10 website tips for a new small business or rebranding or updating an old site. (well, the first three anyway. More to follow.)
You may be starting up a new small business or rebranding and old one, in either case you will most likely be looking at creating a new website to bring your business to the world. After doing this very thing for numerous companies including a few of my own, I have learned a thing or two about how to properly create and market your business online. During this article I will give real world examples of situations that I have been through and solutions that we came up with. From Website Design to choosing the proper hosting service, this article should help answer your question on how to properly do a website for you small business.
This one is always a struggle. It would be great if the domain name where exactly the same as your business name, like mine. EauClaireMedia.ca but this isn’t always possible and sometimes not practical. Shortening the company name to make the URL shorter is an option as well, if it makes sense. I have 2 clients with long domain name issues, one of them kept the long domain name chrysaliscreativehomestaging.com and the other shortened the domain name by removing one of the words in the name of the company.
Why shorten a domain name? Well, I can argue both sides of this question.
Some benefits of short domain name:
- Easier to type in if someone needs to type it in
- Easier to communicate when telling someone the name of your website
- Fits on a business card better
- Your email address should have you name as the extension, Keith@eauclairemedia.ca not a generic gmail or Hotmail account like Eauclairemedia@gmail.com. It is far more professional to use your URL in the extension.
The other side of the argument is, how often do people type in full domain names or email addresses?
Alternative solution for email problem. My client with chrysaliscreativehomestaging.com registered cchs.com as well and used that for her email extension so firstname.lastname@example.org is an example of her email address.
- Use common domain extensions like .com or .ca or whatever your countries extension might be. It always seems fishy if I have to type in a different extension like “.me”.
- Try to keep it short
- Do the research on the domain name and alternatives. Before choosing my company name, I made sure that the URL’s where available.
- Having the name of your business service in the name can help with SEO. Example, instead of JoesCraneservice.com. how about CalgaryCrane.com? Do the research to see what possibilities are available.
- Avoid special characters and numbers
2) What do I Use to build a website?
So many questions here:
- Do I develop the website myself or get someone else to do it?
- If I develop the website myself, what Content Management system do I use?
- If I hire someone to develop the website, who do I hire?
- How should they develop the website?
- How much will it cost?
- Can I take the place of a website developer and build it myself?
There are lots of self-made and developed websites out there that are perfectly fine and do exactly what the business owner wants. You should ask yourself the following questions if you are thinking about doing it yourself:
- Do I have the technical knowledge to do website development?
Some people are great with computers and technical problems, if you are one of these then you should go for it and give it a try.
- Do I have the time to do this?
I guarantee that website development takes longer than you think, especially if you want to add anything the least little bit complicated.
- Do I have a clear idea of the purpose of the website?
Website content and purpose needs to be decided at the beginning. If you want a landing page and nothing more for you company that’s great and probably easy. If you decide that you want a place for clients to download files later, that becomes much more difficult. Think of long-term goals here.
- Do I have a clear idea of the layout that I am looking for?
I always suggest looking at other websites, competitors or non-competitors and decide what you like. What font do you want for text and for headers? What about a color palette? Lots to decide on here.
Content Management Systems (CMS)
A CMS is basically the platform that you build your site on. If you are building the website yourself this is extremely important. Each CMS has it’s different attributes and you should be well aware of what these are. I would strongly suggest doing as much research as you are able to before choosing. Here is a quick breakdown of the most common CMS systems that a “weekend warrior” small business website developer could use.
By far the most popular CMS out there. It has a vast community of developers and numerous resources to help you along the way. If you search “How to develop a website using WordPress” in YouTube, there will be dozens of videos to help you along the way and lots of them are very good.
Along with being the most popular CMS also come the attacked CMS. We don’t need to get into detail, but you need to secure your website well.
Squarespace is monthly subscription service that provides a very easy way to create a beautiful website. I find this the most common way that amateur business owners use to develop their own website. It uses “drag and drop” technology and a beautiful site can be built quickly. The learning curve is fairly small. The downside is flexibility in design, if you want something different than what is offered by them you won’t be able to do it. Keep in mind, what they offer looks great though.
