Powerful Tips for Building a Small Business Website
For most small business owners the idea of building a website can be exciting. It’s the first real validation that, Yes!, we are open for business. However, it is also one of the biggest stumbling blocks for small businesses and is an area that can cause severe long-term damage to its web marketing success.
Here’s the problem, there are too many options. It seems like everyone and their dog builds websites these days; the prices for websites are all over the map; and the differences in what you actually pay for can be confusing and hard to differentiate.
Here are just a few of the important components that you should ultimately consider.
- How much am I paying for my website?
- When I purchase a website do I own it and my domain name? Or am I simply renting it for a fee?
- Do I need a Content Management System (CMS) or an HTML and CSS website?
- Can I easily update my website WITHOUT having to pay a web developer to do it for me? These fees over the course of a year can easily exceed the original price of the website itself.
- If I decide to fire my web development company, can another firm easily and inexpensively take over the development and management of my website. Custom websites may sounds great, until you realize that you can never leave your current firm.
- Is the website platform Open Source or custom. As with the point above, custom platforms require custom development. Open source platforms typically have prebuilt solutions that can save you a tremendous amount of time and money.
- Is my website SEO friendly? This admittedly is a dangerous question as every company on the planet with scream that their website is more SEO-friendly than the next. I’ll explain what to look out for later in this article.
- Does the website come with Google Analytics installed?
- Will my website generate leads?
Let’s start with the big question. What should a business pay for a website.
This is a difficult question to answer but I’ll give you my honest opinion. If you are purchasing a custom website, that includes strategy, information architecture, design, development, and Google optimization you can expect to pay in the $5,000 – $15,000 range.
Here’s the breakdown for a basic portfolio website with minimal functionality. This assumes an hourly rate of between $75 – $150.
- Strategy ($1,000 – $5,000): Establishes the tone and messaging of a website and organizes content, imagery, colour scheme, ect. Provides the answer to the question “how do we communicate most effectively with our target market.”
- Information Architecture ($500 – $2,000): Information architecture is the process of organizing pages and content on a website. For small website’s this can be a simple structure (Home, About, Services, News, Contact), however, for large websites with hundreds or even thousands of pages the structure of the website can be critical to its success.
- Design ($2,000 – $5,000): The design of a website is what business typically spend the most time focusing on. A typical website design takes between 20 and 40 hours depending on the size of the website and the complexity of the graphics.
- Development: ($2,000 – $5,000): The website development consists of converting a web design into a functioning programmed website. For a basic portfolio website with around 10-20 pages you can expect to pay for 20 – 40 hours of a developer’s time
- Google Optimization ($250 – $2,000): Google Optimization, also known as Search Engine Optimization (SEO), is the process of optimizing a website so that its code, content and architecture are more attractive to search engines.
It is important to note that price DOES NOT dictate quality. Past experience dictates future success. Find a company that has worked in your industry before and has helped another company achieve the same objectives as your own. That can be sales, design, functionality, ect. Don’t go with a firm simply because they have fancy office space.
TIP: Consider purchasing a template website design. The designs are high quality but you typically pay only 50% of a custom site.
Do I own my website and domain name or am I renting it?
One popular business model that exists in the web industry is to sell websites with a low setup fee but charge a recurring monthly maintenance fee. This is not the solution you want for your business!
For starters in these relationships it is difficult to determine who owns what. Do you own your website? Or, if you stop paying your monthly fee is it gone forever? Do you own your domain name? Or is it part of the package that you’ll have to pay a fee for later?
These are important questions to ask and consider. My recommendation is NEVER to go with a website provider if you do not own the raw files, domain and email accounts. It is also preferable to own the hosting account associated with your website.
I’ve created a checklist of all the items you should have full control and access to:
- Domain Name
- Hosting Account
- Email Account
- Raw Web Files (CSS, HTML, PHP)
You may pay slightly more on a monthly basis to have your own hosted solution, however, long-term you will be very happy that you shelled out the additional cash. Most of our clients host their domain name, website and email accounts through GoDaddy. It’s inexpensive; has great customer support; and very little down time.
RECOMMENDATION: Even though you may never touch your raw web files it is better to own them. If you fire your web developer for any reason and you don’t own the files, your website and domain name may be gone forever.
Content Management System (CMS) vs HTML and CSS website?
With the advances in Open Source CMSs I can’t think of a case when an HTML and CSS website is the right solution. Always, always, always build your website with a CMS.
A few benefits to a CMS include:
- Easily updatable
- Supported by a community of developers who build applications that are inexpensive or free to use (if CMS is Open Source)
- Much easier to manage sitewide updates
- Out-of-the-box SEO tools
There is also debate over whether to use a custom CMS or an Open Source CMS. In my opinion the best option is to build with an Open Source CMS; I recommend WordPress or Drupal.
There are a few major differences between an Open Source CMS and a Custom CMS that I’d like to address.
- Open Source CMS can be updated by almost anyone, Custom CMS cannot
- Custom CMS typically come with a monthly fee, Open Source CMS does not
- OS CMS are updated by communities of millions providing access to applications that are free for web developers to use, Custom CMS do not
RECOMMENDATION: For small simple websites use WordPress; for more complicated websites that require advanced functionality Drupal is your best bet.
Is my website SEO friendly
Most web developers will tell you your website will rank at the top of Google’s search results lickety split with their turbocharged development process. Although in some cases you will see a bump in your rankings, this is far from the truth. Building a great website is very important in SEO but more important is building authority and this can only be done through Link Building, Citation Building, Content Creation and Social Media. Onsite optimization at the moment only touches about 30% of the signals Google includes in its algorithm.
