The Ultimate Guide to Creating a Small Business Website
As a business owner, you don’t have time to learn the technical aspects of launching a professional small business website. It’s not a straight forward or simple process.
That’s why we put this in-depth small business website guide together.
Use this as a resource for creating and launching your own small business website. The article will outline every step from planning your website to integrating social media and email marketing.
Table of Contents
- The Benefits of a Small Business Website
- Planning Your Small Business Website
- Executing and Deploying Your Site
- Integrating Social Media
- Adding an Email Marketing Strategy
- Making Sense of Analytics
- Advice from the Experts
- Next Steps…
The Benefits of a Small Business Website
The investment needed to have a professional business website is not only money, it also requires time. In some instances it actually has a greater time investment than monetary.
The high investment cost makes it necessary to outline the benefits of having a website.
Many times businesses look at a website as superfluous. However, a professional website has the potential to introduce new leads, close deals, and even extend the reach of your business.
Current Consumer Trends
The Internet is here to stay, it’s become a staple in people’s life. It’s how we learn information, discover new content, and consume media.
A study by Webvisible and Nielsen in 2009 (not much has changed since then) stated that about 63% of consumers and small businesses search for information about local businesses online. However, only 44% of businesses have a website.
That’s an amazing statistic. It means that there’s a huge marketing edge gained for businesses that have a website.
Generating New Leads
Launching a business website allows you to enter a new marketing channel and connect with leads that may have never known you existed.
Websites remove the obstacles between a customer researching your business and contacting you.
Instead of forcing a customer to see an ad in a paper and then pick up their phone to contact you; with your website they simply fill out a form and get a call from you. The easier you make it for customers to reach you, the more inquiries you’ll receive.
Reaching Local Customers
Websites allow you to reach local customers through search engines. Google has begun highlighting websites that are locally relevant.
This means that if you search for a plumber in Google, it’ll check where you are and attempt to show you plumbers in your area.
Small business owners can take advantage of this by creating a website that reaches these local consumers through search engines.
Building Customer Loyalty
Businesses that have a regularly updated blog are able to give customers a reason to keep checking out the business website. This keeps you top of mind and increases their loyalty with your business.
Blogs are a great way to interact with users, using the comments. It also acts as a great entry point to your social media profiles.
Customers are able to visit your website, engage with your business, like you on Facebook, and follow you on Twitter. These kind of interactions build customer loyalty over time.
Extending the Brand
Once you setup a business website, it introduces your brand to new customers. It also gives you the opportunity to invest in new advertising options.
With a website, you’re able to test out online advertising through AdWords, sponsorships, and display advertising. This allows you to reach customers that you may not have been able to reach offline.
Planning Your Small Business Website
Before launching a small business website, it’s important that we plan exactly what we expect from it and what we need to do.
You need to know how much money you’re willing to invest, what it should look like, and what goals you want to track.
Once you have that information, you’re able to create a strategy for how to setup your website correctly to maximize the impact on your goals.
Identifying Your Goals
Starting with goals in mind ensures that you don’t waste resources unnecessarily. The goals will change depending on what your business does.
For example, a restaurant owner might want to have people call in to make reservations. Whereas a B2B business might want more people to fill out an inquiry form to learn more about the product (and get a call from a sales person). Another company might be interested in having their latest white paper downloaded.
Once you have outlined your goals, you know what you’re working towards. Your goals will dictate how your website is setup, what will be highlighted, and how you measure results.
Important Information Pages
Most people will visit your website looking for specific information (who you are, what you do, and where you’re located). It’s important to create pages that outline whatever information a consumer might be looking for.
The three pages you should start with are an about page, contact page, and location page. This should answer who you are, how to contact you, and where you’re located.
If you offer specific services or want to highlight a special edge your business has (history or how you do something) you’ll want to create pages for these items.
Use pages to display static information, things that don’t change very often and are not timely, such as your contact information.
Determining Your Available Resources
Once you know what you’d like to get from your website and what important information you need to convey, now it’s time to identify your internal resources.
Start by answering the following:
- Do you have someone that can write the copy for each page?
- Do you have someone that can do the graphic design?
- Is there someone that can setup and configure your website?
- Who will keep the website up to date and write the blog?
Based on your answers to the questions above, you’ll be able to identify how big of a budget you’ll need (for outsourced work) and how extensive your website can be.
Setting a Budget
Regardless of whether you outsource work or not, there’s a number of costs that comes with launching your business website.
