During the past 10 years, having a strong online web presence has evolved from being a great marketing tool to a make-or-break business must-have.
Now, if you don’t have a website, you run the risk of not only not reaching potential customers through social media, search engines and directory listings, but of alienating your current clients.
It is highly likely now that the first thing anyone will do when researching a new business is search for them online.
Likewise your existing customers are most likely to quickly Google you if they want to find something out.
They want to easily access your information, find directions to your business and view any upcoming news or events. If you don’t have an online presence, it’s more than likely that a potential customer will pick a rival that does.
What’s in a name?
Your domain name is the name of your website. It doesn’t have to be your company name but it needs to be relevant, easy on the eye and simple to remember.
Not only does it make it easy for potential customers to find your firm, and allows you to showcase your goods or service via anything from a full-blown online store to a simple online business card, with your contact information, hours and location.
It is easy to set up a website using a template
How you choose your domain name depends on where you are with your business. If you’re already up and running, you’ll want to choose a domain that comes to close to matching your business name, or alternatively what you do.
Costs usually start at around £2, but can go up to nearly £100, depending on the type of domain extension you want.
If you want a domain that someone else has, then buying it off them may prove prohibitively expensive.
Of course, if you have a popular name your first choice may not be available.
If that’s the case, don’t worry – there are virtually endless domain variations available like .NET, .BIZ or .CO instead of just .CO.UK or .COM, which may actually end up being a cheaper option.
It might be worth paying the extra though, as you want your internet calling card to look good.
If you haven’t yet launched your business, it’s probably a good idea to check your domain name is available before formally deciding on a company name, if you want them both to be the same.
A domain name also gives you a secret weapon in marketing your business: a domain-based email address, which shows a level of professionalism that you can’t get from a free email, such as Google or Yahoo.
Building a website
When it comes to designing and building a business website, you basically have three options. Either you can do it yourself from scratch (complicated and not recommended unless you are a tech genius), you can buy a DIY template builder, or you can get someone else to do it for you.
MARKET YOUR BUSINESS ONLINE ON A SHOESTRING BUDGET
Omer Shai, who runs marketing at Wix, says:
‘All new businesses have one thing in common – tight purse strings. The thought of coughing up for professionals to set up the various aspects of an online business, from SEO advisor and marketing expert to accountant and website-builder, causes understandable worry.
‘This need not be the case. The web is chock-a-block full of free platforms and networks that cost nothing to use or maintain and can give small businesses the edge, right from the start.
‘LinkedIn is key to new businesses for its networking possibilities; Mailchimp provides an email platform with excellent design and tracking capabilities; and WooRank tells you how your website is communicating with search engines so you can improve your SEO.
‘These ‘freemium’ services, where the product or service is provided free of charge, but an affordable premium is charged for advanced features, are a gift to budding business owners who only ten years ago would have paid thousands of pounds for these types of services.’
The second option may seem like a daunting task for someone without much technical experience.
But low-cost DIY websites, which usually include web building, hosting (see below) and a domain name, are largely made from simple templates, which you customise yourself.
As Omer Shai, of website building specialist Wix, points out: ‘Every savvy business person knows the value of a good website, but most new business owners perceive web design as complex, technical and time consuming and so will usually take the decision to outsource this task.
‘But it’s not always necessary to throw thousands of pounds at a professional web designer.’
The downside to this is that your website will not be individually customised. But for most, this option will be more than adequate.
Before taking out a website package, it’s a good idea to do some research.
Decide what you want it to look like, and what services you want it to offer (if any), for example online payments or apps that will boost your business’ marketing and social functionalities.
Adding music, videos, contact forms, traffic generating apps, blogs, live chat and other business building apps can take your website to the next level of customisation.
Costs start pretty low. Go Daddy offers a basic business package for £2.99 a month. The more expensive packages give you more internet space and email addresses, and an online shopping facility.
Alternatively, there are also a variety of different ‘freemium’ website building platforms out there. The benefit of the freemium model is that it is free – you only pay for any extras that you might need – although costs can quickly add up once you start adding services.
If you only need a very basic site, a freemium site could be a good option for you. However, the benefit of website hosting services like Go Daddy or Mr Site is that you pay a flat fee, which means you may have a better idea of outgoings every month.
Free blogs like WordPress also now offer websites for businesses. You can either set up a business site by upgrading your blog via WordPress, or via a website building service.
