In today’s business climate, a website is a must for small businesses, as they can provide a business with a 24/7 store front and advertising opportunity.
Despite the many benefits a website can offer small businesses, nearly half of them don’t have one. According to a 2010 marketing study, about 46 percent of small businesses had websites. That’s up from 33 percent two years previously, but nevertheless, the Web is still underutilized by small business.
This is unfortunate because small businesses can use their online presence to compete on a more equal footing with larger businesses. An effective small business website can actually give small businesses a competitive advantage over their larger competitors, particularly if the site’s design is more attractive and user friendly.
When building a website for your business, take in mind the following steps to create the best possible site:
1. Pick the right web address – When creating your website, you’ll need to pick a web address. Domain names are hot commodities, so you may not be able to get the domain name you want or you may have to pay a premium to get it. Picking a domain name is a lot like picking a business name, it needs to be creative, attention-getting and appropriate for your business. In fact, it’s encouraged for new business owners to pick a domain name while they’re developing the name for their business.
If you’re an established business that’s going online, you’ll need to pick a domain name that is easy to remember and fits your business. As mentioned above, you may not be able to just use the name of your business, as the domain name may already belong to someone else. When purchasing the domain name for your business, you may also want to purchase similar domain names to prevent competitors or malicious individuals from associating your business name with inappropriate content.
2. Design a professional-looking site – Consider your website as your online storefront. An unattractive, cluttered storefront will not attract customers. Your site needs an attractive, clean design that is appropriate for your business. Use videos, pictures and graphics as needed, but don’t let them overwhelm your site. Also shy away from overly plain, cookie-cutter looking sites, as it gives your business an amateur image.
3. Make sure it works. Periodically look over your site to make sure it is functioning properly and provides an easy shopping or browsing experience for your visitors. The key is simplicity. You want to ensure that visitors to your site can get to information about products and services quickly, with a minimum of clicks. It’s also important to make sure the process is intuitive, as the last thing visitors to a website want to do is spend a lot of time reading instructions about how to view or buy something.
4. Monitor your traffic. Once you launch your website, you’ll want to monitor how much traffic it gets to determine how effective it is. If your traffic is getting a lot of traffic, that means its easy for your customers to find and the design of the site is likely conducive to a good online experience. If you’re not getting a lot of traffic, you may need to think about redesigning your site or checking it to see if it has any technical problems that may be preventing it from getting the traffic it needs.
5. Hire a professional. If you can afford the services of a competent web technician, by all means hire one to help design and maintain your site. While basic web design is easy to learn, and, in time, something you can easily learn to do on your own, the launch of your business website may be something you want to entrust to an experienced web professional. There are a variety of websites where you can find good web designers who will work at competitive rates to help design a good site for your business.
6. Consider using SEO – Search Engine Optimization can help ensure that customers are directed to your site by search engines. Studies show that most people only look at the first two pages of search results when looking for something online, so getting a high rank on search engine results for specific keywords is important. There are a variety of ways you can boost your rankings, many of which, such as the strategic use of keywords throughout the copy of your site, you can do yourself. For a little extra edge, you may want to employ a search engine optimization specialist who can help you with the more technical and esoteric aspects of web design to help maximize your search engine results.
7. Online payment – Setting up an online store or a means of allowing your customers to pay their bills online can be a winner for small businesses, as it can provide them with a wider regional footprint for their goods or can allow their customers a more convenient means of paying bills. When setting up an online payment option, it is important to use a payment processor you can trust to correctly send you the appropriate funds for a transaction and protect the identity of your customers. Paypal is often regarded as the industry standard for online payment and is easy to incorporate into most small business websites.
8. Alliances – You may want to post links to other small businesses you’re friendly with to build up a mutual network of support. By referring your customers to other small businesses they may like and having them do vice versa, you help protect your small business community while gaining new potential customers.
By building a professional, well-designed website, you can take advantage of the many marketing and sales opportunities provided by the growing proliferation of the Internet in homes and offices throughout the world. The Internet has become nearly ubiquitous in American society, giving businesses with websites a clear advantage over companies that don’t have a way to reach out to their customers in their homes. Small businesses, increasingly under pressure from consolidation and globalization, cannot afford to skip these opportunities.