Do I Need a Website for My Small Business?

Websites can help you meet customers you might never encounter otherwise. A creative site gives you a head start on sealing the deal.

By , Journalist

Having a website is the price of entry in today's marketplace. Customers want to get to know you and your small business before meeting face to face. Not only does a website serve as your introduction to customers, it may well be your only opportunity to capture customers' attention and convince them to buy what you are selling or engage your services.

Remember, though, that having a bare-bones website won't guarantee you'll get noticed. You'll also need a strategy to attract customers to your website.

Why You Need a Website for Your Small Business

Even the simplest small business website will help customers feel confident that your business is legitimate, but your website can also help you stand out from the competition and build your business.

A website can enhance your business by:

Making it easy for customers to find you. If you have a brick-and-mortar location, you can make it easy for customers to find your phone number or your address. A website that includes contact information and hours of operation also saves you time answering phone calls from customers seeking basic information—and of course, the information is available 24/7.

Generating leads and potential sales. Most customers today start their search for products and services online, and having a website puts your business in the mix for consideration.

When you set up your website to collect contact information from visitors, you'll also have the ability to follow up directly with potential customers. You can add a section entitled "Contact us for more information," with fields for customers to enter their names, phone numbers, and email addresses.

Giving your business a brand identity. Using distinctive colors, logos, fonts, and icons on your website will help customers recognize your business and separate your company from competitors.

Increasing the effectiveness of your advertising. Social media advertising platforms provide you with analytic information, such as the number of people who clicked on your ad or website. If you advertise on Facebook or Google, you can direct customers to your website and track the effectiveness of your advertising dollars. The analytic information these sites provide will help you to know which ads perform best so you can get the most mileage from your ad dollars.

Informing customers about changes, new offerings, and other updates that might affect or interest them. By posting information about events such as store closings, special holiday hours and sales, and new products on your website, you'll earn customers' goodwill and the opportunity to increase your sales.

How to Get Customers to Visit Your Website

Having a website is one thing. Getting potential customers to visit your website is another matter entirely. You'll need to employ one or more additional strategies to make sure your website isn't just sitting out in cyberspace, unnoticed.

You can drive traffic to your website in a number of ways:

  • Include a link to your website on your Facebook or Instagram page.
  • Include a link to your website on digital ads run on Google, Facebook, or other social media.
  • Apply search engine optimization (SEO) strategies to your website content.
  • Include your website address in marketing materials such as direct mail pieces, brochures, posters, and business cards.

By including your website address in your marketing materials you'll let customers know that you have a website, but the strategy alone won't encourage customers to visit your website.

You should also consider giving customers incentives to visit your website such as coupons for discounts and free information related to your business.

For example, a restaurant might offer first time visitors a free dessert or a discount on an entree.

Using Social Media to Drive Traffic to Your Website

To drive traffic to your website, you'll want to include links connecting your website to other digital marketing efforts.

For example, let's say you own a fabric store, and you post pictures from a recent textile trade show on your Instagram page. Your post might include a mention that your store has just received a stock of new fabrics and a link to invite customers to your website to view the new merchandise.

Use color to make your link prominent and consider using wording that encourages customers to act. For example, instead of saying, "Click here for more information," the fabric retailer above might use a link that says, "See more of the latest fabric trends here."

Using Search Engine Optimization to Drive Traffic to Your Website

One of the most effective ways to attract free leads to your website is with a method called search engine optimization (SEO). SEO strategies help you capture potential buyers who are already looking for products and services like yours.

By employing these tactics, you can increase the chances that your business will appear prominently on the list of companies people see when they use a search engine like Google or Bing to find a product, service, or business online.

SEO works this way: When someone types a word, phrase, or question into the search bar, the search engine scours the internet for similar words. This so-called keyword search generates a list of relevant websites. When your website includes keywords searchers are likely to use, your company is more likely to appear higher on the results list generated by the search engine.

Let's say you own a public relations company that specializes in the healthcare industry. To improve your chances of appearing on a search engine results page, you might design your website to include subject tabs like, "public relations for hospitals," or "public relations for medical groups;" or you might include blogs related to healthcare and public relations on your website.

The more the content of your website includes the most commonly used keywords and phrases for your business type, the more likely the search engine is to feature your website prominently when someone searches for businesses like yours. Google offers a free keyword planner to help you choose the best keywords.

Should I Build My Own Website or Hire a Designer?

Deciding whether to build a website yourself or hire a website designer comes down to these considerations:

  • your budget
  • your time
  • your technical ability, and
  • your business type and the features you need.

DIYing your website isn't as difficult as it sounds. Many companies offer templates you can modify for your business or industry at affordable prices. Some are even free of charge.

You won't need much technical know-how to use a website template, called a website builder (more on website builders below), and this approach allows you to update your website yourself. However, you won't be able to make large scale revisions like changing the format of the pages with this method. And while you can choose from many colors and fonts, the ready-made layout doesn't give you a lot of room to distinguish your website from others using the same template.

If your business has unique characteristics that you want to feature on your website, and you have an ample budget, hiring a designer might be your best option. The cost of hiring a website designer ranges from a few hundred dollars to thousands, depending on their skill and your needs.

You can also hire a designer who will use a website builder to create your website. This approach is likely to cost less than hiring a designer to design the website from scratch.

What Is the Best Website Builder for a Small Business?

The best website builder is the one that works best for your small business. Start by making a list of the information you want to include on your website. Website builders allow you to review the templates available, and you'll be able to evaluate which template can best be adapted to the types of content you want to include.

For example, a photographer might need a website to display a portfolio of work, whereas a business consultant might want a page for a bio, another for services offered, and several pages devoted to case studies that show the ways in which the consultant solved problems for past clients.

Ecommerce websites require specialized capabilities, so if you expect to conduct ecommerce on your website, look for one designed specifically for that purpose.

Regardless of the template you choose, most website builders allow you to format your website so it's easily viewable on desktop computers and mobile phones, a must for most businesses.

Many website builders allow you to try out their programs for a limited time at no cost. It's a good idea to take advantage of this try-out period, to compare the relative ease of use for each of the builders you are considering. Just as some people prefer Android phones and others prefer Apple, you'll want to choose the builder with instructions and prompts that are easiest for you to follow.

You'll also need a website domain (the address that lets customers find you on the internet); and some builders like Wix, Squarespace, and GoDaddy allow you to purchase a domain along with the template.

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