If you’ve decided that your business needs an online presence, then your business website will be the flagship of that presence.  It will be your online showroom so to speak.  So it’s important to make sure that your website both looks and sounds professional and that it reflects your brand positively.

You’ll be happy to know that these days there are a huge number of tools and services available to help you achieve this with minimum effort and technical know-how required.  A lot of them are even free! So if you’re feeling a bit lost and you’re not sure where to start, here’s a breakdown of the key things you’ll need to consider.

Getting a domain name

In order to set up a website, you will need to register a domain name. Your domain name is basically your online address.  It’s what people will type in order to reach your website directly. If your business is already up and running, then you’ll want to find a domain name that contains your business name so that potential customers know immediately who you are and so that you’re more easily found by search engines.

If you’re setting up a new business and you’re not sure what name to go for then we’ve written a handy guide on choosing a business name that you may find useful.

Getting a domain name is very simple and can all be done online.  Once you know which name you want, then your first step should be to check a domain name register to see if it’s available.  You should ideally aim to get either a .com domain as these are the most widely used and recognised worldwide.  A .co.uk domain is also a good choice for UK businesses.  If you can get both then do, as this will prevent someone else from poaching it!

Once you have found an available domain name that you’re happy with you can register it, usually for up to £20 per year.

Finding the right content management system

Your content management system (CMS) is what you’ll use to run and manage your website.  It’s where you’ll create the pages and posts.  You will also be able to store any media such as images and videos that you want to use on your site.  A good CMS will allow you to create your pages intuitively without the need for knowledge of programming.

There are a number to choose from.  Here are a few things to look for when you’re choosing yours;

  • Is it easy to install and use without a lot of technical knowledge?
  • Is there an active and helpful community already using it?
  • Will there be customer service available to you, should you have any problems?
  • Is it flexible and easy to add to and develop along with your growing business?

Choosing a hosting service

In simple terms, your hosting service is the internet space that you need to rent in order to house your website.  There are a number of companies to choose from and most will charge just a few pounds per month.  Before you make your decision, have a think about whether your site will have any specific requirements in terms of software and how much traffic you’re expecting to get.  You will want to make sure that your hosting service can accommodate these things before signing up. You don’t want your website to be constantly down because your hosting service can’t cope with the traffic you’re getting!

It’s always a good idea to take a look at customer reviews too before you sign on the dotted line.

A quick word on hosted versus self hosted sites

Depending on the CMS platform you choose, you may have a choice to make.  Some platforms will host your website for you – but this comes with certain limitations.  You will not be able to adapt your site so flexibly as things like plugins can’t be used.  Similarly, you won’t be able to advertise should you wish to so be wary of this option especially for a business website.

The other option is to have a self-hosted site.  This way, you will have the benefits of the backend system and support but your site will be hosted elsewhere so you will have the freedom to develop it in the way you choose.

Web design & layout

So now you’ve got the backend of your website sorted, you need to focus on the front end.  It’s time to think about the look and feel of your site and the impression you want it to make on your potential customers.

A poorly designed website can make you look unprofessional and rather than encouraging people to linger and learn about your business, it may actually make them immediately click away.  On the other hand, a stylish and easy to navigate site that reflects your brand can be the difference between a customer buying from you or going to your competitor.

First impressions are important!

If you’re not personally skilled in web design and user experience (UX) then you have a few options that can help you to create the site you want.

Hiring a web designer

Perhaps the most obvious, is to hire a web designer to work with you on achieving the look and feel you’re after.  If you have the budget for this, then this is a great way to go because your designer will often be able to steer you in a direction that you might not have considered yourself but which will improve your initial concept.  It’s worth considering this investment even if your budget is tight – the long term benefits of a professional looking site will probably be worth it.

When you’re choosing a designer to go with, make sure that they understand the vision that you have for your business and brand.  This will make them much easier to work with and the end result much more likely to be to your liking!

The DIY approach

If however, you don’t feel you can hire someone then it’s absolutely possible to create a professional looking website using the many services and software available online.

Your first step will be to choose a ‘theme’ for your site. These days there are hundreds of website templates, called ‘themes’.  These provide a starting point for you to build from – you can select one which you feel matches your vision.  Perhaps you want to focus mainly on images or you want your site to have the feel of a magazine.  Whatever your goal, there will be a theme out there to match.  Many themes are free but it’s worth looking at some of the premium options too because these will generally allow more customisation and often come with added features such as the ability to create landing pages and opt-ins.

What should your business website include

Lastly, and arguably most importantly, you need to focus on the actual content of your website.  What information do you need to include that will help your customers to understand what you do and know how to buy from you?  Below are a few ideas of pages that you will probably want to include on your business website.

About page

Probably the first thing that a customer will look for when they land on your site is information on what your business does and what you’re about.  This is your opportunity to get across your business mission, perhaps some background on when and why you set it up and what your brand stands for.

Contact us page

There’s nothing more frustrating as a customer than to find a service that you want to use but not know how to! Make sure your customers know exactly how to get in contact whether it be to buy from you or just to find out more.  If these details aren’t easy to see your potential customers will give up and go elsewhere

  • Products & Services

This is where you can be really clear about what you offer, how it will benefit your customers and why they should choose you rather than anyone else!

  • Testimonials

Don’t make people take your word for it!  Let them know how happy your previous customers have been with your service.  Testimonials are a very powerful marketing tool and a brilliant thing to include on your business website.

  • Portfolio

Depending on the nature of your business, this is your opportunity to show off your previous work.  What better way to help people decide if you’re right for them than by showing them some great examples of work you’ve already done?

  • Blog

These days more and more businesses are blogging and there’s a reason for that.  It has huge benefits – bringing more traffic to your website, boosting your search engine optimisation (SEO) and increasing your credibility – to name but a few!  Don’t just tell people you’re an expert in your field, SHOW them by blogging about it.

  • E-Commerce

Finally, if you plan to start selling online then you need to ensure that you have an e-commerce solution for your site.  This will allow you to process customer payments online and so open up the window to global selling!

Again, you will need to decide whether you want a hosted or self-hosted solution.  The key differences are that with a hosted solution, you will have less flexibility but fewer technical challenges while a self-hosted solution will require more technical know-how but will offer more options.

That’s it – you’re ready to go! We’ll see you online…

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