You can’t wait to start.
You know it’s time for a small business website or website review for your business because—let’s face it—it’s the only way to go.
The internet IS the place where business is conducted today.
It’s where your customers and prospects are, competitors too, and it’s where you need to be!
Get to know your small business website
But before you jump in with guns blazing, you may want to stop. Stop. And take a deep breath.
Why? You’ll do yourself a favor, that’s why. Trust me, I know.
For one thing, I’m technologically challenged—maybe you are too—but don’t let that stop you. You can do it. We’ll break it down.
Heck, even if you are a first rate tech geek, or business hotshot, or top dog SAAS provider, you’ll do yourself a favor by taking a little time to stop, think, consider, review, and plan.
You want to optimize your site’s execution so when you present your brand spanking fabulous and shiny new website to the world, you’ll be presenting it with purpose.
And with fewer glitches, problems, and…well, issues overall.
Website Needs Evaluation
Yep, I know. You already know you need a website but what we want to explore before considering anything else—platform, hosting, CMS, themes, design and so on—is the purpose of your site.
Ask yourself, “What do I want my website to do?”
Typically a business website’s overall objective is to connect with their customers, but how?
Will your website be about creating a web presence—an online brochure of sorts highlighting your business/products/services—in an informational and user-friendly way?
Or will you sell products directly from the site?
How about a blog? Do you have a plan for that? What information, exactly, is important to incorporate in the site’s material?
How will visitors to your site navigate it? What important navigation buttons will you need or want?
How will you organize, in other words, the information and messages on your website?
How many pages will you need to start…to grow? What are the main topics important to your business or to your audience?
See what I mean? There’s quite a lot to consider so you need a plan of attack.
Also, the answer to these questions will help guide your decisions for selecting the right platform and plugins, for example.
You want your site to do what you want and need it to do without add-ons or change expenses.
To put this together and organize your objectives, start with an outline, sometimes called a sitemap.
Mind Map your ideas/objectives for a more visual approach but you most definitely want to set a framework to work from as you go.
Take a look at how this may work:
Of course, you want to carefully craft your messages for each of these key pages, remembering that web users are surfers and scanners.
It’s important to be clear and concise in what you present, but don’t be afraid to stand out. Which brings us to the next big (but fun) step.
Brainstorm To Your Heart’s Content
And until you are content with your content!
Maybe your brain is still hard at work on the previous section’s website plan and details, but you need to shake out the cobwebs and put your creativity cap on, one more time.
The details covered in this section can sometimes be the difference between success and not. It goes beyond brainstorming, though, and you will need to do some extra work to refine these elements.
This is a great place to toss around your fab ideas, then develop and fine tune them, especially for the following:
- Domain Name
- Branding/UVP (unique value proposition aka USP or unique selling point)
- Content Strategy and Goals
A majority of companies use their company name as their domain name. Some also have other domains/domain names that generate traffic back to their main site.
Sometimes your name is taken or unavailable, forcing you to come up with something else. No worries, you can still nail it with what you decide to use.
And sometimes you are better served by creating a name that’s easy to remember, spell and type in search.
Most companies want a .com name. But if your niche is in education, for example, you may want to register as .edu to target educators, possibly.
Some companies (with extra budget) will buy a series of domains with the same name but under .com, .net, etc. to dominate in a field or to protect their brand.
You can register your own domain name (more when we get to hosting) or do it through your web hosting service.
Often, they are the least expensive option, willing to do it in order to handle your hosting. This saves you the step of having to transfer it from elsewhere to your hosting site but, this isn’t really that hard—even I’ve done it a time or two.
So check around for prices if you want to find the best deal.
Next check on availability of names (I checked out a bunch before choosing mine) and make sure, again, you don’t do anything crazy with odd spelling, specialty characters, etc. because your goal is to be easily identified and found.
Remember, make your name as easy peasy and user-friendly as possible. The thing to think about is that people’s brains and fingers are programmed to type “.com.”
Research for your name here: https://instantdomainsearch.com/
Or check all the extensions available for your name at once here: http://www.pcnames.com/
Or brainstorm names right here: http://www.bustaname.com/
There’s kind of a natural flow to go from talking about a company’s name/website domain name to meaningful branding.
Killian Branding is one of the best in the business if you want to learn more.
A couple of big name brands that come to mind immediately as examples of this include Apple, GoPro, and Red Bull. In each of these cases, the company name, the product, and the branding are all tied up in a perfect pink bow and pretty much understood by most everyone. Bamm. Enough said.
The point is, it’s important to think about branding when working on your website, selecting a domain name and creating your message.
