A website is usually the first interaction you will have with your potential clients and the place where you will lead all of your other online marketing efforts. For this reason, you need to make that first impression count.
To avoid getting too technical, when you think about what is a website, you should think of it as your permanent salesman. This salesman is available day or night, rain or shine promoting your business and tending to your potential as well as current clients.
With this post, I begin my series on all of the relevant online marketing mediums that small business owners need to know about. I begin with websites since I consider them the base camp of all of your other online marketing efforts.
Why Do You Need A Website?
In case you are not yet convinced of why you need a website, here are a couple of more reasons:
1) The First Thing People Will Do Is Search For You Online
What if someone is searching for a business in your industry and is not able to find you because you are not there.
I recently read a study that states that 81% of people research online before visiting a store or making any major purchase. Don’t miss out on all of the potential customers available at your fingertips by not having a website.
2) Your Competition Probably Has One
Imagine one of your customers is searching for you yet finds your direct competitor’s website and calls them up instead of you? The cost of not having a website is much higher than the cost of having one.
A website is an excellent opportunity to showcase your who you are, what you do and showcase your brand. On top of that, it can help you build credibility and an online presence.
4) Build A Relationship With Your Customers
Web sites can help feel your customers connected with your company. By providing your contact information, social links and a contact form you are one step away from interacting with them.
Best Practices of Successful Websites
Web sites are personal. They represent your company and if you ask 10 different business owners how they would like their website to look, then you would probably get 10 different answers.
However, it’s important to stick to the common rules of good web design. Failure to follow the most common best practices will result in a cluttered website that ultimately fails to fulfill its goal: be your #1 salesman.
Below I have gone a bit deeper in what you need to keep in mind when designing your website.
Clean, Compelling Design Above All
If your website is too cluttered or flashy or doesn’t allow for easy navigation through the site, then your website probably needs a redesign. You need to build your website with your end users in mind. Ask yourself: Will they be able to navigate through the site and find what they need intuitively? Will they find the website appealing?
We talked about your website being like a permanent salesman, well, if the salesman is in an unappealing, messy store, with inadequate lighting would you still want to come in the store?
You can have a kick-ass product and awesome content on your site, but if it’s not appealing you would have lost the battle.
Here is an example of web design done right:
It has good navigation with logical groups of information, navigating through it is effortless. The colors used actually match and make it easy for users to read and grasp information, it contains a call to action and social links.
This on the other hand, is an example of a poorly designed website:
The color scheme is simply out of hand. At the same time, everything is highlighted to the point that nothing seems to be the most important element on the page. This website is in start contrast to the neat design from Freshbooks.com.
Include Call To Actions
If you are a small business owner, chances are you are looking for your visitors to perform an action while visiting your website. Call to actions are buttons, banners, or other elements that draw a visitor’s attention.
Whether your goal is them calling you, buying something, or filling out a contact form you need to direct them towards that action.
Don’t think of the call to actions as simple “click here” buttons. Call to actions can make or break your success when it comes to conversions. In a nutshell, you should make sure that the primary action that you want your potential customers to take, is highlighted. If you fail to do this, you will fail at building a website that converts. Like Hubspot does in this one:
There is no ‘ideal size’ for a CTA button, however, there are some elements you need to consider when choosing the size of your CTAs: make sure they stand out in size but not to the point where they look disproportionate in your website. In other words, the size should be bigger, but always proportional to the size of the other elements in your web site.
You should also place them in distinguished areas of your website like the top of page or inside contact forms and make sure their colors are contrasting so that your message stands out. If you want to learn more about creating a call to action buttons we recommend this article.
Make Your Website Scannable
At the end of the day, people come to your website for the content; they want to know about your business. A study by Jacob Nielsen states that 79% percent of their test users scan any new page they came across. This study was completed in 1997 and I can only imagine numbers have risen since then. People scan your content; they don’t read it attentively. Therefore, you need to create and place the content of your website with this in mind.
Highlight important keywords or phrases
Write attention-grabbing headlines and subheadings
Use bulleted lists to break up your text any chance you get
Enhance your brand’s credibility by pairing your text with relevant graphics
Original, Authentic Images and Text
It is essential that you write a text that is authentic. It should have all the relevant information that your visitors might be looking for, in other words, it needs to anticipate your visitor’s possible questions and answer them. However, don’t stick to just presenting information, make sure the information you provide is engaging and aids in boosting your credibility.
