Virtually every small business should have its own website nowadays. Your website will be your primary base of online operations, and the starting point to your online marketing strategy. From the very outset, you should approach the planning and creation of your website as well as its upkeep with your end goals in mind. Before you get started, you will need to determine what you want to get out of your website so that you can adapt your online marketing strategy as required. Ask yourself what you hope to get out of your visitors. Here are a few possibilities:

  • Make a purchase from an online shop.
  • Download a program, an e-book or something else you plan to offer.
  • Fill out a form or contact your business in a different way to find out more information onyour service or product.
  • Click on sponsored advertisements or affiliate links to generate commissions.
  • Pay a monthly subscription fee or join a free trial for an online service you intend to provide.
  • Sign up for an email newsletter.
  • Share your content with others using social media to raise awareness for your business.

Find out more information about your business and its products and services before visiting the actual store or other local businesses.Of course, your goals may include several of these points, but determining what your goals are will help you to build your website and establish your online presence in an appropriate manner. In order to succeed, you’ll also need to define your target audience, and this will require a fair amount of research, particularly if your business is an entirely new one.

To define your target market, you’ll need to get an idea of your ideal customer and an understanding of the problem they want to solve by investing in your business. Ask yourself what type of customer you seek to attract. Take a look at your current customer base if you already have one, and determine which of your products or services are the most successful. Don’t be afraid to check out the competition, to see what types of buyers they are attracting. You will also need to determine your target demographics based on factors such as the ones below:

  • Age groups
  • Geographical location
  • Gender
  • Level of income and occupation
  • Family status

The psychographics of your target audience are also essential when defining your ideal customer:

  • Lifestyle
  • Behavior
  • Hobbies and interests
  • Attitudes
  • Personality

With this information in mind, you should now be able to paint a picture of your perfect customer and tailor your website and your entire online marketing effort for that specific audience. Finally, if your business offers a range of different products and services for a more diverse audience, you’ll want to segment your audience based on the factors mentioned above so that you can provide more personalized targeted advertising to the right people.

Initial Planning of Your Small Business Website
With your goals in mind and a thorough knowledge of your target audience, you can now begin building your website. The first steps involve registering your website and finding a suitable hosting company.

The very first thing you will need to do is choose a domain name. If you are running a traditional bricks-and-mortar business, you’ll probably just want to stick with your business’s name. You will also need to keep your domain name as short as possible particularly since more and more people are browsing the Internet from their mobile devices where typing out a long Web address can be a nuisance. Finally, you’ll need to select a suitable top level domain (TLD) – the ending of your website. .com addresses are by far the most popular, though if you are a local business or any business with a nation-specific audience, you’ll likely be better off registering the country code TLD for your country, such as .uk, .au or .ca etc. Businesses in the United States typically use the .com TLD regardless, though .us is still an option.

Next, you will need to choose a hosting company. For any business website, it is absolutely critical to find a suitable hosting package, and you will need to pay a small monthly fee in order to have your own domain name and website. Free hosting simply isn’t an option for businesses, largely due to the facts that you won’t be able to have your own domain and speed and bandwidth will typically be severely limited. When choosing a Web host, consider the following factors:

  • Server uptime – Ideally, you will need a hosting company which has a server uptime of at least 99.9%, meaning that your website will only be offline for  a  maximum of forty minutes per month.
  • Bandwidth – Every visitor to your website will consume bandwidth, with high-resolution graphics and downloads requiring far more bandwidth than a basic website with a minimalistic design. Ensure that you have more than enough.
  • Storage space – How much disk space will you need for your website? Consider things like graphics, webpages and customer information. Many business hosting packages are scalable, so space shouldn’t be a problem.
  • Customer support – Things can and do go wrong on occasion, no matter how good your Web hosting company might be. You’ll need to have round-the-clock technical support options available.
  • Website accessibility – Any business website should ideally have full access to its root directory, allowing webmasters to change and customize server settings and access their FTP servers.
  • Security – Website security is absolutely critical if you intend to store the personal or financial information of your customers. If you plan to use your own e-commerce system, SSL (Secure Socket Layer) encryption is essential.

Building Your Small Business Website
Now that you have a good overview of your goals and target audience as well as a registered Web address and hosting company, you can start building your website. At this point, you’ll probably also have a rough idea of how your website will look. Now you will need to decide which tools you are going to use to build it. Of course, you may also want to consider hiring a professional web designer should your budget be sufficient enough.

