Having a great looking website will really help your small business.
Website design is a necessity for most entrepreneurs, small businesses, home-based businesses, and just about anybody selling a product or service. Regardless of all your other marketing methods, enabling potential customers to either find you through a Google search or learn more about you after they’ve seen other marketing materials is vital to getting – and developing new customers.
If you’re selling online services or products, having a website is obvious. But even if you don’t sell directly online, your website is like an extension of your business card, providing information about you, your business, and your offerings. Your website should detail your background, experience, and other credentials to provide credibility – and give potential customers confidence when deciding whether or not to do business with you.
Content is still “King”
Today, effective marketing is all about creating quality content and sharing it across the web. Not just information that is well-written, but information that is of real value to your particular client base. Marketing with valuable content is a win-win for your company and its customers – your potential clients want information that demonstrates your expertise and usefulness. Valuable content will help you sell. It helps your ideal clients find you and makes it easier for them to buy from you. It’s an opportunity to position your company as the “go to” place to turn to when the time comes to buy. Your position should be not “look how great we are” (like a traditional brochure) but instead “look how useful we are – we have the answers to your problems” – this approach is customer-centered. Create content that is truly useful for your customers – try to make your business indispensable.
Creating and consistently delivering great content takes effort. You need to build an understanding of the needs of your target audience – and then decide where and how you can add value. Valuable content may not be easy – but it is essential if you are going to grow and sustain a successful business in today’s web-driven world. So a couple of tips for content creation; promote your business by writing a killer case studies, keep your sentences short, consider blogging.
Back to designing your website
Once you have content figured out – you need to have a visual way to communicate and organize all that great information. The look of your site and usability is just as important as content, we’ve all been on sites that look like crap, and even if they have valuable content, they don’t get traffic or take seriously. So we need both form & function – great content with great design.
Website design for most small businesses isn’t all that hard. You can do it on your own if you are so inclined – or maybe with some help from a friend – or you can pay a web designer/developer to get it up and running at a reasonable cost. Avoid having your website custom developed (unless you have no other choice) – this gets expensive and will box you in.
No matter how you decide to do it, it’ll be easier if you understand these basic steps:
1. Decide the purpose of your website
The first step is to decide what your website is going to do for you. It might be fairly static (very little new content being added) and simply provides information to potential clients about your services and credibility – if they want to check you out online. You may want to use it for information about your company and provide useful information to clients and potential customers. You could start a blog to engage potential customers as part of your social media strategy. And of last but not least, you might want to directly sell products & services online. Knowing what you plan on doing with your website is an important first step because it will guide you on how to develop it moving forward. Remember, your site is not a static thing, it’s relatively easy to add content and functionality. Whether you write a blog at the start or not, you should consider how you will eventually use your website. At some point you may decide that a blog is a good way to generate interest and attract visitors who will then see your company’s services or product.
2. Choose Your Web Content Platform
Based on what you want to do with your website, you have choices. Some of them are free (open source) with minimal costs for add-ons. Others are a package where you get hosting, maintenance, a builder/template to create the site, and limited add-ons (for a monthly fee). Most websites you visit use one of these solutions, either stock or customized.
E-Commerce If your primary purpose is e-commerce, particularly for products, you should select a platform which is specifically designed for e-commerce. However, if e-commerce is only a small part of your site, most offer low-cost add-ons that work. This is a critical part of deciding on the right platform, what are your current plans – and future needs, look into options and pick a platform that will address needs, moving stuff later is a real pain.
WordPress is an easy-to-use content management system. It also uses templates to give it different looks and plugins to provide you with additional functionality. A key distinction of WordPress is that its core design was originally designed for blogs. While today it is used for standard webpages, its main homepage or even a specific pages you can be set up and easily edited with lots of features you see on some of the best websites on the web today. There are a ton of plugins for WordPress that add functionality including e-commerce, social media, picture galleries, memberships, podcasts, videos, newsletters, and much more. You can browse thousands of free plug-ins at the WordPress Plugin Directory or Google search for premium functions you might want. You will be amazed at what is available. You may want to consider hiring a Web developer or designer to do the initial setup for you (for a small fee). More about WordPress.
