If you’re not online, you barely exist these days. An internet search is the first thing your customers do to find you and they expect you to have an informative and attractive website. Think about your competitors: do they have on online presence? If they do, you need to beat them at their own game. If they don’t, then creating a website for your business gives you the competitive edge. Find out here how easy it is to create a website - we’ll take you through domain names, web hosting and SEO to help you achieve the best website for your business.
Potential customers will find you through a Google search and they expect to see a professional website that gives them the information, product or service they’re looking for. Speaking of Google searches, we'll start with a quick summary of what Google My Business can do for you.
Use Google My Business
If you don’t already have a business profile on Google, you should have! You want people to be able to find your business on Google, and Google My Business helps you do exactly that. A Google business profile is absolutely essential to get your business to appear in Google search results. It’s completely free and it’s quick to set up.
Keep your profile updated with accurate information and encourage your best customers to leave you a review. The more customer reviews the more likely it is that your business appears in the top three results.
Here’s an example: you’ve got an Italian restaurant in Newcastle, someone Googles ‘Italian restaurants Newcastle’ and you want your place to appear in the Google search results. Adding your details to your Google business profile is the first step towards ranking highly on Google.
What kind of business website do you want?
Ask yourself what you need your website to do for your business. In other words, is the purpose of the website to advertise your business and bring customers to your (physical) door? Or is the website itself the main place where you deliver your services, i.e. are you creating an ecommerce website to sell online?
|Ecommerce website: accepts payments||Website only: does not accept payments|
|Retail: selling hand-crafted jewellery (no business premises, online store only)||Hairdresser: website lists prices and services, includes customer testimonials and appointment booking system.|
|Takeaway: website lists the full menu and prices, orders are placed and paid for online.||Restaurant: website lists full menu and prices, includes photographs of diners and food, facility to reserve a table online.|
For website visitors, there are important differences between an online store for ecommerce or using your business website for the more simple purpose of maintaining an online presence to attract customers to your premises. This could influence which hosting platform you choose - we’ll come back to these later.
Create your website: the essential steps
Let’s take you through the journey of building your business website, step-by-step.
1. Register and purchase a domain name
Your domain name is basically your website address. For example, Selectra’s domain name is Selectra.co.uk, the BBC uses the domain names bbc.com and bbc.co.uk. You need to choose a domain name for your business, check that no-one else is already using that domain name and then pay to use it.
Top tips for domain names
- Make it short, catchy and memorable. Try saying it out loud. If you don't like how it sounds, change it.
- Above all, make it relevant to your business.
- Buy common misspellings, e.g. stewartsbakery.co.uk AND stuartsbakery.co.uk, so you can redirect the incorrect url to the real website.
- If the domain you want isn’t available, offer to buy it from the person who does have it.
- Avoid numbers and hyphens.
- Look for expired domain names that have a history of high ranking in Google. Only do this if you find domains that are directly relevant to your business!
- Don’t be rude! Your website name could have a double meaning that you didn’t intend; for example the now-defunct website of a company called Effective Office Environments (effoff.com).
Once you’ve settled on the perfect domain name for your business website, check to make sure it’s available for you to use. There are lots of websites where you can check domain name availability. GoDaddy and 123-Reg are just two of them.
Social media presenceUse the same name consistently. Imagine Sam the electrician has a website called samselectric.co.uk. This is the handle that should appear across all of Sam's social media accounts, e.g. @samselectric on Twitter, Instagram and wherever else Sam has an online presence.
Checking domain availability is free; registering and using your domain name isn’t. You can either pay for your domain name separately or through your website host.
People talk about ‘buying’ a domain name but, in fact, renting or leasing would be a more accurate term. This is because you don’t get to keep it forever. You pay on an annual basis and the price is often determined by the domain extension. For example, a domain name with the extension .co.uk will set you back around £5 - £8 per year and you’ll pay upwards of £10 per year for a .com extension.
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Since domain names are paid for yearly, don’t forget to renew! This is especially important for successfully monetized websites, whose domains can be worth three to five times more than the revenue that they generate in a year. There are auction sites specifically for tracking desirable domain names and buyers will snap them up as soon as they become available. You can set up your domain to renew automatically but as a back-up leave yourself a reminder in your diary so you don’t get caught out.