At a minimum, you’ll need to pay for your domain name and web hosting services. This is the actual URL your website will be visible from and the servers you’ll use to display the website.
After those basic costs, there are costs for premium plugins and WordPress themes. If you’re going to integrate email marketing, then you’ll have to invest in an email delivery system.
Those that want advanced analytics on their website (managing SEO and email impacts) will have to signup for an extended analytics dashboard.
Some businesses will have the budget to hire a consultant to help advise on marketing strategies and best practices. It’s important to note that consultants can be expensive, and so many businesses don’t allocate budget to it.
Here’s a list of services that you can use:
- Domain Registration
- NameCheap: $9.98 per year
- Server Hosting
- SiteFox Personal Hosting: $39 per month
- Premium Plugins & Themes
- Gravity Forms: $199
- Genesis Framework: $299.95 We love the Genesis Framework for any custom WordPress themes
- Email Marketing
- CampaignMonitor: $55 per month Pricing for lists up to 5,000 subscribers
- MailChimp: $50 per month Pricing for lists up to 5,000 subcribers
- Analytics Packages
- RavenTools: $99 per month
- Marketing Consultant
- Individual Consultant: $120 per hour
- Agency: $200 per hour
The setup cost for all the tools and plugins is about $500, without the theme customizations and designs.
The monthly fee for using a cloud server and individual consultant for 5 hours is about $850 per month.
Without the consultant, the cost becomes about $250 per month.
Obviously, if you don’t use all the tools and plugins your startup cost and monthly fees can be less than what’s outlined above.
Executing and Deploying Your Site
Once you know what pages you want, what resources you have available, and how much you’re willing to invest; the next step is actually executing your plan.
Let’s start with the tools you absolutely need and then follow with a step by step guide for actually setting up and launching a website.
Necessary Tools and Services
The following setup process requires that you own your domain, have a hosting service, and are using WordPress as your content management system.
We highly recommend WordPress for your small business website because it’s simple to use and manage. It also has a robust community that’s always updating and adding onto the system.
WordPress is also extremely search engine friendly and customizable. Some major business and brands are using WordPress (CNN blogs are powered by WordPress).
Getting a Domain Name
The first step for setting up your website is getting your domain name. We highly recommend using Namecheap for your domains, they’re inexpensive and have great customer service.
You should try to get your business name as your url as a .com. For example, we registered “sitefox.com”.
When getting a domain, try to stay away from hyphens and numbers. These usually make you seem less reputable and can hurt the professional brand you want to convey.
If you’re a local company and cannot get your brand name, you can try to include your state in the url. An example would be if Paul Plumbing in NYC was looking for a domain and paulplumbing.com was taken, they could instead register paulplumbingnyc.com.
Your domain name should be as short as possible and easily remembered. Be sure your domain name can’t be accidentally confused with another word or profanity because of the order of words.
Finding a Host and Server
Once you have your domain name, you have your website’s address. Now it’s time to actually get the servers that will host your website.
At this point you have a choice of setting up your own servers or working with a provider. (SiteFox is a solution that sets up and manages your servers and WordPress installation)
Regardless of who hosts your website, you’ll be given a set of nameservers. Your domain will need to be pointed to these nameservers. This makes it so that whenever someone goes to your url, they see the website on your host’s servers.
After you’ve setup your domain and hosting, you’re ready to add WordPress to your server. The installation process for WordPress isn’t difficult, but the configuration aspect can be complex.
Since configuring WordPress depends on your specific goals, we’ll outline how to install the system and highlight general options you’ll want to setup.
The first step is to connect to your server using an FTP client. You’re host can provide you with information on how to connect to your server through FTP. Our recommended FTP client is FileZilla because it’s free and simple to use.
Once you’re connected to your server, the next step is to upload WordPress to your website.
You can get the files you need to upload from WordPress.org. Go to http://www.wordpress.org and download the latest version of WordPress. Once you’ve downloaded the file, unzip it and upload the individual folders to your server using the FileZilla client.
When the files are fully uploaded, the next step is to create a MYSQL database for your WordPress installation. Your host will have specific information on how to setup and connect to your database.
Keep your database information handy because you’ll need to enter it during the installation process.
Start the actual WordPress installation by navigating your website’s url. Once you’re there you’ll see the WordPress installation screen, which will step you through the entire process. Input your database information when prompted and complete the installation.
Configuring Options and Plugins
Installing WordPress is only the beginning. The next step is to actually configure options and add plugins to extend the functionality of WordPress.
