Why is it important to have a good website? The cyber world, also known as the Internet, can be an overwhelming place… even for computer-savvy people. So let’s start with a very basic question:
“What exactly is a website?”
A website is only one element of your marketing efforts and should be integrated into your business plan at the launch of your business whenever possible.
To have a website viewable by others on the Internet you need two main components, aside from the design and content, to make up your website. First you will need a Domain Name (such as www.yourbusinessname.com) and second you need hosting for that domain. The domain name is what you type into a browser (browsers are software such as Internet Explorer or Google Chrome that allow people to view websites). The hosting is what makes your website live and active and available for the world to see. To use another comparison, the domain name is like your telephone number and the hosting is like the telephone service you pay a company for in order to activate your phone.
Step 1: Domain Registration
There are several online services for registering a domain name (and on each of them you can run a search to see if the name you want is available). To search online just use the search words ‘domain registration’ and you will find several companies. It does not matter which company you register with, but prices and customer service can vary so check out a few before deciding. Most registration companies can also provide hosting. You do not need to use the same company for both but if you do it will likely involve less administrative time. A domain name will usually cost about $10-20 per year (you need to keep the registration up to date in order to keep the ownership of the address).
Step 2: Hosting your Website
The hosting varies quite a bit across the board, so you may want to do some shopping around or ask for recommendations. It is not always best to go with the cheapest as they could have a slow server. Your potential visitor may then leave because your website takes too long to download. On average, hosting should run about $100 to $120 per year. Look for what plans they offer. Do you have to pay extra to set up emails? Do you have to pay extra to run a blog? Also make sure that you can easily contact their Customer Service. Do they have things like a 1-800 number, email contacts and best of all, live-chat? And ask whoever is designing your website how much space they recommend for your site – you may not need a business plan as these are often designed for businesses with multiple sites. Some hosting companies include web design templates to help you set up your site but remember if you purchase these you will be paying a higher fee every month, not just at set up. It can be simpler/cheaper to pay for your own web design and then just purchase hosting.
If you don’t yet have a website…
Is your business on the internet? If not, get on the bandwagon. At the very least, make sure you get your business phone number listed in free (or paid) directories online. This is also a good idea for when you do have a website. This will increase the potential of people finding you. Many internet users discover new local businesses online. The downside though is that, without a company website, you will be competing against other phone numbers in your category. How are you going to stand out? Why should they call you? This is where a website comes in as an important marketing tool.
With a clean and easy to navigate website, you can start building trust. You can ‘sell’ yourself as an expert in the industry and stand out from the rest within your niche market.
That is great, but how much will it cost / how much should I spend?
“You get what you pay for” often goes for web design too – although there are other things that should be considered in addition to price. Consider carefully the purpose of having a site in the first place. Do you want cheap and fast, or should you pay a little extra and get it done to a higher level? I have heard from business owners who spent a minimal amount on their first website. They got it done by a computer savvy friend with good intentions. Yet things weren’t working properly; the design was inconsistent, not visually appealing, things were overlapping, there were bad quality graphics and images, it was difficult to make changes, in addition to other challenges. Some had to re-do their site a few times and ended up paying (way) more than if they had invested in a professional designer in the first place.
Cheap is not always cheaper in the long run!
A professional designer can also set you up with a site that is easy for you to maintain/change on your own (a Content Management System). This allows you to change your website as your business grows… without having to call in a designer every time.
When you start up your own business, there are lots of initial expenses that come with it. You pick and choose what has priority in order to best divide your budget to grow your business into what you want. For the website portion of your budget, you should carefully consider how you want to approach it. What is the main purpose of your website? This can vary for different people and is vital to answer. Does your website serve as an online brochure? Is it to draw in new clients? Is it an education center for your current clients? Will you be selling products on-line?
You can start with something really basic and grow the site as your business grows, especially on a user-friendly platform like WordPress.org – or is put in place while your full web design is underway. Perhaps start with a single page that outlines who you are, add your contact information and a list of your services with pricing, plus hours of operation. You can certainly build your own website with online and offline software. Either way make sure you have access to your design files so that, when you are ready to upgrade, you don’t have to start all over. You can usually get a simple splash page professionally created for around $300-$400. The average full website is usually dependent on the number of pages and how dynamic you want it. It can run anywhere from $1,200 to about $8,000 (prices will vary a lot from company to company and in different regions of the country). If you sell many products online then you will need secure, fully functioning e-commerce capabilities and this can increase the price even further. It all depends on the size and how complicated it will be to create.
How to find a web designer?
Ask friends and family for recommendations or research several designers online. Make sure you check out their online portfolio, visit the websites they have created and if possible, ask for references. If you don’t like their style or have trouble downloading their client’s websites you probably won’t like what they will come up with for your web design. Weigh your options carefully and consider the balance between price, design, quality, and the designer’s knowledge as well as customer service. It’s important that your web designer is able to understand your needs, communicate your options in a language you understand, and respond to you in a timely manner.
Design and content — what to watch for?
