Think Before Investing In A New Small Business Website

When trying to take your business to the next level don’t believe all you need is a new small business website and the customers will flood in. As a stand-alone item a new (or updated) website can be a complete waste of time and money.Small business website design is not enough

If you think it through the new business website pitch is fundamentally flawed. It assumes your potential customers will naturally find the website when they search for your products or services. It assumes all your prospects are using a traditional search engine. It ignores the power of word of mouth.

A website has a role but it is important to establish the small business marketing process before designing the website as any mismatch will simply waste time, resources and (worse still) your hard earned cash.

How many website visitors do you actually need to achieve your goals and from what geographic areas? For many websites <2% first time visitors actually convert to customers.

It is often worth taking a step back and really thinking through what it is you offer, what sets you apart, what type of customer you want to attract, how many of those customers you need and, finally, how you are going to attract them to your business. What is your marketing process?

If a website has a role in the marketing mix then a proportion of the funds available need to be kept back to work on activities that ensure it is found. Research from Chitika shows >90% of searchers on Google never go beyond page 1 of the search results.

It is important to research your customers, their information needs and where they look for that information. How are they likely to search and what search phrases are they likely to use. If target prospects are all within the local area a Google My Business may be all that is required instead of investing in a website.

Even then the battle is not over as there is so much misinformation peddled on how to ensure your website is found in search that it is too easy to waste even more cash on poor quality search engine marketing companies that fail to deliver results.

A well thought out new small business website that fits within a robust marketing process can without doubt pay for itself many times over. However, it is important to remember that on its own it is unlikely to deliver the required result for most small businesses.

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How Much Should A New Website Cost

As may be expected the answer to the question of how much should a new website cost is not straightforward and depends on a number of factors. That said, we will try to deliver best estimates based on the website platform and the level of website complexity.

Before we get into the detail perhaps we can save you some money? It may be you do not need a website at all? Before deciding on a new website, technology, design, layouts, costs and potential suppliers there are several important issues to consider.

Think About Your Strategy

It is important to re-visit your business plan to ensure that whatever you create fits with that plan and delivers on your business objectives. What are your key messages? Prospects are not generally interested in ‘welcome to our website’ statements or a company history. They want you to get to the point, in plain language, and to do it in as few words as possible.

What Do You Hope The Website Will Achieve

What would you like your website to achieve? Do you want a brochure site that builds authority and your brand or is your prime objective to obtain quality leads for your sales department to chase down? Try not to get caught somewhere between the two and make a firm decision on one or the other.

A Website May Not Be The Best Option

Really think about your business, what you want to achieve and the other options available before investing in a website. For example if you are a local plumber it may be far better to have a strong Google Local listing than try to compete for a spot on page 1 Google with the nationals, the major directories and those prepared to invest heavily in SEO.

Remember To Keep something back for SEO (or PPC)

On the subject of SEO remember a website is of little use if it cannot be found when a prospect types a relevant search phrase into a search engine. To compete for that all important page 1 position then something will have to be spent on SEO or PPC.

Do As Much As You Can In House

Both to keep costs down and to ensure there are no misunderstanding it is worthwhile spending some time thinking about the keywords that best describe your business. What is a prospect likely to type into a search engine when searching for your goods or services?

Write out key statements and think about the information that absolutely has to be on your website and how it all links together. Collect relevant photography you own or source stock photography (making sure you do not breach copy write) that you would like on your site.

Build A Solid Brief For Your Website Supplier

The above maximises the chances that misunderstandings will be avoided and that your website designer delivers a website that covers your key messages, it also minimises costs. Although design is important it is essential to make it clear up front that the design should not slow the site down or detract from the message and objectives.

It should be made clear that any website delivered must be SEO friendly and fully updateable via a robust (and simple) content management system (CMS). Check your website supplier carefully, it is best to avoid one man bands who may well go out of business or move on causing you a problem if there are any technical issues or major changes required.

What Should A Website Cost

As a rough guideline a simple website build on the WordPress platform is more than adequate for most small businesses and should cost anywhere between GBP(£) 400 and (£)700. For more complex requirements or simple e-commerce sites this may rise to between GBP(£)1,000 and (£)2,000.

The two other most common website build technologies are Drupal and Joomla. These tend to lend themselves to more complex websites, with more functionality than WordPress but tend to be more expensive as a result. For a simple website be prepared to pay in excess of £750 with more complex designs costing up to GBP(£) 5,000, sometimes more, for special functionality.

There are also many, so called, website builder packages available from Yell, 1&1 and many others. These may appear cheap options but nowhere is it more true that you get what you pay for. If you would like your business website to look almost exactly the same as many others and you don’t mind becoming frustrated with what you can, and cannot, achieve then go ahead.