The first option you’ll want to edit is the “permalink” configuration. WordPress default to an ID driven permalink. This setup is not optimal for search engines.
Instead, we’ll want to update the “permalink” to “/%category%/%postname%/”. This means that WordPress will include the category and postname in the url.
Next, you’ll want to add the SEO plugin by Yoast. This plugin allows you to edit the title tags and meta descriptions for your site, as well as configure your website settings to optimize it for search engines.
You can install the plugin by first navigating to the “plugin” menu item in your WordPress administrator panel. Once you’re on the plugin page, click “add new” to enter the plugin search page. Search for “Wordpress SEO by Yoast” and install the plugin created by Joost de Valk.
Once the plugin is installed and activated you can setup the options by navigating to the SEO menu item. Make sure to setup your indexation and title tags dependent on your SEO strategy.
After configuring your theme and plugins, you’re ready to start publishing content.
The pages that we outlined early as informational resources for customers should be published as WordPress pages. Blog posts and updates should be published as WordPress posts.
Publishing content is very simple (which is why we love WordPress). If you’re still not sure exactly how to, you can check out the WordPress posting tutorial here.
Those writing and maintaining a blog should create an editorial calendar to organize when and what will be published. Your content strategy should keep your goals in mind, as well as work to elevate your brand as an expert or celebrity in the industry.
The web has changed how we market to users. It’s no longer about large advertising budgets, instead it’s about content and how you can help others solve their problems.
Use a website and blog to position yourself as a leader in your industry. Once you’ve done that, your website will start to quickly and consistently build new leads.
Integrating Social Media
The brand website is only part of a business’ online presence. Social media has introduced a number of new properties that brands can use to reach customers.
Regardless of how you use social media or what your social media strategy is, your website should always be your hub. It should be your hub because you own all the data and content on your website – it’s yours, unlike your social media profiles.
Integrating social media allows you to maximize the share-ability of your website and the reach of your social media profiles.
Adding Social Media Buttons
The easiest way to increase the share-ability of your website is to add social media buttons to your content.
Social media buttons includes the Tweet button and Facebook like button, but that’s just the beginning.
Look to include niche sites that reach your target demographic. For example, you may want to include the LinkedIn button to reach businesses and professionals.
There are three places you can include the buttons: at the top of the article, at the bottom of the article, or floating on the side.
Your website’s theme should dictate how and where your social media buttons will be displayed.
Embedding the Facebook Widget
Small businesses that have a Facebook fan page will want to allow people who visit their website to easily fan their Facebook page. The best way to facilitate that interaction is by adding the Facebook widget to the website’s sidebar.
You can see the widget in action on the SiteFox blog sidebar under the Let’s Connect header.
Grab the widget code from Facebook by clicking here. Use the options on the widget page to customize the look and feel.
Once you have the code, add it (or have someone else add it) to your blog’s sidebar.
Embedding the Twitter Widget
If your business has a Twitter account, you can add a widget to your site that makes it easy for people to follow your business on Twitter. The installation process is similar to the process for adding the Facebook widget.
Click here to get the code for the Twitter widget. You can see an example of it in action in the SiteFox blog sidebar under the header “Let’s Connect”.
Install the code from Twitter’s widget page to your website’s sidebar to add the widget.
Adding an Email Marketing Strategy
Although social media has been all the rage, marketers haven’t lost sight of how powerful email marketing can be. If you’re looking for consumers to perform an action or buy a product, email is an extremely effective tool.
Reaching consumers through their email inbox puts you in good company, alongside their friends, colleagues, and family.
Email marketing doesn’t have to be difficult or time intensive. The hardest part is actually building a subscriber list, which is what we’ll focus on in the following sections.
Email Newsletter Providers
The first step to launching an email marketing campaign is identifying which newsletter provider you’ll be using.
Investing in a newsletter service provider is highly recommended because they force you to follow ICANN Spam laws and regulations. This means that not only are you less likely to spam your users, but you’ll look more professional when you reach out to them.
Most newsletter subscribers will manage the emailing of your subscribers and the management of your list. You simply give them the user’s information and what you want to email them, the service takes care of the rest.
The two newsletter providers I highly recommend are CampaignMonitor (this is what we use and all SiteFox members get access to a CampaignMonitor account as part of the package) and MailChimp.
Adding Your Signup Forms
Once you’ve decided on your newsletter provider, the next step is adding their signup form to your website. The basic setup requires you to simply use the code that the provider gives you and add that to your site.