Secure server certificate (SSL certificate)
You want your url to begin with https, not http. You'll get a higher Google ranking with https because it’s more secure. It means that any data that is shared is much less likely to be at risk. For example the contact information a customer inputs when booking an appointment or, more importantly, payment details entered for an online transaction. SSL certificates are usually free and provided by your website host.
2. Choose a web host
Websites are hosted by hosting providers. Through a web host you can get the full works: pay for your domain name, get help with designing your site, and access your content management system (CMS) as well as hosting your site through the platform’s server.
|Web hosting: website site only||Web hosting: ecommerce|
Website hosts give you access to a CMS. This is the software you use to create the content for your webpages and build your website. Wordpress, Joomla and Drupal are popular CMSs that you will see offered in website hosting packages. You’ll also be able to choose a theme for your site; this is the overall ‘look’ of your website (not to be confused with templates, which are designs for individual pages, not for the whole site).
You’ve probably heard of both wordpress.com and wordpress.org. When you see a site with a name such as wordpress.com/qerty12 you know this is the free version of WordPress. Absolutely anyone can build a site with wordpress.com, but it is very limited in terms of what you can do with it. While there’s absolutely nothing wrong with starting a WordPress website, we advise anyone with a serious interest in using their website for business purposes not to go down this route.
Wordpress.org is basically a CMS. It’s one of the most popular CMSs because it’s easy to use for people with next to no knowledge of website design. If your hosting platform uses WordPress, then you download the design software from wordpress.org to start creating your webpages. Joomla and Drupal are more technical CMSs.That’s not to say you need a PhD in computer science to use them, just that it could be a steeper learning curve.
You might be aware of other free website builder tools, such as Weebly. The major drawback of building your website for free is that your site will be instantly identifiable as somewhat amateur. Even worse, the sitebuilder inserts annoying advertising that you have no control over and that visitors to your website will find irritating. Instead, pay for your own domain name and for a hosting provider to give your site a more professional feel and make it infinitely more appealing to customers.
Plan your website
Get a pen and paper and sketch out the structure of your site. Start with the basics and go from there:
- Home page
- Services and/or products
- Contact us
An online business building an ecommerce site will most likely have more facets. For instance, an Indian takeaway website plan might look something like this:
- Home page
- Traditional curries
- Chef’s specialities
You’ll find existing website templates and CSS themes for all of these pages through your CMS or an ‘easy website builder’ such as Wix. Don’t worry too much about the content at this point. The important thing is to have a clear structure in mind about the different sections of your site.
CSS stands for Cascading Style Sheets. This is one of the languages used for building websites. The other is HTML (Hypertext Markup Language). CSS governs the overall look and design of webpages while HTML is the code used for the individual components of text, images and other audiovisual content.
4. Create content
This is the part that probably seems the easiest. After all, you know your business, you know your customers and your target market. All you need to do is knock up a couple of pages of product description and Bob’s your uncle, right?
Well, building your own website is a little bit more complicated than that. First though, let’s go over the basics. Don’t forget to include these in your website:
- Contact information: include your telephone number, address and social media accounts
- Opening hours
- Latest news about your products and services
- Special offers and events
You might want to include a blog (online store builders usually include this feature) but we would suggest only embarking on blogging if you know for sure you’re going to keep it up. There are few things more off-putting than a blog that hasn’t been updated for months.
To get your website to appear first on a Google search, you’ll need to tweak the content of your site so that it matches the way real people search on Google. This is called search engine optimization (SEO). SEO is important because, when it’s done well, it makes your website more visible on Google, which then increases the number of people visiting your site and brings more business to your door.
Good SEO makes an enormous difference to your website and it’s imperative to spend a bit of time getting your head around the basics. Yoast provides plugins that do a lot of the SEO work for you and you’ll also find SEO tools from the support pages of your website host. You don’t need technical knowledge to master SEO, just time and practice.