Thinking through your objectives and preparing properly can save you an awful lot of time and money in your website design process. It can also lead you to the point you may have a reasoned conversation with your website design company on what the best build package and cost level may be best for you.

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5 Small Business Website Design Mistakes To Avoid

website planning and designMany of the most common small business website design mistakes may be avoided by asking yourself one simple question. When telling your peers about your new website would you rather say:

  • My website is the most technologically advanced.
  • My website looks great – or—
  • My website generates a consistent stream of new sales leads.

It is not always possible to have everything so it is important to make the choice upfront before making the first step in the design process.

Assuming sales leads are the most important then three key items need to be in place. First, the website must receive visitors (traffic), second a relationship must be established with those visitors and, at some appropriate point, visits must be converted to leads, or better still, sales.

Only a small proportion of those reaching most small business websites will immediately take action and call. Most, will return several times before making a purchase while some may click away to quickly check out alternatives before returning and making contact. It is therefore important to stay in touch with the majority who do not convert within the first few minutes or hours.

Website Content

Attention spans are short so don’t waste time on a company history lesson. Simply tell prospects what you can do for them and why they should choose you in as few words as possible. Don’t clutter the home (or landing page) with too many graphics and leave plenty of white space.

Valuable, engaging content is your most valuable website asset. It is important to build credibility and give prospects a reason to return. Websites that are graphic intensive with little text are increasingly a waste of time and money.

A website that is updated often with new content is likely to secure a higher position on the search engines which will bring in more traffic.

Website Navigation

After all the hard work (and cost) involved in generating website traffic it is a waste if they are lost within a few seconds simply because they cannot find their way around the site. Website navigation should be as clear as possible and links between pages should be added wherever appropriate to guide the prospect along a desired path.

Design is great but if your prospects do not get what you offer and what makes you different within seconds then they are lost. If they have to spend more than a few seconds trying to figure out how to retrieve the information they need from your site you have potentially lost them forever.

Search Engine Marketing

A website is of little use if it cannot be found when a prospect types a relevant phrase into the search engines. Unfortunately best practice search engine marketing takes time, experience and effort. Despite what some may wish to claim there are no quick fixes hence the activity can be relatively expensive. It is therefore a mistake to blow the entire budget on the website design and development without keeping something back for the search engine marketing activity.

Credibility And Quality Signals

It is important not to underestimate the power of ‘social proof’ (Dr R. Caildini). Testimonials, recommendations, case studies and quality signals such as approvals or qualifications are key elements that persuade a prospect to choose one business ahead of the other. It is a major mistake to fail to add such items to any small business website.

Call To Action

One of the most common and most important small business website design mistakes to avoid is the failure to add appropriate calls to action. Make it as obvious as possible what you would like the prospect to do next.

Many of the above elements are interlinked and all can be built into a website design given a little time and effort. A website design specialist will talk all day about the technicalities of website design. A SEM specialist can often become side tracked by keywords and forget the prospect experience. A graphic designer tends to be interested in graphics, not the all important content. It is therefore important to continually refer back to the main purpose of the website.

The Key Elements Of A Effective Small Business Website

The key elements of a effective small business website should be considered carefully before engaging any website designer. Although most good website design businesses are well aware what a effective lead generation website should include many get caught up in technical and graphics issues and forget the basics. It is therefore important to brief the designer on your minimum requirements.

At its basic level a website should quickly inform the prospect what you do and what sets you apart from all the rest. It should also make it obvious how you can be contacted. However, these elements alone will not persuade the prospect to pick up the phone. To achieve that the website needs to build your credibility and, in a non-ambiguous way, inform the prospect what action they should take.

To build credibility the website should present:

  • Proof you can deliver
  • Professionalism
  • Industry / market knowledge

Proof you can deliver on any claims you may make in the website content is critical. Testimonials can be useful (genuine of course as the made up ones can be easily spotted) but of more value are case studies on what has been achieved for others, including before and after photography where practical.

Industry and market knowledge builds credibility further. Comment on what is happening in the industry, perhaps on legislation or a market trend is one option. Guides on what a prospect should look out for and consider before engaging a supplier and ‘how to’ guides are others. This information can be presented via a blog (ideal) or via downloadable documents added to the website.

An advantage of a blog is it can keep prospects coming back for more as the site is not static but continually evolving and delivering more useful content. Combined with downloadable guides a blog presents the opportunity to capture prospect Email addresses to enable ongoing communication and relationship building.

Although design, creative and technical issues were devalued to an extent above they are actually important elements. If a website does not look clean, professional and well structured then it will not project the right company image and will have a detrimental effect on credibility. The issue is to avoid too much emphasis on design at the expense of other key elements.