If you want more flexibility, you can use a 3rd party plugin. We love GravityForms and use it for all our SiteFox sites. It gives us the ability to customize the form easily and pass along the information using the CampaignMonitor API.
Optionally, you can use Wufoo to create and style custom forms using their online editor. Wufoo is a great 3rd party form system that can be extended for other uses, such as surveys.
Your subscription form is one of the most important aspects of your email marketing workflow because without subscribers you don’t have an email marketing program.
Optimizing Your Forms
After you’ve chosen how you want to display your forms, the next step is to identify where you’ll actually show them.
Websites that are following a blog-style layout that includes a sidebar should embed a form in the top right section. This is considered a high value area because most user’s are drawn to look there.
You should also include a form at the end of individual articles and at the top of all category pages. This ensures that readers are presented with the option to subscribe at all major points.
Finally, be sure to embed a subscription form throughout major information pages. Pages such as the about page are great for converting users from casual readers into newsletter subscribers.
Although it may seem like you’ve added too many forms, the average user won’t see it more than once or twice. You have to make sure that every user sees the newsletter form, so you never miss a potential subscriber.
Making Sense of Analytics
The number one thing that separates online marketing from offline marketing is the in-depth analytics and metrics possible. This means that when investing online you can use analytics to measure the impact, instead of having to depend on anecdotal evidence of success.
Although analytics allows our marketing efforts to be more strategic, it can also make marketing more confusing. There are a lot of metrics that are superfluous or unnecessary. You must identify which metrics are important for your business and its goals.
Installing Google Analytics
The best service for tracking your website’s analytics is Google Analytics. The service is free and simple to use.
You can sign up for Google Analytics by clicking here.
Once you have an account, create a profile for your website. During the process you’ll be presented with a tracking code to install on your website. This will have to be added to every page you want to track.
Either install the code yourself or pass it along to your developer to be installed. After it’s added, check your Google Analytics account to ensure that it verifies the connection.
Metrics to Track
After you’ve setup your Google Analytics account, you’ll notice that there are a number of metrics that the platform tracks. It will show you everything about your site, including geography or your visits and even time they spent on your website.
Most of the metrics won’t be important for measuring against your goals. Instead, focus specifically on a set of core metrics.
Start with tracking your unique visits. This outlines the number of actual people that were introduced to your website.
Pages per visit is an important metric too because it show show engaged people are with your website. The higher the number, the more interesting your content and website is.
Finally, once you have goal tracking setup (we’ll go over that next) you’ll want to track how many goals are being completed. You’ll be able to cross-reference different marketing channels against how many goals they completed to measure effectiveness.
With the data available and goal tracking enabled, you’ll be able to maximize your investment and resources on marketing channels that impact your bottom line.
Setting up goal tracking in Google Analytics can be difficult. The easiest way to setup the system is to use a “thank you” page for whatever your goal is.
For example, if you’re goal is to have a user complete and submit a form you should have a thank you page that is displayed once the form is submitted. This “thank you” page becomes the goal url in Google Analytics.
Let’s say you have a sign up form at http://example.com/signup and your thank you page is at http://example.com/signup/thank-you. Your goal funnel would start with http://example.com/signup as a required step. Your goal url would be http://example.com/signup/thank-you.
Refer to this Google Analytics support document for a more in-depth tutorial on setting up your goal tracking.
Advice from the Experts
This guide wouldn’t be complete without asking for advice from some of our favorite small business experts. We went out and asked them what they think is the most important aspect of a small business website.
Who did we ask? Here’s the list of experts:
- Anita Campbell:
Anita Campbell is the CEO of Small Business Trends LLC, a media and information company serving the small business market. She is the co-author of “Visual Marketing,” Wiley 2011.
- Lisa Barone:
Lisa Barone is Co-Founder and Chief Branding Officer at Outspoken Media, Inc., an Internet marketing company that specializes in providing clients with online reputation management, social media services and other Internet services.
- Tamar Weinberg:
Tamar Weinberg is a social media enthusiast with a passion for all things tech and productivity. She provides consulting in internet marketing and manages Community Support & Advertising at Mashable. Tamar is also the author of The New Community Rules.
- Matt McGee:
Matt runs his own Tri-Cities, WA-based marketing consultancy and has been offering SEO and marketing services since the late 1990s. He’s consulted for companies as big as Target, but his current client list is exclusively small business owners — and that’s how he prefers it. Matt is the Executive News Editor at Search Engine Land, and has been speaking at national and regional marketing conferences since 2006.
