Having a professional, comprehensive website is important for pretty much every new business. But getting started can seem intimidating for those who have never had their own website before. Below are tips for building your first business website.
Have a Clear Goal
Every small business website is different because every one serves a different purpose. If you want your first business website to be a portal for people to buy products, you need to build it around that goal. If you want it to provide information and entice potential clients to call you, you have to build it with that goal in mind. A website without a clear purpose will only cost you time and money while providing little, if any, benefit.
Write Your Own Content
Before getting started with building your first business website, you should decide, at least in basic terms, what you want it to say. According to Emily Bracket, president of design and branding firm Visible Logic, the website owner should at least start the content creation for their own site. Even if you plan to hire someone to edit or polish it, you know the basic message of your company more than anyone else will.
State Your Purpose Clearly and Quickly
You do, however, want to make sure that the written content of your website isn’t too long-winded. Website visitors don’t often spend a lot of time reading through pages of content just to find basic information. So make sure that the important points about your company and its offerings are very clear and easy for visitors to find.
Tell Customers What You Can Do for Them
It can also help to try reading your content as a potential visitor. According to Bracket, a common pitfall she sees among new website owners is a tendency to focus on what they do, rather than what benefit they provide to customers or clients.
Utilize Calls to Action
Another way to make your goals very clear to visitors is to utilize calls to action. Do you want them to sign up for your newsletter? If so, add a form on your main page. Do you want them to shop through your new collection of products? Tell them so.
Develop a Page Hierarchy
Almost all business websites include at least a few different pages. You might choose to go with a very simple format, including a home page, about page and contact page. Or you might want different pages for your different services, with a main services page that offers a general overview. That’s something you should decide on, or at least consider, before building or hiring someone to build your site.
If you’re unsure of how you want your first business website to look or how you want your content to read, look around for some websites that you really like. Don’t copy them, of course. But looking for some outside inspiration can help you get an idea of what you want from your new site.
Professional Website > Personal Accomplishment
Small businesses strapped for cash might want to go the DIY route for their first business website. While some have done this successfully, it’s tricky for a new business owner. Bracket said in a phone interview with Small Business Trends:
“I hear it all the time from business owners who tried to build their own websites. They felt so proud and it was such a great learning experience. But the fact is that customers don’t care what a great learning experience it was. They only care that your website looks professional. So even if you worked really hard on it, if it doesn’t look professional it can be detrimental to your business.”
Own Your Domain
Bracket also recommends that all businesses purchase an actual domain name. Some providers offer free ones that come with extensions. But yourbusiness.com tends to be more professional and easy to remember than yourbusiness.wordpress.com.
Choose a Reliable Host
There are also plenty of different hosting platforms available. Bracket and her team recommend and mainly work with WordPress, which she says is a great scalable and customizable option. But there are others that you can look into based on the needs for your particular website.
Consider Future Growth
However, if you plan or hope to grow your business quickly, think carefully before choosing a low-cost platform aimed at very small sites. Platforms like Wix and Squarespace can work great for businesses that plan to stay relatively small and use just a few features. But if you ever outgrow them, transferring all of your site content to a new host can be a pain, according to Bracket.
Get a Designer You Admire
If you are going to hire someone to create your first business website, choose someone who you think fits the style of your business. One of the best ways to do this is to look at those sites that you admire and see who’s responsible for the design.
Seek Samples and References
Once you have a few names to consider, take a look at their other work and don’t be afraid to ask for references.
Consider the Project’s Scale
However, even if you’ve found some sites you like, they might not have many elements that would be applicable to your own website project. When looking for examples, you should take into account the scale of the project along with the actual design elements. You don’t want to choose a designer based on their work with huge brands that have hundreds of website pages if your project is very small and basic.
Peruse Pre-Made Themes
Not every brand new business owner will necessarily have the resources to hire a design team. There are plenty of pre-made themes available for purchase, depending on the web host you’ve chosen. So find a theme that fits with your branding and will allow for small edits down the road.
