Web design for small business.

Where to start for business on the web?

So you have the premises, product, staff and enthusiasm...but what about the web? Being one of the first places your potential clients will see your business its certainly worth serious consideration.

What do you really need on your website?
What should you ask a web agency and which agency should you work with!
How do you spot the hidden costs?
Are you comparing like with like?

These are just some of the questions that armed with the right answers will allow you to see through the many offerings available, avoid the pit falls and confidently take your company online.

What do you really need?

A website should be useful and add value to your business, give the right impression and make potential customers want to contact you. The content should always be current and as your business grows your website grows with it.
You need your site to be easily found by potential customers, simple to use and navigate and clear in content and contact information.

If youre serious about making the right impression employ the professionals. Self made sites wont fill your customers with confidence about your approach to business. For business you need a robust, secure and professional site.

Before you start - Research

Review your competitors sites, what do you like? What do you dislike about them? What do you think is missing that your customers might need? Knowing your online competition is essential.

The right domain name

If your exact business name has already been taken select something close and memorable. Avoid using dots and dashes in the name as these are easily forgotten. Ideally you should use the .co.uk or .com for business in the UK.
All good web agencies will set this up for you and help you select the right name.

Business hosting

Your site needs to be available 24/7; if a potential customer visits your site and it is not available it is unlikely they will return. Hosting can now be found at very low prices but consider if it really is a saving? Ask where your site will be hosted, if data is backed up and how the security and upkeep of your server is managed.

Email

Once you have your company domain you can also set up your email. Again take note from the hosting section and pay for right support and security levels suitable for business.

Design

There is a strategy behind all good web design, usability studies have clearly shown that using the right navigation, images and copy will retain your audience for longer so therefore more likely to purchase or contact you.

Your home page should allow your customers to instantly recognise your company, use your company branding ie logo and colours to form a template and style.
Clearly presented text, aligned and set in a font and format that runs consistently through the site will effectively use all available space and make using the site easy.

Functionality

What do you really need on the site? The more functionality you have the higher the cost. Start with the basics and add the rest later. If you get the site built right the first time you should easily add functions as you grow.

Content

All web content should be written with both your audience and the search engines in mind. Your audience should always be priority, capture your audience with short bulleted statements that are quick and easy to read. Use of images should be limited so as not to clutter the page and increase the time your page takes to appear.

Prioritise your content – your homepage should have your phone number clearly shown, the services you offer and links to the other pages you would most like your audience to view. Your most lucrative offers should be the first to be seen!

Professional copy can make a real difference to a site and assist your position in search results.

Support for the future

How often will you need to change the content of your site? How important is your site to your business? Getting the right support and hosting are the ongoing costs you need to understand at the start.

If you have content that will change often have the site built with a content management system, this will allow you to easily update your content without ongoing charges.

Using technology can really help your business develop, look for the agency that is interested in your business and who will make suggestions to you....rather than provide a website and taking your annual hosting. They should be the experts who know what is possible and bring the suggestions to you.

How do you know if its working?

Review monthly statistics showing detailed information from how many people visited your site, the most popular pages to the best referrals. Prioritise content based on the most popular pages and see which advertising or promotion increased visitors so you can repeat the best and review the rest. Select an agency that will work with you to review the stats and develop your website.
SEO

Search Engine Optimisation

Optimisation will prepare the meta-tags placed in the code of your site pages to help the search engines collect search results. SEO work along with keywords in your content and linking between other websites will all contribute to improving your positioning on the search results pages.

Use it!

Dont have your website as an extra that nobody mentions. Us it on everything that a potential customer might see, be it your answer machine, letterhead, order form, business card or local advert.

Make sure you check emails that come from your website; a response the same working day is expected.

Do I need to spend money on a professional site when my friends son can build one?

Keep your business head on when asking this question! Can they really design a site that will put you above your competitors? Will they be around to support the site if errors appear? What if you want secure ecommerce added can you be sure they know how to handle the data? It can seem like a saving but it could have serious consequences to your business.

How do I select a designer?

Contact several that you think present themselves well online and arrange to meet at least two face to face. Discuss what you are looking to achieve and ask what ideas they suggest, do they just design websites or will they help you develop and build your business online?

Ask the agency what their experience is, if they are self taught and focused on the technical side of development they may not develop a site to the requirements of your audience. Having the latest flashing spinning features is a great showcase for their new ideas but is it really what your business needs?

Ask if you can talk to previous customers, view their websites and read testimonials.
Costs and comparing quotes

As with anything in life you get what you pay for! Think long term, its no good getting a cheap start up site that cant be developed.

Template sites can be less expensive but also inflexible and leave you tied to one company as often updates are via a central CMS. Bespoke sites can cost a little more (not always) but are easy to develop and can be hosted anywhere.

Ask for a breakdown of all quotes so you can really compare like for like. Break a quote down to the following areas - Design and development, copy, images, CMS, hosting, email, SEO, stats and ongoing support.

Susie Greenwood
Greenwood Solutions