Maybe your product name is the perfect domain name choice, maybe you are just forming your company name and brand now, or maybe you need to re-position your company/product in the marketplace with your new website.
Whatever the case, now is a great time to develop a workable strategy, and optimize it in your website planning and design.
Pinpoint your positioning by creating, evaluating and adapting your UVP, or unique value proposition, to find your “sweet spot,” and effectively differentiate yourself from competitors.
Make sure your message clearly communicates what it is that makes you better, different or unique for your ideal customer to want to work with you. Then carry it out strategically and consistently in your content.
Content on your website will be comprised of a mix of any number of various media, depending on what you prefer. Audio and video components are becoming more and more prevalent on websites.
The SlideShare above, for example, is the culmination of information and quotes from 3 separate blog posts, published on 3 separate blogs, reflecting some marketing ideas I’ve learned as a business owner.
Design and plan your site, therefore, to include visual enhancements because people’s brains process visuals better and faster so it makes sense that you present your content in a visually pleasing way.
Some of what you can add to your content mix, to be both visual and more interesting to your audience, includes the following:
- Charts, Graphs, and other illustrations
- PowerPoint presentations, Haiku Decks, and the ever more popular, SlideShare
- Infographics (try Piktochart) that combine data with graphics in original ways
- U-tube clips, webinars, podcasts, etc.
- E-books, Checklists, How-to Guides, Case Studies and White Papers
- Learning Modules
- Membership areas, libraries and other collections for sharing information
- Photo Galleries or Collages and Slide Shows of Photos (of your work, if applicable)
- Epic Content and Informational blogs, articles, and stories related to your industry/company
- Sales Material, Descriptions, Spec Sheets, Brochures, and Technical Explanations
- Drawings, Sketches, Mind Maps and Cartoons, if appropriate
- White space…don’t forget that…simple and uncluttered are a usability must
- And on and on…
Strategize a Little
Think about these things before selecting a platform so you can be sure you can do everything you want without major headaches, additional costs, or massive loss of time to figure it all out later.
Having a written content strategy is the best way to go. Statistically speaking.
This 13 Simple Questions to Help You Draft a Winning Content worksheet by Demian Farnsworth, of copyblogger, will help get you on track to move forward with your content plan.
When writing to your ideal customer, I love this piece by Pamela Wilson that takes you along The 3-Step Journey of a Remarkable Piece of Content.
Quick interrupt to your read, in case you need some help with your web content, or if you can use a little MIX, SIZZLE & SHAKE to catapult your site up a notch. Please stop and take a sec to SIGN UP HERE!
Be sure to get content creation insights you don’t want to miss, but won’t drive you nuts. (thanks, too!)
Want an updated eBook version of this article?
Platforms for Small Business Websites
Now that you put together a sitemap for your website, you should know:
- what components or topics will be on your Menu (navigation buttons)
- the key message for pages of that Menu (brand and voice representing your business)
- a purpose (or objectives) for your site and what it needs to do (show off work, blog, sell, etc.)
And if you’re really on top of things, you’ve created a written content strategy, ready to go, with a great content mix perfect for your audience.
Now you need a platform, typically a CMS (content management system) to build and customize your web presence. Your CMS is where you will design, implement and administer your online assets.
To stay competitive in the digital marketing environment, your site must be updated consistently. Integrate it with all your business marketing initiatives and use it to create a community with prospects and customers. It should be interactive and evolving.
To do so, you will want a platform that offers:
- Stability, including security and backup features
- Performance and system support
- Price points suitable to your budget
- Flexibility (to customize, change and grow)
- Responsive design (to properly view from mobile and other devices)
- SEO capabilities
Check out this buyer’s guide for a review and comparison of the most popular CMS platforms. Keep in mind, the most important thing for a business site is that it be proprietary so that everything is yours and you are in control.
WordPress, Joomla, and Drupal are well-known business choices though Drupal is very niche oriented. And there are others but I suspect that the fairly new Rainmaker Platform will become more and more talked about, as well as a few others who are gaining momentum.
WordPress.org is the proprietary (closed source) site most used, and self-hosted which makes it yours, though it is sometimes confused with WordPress.com which is an open source blogging service run by a company called Automattic. Learn more here.
The size, type, and budget of your business may impact your choice but for now the frontrunner, regardless of budget, is WordPress.org.
This is the staggering statistics: (SmallBizTrends.com explains more here.)
60.4 percent of all the current websites online built using site builders were built using WordPress.
23.8 percent (and rising) of all the current websites online are built using WordPress.
