What makes a good small business website?

In this age of online shopping, online gaming, Facebook, Twitter and the host of other ways we interact on the internet, if you have a business, a website is a no brainer.

Why do I need a website?

template-1599665_640The main reason is so that your business is showing up where your potential customers are….i.e. online! If someone is searching the internet for something that you sell, at some point they will come across your website. A website is like your shop front…but it is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It sells your products or services even when you’re asleep, on holiday or otherwise engaged. So you could be missing out on potential business if you don’t have one. And with loads of different website-building platforms to choose from, that have online tutorials and community based support, it’s a fairly easy process.

Other reasons to have a website include…

  • Your customers expect you to have one. People are generally inpatient these days and want instant access to information about what they want to buy.
  • 90% of consumers say that online reviews influence whether they buy a product or not. If you have a website, you can share positive customer reviews of what you sell.make-up-1209798_640
  • If you include a blog on your website, it will help you get your business messages across to your audience and shows a bit of your personality. It also gets information instantly in front of your audience, so faster than a printed ad or emailing brochures. Plus, you can put links to your social media sites.
  • You don’t need to be an expert in coding as so many website-building platforms offer tutorials and support.
  • Your competitors have websites…people use the internet to search for reviews and products they want to buy. If you’re not online, that business opportunity has gone.
  • With a website, you are never ‘closed’, people can find you 24 hours a day, bath-oil-2510783_640seven days a week. If you combine your website with a blog or newsletter, your customers can see when you have special offers and new products.
  • A website showcases your products and services – you can use fabulous images, downloadable PDFs to help your customers and video tutorials about your products. This can give customers no reason to go elsewhere.

On average, people spend 4-5 hours a day on a device attached to the internet and 97% of consumers go online to research and find local businesses. There are over 3.5 billion google searches done each day.

You might think your business is too small to have a website or that you can’t afford to have one, but with the many self-hosting sites around these days, you can easily do a basic site for yourself. But to really stand out, it is a good idea to pay someone to do it for you. And it doesn’t have to cost a fortune…and is well worth budgeting for. The price of having a website is much better than it could cost you by being left behind in technology.

What is a domain name?

A domain name is the web address of your website – the name that users will type in to get to your website and how search engines find it.

com-663980_640It’s very important to first of all choose the right domain name for your website because you will hopefully have it for a long time and it becomes part of your branding. You might want to have a domain that is your name.

I use my name, along with what I do www.cindyfreelancewriter.com for my main website. I use just my name for my blog www.cindymobey.blog

It’s best to keep them as simple as possible; keep it short and easy to remember, avoid dashes and use a dot com whenever possible. There are loads of places you can buy a domain name – GoDaddy is popular, but I used WordPress, as my hosting site was going to be WordPress.

Host sites

There are several sites to choose from – my personal preference is WordPress, but I have used Wix, GoDaddy and Weebly, when helping others with their websites. Usually, if you go for a paid website plan, (which can be as little as a few Euros a month), you get a domain name included.

What pages should I have on my website?

Once you have your domain and host site, you’re ready to start building your website. Here are some tips you may wish to consider…

When people go onto a website, it needs to be easy on the eye and most importantly, easy to navigate. So, a clearly labelled toolbar is essential and information should be clear and straight forward – people don’t want to guess what you do, or have to work hard to find the products or services they want. You have a few seconds to make and impact, so it’s browser-1666995_640important to do just that. If they can’t find what they want on your site, they can click away and choose someone else.

It’s important for a website to be friendly to all devices and most hosting sites let you see what your website will look like on a mobile or tablet device, so that helps!

For a basic website, I would advise including…

Homepage – This is the first page that people will see when they land on your website, so it needs to have maximum impact. Create a good design that entices customers in, so they want to explore the rest of your site. It needs to provide basic information,  so say who you are, what your company does and what you can do for your customers – what do you offer them? Also, where you are located – include a google map if you can to make it easier to find you, especially if you have premises. If you like doing videos, you could include a video explaining what you do and how you can help your customers.