There was a time when most websites were designed from the ground up using programs such as Dreamweaver or another HTML editor or even by hand-coding everything from scratch. However, most webmasters today use a content management system (CMS) to make the job of designing their websites and adding content to them a far easier and more efficient process. Long gone are the days of coding everything by hand, and most of today’s popular CMSs require little or no knowledge of the inner workings of HTML or CSS. Here are some of the three most popular CMSs currently available, all of which are free:

  • WordPress – Originally primarily targeted towards bloggers, WordPress one the world’s most popular CMS. The platform comes with a vast library of customizable themes and plug-ins for just about every requirement.
  • Joomla – Millions of individuals as well as businesses of all sizes use the Joomla platform thanks to its user-friendly administrator dashboard and extensive collection of design templates.
  • Drupal – Another open-source CMS, Drupal is suitable for everything from small personal websites to enormous enterprise websites. Additional functionality is available by way of thousands of user-made modules.

The above platforms are used by approximately 74% of all websites, though there are many lesser known platforms, such as vBulletin, Expression Engine and DotNetNuke available. Additionally, many hosting companies offer one-click installations of the most popular platforms, allowing you to get started with customizing your website and posting content right away.

Once you have chosen and installed your desired CMS, you will have a blank template of your website already up and running. You’ll now need to customize it to attract your target audience and best represent your business. Feel free to experiment with different themes, templates and styles until you find something suitable. Be sure to consider the following factors when designing your website’s look and feel and navigation:

  • Use a responsive theme so that your website will scale with the small screens of mobile devices, automatically rearranging and resizing on-page elements as required. These days, it is essential to have a mobile-friendly website.
  • Choose your color scheme carefully. Most websites stick to one or two primary colors. For example, red instils a sense of dynamism, while purple offers a feeling of luxury, and blue or black tend to convey professionalism.
  • Stick to a familiar user interface style so that there is no learning curve required to get the most out of your website. Simplicity is best, and you should never sacrifice usability for fancy visuals.
  • Keep your website navigation and interface consistent throughout, lest you end up confusing your visitors and driving them away. A consistently designed website is an efficient one.
  • Use visual hierarchy to draw focus to the most important on-page elements, such as calls to action and promotions. Your website should ultimately guide your visitors towards fulfilling your intended goals.
  • Website compatibility is a key concern, particularly given the fact, that today people use everything from smartphones to desktops to smart TVs for browsing the Internet. Avoid things like Flash and Java for interface design.

With your website up and running, you’ll ideally want to test it thoroughly before you start focusing on content creation and publication. The first thing to do is make sure that it displays properly and performs optimally in all of the popular Web browsers including Google Chrome, Microsoft Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, Opera and Safari. Do not neglect mobile browsers either – make sure that your website retains its usability on smartphones and tablet computers.

Publishing Content on Your Small Business Website
Now that you have designed your website, tested it thoroughly and have everything up and running as intended, it is time to start publishing content. People and search engines alike love fresh content, and content marketing is a major area of the online marketing process. Any business website should include the following static webpages at minimum:

  • A homepage, or the front page of your website. The most important page of your website, your homepage should give your visitors a brief overview of what your website has to offer.
  • Landing pages. A landing page is a single page that visitors end up on when clicking on a result in the search engines or a sponsored advertisement. You should have different pages for each product and segment of your audience.
  • A Contacts page. Provide your business’s contact details on a page of its own, including email, phone number and address. If you’re a local business, be sure to include a map and directions.
  • An About page. Provide a brief history of your company and an overview of its mission on a dedicated about page. Local businesses may also use this page for providing maps and directions rather than using the contacts page.

Other static pages which you may find useful for your website include ones for product reviews, customer testimonials, pricing information, frequently asked questions, inquiry forms, links, events calendars, product guarantee and warranty information and news. If you are running an online shop, it is also essential to have a privacy policy and, of course, a store page.

The importance of blogging deserves a special mention. The Internet loves a constant stream of up-to-date content, and blogging gives you the opportunity to engage and nurture your target audience by way of frequent posts which keep your visitors coming back for more. Having a blog connected to your website will also give your visitors something to share on their social networking profiles and on other websites. Blogging also requires a long-term commitment, and in order to become successful, you’ll need to post on a regular basis, preferably daily.

 

Internet marketing certainly doesn’t stop once you have your website up and running. In fact, your website is only the start of your online marketing venture. You will need to be committed to updating your website by providing fresh content and keeping up-to-date with the ever-changing trends of the online world. By far the largest part of the battle, particularly during the early stages of your online marketing campaign, is actually drawing in enough visitors and generating enough conversions through your website. You’ll now need to focus on promoting your website on social media portals and optimizing its content for the search engines while at the same time providing a constant stream of useful, original and interesting content to your target audience.

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