Deep Dive: Building Your Business' Website
A website is a powerful tool for a small business. It’s your digital storefront and proof that you’re a real, credible company. It answers customer questions and provides basic info like hours, info on what you offer, and how to get in touch with you. Many consumers, especially younger ones, simply won’t spend their money with a business that doesn’t have a functional, well-designed website. Even for businesses with no intention of getting into ecommerce, a good website is a must-have.
Yet many business owners (about 28%) still haven’t invested in creating a website at all, let alone a good one. And that’s understandable -- websites can be expensive to commission, and there’s a perception that it’s a difficult undertaking for non-technical people. However, website creation tools have evolved quickly in the last few years, making this DIY project more approachable than ever before. In this month’s Deep Dive, we’ll go into the step-by-step for how to create a low-cost yet still professional website for your own small business.
Dive deep into DIY websites
Step 1: Get inspired
Before you start any DIY project, take some time to browse the internet and get an idea of what you like. Check out competitors’ sites and think about what works and what doesn’t. Try searching for “great websites ____” and filling in your industry or niche. Pinterest also has lots of great examples, and the awwwards website has top tier examples of great web design.
Step 2: Get your brand assets together
Collect all of your brand assets, things like your logo, fonts, color palette, etc. If you don’t have those defined, now’s a good time to do so. To get started, check out this past Deep Dive all about branding.
Step 3: Sketch out your sitemap & define each page
A sitemap describes all the pages on your website and how they’re related. Start with the basic pages: home, about, products or services, and contact. Then, add pages specific to your business or industry, as well as any policies you have around shipping, privacy, and more. If you’re planning to sell products or services online, you’ll need a section dedicated to ecommerce. You can also add things like an FAQ, a blog, portfolio, etc.
Then, for each page, write some bullet points about what kind of content needs to be included. For example, an about page might include mission & values, a short history of the company, and an owner’s bio. Having this list will help you move faster when you’re ready to actually build your website.
Step 4: Choose a platform & a theme
You’ll now need to decide how you’ll build the website. There are many, many ways to approach this, but most small businesses will either use WordPress (more flexible & customizable but more complex, or a website builder like Wix, Shopify, or Squarespace. WordPress is best if you’re somewhat tech-savvy and need a lot of flexibility or specific plugins. Shopify is great for ecommerce businesses. Wix and Squarespace are really good for beginners; they both have drag-and-drop editors, support ecommerce, and have nice templates. Check out this site to watch short videos describing the pros and cons of each as you decide which is right for you.
When you’ve chosen one, create an account. Next, you’ll need to choose a theme. Most platforms will suggest some themes based on your industry. Most themes will also come with some page layouts pre-built, which will make it easier to create your site. If you’re using WordPress, consider themes that include or are compatible with visual page builder tools like BeaverBuilder or Divi Builder.
Step 5: Get a domain name
A domain name is the actual url people will visit, like wisecenter.org. Depending on how and where you’ll build your website (see above), a custom domain name might be included in your package, but note the cost at which it’ll renew after the first year. You can also always buy your domain name separately, like through Namecheap, Domain.com, GoDaddy, Bluehost, or other providers, then connect them to your platform of choice.
When choosing the actual domain name itself, here are some things to keep in mind:
- Choose a domain as close to your business name as possible. If your business is Admin Extraordinaire, www.adminextraordinaire.com would be a great domain. www.adminextrabiz.net would be less awesome.
- Avoid words that are hard to spell. In the example above, the “extraordinaire” part might be a challenge.
- Keep your options open by choosing domain name that can grow with you. If your business name is KCD Consulting and you do management coaching, for example, choosing www.kcdconsults.com is a better bet than www.kcdmgmtconsulting.com because you may get into other types of consulting down the road.
- Consider the newer domain extensions, like .ly, .io, etc.
- Most of the simplest, best domain names are already taken and you may have to buy one from an existing owner.