A effective small business website should therefore advise what you do. It should show you can actually deliver on your claims, it should guide a prospect to take the action you desire (make it easy for them to contact you) and it should look professional. The issue then is to ensure the website can actually be found online when a prospect types a relevant term into a search engine but that is the subject for another post.

Why Many Small Business Website Services Are A Waste Of Money

The delivery of small business website services seems to attract those who claim to expert when in reality they have very little first hand knowledge of the discipline. This post attempts to deliver some pointers on how to identify the real specialists.

There are those who sell a website on the premise it will generate sufficient sales leads to pay for itself many times over without describing how producing a website will miraculously deliver those leads. They neglect to mention that a small business website is of little use unless it can be found when a prospect types in a relevant search term. This leads to the second problem which is the best way to ensure a website is found is to use Search Engine Marketing and that discipline attracts all sorts of odd balls.

The problem with search engine marketing is it is not an exact science. There are many ways to achieve the same result and the goal posts are moved on a regular basis. What worked in search just 18 months ago will not work today and actually may be counterproductive. Trying to learn from books and other resources is a waste of time as many are out of date by the time they are published.

The only real way to learn the discipline is to be active and to learn by trial and error. Unfortunately many who claim to be experts simply claim to be so to sell something else. As in the above example website providers sometimes also claim to be SEO experts (when they are not) simply because the disciplines are closely interlinked.

A small business website that cannot be found by prospects searching for products or services is a complete waste of money. Similarly, paying for anything other than best practice search engine marketing will not deliver the required results. There is however some simple tests to apply to evaluate suppliers

  • Look the business up online – type in the business name into Google and see where the site ranks. If it is not on page1 it should set alarm bells ringing.
  • To be fair, often a business will try hardest to be found for a particular search term rather than their company name. Right click on white space on the first page of their website and scroll down and click on view source. Look for ‘Meta title’ record the text following these words and type the key phrases into Google. If the supplier website does not show up on page 1 – avoid.
  • Some SEO companies sell a package of services. Sometimes they list things like Meta tag updates, directory listings, article submissions etc or sometimes they sell vague packages like Gold, Silver Bronze. SEO may have worked that way once but no more. Best practice SEO involves getting to know your business and what will work specifically for you.
  • The days when it was possible to hire a SEO agency and leave them to it are gone. Now good SEO is content based and the only way to produce that content is with the businesses input. A level of partnership between the business and the SEO agency is now required.

There are many good suppliers of small business website and SEO services but it is important to have sufficient knowledge to be able to cut through the hype and identify which can actually deliver.

Best Website Builder Tools – A Comparison

self build website toolsThis post reviews the best website builder tools for small businesses. Many business owners recognise the value of a website as a promotional tool but cannot afford the cost to outsource the build of a professional website.

Increasingly, the do it yourself approach is a viable option and, with the rise in content management systems and standard themes,  requires little technical knowledge.

So why have we only considered website platforms with content management systems (CMS)? The answer is simple, a website that is not updated regularly is unlikely to be of use to potential customers over the medium to long term. A website that does not change over time will not rank well in the search engines.

Several years ago website designers made a useful living by charging to make website changes (they held the keys). Although, remarkably still a strategy used by some, current practice is to allow businesses to update their own content and to do this they need a CMS.

As at September 2012 it was estimated that over 30% of existing websites used a CMS. Of the three most popular open source website, blogging and CMS tools that are hosted on web hosting services WordPress is by far the most common at over 50% followed by Joomla and Drupal – both at less than 10%.

Drupal and Joomla tend to be the best choice if an E-Commerce platform, an extranet, community webportal or the ability to organise complex content  is required otherwise WordPress is the best choice. It has a number of advantages including

  • Easy to set up and maintain
  • Free (mostly) standard plugins for SEO and to upgrade functionality
  • Huge range of standard base themes
  • No technical or coding experience required.

This makes WordPress an excellent choice for small business owner’s intent on building their own website. The wide variety of base themes means that (unlike Yell and 1&1) the website will look and feel different to that of the competition. Websites are easy to build and once in place build upon and maintain. As WordPress was originally designed as a blogging platform it is simple to integrate a blog page into a website.

Some suppliers like to claim SEO is built in to their websites or ‘out of the box’ unfortunately this is misleading (at best). There are a few technical aspects of SEO that can be dealt with via an excellent WordPress plugin beyond that the main issue is to keep adding content to the website and making sure it changes often.

When choosing the best website builder tools WordPress is an excellent choice. The next step is to optimise the website for local search, link it to a Google my business page and use it to deliver useful and relevant content to prospects but more of that in future posts.