Pair your website copy with visuals and give your users a tangible idea of what you are offering. I know it could be tempting to just purchase a few quality stock photos but I don’t recommend you do that, here’s why:
Chances are people who have seen that image before, thus they won’t feel connected with your brand image and it won’t make you look authentic.
Let’s face it, too many stock photos make it seem like there is something fishy going on.
It is not representative of your company or your company culture.
This store sells a unique product and uses original pictures to showcase it. Since its custom made, showing real-life examples has worked very well for them.
Naturally, hiring a professional to take quality pictures of your company and its everyday functioning is ideal( not to mention you can use them for a variety of advertising efforts). But not all small businesses have the resources to spare for this endeavor.
Luckily, that’s not the only answer. in this day and age, quality cameras are common and you can even use your smartphone to capture high-quality images and use a service like Pixelz to edit them.
Make Sure Your Website is Responsive
In simple terms, make sure people can easily access and navigate through your site on any device. Nowadays, desktop searches are not necessarily the most common, in fact, many experts predict that mobile will surpass desktop searches soon, all the more reasons to make sure your website can be seen from any platform.
Desktops, tablets, mobile phones, you name it, your website needs to be adaptive to these different mediums. And not only that, responsive websites even adapt to different changes as simple as resizing your browser window.
Who’s even building responsive websites? you may ask. Well, truth is, everyone is, to the point that web design and responsive web design are considered the same thing. Think about it, with a responsive website you can be with your customers at any step of the consumer journey, and adapt to their browsing needs, making it easier for them to trust your brand.
Places To Learn More
If you are interested in finding out more about the best practices of website building, I recommend these articles:
How Do I Get A Website?
Build It Yourself
There are several website builders available that can help you create, design, and manage your website without manual code editing. This is possible because of their intuitive platforms. You select your theme and then customize your website by entering text, pictures, etc. however you want
These types of builders usually also provide you with hosting and even a domain name, so you can check them off your website to-do list as well. Most of them offer free trials and competitive pricing.
But of course, they have a few drawbacks that you too need to be aware of:
There could be limits to how customizable your website can be
You will be sharing hosting with a lot of other people
Some of them don’t offer backups
There have been cases where the loading speed is slow
Hire Someone To Do It For You
This is my recommended option; it will take time off your hands to give you the peace of mind that a professional is doing great work for you.
Hire a Freelancer: Cheap, but can work if you have the time to invest
A good way to go is to buy a theme from somewhere like ThemeForest.com and then find a freelance web designer. You can relay to the webmaster your needs and customize your website any way you want.
Hiring a freelance web designer can be very time consuming since it will require a lot of back to back communicating and for both of you to agree on your own workflow. I recommend this great article on the different places you can find freelancers online.
The design (not optimization) of a website can cost you from 2-5k. Of course, you can find webmasters that do it for less, But I recommend you don’t risk it and go with someone who is willing to go the extra mile for you.
Buy A Full-Service Package From An Agency
There are agencies that can build your website with a set price or a monthly fee. By hiring an agency, you will also be able to customize your site, although it will not include any custom-built features. However, the custom features you think might not even be necessary if it can be solved via other methods.
Getting a website from an agency that has a proven track record of delivering high-quality websites is usually the most cost-effective option. To be honest, then they will also offer the most amount of hand-holding and will have invested the time to learn how to communicate the complicated speak of web development in a way that all small business owners can understand.
Hire A Creative Web Agency
This is the most expensive option. However, you will be able to get a fully customized website and get any features you wish it. This will allow for more creative freedom, at a cost of course.
Common Concerns When Building Your Website
Will I actually be able to create a website?
The absolute necessary components of a website are:
Domain – the name of your site, i.e., whitesharkmedia.com
Hosting – the place where your website lives. A rented space on the web
Content Management System – The system to edit and manage your website
Analytics – You need this to track the success of your website or online marketing campaigns
Taking this into consideration, you will have to evaluate your own skills or time to learn the ropes about how to build your own website. If you are new to this world can be done. But, it will require a lot of time to research and learning for which there are a lot of resources available online such as Lynda.com or Treehouse.com
However, as I have seen by experience SMB owners usually have no time. They spend their days tending to their business, this is why I would recommend, either building it yourself through a website builder or getting some help by hiring a webmaster or an agency.
