The quick and easy guide to setting up a website for your small business and getting it ranked on Google
Top of your to-do list when starting up a company should be getting a website sorted.
Your fledgling business's online presence can be make-or-break for its future, so it's worth doing all you can to make sure you are getting the most out of the world wide web - and drawing in lots of potential customers.
But it doesn't have to cost an arm and a leg - armed with a few SEO and Google tricks you can set up a website on next to nothing, and then use free services to publicise your business. Here's how:
Why is a website so important?
During the past 10 years, having a strong online web presence has evolved from being a great marketing tool to a make-or-break business must-have.
Now, if you don’t have a website, you run the risk of not only not reaching potential customers through social media, search engines and directory listings, but of alienating your current clients.
It is highly likely now that the first thing anyone will do when researching a new business is search for them online.
Likewise your existing customers are most likely to quickly Google you if they want to find something out.
They want to easily access your information, find directions to your business and view any upcoming news or events. If you don't have an online presence, it's more than likely that a potential customer will pick a rival that does.
Your domain name is the name of your website. It doesn't have to be your company name but it needs to be relevant, easy on the eye and simple to remember.
Not only does it make it easy for potential customers to find your firm, and allows you to showcase your goods or service via anything from a full-blown online store to a simple online business card, with your contact information, hours and location.
How you choose your domain name depends on where you are with your business. If you're already up and running, you'll want to choose a domain that comes to close to matching your business name, or alternatively what you do.
Costs usually start at around £2, but can go up to nearly £100, depending on the type of domain extension you want.
If you want a domain that someone else has, then buying it off them may prove prohibitively expensive.
Of course, if you have a popular name your first choice may not be available.
If that's the case, don't worry - there are virtually endless domain variations available like .NET, .BIZ or .CO instead of just .CO.UK or .COM, which may actually end up being a cheaper option.
It might be worth paying the extra though, as you want your internet calling card to look good.
If you haven't yet launched your business, it's probably a good idea to check your domain name is available before formally deciding on a company name, if you want them both to be the same.
A domain name also gives you a secret weapon in marketing your business: a domain-based email address, which shows a level of professionalism that you can't get from a free email, such as Google or Yahoo.
Building a website
When it comes to designing and building a business website, you basically have three options. Either you can do it yourself from scratch (complicated and not recommended unless you are a tech genius), you can buy a DIY template builder, or you can get someone else to do it for you.
The second option may seem like a daunting task for someone without much technical experience.
But low-cost DIY websites, which usually include web building, hosting (see below) and a domain name, are largely made from simple templates, which you customise yourself.
As Omer Shai, of website building specialist Wix, points out: 'Every savvy business person knows the value of a good website, but most new business owners perceive web design as complex, technical and time consuming and so will usually take the decision to outsource this task.
'But it’s not always necessary to throw thousands of pounds at a professional web designer.'
The downside to this is that your website will not be individually customised. But for most, this option will be more than adequate.
Before taking out a website package, it's a good idea to do some research.
Decide what you want it to look like, and what services you want it to offer (if any), for example online payments or apps that will boost your business’ marketing and social functionalities.
Adding music, videos, contact forms, traffic generating apps, blogs, live chat and other business building apps can take your website to the next level of customisation.
Costs start pretty low. Go Daddy offers a basic business package for £2.99 a month. The more expensive packages give you more internet space and email addresses, and an online shopping facility.
Alternatively, there are also a variety of different 'freemium’ website building platforms out there. The benefit of the freemium model is that it is free - you only pay for any extras that you might need - although costs can quickly add up once you start adding services.
If you only need a very basic site, a freemium site could be a good option for you. However, the benefit of website hosting services like Go Daddy or Mr Site is that you pay a flat fee, which means you may have a better idea of outgoings every month.
Free blogs like WordPress also now offer websites for businesses. You can either set up a business site by upgrading your blog via WordPress, or via a website building service.
However, when it comes to WordPress, there are a few things to think about. WordPress started life as a free blog service, and its layout is pretty recognisable. Even the paid-for business sites can run the risk of looking slightly amateurish, or too much like a blog, rather than a professional business site.
If you are simply looking for an easy-to-use site with a simple layout to showcase your venture, and you're not too fussed about much beyond that, WordPress could be a good option.
Those that upgrade to the business offering can opt for an individual URL - this usually comes across as more professional than the free WordPress URL.
Which site should you go for?
Alternatively, SquareSpace is more aimed at people with businesses needing a designer, stylish or image heavy look, for example clothing, food, small B&Bs or restaurants. Weebly, on the other hand, is a good option for those that need a decent mobile app offering.
There is no right or wrong service to use, but some are certainly better than others. Do a bit of research and decide which layouts you prefer. If you know someone that has built a website, talk to them about the process - recommendations can be invaluable.
A website needs to be hosted on a web server in order to make it accessible to users via the internet.
Hosting involves housing, serving and maintaining files so that your potential customers are able to view the site contents - essentially it acts as the gateway between your website and the web itself.
If you have gone for a DIY template, the company will usually provide a hosting service, too, this may be included in the price or free or you may have to pay extra. This is typically a set amount per month or per year.
Alternatively you can buy a hosting service from a separate company if you like. Those that have built their own website obviously need to pay for a hosting service, too.
There are plenty of companies that provide free hosting space – BT and Google are just two. However, free services may have limited facilities.
A decent paid-for hosting service starts at around a few pounds per month, if you want more bandwith for high traffic or extra bells and whistles it will cost more.
This will be on a web server shared with other websites. If you don't want to share, your own web server starts at around £60 a month.
Domain name registration and hosting can usually be set up through the same company.
Can't someone else do it for me?
Alternatively, you may want to pay for a professional to build your website for you.
This might be because you're hopeless with technology, have a bit of spare cash and don't have the time to do it yourself, or want to offer something a bit different with your website.
Some would also argue that you should pay a professional to do this, as the website is one of the most important parts of your business.
Web design and building are two different skills, some one-man bands can do both and a web design company will use graphic designers and programmers together to provide the website.
Make sure you ask plenty of questions about the design and build process, who will be doing it and ask to see previous work.
You can pay anything from a few hundred pounds, to tens of thousands of pounds, to have a website designed.
But, whatever your budget, before embarking on anything, make sure you discuss the fee structure with your web designer before they get started, otherwise you could find yourself slapped with an enormous bill at the end of the process.
Check whether costs includes web hosting, registering a domain name, or updating the web site's code (This is frequently a hidden cost, since many sites need to be maintained by a trained programmer or designer.) And find out whether you will be able to maintain the site yourself.
Ideally you should get someone to build a website with a content management system for you, this means you can update it yourself without needing any technical skills. Play around with free blogging software like WordPress to get an idea of how these work.
The things you need to ask
Even if aren't the technical type, be sure to ask about the following things, and get your web designer to talk through what they mean if you aren't sure:
- Site navigation and site functionality requirements, timeline and pricing
- Site design – this is the look and feel of the site
- Installation of a content management system on the server
- Development of site – the layout and content, including text, photos, videos or other media
- Site testing (checking the site on various browsers/platforms)
- Site maintenance plan – this should include training on site updates and site maintenance.
Additional items to consider in a website package include:
- Search Engine Optimization (SEO) plan and analytics integration
- Web hosting and email services setup
- e-newsletter design and setup
- Social media design and setup
- On-going maintenance and development.
Website uptime and email deliverability are the responsibility of your web hosting provider, not your web designer.