use, and it’s recommended to use a premium theme from a reputable developer for better security and support.
Additionally, WooCommerce is known for its high scalability and capabilities, making it a great option for small businesses to expand their online sales.
HostingChilli: HostingChilli offers a user-friendly e-commerce platform that is easy to set up and manage with minimal technical knowledge required. Their platform includes simple and clean templates that can be customized to some extent. It comes with a range of features such as marketing and SEO tools, social media integration, appointment booking, SSL security, and fast page loading speeds. It is a relatively new standalone subscription platform that is ideal for small businesses.
6. Design a visually appealing and user-friendly layout for your website.
Make sure your website interface is visually appealing, easy to navigate, and on-brand. Utilize optimized graphics and engaging fonts to create a positive first impression. Consider the competition and target audience when designing the website, and implement features that will appeal to them. Ensure the website loads quickly and has a clear navigation system. Include contact information and prominently display call-to-actions, such as “buy now” buttons.
Make sure your small business website includes the following standard pages:
Home page: This page should be designed to quickly introduce visitors to your business and provide an overview of what you offer. It should be easy to navigate, with clear calls to action and links to other pages on your site.
About Us page: This page should provide information about your business, including its history, mission, and values. It should also include information about your team members, and any awards or accolades your business has received.
Products/Services page: This page should provide detailed information about the products or services your business offers. It should include images, pricing, and descriptions of each item.
Testimonials/Reviews page: This page should showcase positive feedback from your customers, including quotes and ratings. This can help build trust with potential customers and increase conversions.
Contact Us page: This page should provide visitors with various ways to contact your business, such as a phone number, email address, and contact form. It should also include a map and directions to your physical location, if applicable.
Blog/News page: This page can be used to share industry-related news and insights, as well as updates about your business. It can also help with SEO efforts by providing fresh content for search engines to crawl.
7. Optimizing your Small Business Website for Search Engines
Make sure your small business website is easily discoverable by search engines by implementing best practices for SEO. This includes optimizing website design, content and structure for search engines to effectively index and rank your site. By following SEO guidelines, your website will have a better chance of appearing high on search engine result pages and being seen by potential customers.
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, or search engine optimization, is a crucial and ongoing process that can determine whether your website appears on the first page of search engine results, resulting in significant amounts of free traffic, or on page 300, resulting in little to no traffic.
8. Consistently produce and share high-value content on your website.
It is crucial to consistently produce and publish valuable content to your website in order to increase your visibility on search engines and retain visitors’ interest. This can include articles, blog posts, and even customer testimonials. Additionally, ensure that the content is written in a tone that aligns with your brand and is engaging for readers. Updating your website with fresh, relevant content on a regular basis will help improve your search engine ranking and keep visitors coming back to your site.
rewrite this paragraph: In addition to static page content and articles, a great form of content to post on your website is testimonials. Asking for testimonials from your customers and then publishing them on your website is a great way to post fresh, high-quality content on your site that makes your small business more attractive.
Ensure that the tone of your content aligns with your brand and is enjoyable for your audience to read.
9. Implement webmaster tools to monitor and optimize your website’s performance
Implement web analytics tools, such as Google Analytics and Google Search Console, to gather important data on your website’s traffic and performance. Utilize this information to optimize your website’s search engine rankings and user experience. Bing Webmaster Tools can also be used to track similar metrics.
These tools can be used 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 having only viewed one page (Google algorithms give higher rankings to websites that have a low bounce rate, on the theory that 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
- Web page download time
- Other information that can help you enhance your SEO
10. Implement a website maintenance plan
A website must be regularly maintained to ensure its success in search engine rankings and security against hacking. Allowing a website to grow stale is not an option.
Here are some tips to create a small business website maintenance plan:
- Develop a schedule for regularly updating and maintaining the website, such as weekly or monthly.
- Create a checklist of tasks to be performed during each maintenance session, such as checking for broken links, reviewing analytics, and updating content.
- Make sure to have a backup of your website, in case any changes made during maintenance cause issues.
- Monitor your website’s security, including installing updates and patches as they become available, to prevent hacking.
- Keep track of your website’s analytics to identify areas that need improvement and make changes accordingly.
- Ensure your website is mobile-friendly and responsive to different screen sizes, as more and more people are using mobile devices to access the internet.
- Optimize your website for search engines by regularly updating the content and meta tags, and also by submitting sitemaps to search engines.
- Consider automating certain maintenance tasks with tools or scripts to save time and effort.
- Regularly test your website on different browsers and devices to ensure it is functioning properly.
- As a best practice, conduct a website audit every 6 months to identify any issues or opportunities for improvement.
Creating an effective small business website requires attention to detail and a strategic approach. By following the steps outlined in this article, your business can establish a strong online presence and increase its chances of success in the digital marketplace.