Stay Away from Free Themes
However, Bracket cautions against businesses choosing free themes for their sites, since they often aren’t as secure as those you purchase. It doesn’t have to be a huge expense, but even a small investment in a good theme can help keep your first business website secure.
Add a Face
One of the common elements of many popular small business websites, according to Bracket, is a photo of the founder or the team. She explains:
“A lot of times with new businesses or website owners, they want to try and make their businesses look big. But that’s not always beneficial. A lot of customers want to know that there’s a real person who’s going to be working with them. So including a good photo of yourself or your team is almost always a good idea.”
Tell a Personal Story
Another way to make people feel more connected to your business through your website is to tell your story. Bracket says:
“It’s really nice to include a story about yourself or why you created the business in the first place, as long as that reason is something more than just ‘to make money.’ If you started the business to help people or if there was a specific thing that happened that led to your business idea, people love stories like that.”
Set Up Easy Contact
With very limited exceptions, every business website, no matter the type or size, should include contact information. This can be an email address, phone number, address, social accounts, or all of the above. The more ways you give people to contact you, the more likely they are to feel comfortable reaching out.
Always Include a Contact Form
When deciding which types of contact information to provide, a contact form should always be included, says Bracket. Sometimes people are looking to get in touch but they don’t have access to their main email program or just can’t click on your email link for whatever reason. A contact form makes it easy for people to send a message no matter where they are or what kind of device they are using.
Keep Design Elements Simple
Whether you’re working with a designer or just choosing a template, don’t go too crazy with different design elements. Stick with a few colors or textures and don’t add too many different fonts or type sizes.
Make Text Easy-to-Read
Since the text of your site is likely what’s providing most of the relevant information to your visitors, it’s important that they can actually read it. Basic typefaces, like those that your designer or theme are likely to suggest, are best for readability. So don’t go changing all of your fonts to fancy lettering just because you think it looks cool.
Add Valuable Images
Visuals like images can also go a long way for adding interest to your first business website. Some ideas for relevant images include team photos, examples of your work, and even relevant stock images.
Avoid Cheap Stock Photography
However, an overwhelming amount of stock photography won’t really add anything to your first business website. So if you’re not willing to make a small investment in good images, it might be best to just skip it. Bracket says:
“Some people see other websites that utilize great photos and they think, ‘I really need a photo here.’ But then they don’t want to pay anything for photography so they end up with one that doesn’t show anything about the business, is low quality and has been seen a thousand times. If it doesn’t actually add anything to your page, you might just be better off with no photo at all.”
Include Customer Testimonials
Customer testimonials can be another great element of a lot of business sites. If your business is brand new, work on getting some quality testimonials first, rather than just publishing bland, generic recommendations. But even a few text blocks from customers can help build your credibility.
Scout Good Images
Including images with those testimonials can increase their prevalence on your site even more. But you might have to work on getting the best images possible. Bracket explains:
“I’ve found that, for clients that like to include photos with things like testimonials, if they ask clients for photos they tend to be a bit bashful about sending them. But if they just ask if they can use a photo from their LinkedIn page or take one while they’re on a sales call, they’re more likely to go for it. You have to make it really easy for them.”
Add Video Elements When Possible
You can also add video testimonials or other types of video content to your first business website if it’s relevant to your message and high quality.
Insist on a Mobile Site
But no matter what type of content you decide to include on your website, make sure that the site itself is responsive or mobile friendly. Having a site that isn’t mobile optimized can drive away customers, hurt your SEO and look unprofessional.
SEO is a concept you’ll have to keep in mind throughout the entirety of running your website. Your designer should be able to help with the basics at first. But over time you’ll likely want to educate yourself about some of the concepts so that people can easily find you online.
Learn as You Go
Once your first business website is live, the process is far from over. You’ve made a great first step. But a company’s website is never really complete. Add or change elements as your business grows and changes. Adapt to things like SEO and mobile designs. And always remember to keep your customers’ needs and wants in mind when it comes to your first business website.