There’s a lovely garden nursery near me.
(I know, I know - it's an odd opening sentence for an article about the key steps to building a great small business website. In fact, the whole introduction is a bit random, but bear with me.)
It’s a medium-sized, very well-respected family business in the next-door village.
It’s been going for years.
The owner and his small team really know their Trachelospermum jasminoids from their Clematis tanguticas.
Their website is OK-ish. Just.
It looks like a self-build that has evolved over time, so a bit messy and rough around the edges. No online shop, the navigation is confusing and there isn't a clear user journey to speak of.
On a positive note, it does have a blog full of helpful gardening tips and plant information.
Then the COVID-19 lockdown came in.
Everyone and their dog wanted vegetables and plants.
With a newly-renovated garden ready for plants and veg, I desperately wanted to give my custom to this lovely local village nursery.
But it was a struggle on their website.
I couldn’t order or easily get an idea of stock availability - I had to email them what I was after and wait for a callback 10 days later.
Yep, 10 days.
I reluctantly ended up using another, more 'corporate' garden centre, which was a shame. But, I could check stock availability, order online and receive delivery 3 days later.
I still ended up using the local village nursery over the following weeks, but that was mostly down to loyalty, better-quality plants, and the 10 day callback time coming down.
But I wonder how much money they lost due to an inefficient website during the lockdown?
And before the lockdown too for that matter.
So, if you’re a small business, you need a persuasive website.
Eye-catching design, engaging content, intuitive usability, effortless customer service, successful SEO – you get the idea.
And it's equally important you continue to invest in your site.
You don't know what's around the corner.
In this article, we'll guide you through the whole shebang.
From your domain name, through the design and web development phases, and onto post-launch.
Proper planning can save many headaches further down the line.
The following steps will ensure you end up with the best website for your small business:
Let’s go into detail.
Sounds simple and obvious, but it’s crucial.
For example, do you want visitors to:
Get in touch?
Buy a product or service?
Subscribe or register for premium information?
Book an appointment?
What you want to achieve with your site will determine:
Functionality. For example, ecommerce, blogs, forms, user accounts, online chat, API integration and lead generation.
What content types you need. You may want blog posts, news, feature articles, videos, testimonials and case studies. Will this content need to be updated regularly? Will some of it be automatically pulled in from another system?
The tone of voice of your copy (the text on your pages).
User journey. How you steer your reader through the site, to achieve your business goals and objectives for your website.
What calls to action you need and where. For example, buttons, forms, links and clickable images.
Your domain name, i.e. your web address, is the front door to your website. It’s got to be easy to use and good for search engine optimisation (SEO). You want to make it dead easy for the most relevant customers to find you.
Here are some tips for choosing your domain name:
Make it memorable, easy to spell and short. And you may have to consider how it looks on signing, brochures, advertising or flyers.
Try to use .co.uk or .com. Or you might prefer .org if you’re a charity or organisation. Perception is important. Domains ending with .biz, for example, can look spammy or unreliable.
Avoid numbers and hyphens. They look less professional than word-only domain names, are harder to remember correctly and are easily misunderstood when telling people your address.
Make it SEO-friendly if possible. Try to create a web address that includes a keyword and location, for example, “www.buckinghamgardener.co.uk”.
You’ll need a website host.
This is a company that provides the servers, technology and services needed for your website to be seen on the web. You point your domain name to your hosting provider so that when users visit your web address, they see your website.
Some web agencies will offer this service along with building your website.
This often means they just outsource hosting to a third party (Intuitiv don’t outsource hosting by the way, but many do). In which case, you’ll need to confirm who you contact if there are issues with your website, the server or your database. What level support is offered?
We have our secure servers in London Telehouse and our in-house infrastructure team who manage them.
You can call us and talk directly to them - as opposed to joining the end of an automated ticketing queue.
A couple of top tips before even thinking about the design and structure of your small business website.
1. Check out the competition.
What do you like about their site?
What do you dislike?
How can your website stand out from the crowd?
What ideas can you incorporate into your site?
What will make your website better than the competition?
2. Carry out an SEO audit.
Contact a specialist SEO agency. They can carry out an initial SEO audit, the results of which can make a huge difference to your website design, structure and content.
For example, an SEO audit can highlight:
How your website should be structured.
How pages and URLs should be named.
Suggestions for your site content.
Ideal user journeys.
The most popular keywords used for searching in your sector and where to implement them on your website.
Where your competitors are ranking in SERPs (search engine results pages) and why.
You want your website to be interesting and engaging, so readers stay on your site.
You want it to be memorable and relevant so they keep coming back.
We often create wireframes of your website before the actual design starts.
These are skeletal pages where you can focus on providing an intuitive user journey. Our in-house user experience (UX) expert can evaluate and prioritise all your website needs from your perspective and also your target audience’s perspective. This ensures your visitors intuitively find the exact pages and call-to-actions you need them to interact with to achieve the goals of the website.
Once these wireframes are agreed, they’re passed to our graphic designer.