Drag & Drop Website Builders like Wix or SquareSpace might make sense for you if you are in the beginning phase of your business and you want to launch a “good enough” website in less than a day. There is definitely less to learn and you don’t get bogged down understanding technical side of building your website. You can focus your time and energy on more “mission-critical” tasks. These solutions allow you to make changes to your website on the fly and you won’t have to rely on someone else to make changes, are very affordable. They range from $5 per month to $20 per month (for non-ecommerce), and from $25 up to $179 for ecommerce focused plans. They offer you 24/7 dedicated support, and they’re easy to use. The functionality is more limited than WordPress and you are limited to what they provide – in terms of themes and plugins. More about website builders
WordPress is superior to drag & drop website builders (like Squarespace, Wix, & Weebly) as a web publishing platform for (most) websites. Drag & drop website builders can be a good choice for small sites that need limited functionality – and are slightly easier of use. WordPress generally outperforms them in almost every possible way – in terms of extensiveness of design & feature choices, cost to run, ecommerce, and one last really big thing – the content you create on your site belongs to you, and you should have the freedom and tools to move it elsewhere (WordPress is the only platform that lets you do that easily).
Ok, so once you make the big decision on which platform to build your website, if you choose WordPress you’ll need to choose a Web Host, if you decided to go with Squarespace, Wix, or Weebly – you automatically host with them (it’s part of package).
3. Choose a Web Host
Once you decided on your software, you need to choose a Web host, the remote location where your website and related software will be held and made available to visitors. Your choice of website host will depend in part on the software you choose – but also on the speed & number of visits you expect to receive. With some hosting companies, you can start off with less expensive – but less powerful shared hosting services and, when needed, you can step up to faster and more powerful dedicated hosting. This option is something you should consider when choosing a host, even if you start with the cheapest option. Check out Bluehost for your WordPress hosting.
4. Choose a Template & Plugins for Your Website
With WordPress, you can pick from thousands of different templates that give your website the look and feel you want. Some templates are fairly basic while others are themed to a particular type of business (with background graphics and other visual elements that reflect the product or service) many have built-in features that will help your site work better. While free templates are available, consider spending a small amount for a premium template that better matches your needs (some really good ones for $40-$70). It’s a cheap way to get a great a lot of good web design, extra features, support, and some give you demo content to start from.
Beyond a design theme, you may require additional plugins to add functionality for your website – to makes it easier to use and simply do more. Like templates, there are thousands of free ones – and hundreds of premium ones, that are very reasonably priced. So whether you want to add some e-commerce, provide social networking share buttons, incorporate videos, start a podcast, require people to sign up to receive free material or downloads, create a portfolio of your work, run surveys, polls, or a newsletter – it’s astonishing the number of plugins and functions that are available.
5. Organize Your Website
Now, you need to start thinking about what your website will look like and how it will be used. This includes your logo and other visuals, the menu selections you want to make available, and the kind of information you want to put on each of your pages. With most e-commerce sites, you’ll have choices within the software itself to set up your storefront with different formats and styles. If you choose WordPress, you’ll also need to decide what to display on each page. Templates for these content management systems use a structured approach that enables you to add traditional content and also add-ons with specific information and content that you can position on the page, based on the structure of your your particular template. In many cases, you can even change the visual appearance of the different information so you can highlight certain things.
The starting point is certainly your menu. There is always a home selection, but you get to choose what the main menu selections are and chose submenus off each of those main menu selections. It’s important to think carefully about how you want to organize and structure the information on your website to give you the maximum flexibility. Even if you only end up with three main menu selections initially, it’s important to consider what you might add at a later date so that your initial design can accommodate it.
6. Develop Your Website Content
Content can sometimes be the hardest part of your website. It needs to be compelling to visitors and convey the right kind of information at the right level so visitors actually read it instead of moving on to the next website. When you write text, think about it from an advertising perspective.
In addition to text, you also need images. Since you should have chosen a template with visual elements or background images that match your particular business, other images and graphics are generally used to supplement the text content or sometimes even replace it. Making the pages professional looking is particularly important as visual impact and appeal are a key part of any website. This is an area where you should good creative visuals, you might want to hire someone to help you. Visuals can include good stock photo or graphics, images of your products, headshots of you and your staff, or other graphics that illustrate your process or approach.
7. Build & Maintain Your Website
Most text and graphics are added using a built-in WYSIWYG (which stands for “what you see is what you get”) webpage editor that is easy to use and doesn’t require any web programming. The WYSIWYG editor allows you to cut and paste your text from a Word document and upload images from your computer. It also give you full control over text size, color, font, and other features as well as the sizing and placement of images (this is referred to as html & css by us web designers). You can preview content before you actually make it available to Web visitors and easily edit it again later. Since it’s so easy to edit content, maintaining your own website is fairly easy. If you need to simply update existing information, it won’t take hardly any effort. If you’re constantly adding content, including new pages, additional menu choices, new modules, additional add-ons, or blog entries, it’s doable yourself.
Is your head spinning?
Ok, if all this scares you, maybe consider hiring a Web designer/developer to help. No matter which way you go – you’ll need to learn about digital marketing and building a killer website. Get the keys – so you can add content and make edits whenever you want – that ability alone will be a huge benefit in the long run!