Very similar to what Square space has to offer but maybe more templates than Squarespace.
Joomla and Drupal
I’m plopping these 2 together because of their similarities. Both are good CMS systems but a little more complex than WordPress and with less variety than WordPress. Both are more secure than WordPress as well.
CMS summary: If you are going to develop your website yourself and need to do it quickly and easily, Wix and Squarespace are for you. If you feel that you may need more flexibility and robust pages and have a bit more technical prowess and time, WordPress is the way to go.
Hiring someone to build it for you
There are lots of companies out there that will build your website for you. As always, do you due diligence with any person/company that you hire. A larger company will likely cost you more but may give you more security and peace of mind in the process. If you are hiring a freelancer try to find one that you have prior knowledge of or one that was referred to you. I have had numerous cases if clients that came to me and say “my guy just stopped communicating with me”. Try to find a website developer that partners with you for the long haul. Ask for reference and call the references. Ask for a portfolio and look at those sites. I have even called the owners of those sites to ask how the website developer was to work with. Get a quote and make sure that it is clear what it is that you are getting and what expectations are on both parties.
Like many other aspects of running a business, there are some things that should be left up to the pros. You may be able to do your accounting on your own but your probably shouldn’t. A good, experienced website designer and builder will bring more to the table than you think. For instance, how big should that picture be on the home page? That’s a way more important question than it appears. What is the proper way to add that picture on the web site?
This can either get very technical or you can just have the hosting company do a bunch of the work for you, at a cost of course. If you are purchasing your domain name and hosting from a single provider you will be able to just go with their plan and host the site in the space they give you. You will need to make sure that they have good customer support, you will have questions.
IP Addresses, shared hosting and dedicated hosting.
Did you know that if you purchase generic packages from large hosting companies such as GoDaddy, Bluehost and others like those that you are likely sharing your IP address with hundreds if not thousands of other websites. You have no control over what these web sites are and what they may be doing on their sites. There are mixed beliefs on whether a shared IP address effects your ranking in a negative manner or not. I prefer to keep my clients on an IP address that has only my clients on them. I suggest you do the research and decide for yourself if you want to share your IP with that many websites.
You can take the hosting to another level and look at options like a virtual private server or a dedicated server, but this is probably over kill for a typical small business owner. If you are dabbling in web design and need a better solution than paying for hosting of all your websites, then you may want to investigate these ideas. Beware, the difficulty level rises substantially, and you really need to make sure that the company you host with has great support.
Many hosting companies are going to a lower level of first level support where the first person you talk to can help you with very easy issues such as changing passwords but as soon as you get a slightly more difficult question, they have to refer to a higher-level agent and this is where the problems happen. Once the next level gets involved communication is almost always done through email, there is no talking to people at that level and the response time is likely within 24 hours. This may not seem too bad but if your question is a little more complex or if the question isn’t worded clearly then it may take 2 or 3 replies and all of a sudden your 24 hour response is multiplied by 2 or 3 and it could take days to get your answers.
A Support Story
When I started in the business I started with a Virtual Private Server and hosted all my clients on that server. I won’t name the company but let’s call them Aquahost. Being fairly new at this sort of thing but coming from an IT background I had lots of questions but also had a decent amount of knowledge. For the first year the service was outstanding, I could call and talk to a technical person that was obviously way more knowledgeable than I was and we could work through the problems usually in one call, and I learned how to fix the issues so next time, I could do it myself. About a year later I had a question that I think I had the answer to but I wanted to confirm, it wasn’t a hard question. This is the time I noticed the change, the agent on the phone really had no idea how to answer the question which would have been a 20 second explanation from agents I talked to in the past. I thought that I maybe just got a new agent and they were just learning but they really should have known this answer. Well, this was the way it was from then on. Any question that wasn’t dead simple that they couldn’t read the answer from a script was sent to the next level. When a website goes down, you need answers fast, clients aren’t very patient when a website goes down. I lasted about 4 more months when I had a website hacked and I couldn’t get answers quickly, needless to say I moved to another company and they have been great.