With the internet and social media now offering so many ways to get your voice heard for free, a website can seem like an idea that belongs back in the 1990s. Can your small business really benefit from having one? In short, yes! Social platforms like Facebook and Instagram hog a lot of online traffic, but people will usually look for a company website when they want more information about your products or services. It’s essential if you want to build an e-commerce operation that’s both scalable and flexible. And because a website is basically the hub of your online marketing activities, it’s vital for building brand awareness.
Determine what you need. Of course, it’s a big leap from knowing that you should have a website to having one that meets your needs. Before you start building one, take some time to browse the top-ranking websites in your industry. What do they have in common? What could you improve? Some basic elements of an effective business website include:
- A quick and easy e-commerce experience that helps customers get what they want (and wanting more).
- An uncluttered design that’s easy on the eyes and simple to navigate.
- Simple, convenient ways to contact customer service staff.
- Key information about the business, such as location, what makes you unique and why customers should choose you.
- Compatibility with all kinds of browsers and devices, including tablets and smartphones.
As well as helping to improve visitor conversions, designing these features into your website will also help improve its visibility in search engines such as Google.
Build-your-own (BYO) websites vs service websites
Once you have an idea of what you want to go into the website, the next step is to decide whether you want to build it yourself from the ground up, or use a service that provides a ready-built site. Building a website from scratch gives you complete control over its visual design, structure and content. However, it can also cost you time and money. You will either need to build it yourself (which usually requires great web-programming skills) or hire a third-party website expert, which will typically cost anywhere from $500 to $3000, or more.
You may also want to invest in your own hardware to host the site; serviced hosting can be an inexpensive way to accommodate growth but data sovereignty requirements may make your own physical build an attractive option. It also affords you complete control over your entire site and back-end.
Your other option is to use a website service like Squarespace, WordPress or Shopify. The site can be up and running as soon as you create an account, and you can choose a design template that best matches your business’ needs. Because much of the website’s infrastructure is already in place, the cost is usually much lower than a BYO site.
Pros and cons of BYO vs service include:
- Scalability: A BYO website can be continuously upgraded as the business grows, whereas a website service may not be as flexible.
- Branding: A BYO website can be tailored to match your unique brand vision. Website service designs are attractive but templated, with changes often limited to colors and fonts.
- Changes and add-ons: A website service is not as configurable as a BYO website, but changes are often easier to make than BYO. Their modular design may allow you to drag-and-drop new content into the site and quickly add new e-commerce functions such as a shopping cart.
- Analytics: A business website should be set up to allow collection of marketing metrics and performance stats. A website service may not be able to offer as many capabilities in this area as BYO.
Some website services, such as WordPress, offer a good balance between usability and flexibility. They give you the freedom to start with a pre-existing website template and customize the site over time as your brand evolves.
With a BYO website, you own all the code, which allows you to apply changes and updates whenever required. This makes them more suitable than many website services for keeping up with the latest digital trends. Some website services (like WordPress) allow you to take ownership of the code under your own domain.
Similarly, if you’ve invested in your own hardware, you’ll need to ensure it’s running well at all times. Check warranty and service level agreement (SLA) arrangements to ensure your hardware and software will be in tip-top shape at all times.
And of course you’ll also need to consider up-time and reliability. Whichever way your website is hosted, be sure to check that the hosting company can offer disaster recovery measures such as redundancy and automatic backups.
A small business website is bound to change over time as the business grows and evolves. These tips can help you determine which type of website is best for your brand and business.