Any business, large or small, needs to have a website. It is simply a cost of doing business today. Customers either find a business online or at least verify the business by checking out their website.
If your business has no online presence, customers might think you’re out of business, are some kind of scam, or just disorganized and behind the times. If you need to build a website, or would like to look at your existing website with a fresh perspective, follow these 4 steps.
- Determine The Objective(s) for the Website
Your first step in setting up your website should be to identify your business objectives. Ask what you want the website to do and how it complements your overall business model.
If you are an ecommerce business, your goal is selling services or products online, but if you are strictly a brick and mortar store, your goals are different. You will need to decide if you fit into the “transactional” purpose vs an “informational” one and arrange your website to facilitate one or the other.
This can also help you determine a budget for your website. If you are wholly dependent on your website to conduct business, a significant budget could be called for. If you’re not dependent on it, you can cut corners and save money. Most businesses fall somewhere in the middle. A website is an investment, one that can pay off for years before it needs to be redone.
- Identify Your Audience
Who are you selling your products to? Who spends the most money and/or provides you with the most amount of revenue? Answering these questions will lead to the audience you should be going after online. Every website should have a defined audience that will meet the objective outlined in #1.
Some businesses determine in this process that they need to set up two distinct websites, not just one. An example of this would be a franchise organization, where the business has a website to promote their brand and products, and another website to sell franchises. These two goals are VERY different, and the best way to facilitate each is two websites for two audiences.
Note: you can always use subdomains (e.g. www..yoursite.com, franchising.yoursite.com), as they count as separate websites in the eyes of a search engine like Google. This is a way to avoid buying and maintaining two different domains.
- Pick a Domain name
Choosing a domain name can be difficult. Ideally your domain name either has your business’s proper noun name, and/or it has something to do with the services or products you sell. This helps with branding and keyword targeting (more about this in part II).
When you buy your domain go for a .com version TLD (top level domain) and, try to also register the similar .net, .biz, .info and others that exist. This prevents others from buying them and potentially ruining your brand image by disparaging you on a very similar URL.
Godaddy, Name.com and Moniker are all great places to get started when buying a domain. You can search each of these services to find domains that match your brand or services. If other people or businesses own your #1 choice, don’t despair. You can communicate with them directly to see if they are willing to part with it for a price.
It is important to stay flexible at this point, because you may not get your top choice without spending a significant amount of money. This can be hard to justify for something that is only for a specific URL. Remember you will still need to build and write the website, so don’t spend your website budget on the domain alone.
- Select your CMS
Selecting a platform to build your website can be a daunting task. There are many options on the market at differing price points, strengths and weaknesses. If you are going to be building an ecommerce website (transactional), you want to look for something that can easily handle credit card purchases in a secure manner and tie into your offline fulfillment system.
If the goal of your website is to inform customers about your service and products, there are number of options available depending on the resources you have available. Websites that are 5-20 pages with little or no additional content added over time and no lead form have the option of using a free Wordpress template or other inexpensive system like Google Sites or Wix.
If you plan on regularly updating your website, need a custom branded look, and are interested in collecting leads, a more complex CMS is needed. Look at Joomla, Drupal and ExpressionEngine as these have large numbers of developers with experience, so it will be easier to find someone who can build what you want out of the box.
Joomla has been around for awhile, so there are around 8300 extensions that can be used and a very active community with plenty of documentation regarding usage. Drupal also has a lot of support and history, with over 6k modules and plenty of commercial support. These two CMS’s can be overkill for simple websites, and they can be difficult to navigate for novice users. ExpressionEngine is more expensive, but it offers commercial support and has a strong focus on security.
Building a website is an investment for your business and your brand. It will represent your brand to most of your customers and prospects, so treat it with the amount of respect and attention it deserves. Part II of this article will describe what you should do next; writing content, developing creative, and other elements needed to complete a professional website for your business.