I can’t get the domain I want
Is your business name Josie’s Bakery but josiesbakery.com is taken? this can certainly become frustrating, but don’t worry there are ways to fix it:
Consider changing your business name slightly. Having a domain that matches your company names is crucial to run a business today. If it means you have to change your name to Joe’s Bakery, take this chance rather than having a domain name that doesn’t match your business name.
If you absolutely can’t change your name, try adding factors that are linked to your business. A great example is using your location: joesbakerychicago.com
Check out who.is and enter the domain you want. There you can see who owns the domain and their contact information. Reach out to them and see if they are willing to sell you their domain
If none of the above-mentioned options work, consider getting a domain that ends in something other than .com. Only in very special cases would this be a good idea. .net, .org, .us are all viable options, but at the end of the day, they aren’t as trustworthy as .com domains. The biggest reason is that when people get to know your name, they will automatically type in businessname.COM and not business name.US.
godaddy.com or domains.google are both good places to buy and manage your domains.
Pro tip: If you find a domain you want/like buy all the instances of that domain name. Buy them with hyphens, buy the .us and .info domains, etc. It’s a good safety to have against domain sharks.
I can’t code
Really? Neither can I. Truth be told, coding skills are not really a necessity when building your small business website. There are many options available for you that don’t require coding skills, even if you are building the website yourself.
For instance, you can use a website builder like SquareSpace or Wix, these are intuitive builders that will step by step take you through the process of building your site. You can also hire someone to do it for you, perhaps not the cheapest option but definitely worth it since you can get a good output in the end effortlessly.
In short, the barrier to getting a good website has never been so low in the history of the Internet. Don’t be daunted by the prospect of getting a new website, on the contrary, the time is now.
I’m not a very good writer or have any good pictures
Don’t be discouraged if you think writing is not your forte. Remember you are speaking about your own brand, so content should flow easier than if you were writing a paper on victorian literature. Here are some tips to make the writing process less painful:
Think about all the information that you feel should be on your website. And organize it as you would like it to be distributed on your website – You should give away the most important information upfront
Remember all you wrote before? Cut it by half. You need to use a colloquial language and write concisely. Visitors need to be able to scan your website, so chunks of text won’t do.
Get rid of your industry jargon or technicalities. Make sure anyone can understand your point in each part of your website.
People could land anywhere on your website, not necessarily the home page. So make sure that wherever they are, they can understand where they are and where can they go on your site.
Spell check like you would in anything important
Have family or friends read it over with you and hear their suggestions.
In the end, If you still feel fuzzy about writing the content of your website, don’t do it. As I mentioned previously, it is very important to include good content on your site so don’t sweat it and hire someone to do it for you. There are freelance writers you can find at Upwork.com or Freelancer.com
As far as your visual assets go, you have a few options
Invest in professional photos for your website
Buy a nice camera, take a few tutorials and do it yourself
Take pictures with your smartphone and use an editing service to make them look more professional
Buy stock photos – (My least favorite option)
Pro tip: It is better to have lower-quality pictures that are authentic than high-quality stock photos.
Security, Backups, and Support
The information found on your website, especially the client’s information needs to be completely safe from any hacking or leaking. You need to make sure your hosting provider provides daily or weekly backups to ensure that you don’t have to start all again in the event that something that affects your website occurs. And finally, you should choose a provider that provides 24/7 support in case you or your webmaster needs help solving any issues.
However, worrying about these three things will not be the top priority in all cases. For instance, if you decide to hire a DIY website builder like Wix or Squarespace, then you don’t need to worry much about this since they do it for you. On the other hand, if you do it yourself or via a freelance when you acquire a hosting service, hire someone to help you or buy a CMS system you need to make sure that security, backups and support, and a top priority and invest in the proper ones.
Get Your Very Own Permanent Salesman Today
Hopefully, after going through this guide you have a good overview of what you need to do to get an awesome website. As a small business owner, I think the main takeaway from this article is that you need a website that is responsive and contains the information your visitors could need.
At the end of the day you are not doing this entirely for you, rather your potential customers, so make sure they get the best experience possible when visiting your brand new or improved website.