However, when it comes to WordPress, there are a few things to think about. WordPress started life as a free blog service, and its layout is pretty recognisable. Even the paid-for business sites can run the risk of looking slightly amateurish, or too much like a blog, rather than a professional business site.
If you are simply looking for an easy-to-use site with a simple layout to showcase your venture, and you’re not too fussed about much beyond that, WordPress could be a good option.
Those that upgrade to the business offering can opt for an individual URL – this usually comes across as more professional than the free WordPress URL.
Which site should you go for?
Alternatively, SquareSpace is more aimed at people with businesses needing a designer, stylish or image heavy look, for example clothing, food, small B&Bs or restaurants. Weebly, on the other hand, is a good option for those that need a decent mobile app offering.
There is no right or wrong service to use, but some are certainly better than others. Do a bit of research and decide which layouts you prefer. If you know someone that has built a website, talk to them about the process – recommendations can be invaluable.
- Have you had a good or bad experience with a website builder? Post your experiences and any advice in the comment section below.
Easy: Many web hosting sites provide support and assistance
REFRESH YOUR SITE WITHOUT BREAKING THE BANK
Adding great photos is a quick and easy way to add pizzazz to your site. People love seeing actual (not stock) imagery of your shop or service.
Also, think about creating videos — you can do a short two or three minute video (even done on an iphone camera) – upload the video to YouTube and add the video to your site. As video becomes more affordable and easy to produce, you will see more and more of this over time. Plus, it’s great for SEO (search engine optimization) conversion.
A website needs to be hosted on a web server in order to make it accessible to users via the internet.
Hosting involves housing, serving and maintaining files so that your potential customers are able to view the site contents – essentially it acts as the gateway between your website and the web itself.
If you have gone for a DIY template, the company will usually provide a hosting service, too, this may be included in the price or free or you may have to pay extra. This is typically a set amount per month or per year.
Alternatively you can buy a hosting service from a separate company if you like. Those that have built their own website obviously need to pay for a hosting service, too.
There are plenty of companies that provide free hosting space – BT and Google are just two. However, free services may have limited facilities.
A decent paid-for hosting service starts at around a few pounds per month, if you want more bandwith for high traffic or extra bells and whistles it will cost more.
This will be on a web server shared with other websites. If you don’t want to share, your own web server starts at around £60 a month.
Domain name registration and hosting can usually be set up through the same company.
Can’t someone else do it for me?
Alternatively, you may want to pay for a professional to build your website for you.
This might be because you’re hopeless with technology, have a bit of spare cash and don’t have the time to do it yourself, or want to offer something a bit different with your website.
Some would also argue that you should pay a professional to do this, as the website is one of the most important parts of your business.
START A BIDDING WAR
People per Hour is a freelancing site that puts people that need a job to be done with those that have the skills to do it.
The interesting twist is that it works via a bidding process. Somebody posts a job, freelancers bid for it, and then they are hired on price or skill.
This could be an ideal solution for hiring a website designer because you might be able to find yourself a good deal.
Web design and building are two different skills, some one-man bands can do both and a web design company will use graphic designers and programmers together to provide the website.
Make sure you ask plenty of questions about the design and build process, who will be doing it and ask to see previous work.
You can pay anything from a few hundred pounds, to tens of thousands of pounds, to have a website designed.
But, whatever your budget, before embarking on anything, make sure you discuss the fee structure with your web designer before they get started, otherwise you could find yourself slapped with an enormous bill at the end of the process.
Check whether costs includes web hosting, registering a domain name, or updating the web site’s code (This is frequently a hidden cost, since many sites need to be maintained by a trained programmer or designer.) And find out whether you will be able to maintain the site yourself.
Ideally you should get someone to build a website with a content management system for you, this means you can update it yourself without needing any technical skills. Play around with free blogging software like WordPress to get an idea of how these work.
The things you need to ask
Even if aren’t the technical type, be sure to ask about the following things, and get your web designer to talk through what they mean if you aren’t sure:
- Site navigation and site functionality requirements, timeline and pricing
- Site design – this is the look and feel of the site
- Installation of a content management system on the server
- Development of site – the layout and content, including text, photos, videos or other media
- Site testing (checking the site on various browsers/platforms)
- Site maintenance plan – this should include training on site updates and site maintenance.