- Mike Blumenthal:
Widely cited as the foremost Local Search expert in North America and affectionately known among his colleagues as ‘Professor Maps’, Mike Blumenthal is the author of the industry’s most respected blog: Understanding Google Maps & Local Search.
- Rieva Lesonsky:
Rieva Lesonsky is CEO of GrowBiz Media, a media company that helps entrepreneurs start and grow their businesses. Follow Rieva at Twitter.com/Rieva and visit her blog at SmallBizDaily.com. Visit her website SmallBizTrendCast to get the scoop on business trends and sign up for Rieva’s free TrendCast reports.
The Most Important Aspect of a Small Business Website
What is the most important aspect of a small business website? I could answer this several ways. First, one could say that the home page is most important because it’s the single most visited page in nearly every small business site. I could also say that your About Us page is most critical, because it is where you establish your bona fides to convince the world. Or I could say that the presence of trust seals on your website is most important, because it shows visitors that they can place their trust in the business.
But, in reality, the most important aspect of a small business website is whether it converts. In other words, does your website get visitors to do whatever it is that you want them to do? Whether it’s sign up for your newsletter, buy a product, fill out a lead capture form, subscribe to your blog — you must have a goal that you want visitors to do, and the elements of your website must work together to drive them toward that one goal.
For me, it’s a living, breathing blog. If I’m on your Web site, it’s because I’ve seen your product or heard about your service and it all sounds promising. Now that I’m on your site I want to learn more about you, the people who work for you, and what your voice sounds like. That’s huge for me. I want to do business with companies that I think “get” what I’m all about. And there’s no better place to steal that peek under the hood than a company a blog.
Whereas the rest of your content could have been written five years ago, an up-to-date blog tells me what you believe and what you sound like today. It’s a place for me to learn about what the company is passionate about, what your core values are, and who you are in your market. That’s a huge point of difference. The rest of it – just having a Web site, showing reviews, giving me accurate directions – that’s all important, of course, but a blog tells me who you are. And I’m on your site because that’s what I want to know. That’s the question I need answered.
A blog is definitely the most critical part of a small business website. If you actually maintain it, you could put your company front and center, building relationships with your prospects and customers. It’s a way to be informal while professional by writing content that can build search engine visibility and position your brand as *the* one to do business with.
It’s hard to make generalizations about small business websites because small businesses come in all shapes and sizes, but if I had to pick one thing as the most important piece of the puzzle, it would be contact information. And not just having contact info somewhere on the website, but having it extremely visible on all pages.
This is a pretty regular source of frustration for me. Restaurants that don’t require reservations might think they don’t need to make their phone number very visible, but a lot of people have other reasons for calling: What hours are you open? Is there a dress code? How long is the wait right now? That’s just one example, but I think the idea applies to almost all small businesses: Make it as easy as possible for customers and prospects to get in touch by having contact information extremely visible on every page of the website.
First and foremost is the need to build a website. The idea that a 3rd party social site (Facebook) or Google Place Page can function as a replacement for a website is what I would call a subprime strategy – if you invest in the equity of others you are likely to end up with none of your own. Check out this web equity infographic.
Be sure that website is clear about WHAT you do and WHERE you do it. Most SMBs websites are hyperlocal in nature and it is important that the search engines AND potential readers understand the geographic targeting of your business. If you sell lawn mowers in Boliver NY then you need to be explicit about that.
Build your website on a sound foundation that can support the dynamic nature of your business. You need a platform that, even if you don’t use it today, can easily be setup for blogging, SEO and easy regular updates that you can control. The days of an HTML website created by your son, daughter, sister or brother ended several years ago. Don’t get caught in that trap no matter how cheap it may appear.
Educate yourself. The basics of marketing have not changed but the specifics of them have. Realize that building a website is the beginning of a process NOT the end of it. Learn what works for you, learn whether you can do it yourself or need to hire out, learn what is time effective and what isn’t. If you need a good resource for education start with GetListed.org’s Local University
There are so many important elements to building a website people want to read.
Obviously it should be easy to navigate, full of useful information that your target market wants to read. And you need to make sure people can find it—so optimization is key.
But given the way people search today, I think it’s vital—if you are a local business, particularly a restaurant, that you create a mobile-friendly site. Consumers are using their smartphones and tablets to find what they need—even when they’re at home.
Launching a small business website isn’t a simple thing, but hopefully this guide and the advice found within it makes it an easier journey.
How have you setup your small business website? Did you do it yourself or did you work with a consultant? How are you making it work for your business? Leave a comment and let us know!
Image credit: cjrphotos,