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10 Key Steps To Building A Great Small Business Website

Allison Bowlus

Whether you are a freelance photographer, own a hardware store, or have another type of small business, a great website is essential for your company’s success. As a webmaster who has worked on building or marketing over 100 small business websites, I know what it takes to create great and engaging business websites.


If you are looking to build a new startup website or make your current site more effective, here are 10 key steps to getting started and helping your small business website compete effectively in the online marketplace.


1. Obtain a good domain name

Your domain name, also known as your website address, is often the entry point to your site. It is important that it makes a good impression for usability purposes, as well as for search engine optimization (SEO).


2. Purchase secure, scalable website hosting with good tech support

A website host (or sometimes referred to as a website hosting provider) is a company that offers the technology and services necessary for a website to be viewed on the internet.


You connect your domain name to your hosting provider so that when users visit your website address, they are shown your website that you store on your hosting account.


Hosting services can cost anywhere between $2 to $100+ per month, depending on the kind of technology and support you choose. You can usually get a discount if you purchase a yearly plan as opposed to a monthly plan.

Here are some guidelines for choosing a good website hosting plan:

  • Although you can get a “shared server” hosting plan for as little as $2 per month, I would typically advise against this. Shared hosting means you are sharing a server and its resources with other customers, which can make the performance of your site suffer. Also, if one of the other websites on your shared server is hacked, it is possible for your website to also be infected.

  • A “dedicated server” hosting plan is the most expensive option—cost can range from around $100 to $2,000 per month—but it would make your website perform the most optimally. Having a dedicated server plan means that the physical server machine is entirely dedicated to your site; therefore, all the resources are yours and it is more secure than a shared hosting plan, as long as the technology is optimal. However, it is much more expensive than what most small businesses usually are willing to pay. Once you have a very high-performing site, this may be what you need, but it is overkill for most early stage and small businesses.

  • The compromise I typically recommend is a “virtual private server” (VPS) hosting plan which offers the best of both worlds. The cost ranges from around $20 to $50 per month, which is affordable for the hosting services you will receive. A VPS is one machine that is partitioned to act as multiple machines, which gives it a similar affordability to shared hosting, with similar security and performance potential as a dedicated server hosting plan.

Some popular website hosting companies include:

  • GoDaddy

  • DreamHost

  • Bluehost

  • InMotion

  • SiteGround


3. Prominently display a clear description of your business

It is important to let people know who you are and what you do right away so they don’t feel confused when they visit your small business website. Make sure your main homepage banner (also known as a “hero image”) and subsequent banners are visual representations of your services, and also that you have an introductory text blurb near the top of the page that describes who you are and what you do.


Additionally, make sure both your main and footer navigation menus have "About Us" page links easily accessible so people can click them and read more about your business in depth.


4. Implement the best content management system

A content management system (CMS) is a software program or application that is used to create and manage digital content. A good CMS will help you maintain your site, and you don’t need much technical knowledge to use it. You should choose a CMS that is designed for your unique needs; different systems are used for different reasons, such as user-friendliness, extensibility, and budget.


The following are some popular systems with descriptions of their strengths and weaknesses.


WordPress: WordPress is the world’s most popular CMS. It has a vast, active support community and many useful plugins to extend the functionality of your site. (And if you cannot find a plugin that does what you want, it is easy to find a WordPress developer who can make one for you!) WordPress is also free and relatively simple to install. Most website developers are familiar with it so it is not hard to find an individual or agency that can work on your site. I normally recommend that small businesses use WordPress to create their websites, due to its flexibility and extensibility.


Wix: Wix is very similar to Squarespace, but it is a bit more user-friendly. It offers a monthly, but not annual, subscription and includes similar features. Wix is also a drag-and-drop builder—you can freely drag and drop elements anywhere on the page; in comparison, Squarespace is more structured in where you can drag and drop on the page. The learning curve to using Wix is even shorter than Squarespace, so if you need to publish a site quickly, this may be your best option.

Wix has a lot more templates than Squarespace to choose from, but once you choose a template, you must stick with it or be forced to completely rebuild your site. With Squarespace, you can change your template anytime without having to rebuild the entire site.


