website.pngWhether you think of it as a virtual storefront, an online brochure, an information resource or an e-store, a website has become a necessity for most small businesses.  If you already have one, are considering creating a new one or building one from scratch, the following are some tips to make your website successful.


Defining your online presence

First, define the purpose of your website, because this will dictate the type of site you have, as well as the content and functionalities it should include.  Are you selling products online? Are you seeking to replicate your bricks-and-mortar presence? Do you want to raise your profile as an industry expert by blogging on issues that interest customers? Will your site serve as a database of related resources?


To DIY or not to DIY

Once you determine what type of site you want, the next big question is whether the technical requirements of your site are within your capabilities. You may need to hire a website designer or even an interactive advertising firm.  Designing your own site using platforms like Go Daddy or Wordpress can cost as little as $250, but can take 30-40 hours depending on your skill level and will require at least a basic understanding of html.  If your site will be content heavy and require regular updates, using a content management system such as Drupal or Expression Engine will enable employees to post new content regularly and easily.


Alternatively, if you hire a designer, you can look to pay anywhere from $1,000 to $50,000, but will most likely have a more professional-looking company logo; a sophisticated design; a multi-layered site architecture; the inclusion of html-, Java- and Flash-based features; advice on domain names; site maintenance; guidance on search engine optimization and more.  Unless you’re working with a full-service agency, you may need to hire a separate programmer for custom components such as online forms, e-commerce capabilities and customer relationship management tools (expect to spend approximately $85 to $125 an hour; if you decide to use Flash, the cost may be 25 to 50 percent higher.)


Finding a host with the most

Where your website resides on the Internet is key. Before getting references, narrow down your list of hosting companies by considering which capabilities are most important to you, (e.g. responsive customer service; 24/7 technical support; reliability of email system; Internet security; scalability, etc.). You should expect hosting fees to range from around $8 to $50 per month for a shared host; $25 to $250 per month for a merchant plan, and $125 to more than $1,000 per month for a dedicated server.  Another option is “cloud hosting,” which is a newer, faster type of hosting that allows websites to be housed on an online infrastructure of servers.


Website visitors.pngSelecting a domain name

This applies only to small businesses that don’t already have a website.  In choosing a domain name, it’s important to stay as close to the name of your business as possible.   If the name is too difficult to remember, or includes numbers, dashes, acronyms or abbreviations, you may drive customers away.  If someone already owns the domain name you want to use, it’s usually better to opt for a shorter version rather than a longer.  In fact, 63 characters or fewer is often recommended. Unless you’re a non-profit or a university, “dot com” is still the preferred suffix for your domain name.


Additional considerations

The following are the major components small businesses should keep in mind about their website.


  • To increase customer trust, include a physical address and a list of major company executives with a brief biography and photograph.
  • If your site includes e-commerce, consider carefully whether it will be off-putting to ask customers to register their personal information before making a purchase.
  • If your site is primarily an e-commerce site, it may be a good idea to use a third-party vendor to design your shopping cart and payment options.
  • Evaluate whether bells and whistles (e.g. video and music) are necessary to enhance the user experience, or whether they will delay load times unnecessarily. However, using images to break up the text is almost always a good idea.


As a small business owner, you wouldn’t go to a meeting without a business card.  Or, expect customers to commit to long-term relationships with your company without the details of what you sell.  Neither would you subject them to long-waiting times in your physical location. Customers and prospects who visit your website will expect the same type of treatment they receive in person.  Your website may be the only association a person has with your company - make sure that it’s a good one.