Additional items to consider in a website package include:
- Search Engine Optimization (SEO) plan and analytics integration
- Web hosting and email services setup
- e-newsletter design and setup
- Social media design and setup
- On-going maintenance and development.
Website uptime and email deliverability are the responsibility of your web hosting provider, not your web designer.
HOW TO RANK YOUR SITE ON GOOGLE
Ben Skinner, marketing director of MyOffers, on how to get your website ranking within Google and other search engines:
Once your website is up and running you need to get people to visit it. There are various ways to attract viewers to your site – linking to the URL, entering specific terms into an internet search engine, pay-per-click or via links from other sites.
Google works by crawling an enormous amount of webpages, which contain links to other websites. As this process gets replicated over time, it can begin to build a picture of what the web looks like, and relationships – or links – between different websites.
As Google builds up its archive of information, it has algorithms to calculate various ranking factors which will affect how websites are displayed in the search engine results pages (SERPs). These include number of linking root domains to the site, quality of websites linking, anchor text, freshness and many more factors (in fact there are over 200 factors and no-one knows exactly how Google weights each of these, as their algorithm is constantly changing over time).
Using keyword research, you should naturally try to include relevant terms within your webpages, keeping key products or services with their own unique page. Google’s Keyword Tool is great for this and finding search volume for the most relevant terms to target.
Page titles should be keyword focused and for best practice, kept under 65 characters – usually of the format ‘Brand name/relevant page keywords’. Meta Descriptions should be under 156 characters and should also include keywords which become bolded in the search results (thus helping increase click-through-rate). Headings and body copy should be written naturally while trying to include appropriate target search phrases.
To give you an example of how we optimise pages to target specific search queries, we changed some onsite elements on the My Offers homepage to include the word ‘online’ within the H1, which had search volumes for ‘online competitions’ (5,400), ‘competitions online’ (3,600) and ‘free online competitions’ (1300). Within the next few months we noticed a visible increase in search engine rankings with the ‘online’ term included from positions down as low as outside top 50 terms to now ranking as high as first position.
To see how your website appears to Google’s users, have a look at this SERP Snippet Tool: http://www.seomofo.com/snippet-optimizer.html
If your website has broken links and other errors, Google will not be able to crawl and index your website correctly. Make sure they are all returning 200 response codes in the Screaming Frog Spider Tool http://www.screamingfrog.co.uk/seo-spider/ for example.
Links are a key factor to determining search engine rankings. Attracting links to your website is not an easy task, and there are many different techniques and link building philosophies. Google is constantly tweaking and updating its ranking algorithm, which means what might work one day, may completely change the next.
Think about each link as a vote of confidence to the search engines – the more ‘votes’ you have, the more trusted and relevant your site is, therefore the higher you will appear in search results.
The caveat to this is of course that the more reputable the site, the more weight and trust a link carries – so a link from the BBC is going to be worth a lot more than a link from a small blog with practically no readers (and as such a link from the BBC is infinitely more difficult to acquire!) If you have any pre-existing relationships with trade associations or suppliers, these could be potential quick wins for getting your site referenced.
Local business websites, business directories and news sites should be used to your advantage too. Local news sites are great as other blogs and news sites use these sources for their own news content.
Link to your site
If you have undertaken any PR recently, you may see mentions using the Moz Fresh Web Explorer tool (http://freshwebexplorer.moz.com/) and chase up any articles that aren’t linking to your site.
The Moz blog (http://moz.com/blog) and Search Engine Land (http://searchengineland.com/) are both great blogs which give you more information about the search world.
Having a blog on your site is useful for a few reasons. As well as getting people talking about you and linking to your site, it gives you an opportunity to publish news stories, pieces of content and insert a little more personalisation to your site, that your other pages might not be able to do.
While updating the blog regularly is important, quality is much more important than quantity – one great blog post a month is better than four poor ones. You can also blog externally for other websites too, which will help grow your brand and also assist with link building.
If you have access to exclusive resources, make use of them. If you have undertaken surveys, use the aggregated data. Should you have the means available to publish these (on a blog, perhaps?), they can lead to links back to your site. Better still, why not publish an infographic? People love these as they serve as a visual aid as opposed to just publishing a table of statistics.
Google Plus, Twitter, Facebook and many other social channels are great to utilise. They can get people sharing your blog posts, pictures, comments. Whatever it might be, social media enables you to interact with potential and existing customers who will hopefully start talking about and engaging with you.