5. Choose a good e-commerce platform

If you plan on selling goods and/or services through your website, you will need the right technology to do so. (If you do not currently sell anything, you may want to consider doing so since e-commerce could potentially increase your profits.) If you decide to allow users to financially transact with you online, you will need to choose the right platform for your business model.


Here are some popular small business e-commerce platforms:


WooCommerce: WooCommerce is one of the world’s most popular e-commerce platforms—it can turn your WordPress website into an online store. Like WordPress, there are many plugins available, and it attaches to WordPress, which makes it extremely flexible. There are many free and premium themes pre-built for WooCommerce. (As a rule, it is better to use a premium theme from a reputable developer because it will offer better security and support.) If you are not tech-savvy, you will most likely need a WordPress developer to help you set it up and use it. WooCommerce also offers a very high amount of capabilities and scalability that your small business might need.


Shopify: Shopify is a cloud based e-commerce platform that allows you to create and customize an online store, and to manage products, inventory, payments, and shipping. It is not a WordPress extension like WooCommerce—it is a standalone platform that is hosted on the Shopify server—so if you have a main website, your e-commerce site would technically be separate from that. You can link to your Shopify account from your regular website built with WordPress, Drupal, Wix, etc., unless your main website has a Shopify integration plugin.


6. Create an interesting, memorable, and engaging website user interface

Make sure your small business website interface leaves a positive impression that drives results. You can do so by implementing the following suggestions:

  • Use beautiful graphics and easy-to-read fonts.

  • Make sure your graphics are compressed and optimized for fast loading. If your website is slow, search engines like Google will penalize your ranking.

  • Research the competition to see how they have designed and optimized their websites; implement similar components that will work for your small business website.

  • Research your target audience to see what they want from your site and make it easy for them to accomplish it.

  • Stay consistently on brand throughout your website design.

  • Publish easily accessible contact information.

  • Incorporate obvious call-to-actions (especially “buy now” buttons).

  • Create pages that are standard for small business websites, such as:

  • Home

  • About us

  • Products/Services (with descriptions and visually appealing images)

  • Management team

  • Contact us

  • Privacy policy


7. Optimize your small business website for search engines

SEO is a set of practices you apply to your website to ensure search engines index and rank your website appropriately and then show it to search engine users. Once your website is “crawled” by search engines, it competes with websites that have similar content. The better your website design and content is, the higher your site will show up on search engine result pages.


SEO mainly includes the following practices:

  • Keyword research and implementation

  • Optimal website code

  • Fast loading speed

  • Being secure and having an SSL certificate installed

  • Having a mobile-friendly site

  • Existence of high-quality backlinks (links on external websites with related content) that lead to your site

  • Having lots of positive reviews online (Google, Yelp, Facebook, etc.)

  • Using internal links throughout your site to keep people clicking and reading

  • Using social media to link to your site (LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, etc.)

SEO is an extremely important ongoing process that can mean the difference between showing up on the first page of search engine results pages (resulting in large amounts of free traffic to your website) or page 300 (resulting in no traffic).


8. Regularly create and publish quality content

Both content quantity and freshness are important to search engines, so it’s important that you create a plan to publish quality articles and/or blog posts on your site and on external sites that link to your site. If you want to rank highly in search engine results and encourage people to return to your site again and again, you will have to update your website with new and relevant content as frequently as possible.


In addition to static page content and articles, a great form of content to post on your website is testimonials. Asking for testimonials from your customers and then publishing them on your website is a great way to post fresh, high-quality content on your site that makes your small business more attractive.


Make sure your content uses an appropriate, on-brand tone that people will enjoy reading.


9. Install webmaster tools

Make use of vital data to help you analyze traffic and site performance by installing Google Analytics and Google Search Console (both preferably via Google Tag Manager), and Bing Webmaster Tools. These tools can be used to track the following types of information:

  • Daily, weekly, and monthly visitors to your site

  • Number of views on each page of your site

  • “Bounce rate”—the percentage of users who come to your site and leave after having only viewed one page

  • Average time spent on site by visitors

  • Broken links on the site

  • Keywords that lead users to your site

  • Backlinks to your site