Make a list of things you like and don’t like about websites you have visited in the past. Send the links with comments to your designer prior to your first meeting or shortly after. This will give your designer an idea of what you want, and don’t want so that he/she can then give you a proper estimate. Don’t get so caught up in the bells and whistles that you neglect your content – the goal is to impress people with both your website AND your business.
Within the design it’s crucial to be clear about what your business does/offers as part of your site’s first impression. Whether you use a strong headline or photos it needs to be clear what you do. You need to engage the viewer within the first 6 seconds of their arrival at your site or chances are good they will leave without contacting you. No pressure, right?
In today’s world, everyone has a desktop or laptop as well as a tablet of some sort along with a smart phone. Your website needs to respond to these devices. Make sure to ask your web designer to show you that your new site will be responsive, meaning it will show great on all devices. It’s the norm that the navigation menu at the top collapses into a simple drop down list, and all the areas stack on top of eachother.
Every page of your site should include contact information. Phone number and email address preferably, but at the very least an easy to find Contact button linked to your contact page. On your contact page, there should be a form that people can fill out (this is convenient for public computer users, or for browser based email clients like gmail.com and hotmail.com etc). It should also include direct information like a linked email address and phone number. If you have a dedicated business address include it and link it to something like Google Maps. Make it easy for your visitors to find you both on-line and in person.
As for content keep in mind the average person’s attention span – they do not need your life story but rather need to know what you can do for them. Keep the focus on the customer. If there are long bodies of text you will lose people! Use bullet points where you can – benefits and features are easily done up that way. Break down the body of text with compelling headings. You can also highlight important words, so the reader can scan over it and decide to read certain portions of what you are telling them. Fundamental to all is to use rich keywords (more about that in the last section of this article) but don’t overdo it! And always check your spelling and grammar – this is your first impression and it needs to be a good one.
Life after Website Launch…
So now that you have your website launched, you can sit back and relax, right? Wrong! You need to engage with your visitors to have them come back. Integrate a newsletter registration box right from the get-go in order to gather email addresses. Grow your database, as that is the foundation of every business. A newsletter helps you stay in touch with potential and existing clients and it helps you build credibility as an expert in your field. It’s been shown that people have to read a certain message about 7 times before it kicks them into gear to take action. Add monthly specials, change up photos… Keep your website interesting and fresh.
Last but not least: Getting Found…
We all use Search Engines to get around the internet to find new information about something we need. When you do a search on sites such as Google or Yahoo you want to have your website come up every time someone searches by a key word such as “Reflexology”.
A technique to make that happen is called “Search Engine Optimization” or “SEO”. Within a search engine, like Google, paid and unpaid (organic) listings become visible after we type in what we are looking for and click “search. The paid listing usually falls under “Search Engine Marketing” where you pay-per-click (every time someone chooses your site after a search), track your Rate of Investment, and control your budget. Most web designers should be able to integrate basic SEO so ask about it when planning your site design.
If you want to take it to the next level as far as SEO goes, you should be prepared to pay extra for this. Plan it into your budget if you want to rank high on search engines and attract new clients with your website. Investments can run from $250 to $1,000 per month but are usually only needed for about 6 months initially. As SEO is dynamic, you may lose your ranking if you are not actively participating. Again you usually get what you pay for. Check out testimonials when seeking an SEO expert.
I have listed 5 important SEO basics below to help you prepare to ask your designer the right question or for you to use if you are considering improving an existing site. If you want to learn more feel free to search online for ‘SEO Tips’.
5 Basics for Search Engine Optimization:
- Get quality Keywords from Google’s Keyword tool. Use these keywords in your content, titles, and as meta tags and microformats (in HTML5 it will be microdata) in the background of your site. If you use a WordPress Blog, make sure you add these as tags in every post. If you are familiar with HTML code, add these rich keywords to the ‘alt’and ‘title’ attributes;
- Use a compelling message describing what your website/page is about in your meta-description (again this will be replaces in HTML5 with microdata – schema.org) The meta-description comes up on the search page right under the link to your site. It’s the very first impression as it is what viewers see before they click through to your site;
- Also use these Keywords in your ‘<h1>’ and ‘<h2>’ tags on your website. Those are heading tags, and Google looks for keywords in order to match search results;
- Submit a XML sitemap to Google Webmaster. The benefit of a sitemap is that when you show up in the Search Results, it will show more of your pages. NOTE: You can only submit a sitemap if you have FTP (File Transfer Protocol) access and sometimes with browser based free web design templates this feature is not available; and
- Internal links. For example, if your home page content is an overview of what you have to offer then link certain words to the page that has more detailed information about it. When you say “I have these services available” link the word “services” to your services page, so the visitor knows where to get more detailed information. This step is often forgotten but it is key!
© Reflexology Association of Canada (RAC). This article was originally published in Canadian Journal of Reflexology Volume 6, Issue 2, (May 2012), Pages 6 – 10. Reprinted with permission of RAC. It has been revised since to stay up to date with technology changes – Jan. 2015.
Author: Norja Vanderelst is the Owner of Colour Infusion Web Design based in Cochrane,
Alberta She can be reached at 403.688.1137 or check out the website at www.colourinfusion.ca.