Contact page – Your customers will want to know how to contact you, so this needs to be prominent and clear. If you have Social Media pages, make sure that this information is up to date and consistent across all platforms. Information to include are your name, address (or area you are in), your email address, telephone number and the hours you are open for business. You can also include a link via google maps to your location and include links to your Social Media pages.

bath-oil-2510783_640Products or Services – This is where you can give information about your products or services. Write a sentence or two about each product and give prices if you can, with images if possible. People shopping online need to know prices at a glance, they don’t want to find what they want, then have to send an email to find out how much it is – it’s easier for them to just google another company who does show prices.

About me/us – As it says on the tin, a little bit about yourself; if you have relevant qualifications, you can include them here and if you are a member of a professional body. The key here is not to waffle on about irrelevant information – it is good to add a photo of yourself, so people know who they are dealing with and you can also show your personality here by giving a little bit of personal information…just be careful not to get carried away!

Testimonials – People buying on the internet like to know what other customers think of your products or services, so including a testimonials page is a good idea. Some people include testimonials on the ‘About us’ page, but I prefer to have a separate page as it’s labelled so making it easier to find. But of course, it’s a personal preference.

Blog – if you write a blog, or are thinking of writing a blog, then include it on your website so people can learn more about what you have to say. A blog can help set you up as an expert in your field, as well as help you connect with your customers.

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Please note: Wherever you can, on all pages, use good quality images. Put a good, clear photo of yourself and of your products. They always say that ‘a picture paints a thousand words’ and that’s certainly true to keep your audience’s attention.

Call to action

A call to action (CTA) is the opportunity for you to motivate your audience to engage with your brand and takes real steps towards becoming a customers. It might just be a ‘Buy now’ or ‘Find out more’ button. But it entices the customer to do something before they leave your website. You could use a button to point customers to subscribing to a newsletter, by offering a free PDF or tutorial if they sign up.

A CTA give direction to and creates a better user experience for your audience. It’s guiding them to the next step and customers expect them. If they’ve read about your business, like your products, they need to have easy access to what comes next. CTA buttons make it easy for your customers to buy from you, contact you… so giving them what they want!

Search Engine Optimization

seo-1288976_640Search engines, such as Google, are what brings traffic to your website, so you need to ‘optimize’ your site. It’s important to add keywords or phrases in your headings, text, URL and Meta descriptions. For more information on SEO, click here.

Look and feel of your website

It’s important to give some thought into what you want your website to look like. Before you design your site, look online at other people in the same field as you to get an idea of crayons-2774504_640what your competitors do…you can then get an idea of what you’d like your site to look like. If you have a logo, the colours, font and style of your logo will determine the design of your website, so that everything is consistent.

Once you know what colours and fonts you want, you can think about how you want it to look. If you have an idea from another site you’ve seen, then you can work from that. When I design a site, I like to draw what a site will look like with notes on colour, font and what features need to be included on each page.

Don’t make your site too busy as people won’t know where to look first – the old ‘less is more’ is good here!

The most important thing is to enjoy setting up your website and playing around with all the features until you get what you want. The good thing about having a website is, that once is it all set up, it’s easy to change it as time goes on and your business evolves. You can add more pages, change colour, font or whatever you want. So, don’t delay, get going now, it’s not as scary as you think!

An introduction to Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

“SEO is the process of affecting the online visibility of a website or
a web page in a web search engine’s unpaid results
– often referred to as ‘natural’, ‘organic’ or ‘earned’ results.” 

Wikipedia

If you mange or promote any online content, such as a website or blog, then it’s important to know about Search Engine Optimization. In simple terms, this is how your content gets recognised and found by search engines, such as Google or Bing.

How will I know if I can be found?

That’s easy…simply type in your business name or your website URL into google search and see what comes up. If your website or links to your business show in the results, you are in the Google index.

What if nothing shows?