5. Design and publish!
At the design stage you can let your creative side run wild and pack your website with images, widgets and social media feeds. Equally, if you’re less artistically-minded, using a website theme from host providers such as GoDaddy or Bluehost takes the pain out of website creation. Your host’s themes already have the html and CSS code written so you basically get pre-made designs with headers and footers that you fill with your content.
Whether your business is a restaurant, beauty salon, personal training service or estate agent, you can build a beautiful website in relatively little time using your host’s CMS and professional templates. Customize the design templates as much or as little as you like.
An alternative to using the CMS provided by your host is to use a ‘drag and drop’ website builder, such as Wix or Squarespace. These are designed to be user-friendly and intuitive, making it quick and easy to build a website from scratch. However, since the drag and drop websites are based around a limited range of templates, there is a risk that your website ends up looking very similar to others out there.
Drag and drop is largely similar to the site builder templates you have access to via GoDaddy or Bluehost. Both ways of creating a website have templates for a wide range of different businesses.
Make a responsive websiteWhatever website builder software you use, choose templates and themes that are mobile responsive. This means that the images will adjust according to the user’s device. More than half of internet traffic in the UK now comes from mobile devices so how your website looks on a mobile screen is all-important.
Do it yourself or pay the professionals?
How to make a website stand out from the crowd is a real challenge. You’ve got to think about SEO, web design software, hosting, content management systems, not to mention how to make a responsive website for mobile viewing. It’s a lot to take on alongside everything else you’re doing to grow your business. It’s worth thinking about whether you’re willing and able to make a website yourself or if it’s better in the long term to call in the professionals.
DIY: Build your own website from scratch
Think carefully before splurging on expensive website designers. Remember, your website is not your whole business; it’s a vehicle for your business. You could have the most wonderful website in the world but if nobody sees it and you get no sales then, quite frankly, you’re wasting your time.
Creating your website yourself has a couple of advantages. Firstly, it’s entirely under your control. Whenever you want to make a change, you can just go straight ahead and do it. Secondly, it’s undoubtedly cheaper, and usually quicker, than paying a professional web designer. If your profit margins are already very tight, then taking on the website creation task yourself could be more than feasible, especially if you’re already fairly tech-savvy.
As we’ve already seen, you don’t have to be an expert in coding to start building a website. Whether you use the free trials offered by the drag & drop website builders, or a CMS such as WordPress or Drupal, you can navigate your way through the web design process without any need for you to become a fully-fledged tech whizz. Just a word of caution: the professional templates and themes might not be customizable enough to design your site the way you really want it to be.
Professional website design - and more
Lots of small business owners simply don’t have the time, knowledge or motivation to use a DIY website builder. If this is you, use something like bOnline’s professional web design service. Starting from about £500 you get a 100% original, bespoke design for your business website.
Designing and building websites with hosting and ongoing support is what the professional web designers are there for. The whole shebang is taken care of for you so you not only get the best possible website but also long-term maintenance. Instead of paying separately for your domain name, your host provider and your web builder, you can get everything in one place if you outsource the website building aspect of your business.
Web designers like bOnline will also use all the SEO tools at their disposal to make your website appear first in a Google search. You’ll get a professional email address to match your domain name, which looks infinitely more business-like than simply a simple @gmail.com address.
How much will my business website cost?
Here’s a breakdown of all the costs you’re likely to incur to get your website up and running and then to maintain it over the years:
|DIY: Create your own business website||Business website design services from bOnline|
|Domain name||First year: from 99p.
Additional years: £11.99
|£2.50 per month, includes:
|Hosting (e.g. Bluehost)||Approx. £5 per month||From £495 one-off fee for professional web design, completed within one month.|
|Web builder (e.g. Squarespace)||£21 per month|
|Monthly support||How long is a piece of string..? You need to find time to dedicate to maintaining your website.||£18 per month|
In terms of the DIY route to create your own website, we’ve given you an indication of the maximum you’re likely to spend, assuming little or no knowledge of website design and creation. The cost of your time, however, is something only you can judge.
Find the balance between throwing money away on super-slick web design and not putting in the effort at all. Making your website attractive and professional enough to do its job (i.e. increase revenue) doesn’t need to cost an arm and a leg, whether you do the whole thing yourself or pay a professional.
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