Congratulations, you have decided to build a website for your small business! It is the perfect time to build an online presence for your business.
There are currently over 4.38 billion internet users worldwide, 5.2 billion mobile phone owners, and 3.48 billion active social media users around the globe. Building a small business website, can give you access to billions of potential new customers.
Online merchants have noticed a difference in the way people are shopping. In 2018, Canadian shoppers spent 65% more on online purchases than they did in 2016. Emarketer predicts global retail ecommerce alone will grow to $6.5 trillion in sales by the year 2023.
Even if your business doesn’t operate online, 87% of consumers begin their product research there. In fact, 47% of shoppers check local store inventory before making a purchase, and consumers searching for reviews and testimonials on retail websites increased by more than 120% between 2017 and 2018.
Getting started can feel overwhelming if you’ve never created a website before. In this three-part series we’ll break down exactly what it takes to build your small business website.
Google Your Trade or Industry
Google is a great place to start because it is the number one source of online traffic and visitors for most sites. Google also prioritizes local results when users search goods and services in their area. In many cases, search engines will suggest that addition of “near me” to words like contractors, flowers, or restaurants.
Some things to look for:
- If the first two pages are dominated by review sites it is wise to focus on being reviewed by customers, instead of creating a stand-alone website.
- Scope out your online market competition: Use a free plugin like the MozBar Chrome Extension, to help you decipher page and domain authority. We’ll get into more detail on this below.
- Talk to your existing customers or look at conversations on social media to find out where your audience turns when they’re looking for services like yours.
How to Research Your Online Competition
Your newly downloaded Chrome extension, Moz, is a search engine optimization (SEO) tool.
What you want to look for is the page authority (PA) and domain authority (DA) of the top Google search results. PA and DA — scored between 0 and 100 — will give you an immediate feel for how easy or difficult it will be for your site to rank on Google.
If page one of Google is full of sites with 50 and above, beating them will be harder, but it doesn’t mean you don’t need a site.
But, if you see 30 and below, the field is wide open:
Identify Budget-Friendly Solutions
Building your website can get costly so it is important to create a budget. Costs include domain, hosting, and website design. There are some simple things you can do to help cut down the cost.
Crowdsource Your Web Design:
Website design often costs $1,500 or more, without even factoring in development and programming work.
You can save money by using a crowdsourcing company like CrowdSpring, which can provide you with a wide variety of sample designs. You’ll only pay for the one you choose, and you set the price at whatever you can afford. Still, you’ll need to find a developer to turn the design into a functional website.
Hire a Student:
Try contacting a program director at a local art college and ask for a referral to a student who’s talented in website design. The student may be willing to do the job for portfolio credit alone. Or, at least charge significantly less than a professional designer does. If your website is content heavy, this also applies to any writing or journalism programs.
Agencies in India, the Philippines, and other countries with a lower cost of living are generally able to underbid North American designers for web design and content writers.
Develop an Online Strategy
Even if you aren’t tech-savvy enough to build a website yourself, you’ll need to create a website strategy based on your business knowledge. Everything else, including the design, copy, and tech requirements will flow from your plan.
Learn more about online website strategy in part 2 of our website building series.
Ask yourself the following questions:
- What are your main business objectives?
- Who are your competitors?
- Who is your target market?
- How much can you afford to spend?
- How often do you expect to update your website?
- How will you promote your site?
Choose & Register a Domain Name
Finding an available domain name can be tough these days. Ideally, you should register your personal name or your business name, depending on how you plan to brand your business. However, you may find those names are already taken.
If that’s the case, you’ll have to come up with a creative name that still makes sense to your customer.
Before you choose and register the name:
- Always avoid tricky spellings, such as dawg instead of dog, unless that is actually your business name.
- Keep in mind that your customer could be typing your URL straight into their browser so make it short and sweet.
- Take a look at the competition and make sure your name or something similar isn’t already being used.
- It’s also worth checking if your domain name is available on prominent social media platforms.
Consider the pros and cons of registering a .ca or .com extension. If your company is targeting a local audience a .ca extension might be a better fit. You can check to see if your domain choice is already taken on the CIRA website. Don’t give up if your first few choices are already taken. Try other extensions like .biz, .net, or .co.
Choose a reputable registrar that has an up-to-date website, a customer support number, and good reviews online.
Find the Best Web Hosting for Your Site
The next step is to find a web host. The host is a server that provides storage and access to your website online. Each website host is given an Internet Protocol (IP) address, allowing it to communicate over a network.
A web host then rents internet space to website owners, and that space houses the pages and images on your site. Most places that register domain names, like GoDaddy, also offer web hosting and building website templates. But you can use other sites like Bluehost as well.
If you choose a web host to register your domain name, be sure it’s registered in your name. If not, then you don’t officially own it, and it could cause problems if you decide to switch hosts at some point.
Selecting the Right Host
There are thousands of web hosting providers on the market, each with varying levels of products and services to suit your website strategy.
Some common services include:
- Shared Hosting: this is a low-cost hosting solution, but it offers limited access to the actual server. Shared hosting usually has decent technical support. This type of hosting is ideal for low-volume websites.
- Virtual Private Servers: commonly referred to as VPS, this type of hosting is noticeably faster, and more reliable than most shared hosting services. It will also give you the ability to have complete control over the design and functionality of your website. This type of hosting is ideal for site owners who want more control and are tech savvy.
- Cloud Hosting: probably one of the more popular choices, the benefits of a cloud-based hosting system is that works with your websites needs, which means it is highly scalable, reliable, and fast. Keep in mind that data storage is not centralized, so it is not ideal for companies with high-privacy concerns. This type of hosting is ideal for high-traffic and media-heavy websites.
Select from the Best Website Builders
There are a couple of options when choosing how to build your website. You can build your website from scratch – coding and all, use a template where the framework is provided, or hire someone to design the website for you. While creating your own website from site might seem like the most budget-friendly option, it’s not as easy or a quick as you might think.
A hybrid approach is often best, where a professional team designs and prepares the initial website, maybe using WordPress as the core “engine,” and then trains you on how to maintain and update it.
There are many services available that help you build a site fast, without requiring you to spend a fortune or know how to code. Here are some options to consider:
WordPress offers flexible and attractive themes, which means you can quickly get a professional, customized website off the ground.
If you’re wary of attempting to design a website on your own, 99designs is a good option. Through this site, you pitch a design brief detailing what you want on your website, and then a pool of designers compete and submit designs for your feedback.
Once you give feedback and designs are shaped, you choose a winner, sign a copyright agreement, and use the design however you like. The entire process takes about 7 days. You also have the option to continue working directly with a designer through 99designs’ one-to-one projects.
This site is another great resource for outsourcing the building of your website. UpWork is the largest freelance network for businesses, and it’s free to register and post jobs. Once you post a job, you then review proposals from UpWork’s large community of freelancers and award the job to the person that best fits your needs.
You can then collaborate online through the process of building your website and give specific feedback and requests for the site development. Additionally, UpWork lets you track job progress, and you only have to pay for work you approve.