He uses his 20+ years of graphic design experience to create a beautiful, easy-to-read website. He’ll design all the necessary pages for desktop and mobile devices.
Images and copy (i.e., text) can make or break a website.
If your photos are slightly out of focus, badly cropped and edited, don’t look great on mobile or larger screens, or aren’t placed well on the page – you’ll leave an unconvincing impression on your reader.
The same goes for badly written web copy.
For example, if it’s hard to scan read, full of long sentences, long paragraphs and poor grammar, your visitors will be clicking away faster than you can say “short attention span”.
However, it’s even trickier than that.
You want to avoid coming across as too corporate too.
Anyone who’s looked at more than a few business (large or small) websites will recognise a certain style of stock photos.
You’ve probably seen them.
Eager workers with perfect smiles gathered around a table or whiteboard, coffee in hand.
As a small business, play to your strengths – bring some of your company’s character and that personal touch to your website.
Stand out from the crowd.
Remember you want to engage your reader and create a memorable website.
You’re trying to persuade a real person to contact you.
Whether they’re an individual customer or part of a company, initially it’s still a single person you’re trying to persuade.
It's the same with the copy.
How many times have you read the word ‘solutions’ on a business website?
It’s overused and it doesn’t truly engage.
The golden rule of any copy is to think of who will be reading.
Write for them and adjust your tone of voice accordingly.
Remember, whoever is reading your web copy, they’ll be scan reading.
It’s just how people read web pages.
So, help them scan read.
For example, use:
Headings and subheadings
Short sentences and paragraphs
If something catches the reader’s eye, they’ll get hooked in and read the detail.
Have you noticed how there are hardly any long paragraphs in this article?
Quite often just one sentence per line.
It breaks loads of grammar rules.
But it's much easier to scan read.
By the way, if you haven’t got suitable images for your website, we can source photos and create images for you.
And we’ve got an in-house copywriter too.
Whatever size business you are, you need a content management system (CMS).
This enables you to easily update the website content yourself, instead of paying for an agency to make the updates for you.
Plus, Google favours sites with news and blog pages that are regularly updated.
Well-written, relevant blog posts seriously help your search engine rankings. You can boost relevant keyword search terms and highlight your expertise and knowledge of your business sector. Again, this helps with ranking but also persuades your visitors you’re worth speaking to.
These days, most web design agencies have a favoured CMS.
We’ve chosen Umbraco CMS.
We’ve even created a starter package especially for a small business like yours.
Some of the main elements of this phase are:
Creating the HTML/CSS page templates.
Integrating your Umbraco CMS.
Programming the required functionality.
Sharing ‘work so far’ with you at agreed milestones.
Ensuring your website works perfectly across all devices and screen sizes (i.e., creating a responsive website).
Test, test and test again.
Our developers and project managers will continually carry out internal quality assurance (QA) testing during the build phase.
For example, they’ll test the page layouts and all functionalities across various devices and browsers.
They’ll basically try to break your website!
Then, at agreed milestones, we'll put your website on our test servers so you can test too – often called UAT (user acceptance testing).
Once your website is ready to go, our infrastructure team will handle setting up your domain and the hosting environment on our live servers.
When your site is live, our developers, project managers and infrastructure team will monitor your site to ensure everything is exactly how it should be. They’ll quickly respond to any issues that may crop up.
This can’t be emphasised enough.
It’s important to search engines that you publish new and relevant, quality articles and blog posts on your site.
As well as wanting to rank highly in search engine results, you want to encourage people to return to your website regularly.
You want to convince people that you know your stuff.
Show them you’re an authority in your field.
In addition to articles and blog posts, testimonials are a sure-fire way to persuade your visitors to click that contact button, phone or buy a product.
Think about when you last bought a product online.
I bet you read some customer reviews first.
It’s natural for your potential customers and clients to want to be reassured by reading about other people’s experiences of your business.
Once your site is up and running, you’ll want to know how it’s performing. You’ll need some data to analyse traffic and site performance.
Number of visitors.
Number of page views.
Bounce rates. These are the percentage of users who leave your site after only viewing one page. Google gives favourable rankings to websites with low bounce rates, as it assumes the visitors are spending more time on the site, therefore finding it more valuable.
Keywords used to find your site.
Time spent on-site by visitors.
Users’ browser and device information.
Most popular pages.
Number of conversions and steps to completion.
Looking at your website’s data will help you make decisions about future website developments, special offers, user journeys or marketing, for example.
Try adopting a test-and-learn process. Start small then learn and develop from your findings.
We can help you set up these essential analysis tools.
As you can see, building a great small business website isn’t entirely straight forward. But hopefully, the above steps have broken the process down into less mind-boggling phases.
If you follow these steps, we think your small business website will have the best chance of success.
Here’s a list of the steps again:
Decide what you want to achieve with your site
Set a budget, match that to your goals and get quotes
Get the perfect domain
Secure and stable hosting
Discovery and SEO audit phase
Content - copy and images
Content management system (CMS)
Build and test phase
Regularly create and publish quality content