HOSTING AND THEMES
Your platform will need a home, called your web host or hosting site. The most popular and reputable ones that come to mind are:
I think one or more of them will register a domain name for free when you select one of their packages, but InterNic is probably one of the oldest places to register yourself, and sometimes save money, or allows you to buy a longer-term agreement.
Once you own a domain name, you can move it to any hosting site.
Now to bling it! That’s where a theme comes in.
There are free themes and premium themes (paid) but the important thing to consider is using a reputable company like StudioPress, with themes powered by the Genesis framework, for example, that offer tested themes and all kinds of help if you need it.
Some themes won’t be compatible and can break your site.
The theme works within the platform to customize the look and feel of your website. Look around for one that matches both your needs and style, especially if you don’t know HTML or coding.
SE ut O!
Search engine optimization or SEO can be your best friend or the devil. It’s about where you are listed when people search a keyword or words on a topic and either find you…or not.
A first-page listing is imperative if you want to gain any search engine (known as organic) traffic (or visitors) to your site. With all the sites out there, and growing every day, it’s not as easy as you would hope to get that coveted top spot.
My absolute favorite SEO tool is WordPress SEO Plugin by Yoast because it helps you learn about meta tags, meta descriptions, title text and so much more as you use it. It even scores you as you go so that you know if you are optimizing your work to the fullest, before hitting the publish button.
The key to SEO is quality content. These sources will explain things for a much better understanding:
Noah Kagan, taco eating chief at AppSumo, shares this SEO wisdom on his okdork website and anyone would be happy to do even a little bit as well as Noah when it comes to internet sales and marketing.
And when Sharon Hurley Hall covers a topic, like SEO and CRO on CrazyEgg, you will be sure to learn some things, most likely lots of things! (CRO = conversion rate optimization)
KEYWORDS, KEYWORD PLANNING, AND LONGTAIL KEYWORDS
When you talk about SEO you may have noticed, you will hear the words “keyword or words, keyword planning, and longtail or LT keywords,” a lot. That’s because keywords are the…well, the key to SEO.
Andy Crestodina, Strategic Director of Orbit Media, seems like a pretty analytical sort of guy, in this article and video, he offers you a 5 minute trick to working with keywords through Google Analytics (more on that in a minute) detailing how to improve your SEO.
This post on tools for blogging gives about a dozen sources for SEO, keywords, and keyword planners and more, for just about everything you may want to know for your SEO/keyword research, all in one place.
GOOGLE ANALYTICS AND WEBSITE METRICS
Using Google Analytics is part of having a website.
Don’t panic if you don’t have it in place on day one, but the reason it’s so important is that it’s about metrics. It measures lots of good information and gives you mega data on visitors and where they spend time on your site.
You can see what devices people are on when they visit, what browser they are using, get demographics about your audience, and measure any number of things that you set up.
Feel free to try it out, even before you really know how it works, because it’s quite interesting and you’re prone to learn something immediately. Oh, and it’s free.
Here’s Andy from Demand Studios again to tell you exactly How to Setup Google Analytics…
These guys specialize in Google Analytics, so here’s All About Google Analytics Reports from Mercer at Seriously Simple Marketing, but you should specialize in it too so you can continuously improve your small business website by mining the data presented in the analytics and understanding customer behaviors.
A/B or SPLIT TESTING AND KPI’s
When you talk about metrics and analytics, you have to talk about KPIs. Key Performance Indicators (KPI) help you set goals and objectives to determine what to measure and the most important things to analyze.
There’s a bit of a debate, for example, as to whether Twitter shares indicate any actual readership of blog posts and articles that are shared or retweeted, and yet another debate is about click rate as a measure of advertising effectiveness.
Both examples point out the most critical insights about setting up your site’s KPI’s and metrics so that you are sure to collect meaningful data that you can use to apply improvements to increase your conversion rates and, ultimately, sales.
One way to accurately find out what truly works best and resonates with your audience is to do A/B or Split Testing. You can use this to test one page design against another, headlines or other copy versions, even CTA (call-to-action) button text or color.
Christina Gillick walks you through 5 Simple Steps to A/B Testing in this article, and you can see a more in-depth study co-produced by MCCLABS Institute & marketing experiments in this guide: The A-Z of A/B Testing: Marketing and Online Testing Dictionary.
Set to Launch?
Whew. Well, I think that covers what you need to know, basically, to get your small business website up and flying, for the perfect small business website launch.
Are you set for the countdown to begin? Is it time for your NEW small business website or website upgrade?
I hope this helps answer your questions and fuels your passion for that small business website launch so your company soars on the World Wide Web. Now. Anything else?