Step 6: Build the site
Finally, the fun part! Working one page at a time, use your platform of choice to build your website. In the most basic sense, you’ll be applying your brand (color palette, fonts, tone, values) to the sitemap you outlined earlier using the tools & templates available in your platform and theme. It’s a smart idea to watch through the tutorials that your platforms provide so you know the basics.
As you build, here are some things to keep in mind:
- Keep your ideal customer front and center. Talk about what they get vs. what you provide, use the words they use to describe the problem you’re solving, and use images of people that look like them.
- Spend time on the writing. Good copy can make or break a website. Consider hiring a copywriter if you can afford one.
- Don’t put too many sections on any one page, and don’t make any one section too wordy. Keep things short, simple, and visual.
- Use quality images, graphics, and other visuals. Unsplash and Flaticon have some good free options
When you’re ready, hit publish!
Step 7: Optimize it for SEO
SEO stands for search engine optimization and refers to the things you can do to your website to make it show up higher in search results on engines like Google and Bing. SEO tactics fall into different categories.
- Ensure your website has content that’s super relevant to your target market. Anticipate their questions, provide detail on products, and include all your contact information.
- Use high quality photos and videos
- Publish quality content regularly on a blog.
- Ensure there are no broken links or excessive redirects
- Use the right resolution of images so they load fast
- Be sure it works well on tablets and mobile devices
- Fix broken links
- Purchase an SSL certificate and install it properly
- Build your website to be accessible to differently abled people
- Use heading tags (H1, H2, etc.) appropriately
Domain authority. This is Google’s estimation of your site’s value to the larger conversation, judged by the number and quality of links from other sites and shares on social media. The higher your domain authority, the better your search result rankings. To improve it:
- Create useful content and share it widely
- Get other websites to link out to yours - these are called backlinks.
- Get people to share your content on social media
Step 8: Continue to update it and monitor results
While it’s tempting to hit “publish” and never look at your website again, that’s not the right approach. Your website will need to change and evolve as your business does, and investing some energy keeping it up to date and improving the customer experience will pay off. Try to:
- Get feedback from a few people in your target market. If you can, sit down with them and have them go through the site while you watch. Make note of what confuses them, where they go first, and if there’s any info they can’t find. Make updates accordingly.
- Continue to add great content, usually via your blog. You can create text posts or even videos on topics of interest to your audience or based on questions you hear from them often.
- Update your site anytime something about your business changes: you release a new product, launch a new service, update your branding, change your hours, hire a new core team member, etc.
You should also regularly monitor the health and usage of your site and make changes based on that info. At least once a month, you should be checking:
- Your platform for updates to your theme, plugins, or the platform itself (particularly if you’re using WordPress).
- Your dashboard or webtools to be aware of the # of visitors your site gets per month, average time spent on site, and any ecommerce stats if applicable.
- Build your website to be accessible from the get-go. This means making it easy to use for people with vision impairments like color blindness or those using a screen reader. Some of the basics of web accessibility include making sure your colors contrast enough, providing a text description of every non-text piece of content, and making sure text is readable and easy to understand. There are lots of powerful and free tools to check the accessibility of your website, like Wave from WebAim.
- You’ll need to purchase an SSL certificate, which certifies your site is secure. Without it, some visitors will see a scary warning when they try to visit your website and will be turned away.
- Frame everything in the customer’s POV. Not “I offer services X” but “You’ll get Y.”
Read, watch, listen
Google’s breakdown of How to Come Up With a Good Domain Name is quick and useful.
Site Builder Repot’s website has practical, in-depth videos comparing and contrasting the different website builder tools.
SEMRush gives us 14 Tips for Writing Awesome Website Content.
The Moz Guide to SEO is the premier free resource to get up to speed with SEO.
Adobe provides some thoughtful tips on content and design when building your website.
Building a website is a big, complex project that requires lots of skills, many of which will be new to the average entrepreneur. If you need a website audit, have questions about tools, or just need some advice on getting started, we’re here for you. Email us anytime at firstname.lastname@example.org.