Here are a few things you should expect out of an onsite optimization service:
- Keyword research: Keyword research is the process of discovering keywords and phrases that will generate the highest amounts of traffic but are also the least competitive to rank for.
- Title tag optimization: Title tags, similar to the title of a essay or research document, tell search engines what a page is about. Title tags are the most important things to optimize on a website.
- Description tag optimization: As the name suggests the description tag provides a description for a page. It displays in Google’s search results almost like a digital billboard.
- Interlinking: Interlinking pages allow for search engines to more easily crawl a website as well as provides signals to search engines using the name of a link (also called anchor text). Links on a website should be descriptive in nature such as the link “Emergency Plumbing Services” when linking to an emergency plumbing service page as opposed to using the anchor text “Click Here.”
- Content: The frequency of the keywords used naturally throughout your content also has an impact on a page being ranked and associated with that phrase. SEO consultants have tools that can analyze content to ensure it meets defined optimization levels.
- Sitemap development and submission: A sitemap is a web file that lists the pages on a website in a simple format. The sitemap is then submitted to Google and Bing. This submission helps search engines to find and index pages on a website.
Does my website come with Analytics?
I have my biases to be sure but I’m sure most professionals would agree that Google Analytics is the best analytics solutions for small businesses at the moment. Google Analytics allows for detailed tracking of a website’s visitors, engagement, referral traffic, traffic sources, user demographic data, conversion data and so much more. At this point it isn’t important to know all of the ins and outs of Analytics data, it’s just necessary to know it is important.
The best part of all, Google Analytics is free to use! It takes a web developer about 15 minutes to install and configure and will provide you with the information needed to benchmark forthcoming web marketing campaigns.
Things I find most valuable within Google analytics:
- Traffic: The amount of people who have visited the website
- Bounce Rate: The amount of people who have visited a website and gone on to visit two or more pages divided by the amount of people who visit the website then instantly leave.
- Time on site: The amount of time visitors are spending on your website
- Geographic Location: The location of your website visitors
- Goals: A goal can be anything such as viewing a key page, a download of a white paper or pdf file, a visitor spending a predefined amount of time on a page, and almost anything else you can dream up. Conversions are the most important metric to monitor within any campaign. Discuss this with your website developer, and ensure your contact and request an estimate forms at the very least are being tracked as Goals.
Will my website generate leads?
I may be opening a can of worms with this question because admittedly there is no easy answer. If your main objective is to generate leads, which for most businesses is the only objective, there are only a few targeted ways to ensure you do.
Increase conversion rates
First let’s discuss what a conversion rate is. A conversion is when a person takes an action on your website (for this example I will use a request an estimate form submission). Therefore a conversion rate is simply the percentage of people who take that action on your website divided by the total amount of people who view it. The math looks like this:
- 5% (conversion rate) / 1,000 (visitors) = 50 leads
Pretty simple right! So the the first technique is to increase a website’s conversion rate. If you are building a new website this should be one thing you discuss with your web developer. If you move from a website that has a conversion rate of say 2% to one that has a conversion rate of 4% it can result in a tremendous increase in leads. Again, here is the math:
- 2% (conversion rate) / 1,000 (visitors) = 20 leads
- 4% (conversion rate) / 1,000 (visitors) = 40 leads
That’s an additional 20 leads a month just by doubling the conversion rate; pretty cool right! This is a technique called Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO). It is even more interesting when we compare it to the second option increasing traffic.
An increase to a website’s traffic, assuming a consistent conversion rate, will in effect put more eyeballs on your website. This in turn should increase the amount of people who convert or in our example submit their information as a lead. Here is what the math looks like:
- 2% (conversion rate) / 1,000 (visitors) = 20 leads
The big difference between increasing conversion rates and increasing traffic is that it is typically much more expensive to increase traffic than it is to increase conversions. Let’s take a look at the math again.
- 2% (conversion rate) / 1,000 (visitors) = 20 leads
- 2% (conversion rate) / 2,000 (visitors) = 40 leads
To double our leads you would need to pay for 1,000 additional visits. Using general terms an Adwords Cost-Per-Click is typically in the range of $1.50 – $5.00.
Now then, if you are able to double your conversion rates AND your traffic we would see a 400% increase in your your initial leads.
- 4% (conversion rate) / 2,000 (visitors) = 80 leads
It’s not much more complicated than that. Increase your conversion rates, increase your traffic or increase both and you will see more conversions (leads) from your website. One final note is that at some point your conversion rates will max out and it will be difficult to increase them any further, leading to diminishing returns. At that point you are better served to attempt to increase your website’s traffic via SEO, Adwords, Social Media or Blogging.
Ways to increase conversions and traffic
Now that you understand the importance of increasing your conversions and your traffic, let’s explore a few practical ways to make it happen.
- Construct the website with CRO best practice
- Install SnapEngage
- Monitor and test your website with a the Visual Website Optimizer
- Create landing pages with Unbounce
- Ensure your website is speedy
- Invest in an Local SEO campaign
- Invest in an Adwords campaign
- Run a Kijiji campaign
- Run a social media campaign
- Invest in an SEO Audit
That’s it! You are now armed and ready to build an amazing website for your small business. For any small business owner the web is the great equalizer in the marketing world. Invest time, energy and effort into doing things right and you’ll have your business on the fast track to online marketing success. Good luck!