Big business, small business, middle business, tall business, it doesn’t matter. You need a website.
Most small business owners realize this already, though. But launching a successful business website isn’t exactly straightforward. Not only is there a lot that goes into it, but there’s also a lot to plan after the site is live. Like how often should the site be updated? Should you create and maintain a blog? Are there any security concerns to be aware of?
If you’re reading all of this and starting to feel dread pool up in the pit of your stomach, don’t fret. This guide is going to walk you through launching your business website.
The first thing you need to decide is what you’re going to do yourself, and what you’re going to enlist help for. There are many ways to build a website, including no-code and drag-and-drop tools that make the process super easy. You don’t necessarily need to know programming languages or coding, but having some experience with HTML and CSS certainly helps.
If you’re going to do it yourself, and you have no web development experience, it will limit the tools and platforms you can use. So, that’s something to keep in mind.
If you’re going to hire a web development team to do it for you, you’ll want to create a budget and get a clear picture of the associated costs. You should also establish a timeline, no matter who’s doing the building.
1. Choose a Domain
The domain name is the address of your website. You want something short, yet catchy and easy to remember. Typically, it’s a good idea to choose the name of your business, unless it’s already taken. Bear in mind, sometimes you can still purchase reserved domains that are up for auction.
Some things to keep in mind:
- Don’t use numbers or symbols
- Choose an extension (.com, .net, .shop, etc.)
- SMBs might also include their location (Bay Area, town name, etc.)
2. Choose a Purpose
Is your website going to help market your local business? Are you going to create an online storefront to complement your brick-and-mortar store? Is it ecommerce or dropshipping only?
Knowing these answers will help you decide what platform you’re going to use for the website. It also establishes early requirements.
For example, a site that has no storefront doesn’t necessarily need some of the bells and whistles that an ecommerce site does. You could build and host the site yourself using WordPress, through any number of hosting providers.
Popular platform choices include WordPress, Drupal, Joomla, Wix, and Squarespace. Most web hosts offer one-click install support, or they will deploy the platform you choose. You’ll just have to configure it and set up the administrative accounts.
3. Choose a Host
Basically, a website is a public directory of files, hosted on a server. It means to share your website with the world you need to subscribe to a hosting provider like HostGator, GoDaddy, BlueHost, and so on.
Of course, there are ways to host your own server, but that’s not an ideal route for SMB owners with limited resources.
Choose your hosting provider wisely, because it will determine how reliable, secure, and accessible your website ends up being. If your hosting provider has poor servers that go down or fail often, your site is going to be unavailable every time and you may even lose a significant chunk of data.
Building Your First Website
The next step is to install the platform you chose, like WordPress, on your host’s server. As previously stated, most web hosts will help you do this, but if you want to do it manually you’ll need to upload the appropriate files to your public server directory. There may or may not be additional steps to the installation after you’ve moved the files. WordPress, for instance, requires you to edit and update configuration files.
1. Choose a Theme
Whether you’re using WordPress, or an alternative like Wix, you’ll need to choose a visual theme that alters the layout, colors, and visual format of your site. Generally, themes are meant to serve as templates, which you can customize further.
2. Create Your Content
After your site is up and running, and it looks the way you want, you’ll need to start adding some content. Be sure to fill out the information for the front page, also called the landing page, your business’ profile or about us, and any auxiliary pages.
If you’re not good with content, or not comfortable creating it, you can always hire a copywriter to create it all for you.
3. Establish and Organize Navigation
To move around the site, your visitors will need a navigation menu, and you will need to strategically place internal hyperlinks on your sub-pages. A great example is to add a link to the “about us” page, after introducing your business on the landing page. IE) You can read more about our business here!
4. Optimize Your Front Page
Use a call-to-action to draw in new visitors and engage them directly. If you design the page correctly, it will work like a funnel, sending your customers precisely where you want, whether that’s subscribing to an email newsletter, buying a recently launched product, or backing a project on a crowdfunding site.
5. Strengthen the Security
Cybercrimes have increased by 62% in the past five years, alone, with a total of 791,790 events reported in 2021 equalling $4.2 billion in losses. If you don’t think your shiny new website will be targeted because you’re a small business, guess again. Attackers love to hit small businesses and extort money using ransomware.
Be sure to strengthen the security of your site, along with whatever platform you’re using. Revoke administrative access to those who no longer need it, and never give it out to anyone you don’t trust. Always use secure and strong passwords, and never share yours. Finally, keep all modules, plug-ins, themes, and main platforms updated — each update includes security patches.
6. Enable Responsive Elements
Because mobile is so influential these days, most of the popular platforms include support for mobile browsing through a design technique called responsive design. Not all platforms have the feature enabled by default, however. So, make sure you activate mobile-friendly browsing, whether you’re using WordPress or something else. You may also need to install a responsive or mobile-friendly theme.
After Successfully Launching Your First Business Website
Once the site is live, your work is not done. Either you or a web development crew must maintain the site, by updating the backend systems, adding new content, updating some of the visual elements, and much more.
Over time, your site may become outdated or may experience performance issues if you do not tend to it. It’s okay if you don’t have the time to invest yourself, but find a capable team that can manage the site. Building and launching a successful business website is only half the battle!
Eleanor Hecks is editor-in-chief at Designerly Magazine. She was the director at a marketing agency before becoming a freelance web designer. Eleanor lives in Philadelphia with her husband and dog, Bear.