As part of an effective marketing strategy, entrepreneurs need to consider how to create a website for their small business. About 70 percent of customers find small businesses through online searches and nearly two-thirds of offline sales are initially researched online. A website is no longer a luxury, but a business necessity to maintain your visibility in the marketplace. There are several major issues you should think about when developing your small business website.
- Decide Your Website Goals. Before creating a website, identify what your main goals are for your site. Your website goals will determine not only your website design, but potential legal risks and responsibilities. Generally, the more interactive your website is then the greater potential for legal responsibilities and liabilities. Some sites may be largely passive, informational sites providing an introduction to your business’s products and services, its location, hours, and principals. Other sites may wish to actively engage their customers with contests, coupons, discussion boards, and blogs or may be e-commerce site where products and services are sold directly to the public. Let your marketing goals and recognition of legal obligations determine your website design strategies.
- Determine Your Budget. The development of a website should be an important part of a marketing budget. Like any other business tool, you will need to decide on how much to allocate to a website project. Avoid limiting your budget to website design and creation as there are often long-term costs associated with a website, such as web hosting and maintenance. If you permit customers to contact you through emails or interact through social media, think about any resources you will need to promptly respond to your customers.
- Register Your Domain Name. To establish an online presence, register a domain name with an online registration service. You should compare prices between these competing registrars. Normally, you will select a domain name that matches your business name. However, someone else may have already registered that name so be prepared with easy alternatives that reflect your business identity. Most businesses and their customers expect a “.com” at the end of your site, but there are other options available to you. Nearly 1/3 of Internet users quit searching online for sites if they are not easy and fast to locate. Register a domain name that makes it quick and simple for your customers to remember and locate your site. Watch out for possible domain name scams and check out the Federal Trade Commission’s alert, What's Dot and What's Not: Domain Name Registration Scams.
- Find Your Web Hosting Service. Before creating your website, it will need an online place to reside so it can be accessed on the Internet. Web hosting services offer space for your website on their servers and provide your site with its connection to the Web. There are plenty of competing web hosting providers to review and their hosting space, services, and costs can vary. You will need to determine which hosting service best meets your budgetary limits and website needs.
- Design Your Website. Websites can be modest one-page designs with basic information or complex multimedia pages with detailed content and features. In many cases, experts suggest keeping your initial small business website simple, accurate, and uncluttered. Remember that the more pages, graphics, fonts, and interactivity options you incorporate, the more costly the project and hosting will be for your company. If you are tech savvy, you might try to create a basic website on your own using available software programs and templates. But a “do-it-yourself” website takes time and effort and may give your business an unpolished online presence. If you lack the time and skills to create your website, then seek out referrals from other local business owners.
- Determine Ways to Drive Traffic to Your Site. Before launching your site, identify strategies for marketing it to generate customer visits. It is helpful to register your site with popular search engines to let them know you are now online which is typically free. Proper use of search terms in your website content, called “search engine optimization” (SEO), can make your site easier to find. For example, if your business sells birthday cakes and cupcakes, you may want to use key words or phrases on your website that online customers will likely put into search engines, such as “cakes”, “cupcakes” and “birthday.” You may also want to think about proactive forms of marketing your site, such as online pay-per-click ads, blog postings, or links from social media sites to generate repeat visits to your site.
- Maintain Your Website. About 1 in 6 online customers complain that online information about small businesses is either inaccurate or unclear. Once a website is established, you need to regularly maintain and update it to offer correct, clear information to potential customers. Creating a regular blog or newsletter is a marketing tool that encourages customers to return to your site and helps to consistently freshen up your website’s information.
- Analyze Your Website’s Effectiveness. It is important to determine how much traffic your website is generating and whether or not its performance is meeting your goals. You can track clicks on your site and other statistics through tools offered by search engines, web hosting providers or tracking services. Depending upon the statistical tools you use, you may be able to determine how many hits your site is generating, what pages are being viewed, and where your traffic is coming from on your site. Examine this information with an eye towards improving your site’s business outcomes.
If you know how to create a small business website, you may help open a new world of potential customers and marketing opportunities on the Internet for your enterprise. For more information on small business website development, visit the Small Business Administration’s 5 Steps to Building a Business Web Site that is Social, Content-Rich, and Makes you Money or SCORE’s Web Site Checklist Can Help You Plan for Success.