What, still no website?

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There are three categories of business website:

1. Basic

2. Complex

3. Complex – and driven by a sophisticated understanding of web-based selling techniques.

Categories 2 and 3 are outside the scope of this note. If you’re planning a category 2 or 3 site, you won’t be reading or needing this basic note anyway.

It’s easy to do

A basic website is freely or at most cheaply-available to anyone with access to a web-browser. If you can save a word document, or operate a webmail or social media account, you already have most of the skills needed to build a basic website.

What’s a website anyway?

A website is just a bunch of data (mainly words and pictures arranged into web pages) stored on a “server” (a “server” is just a fancy name for a bunch of computers used for storing large amounts of data) by companies who provide data “hosting” (i.e. storage) services.

How do I get started?

First, get yourself a domain name (www.trillick.org is a “domain name”).  Go to a domain register company such as www.name.com or www.namecheap.com and register a domain name you like. Keep it short and don’t use hyphens.

Second, go to e.g., www.weebly.com and build yourself a site. If you get stuck, ask a young person.  (There are many other website builder software companies – see a listing of various website builder software companies here – all will do the job; and you should have a look at a few of them to see which one you prefer.  However, bear in mind that, generally, the more obscure a software company is, the less likely they are to be around for too long.  Also, some are needlessly-complicated and some which are excellent (such as WordPress) are aimed at people with coding experience or who enjoy wrecking their head building “hand-coded” websites.  If that sounds like you, use WordPress.  However, if that doesn’t sound like you and you just want a decent basic site up and running fast with no messing about, use something like Weebly.)

Finally, remember to get someone to proof-read your site – however unfairly, typos will suggest that you’re sloppy and that the work you do will also be sloppy.

That’s it; sorted!

Note: If you don’t register your own domain, weebly and most other web-builder software companies will give you a free one. Your domain name will then resemble www.webbuildercompany/yourbusiness.com – which is fine.  But it looks cheap and temporary – not messages you want to send to potential customers. Better to have your own domain; i.e., www.yourbusiness.com.  Once you register your own domain, there is a facility within weebly whereby you can “point” it at your new site.

Small business website tips

You can build the site using whatever colours, words and images you like, but there are a few design-constants worth heeding if you want to be taken seriously online:

A cluttered or “busy” site looks amateurish and puts people off.  Keep it simple.  Any more than 5 main tabbed pages across the top of your site and you’ve lost the design plot.  You’re not NASA.  Most SMEs need no more than the following five tabbed pages across the top of your site:

i. The “home” page. This is where you post a very brief (2 to 3 sentences) describing your business and where you’d usually also add any news items or updates. Add a relevant photo or logo which sells your business.  Tip: a professional-looking logo at the top of your site will separate you from the herd and can be replicated on your business cards / company van.  Trillick’s EMF Design will do one for you. Your phone number and e-mail should also be on your home page, clearly visible.  You still see expensive sites where you have to click, 2, 3, 4 or more times – just to get a phone number.  You’d almost think they were trying to avoid customers.

ii. The “about us” page. Short history of your business. Add a (friendly) photo of yourself. People respond better to a face.

iii. The “products” or “services” page. Detail on exactly what it is you do or sell. Avoid waffle and empty bragging. Use short sentences.

iv. The “testimonials” page. Get some quotes from people who’d be happy to recommend you and add them here.  Tip: write the testimonials in draft yourself and send them to your potential “recommender” and let them amend them.  People will usually be happy to give you a plug, but many people hate writing, and if you sit back and wait for the text of their recommendation, you could be waiting forever.

v. The “contact us” page. Include your street address, directions, google map, a ‘phone number and either an e-mail address or contact form. If you communicate with customers using e.g. Twitter or Facebook (see FAQs below), add those details here too.

That’s all you need. It’ll take you about an hour.

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Give it a go!

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Couple of other FAQs below:

Who does the “hosting” mentioned above?

If you’re building a complex site, the website-builder software and the data hosting services will usually be provided by separate companies. However, if you’re building a basic site, the company which provides the website-builder software usually will also host your pages for you, for free, or for a small fee. These all-in-one companies will also give you a free domain name. As mentioned, the only slight issue with these free domain names is that they don’t look very professional.

What is meant by a “complex” site?

For instance, a site with a shopping cart and secure web payment facilities, the ability to store thousands of large-file images etc (such as a commercial photographer’s site). People who spend money and time developing complex sites usually wish to develop an active web-sales strategy to accompany the site. This will involve understanding how to use Google rankings techniques, building search term “landing pages”, an active social media strategy, metatag cleaning, hacker-proof sales carts, international tax, using amazon and ebay effectively and adding multilingual and localisation attributes etc.  All of these topics are beyond the scope of this note.  For now, just get yourself started.

What about getting a business e-mail?

It’s not impressive to use gmail or other web-mails, but it is acceptable.  Just don’t use your personal account or send sensitive financial etc information by gmail (or by any e-mail for that matter).  Or just use the e-mail your ISP gave you (such as BT Internet etc).  If you opt for separate hosting, your hosting company usually will give you custom e-mail addresses as part of their services.  Or for a small annual fee you can use Google Apps or Microsoft 365 to get a custom e-mail address.

Do I need a social media page?

You don’t need one, certainly not right away.  If all you want is to have the online equivalent of a business telephone directory listing, your website will do you fine.  All that so many potential customers want is to be able to find your phone number and e-mail and the briefest description of what it is you do.  If you’re John Smith a plumber from Trillick and someone googles you but finds zero about you and instead gets a page with details of a plumber from Fintona, chances are they’ll forget about calling you.  Make life simple for customers.  People nowadays expect you to have basic information about your services /products online.  Hiding away from potential customers isn’t much of a strategy in 2014!

However, once you’re comfortable with having a site, social media pages are a handy way of publicising it; and you can set up a twitter account and facebook page (again, ask a young person).  Ask your friends who are on facebook and twitter respectively to “like” and “follow” your new facebook and twitter pages.  Keep your tweets polite and professional and keep your facebook page simple – they’re just for publicising your website, not for competing with it.