If the results don’t find you, then your site is not in the Google index. Google crawls billions of pages so I guess that sometimes it will miss a site, but if nothing shows it’s often for one of the following reasons…

  • You might only just have launched your website, so if that’s the case, Google hasn’t yet had time to find it – so try again in a few weeks
  • Your site design may make it difficult for Google to crawl the content easily
  • Google may have received an error when attempting to crawl your site
  • Your site isn’t very well connected from other sites on the web

How to get your site on Google and Bing

It’s free and very easy to register your business and be included in search engines.

How to rank higher on search engines

Keyword test

keywords-letters-2041816_640OK, so you’ve tested whether you can be found, you’ve registered your business to make it easier to be found in search engines. Now you need to look at your website and ensure you have the right keywords and phrases in place.

  • It’s time to do some brainstorming – put yourself in your customers’ shoes – if you were looking for your services, what would you type into the search bar? Make a note of three or four things you’d type in – ask your friends and family what they’d search for and make a note of those too. The chances are some will be the same or similar and you’ll quickly see which words or phrases are most likely to be searched for.
  • Now, type those phrases into a search engine and find out where your website comes in the results. If you can’t find it after 10 pages, no one else will either. If you can, note down other sites that come up on the first page of each query/keyword or phrase. Are they similar to your business? Are they competitors? Are they local to you or national businesses?
  • Now it’s time to pick your top keywords/phrases…be realistic about these words as some will be very competitive and there will be loads of other businesses using the same keywords/phrases to keep their website at the top of the list.
  • Next, ensure your homepage contains those keywords/phrases. For small businesses who generally have one main page, add a couple of sentences that naturally describes what you do and weave in those keywords or phrases…but make sure it still makes sense. You don’t want an overload of keywords which don’t mean anything to your customers.
  • Then, wait for a couple of weeks and go back and search again on those keywords/phrases and see if your ranking has got nearer the top.

Page or blog post

  • In order to show your customers you know all about the products or services they are interested in, write a new page or a blog post about that subject, again weaving in the keywords. This doesn’t have to be long…just a short 200-300 words. Keep the text straight forward and easy to read and don’t use the keywords more than two or three times.I used to work in a big office and when I had to explain something, I’d always think, ‘how would I explain this to a friend over a drink in a pub?’ I still do this and find it easier to write.
  • Then use your social media sites to post links to your new page or blog post. This serves two purposes; search engines will track these links back to your website, so improve your rankings; it’s a great way to let your customers and friends involved in your business
  • Ask your friends or any contacts you have to post something about you on their website – ideally using your keywords – you can do the same for them. This is known as a ‘link exchange’. It is not ethical to do it loads of times, but as long as it is relevant and provides value to your or your friend/customers business, it will work to help your rankings.
  • Search engines like sites with external links sending them to other sources or websites.

 Don’t get consumed with SEO!

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  • Although SEO is important in helping you get your website recognised on search engines, don’t let it overtake everything you do, so that your content becomes just a bunch of words. You still want pages, articles or blogs to be interesting to read, so you still need to keep your reader at the heart of what you write. This is what content marketing is all about; writing for your audience, but being aware of keywords. It’s also good to write content that has a long sell-by date – something that doesn’t ‘get old’ too quickly.
  • Also, keep an eye on those competitor’s sites that you identified and see what they do on their site and on blogs etc. to keep their rankings high.
  • Use internal links too. For example if you’re writing a new blog or article that includes a reference to something you’ve written about before, include an internal link to that previous blog or article. This not only helps rankings but also helps your readers find more useful or related content.
  • Use images and ensure that your images have labels or tags, which include your keywords

Finally, have fun with your website and don’t get too obsessed with SEO. It is something that takes time, it’s not something that gives instant results. It’s a long term strategy that you can keep chipping away at. And never rely totally on search engines to get business…what would happen if search engines were abolished? Would your business still be able to operate? Things are always moving forward and changing, and whilst SEO is important, don’t get too obsessed with it and still have fun with your website and enjoy your writing.