Nowadays, it takes more than just having a business website to keep your website relevant and attract the necessary traffic volume to scale your business. There are some practices you will need to make and it starts from the beginning of your website. Below I have listed a few of these practices and I invite you to read and practice them in order to keep your website relevant in today’s ever competitive digital world.
Purchase secure, scalable website hosting with good tech support
A website host (or sometimes referred to as a website hosting provider) is a company that offers the technology and services necessary for a website to be viewed on the internet. You connect your domain name to your hosting provider so that when users visit your website address, they are shown your website that you store on your hosting account.
Here are some guidelines for choosing a good website hosting plan:
Although you can get a “shared server” hosting plan for as little as $2 per month, I would typically advise against this. Shared hosting means you are sharing a server and its resources with other customers, which can make the performance of your site suffer. Also, if one of the other websites on your shared server is hacked, it is possible for your website to also be infected.
A “dedicated server” hosting plan is the most expensive option—cost can range from around $100 to $2,000 per month—but it would make your website perform the most optimally. Having a dedicated server plan means that the physical server machine is entirely dedicated to your site; therefore, all the resources are yours and it is more secure than a shared hosting plan, as long as the technology is optimal. However, it is much more expensive than what most small businesses usually are willing to pay. Once you have a very high-performing site, this may be what you need, but it is overkill for most early stage and small businesses.
The compromise I typically recommend is a “virtual private server” (VPS) hosting plan which offers the best of both worlds. The cost ranges from around $20 to $50 per month, which is affordable for the hosting services you will receive. A VPS is one machine that is partitioned to act as multiple machines, which gives it a similar affordability to shared hosting, with similar security and performance potential as a dedicated server hosting plan.
Make sure your hosting company has phone and/or chat support so you can be helped quickly if you have a problem. Email support can often take too long and become frustrating when a problem needs to be resolved immediately. Phone support is best, but chatting works as well, too.
Check to see what kind of server security is in place on the server you are considering. You will want to be able to access your server via Secure File Transfer Protocol (SFTP). There should be daily backups being made of your server contents. There should also be an easy, one or two-click method to install Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) certificates. Make sure the hosting company performs regular security maintenance. Ideally your hosting company has a published security protocol you can review so you know how they keep their servers safe.
Choose a good e-commerce platform
If you sell a product, it’s important that you have an e-commerce website. Today, a tremendous amount of shopping is done online. Not having an ecommerce website is shutting out almost half of your potential customers and seriously hurting your business due to the increase of online shopping options that are being made available to your customers by your competitors. If you decide to allow users to financially transact with you online, you will need to choose the right platform for your business model.
Here are some popular small business e-commerce platforms:
WooCommerce: WooCommerce is one of the world’s most popular e-commerce platforms—it can turn your WordPress website into an online store. Like WordPress, there are many plugins available, and it attaches to WordPress, which makes it extremely flexible. There are many free and premium themes pre-built for WooCommerce. (As a rule, it is better to use a premium theme from a reputable developer because it will offer better security and support.) If you are not tech-savvy, you will most likely need a WordPress developer to help you set it up and use it. WooCommerce also offers a very high amount of capabilities and scalability that your small business might need.
Shopify: Shopify is a cloud based e-commerce platform that allows you to create and customize an online store, and to manage products, inventory, payments, and shipping. It is not a WordPress extension like WooCommerce—it is a standalone platform that is hosted on the Shopify server—so if you have a main website, your e-commerce site would technically be separate from that. You can link to your Shopify account from your regular website built with WordPress, Drupal, Wix, etc., unless your main website has a Shopify integration plugin.
Features include unlimited products, unlimited bandwidth, fraud analysis, discount codes, reports, and much more. The key benefits of Shopify are that you do not need a developer to set up a store, and everything on the backend is already set up for you when you subscribe. The downside is you do not have as much control or flexibility over your store as you would with WooCommerce.
Shopify Plus: Shopify Plus is Shopify, but with a higher level of customization, more staff accounts, and international e-commerce options. It also has a higher level of support. However, all of this obviously comes with a higher subscription cost, and it still does not have all the flexibility and customization abilities as WooCommerce.
Business Squarespace: Squarespace has an e-commerce subscription option, so if you chose Squarespace to build your site and have very simple e-commerce needs, you can choose this route. Business Squarespace charges a transaction fee, but this can be bypassed by upgrading your subscription to a basic online store. It includes a free domain, SSL security, SEO, abandoned cart recovery, discounts, real-time carrier shipping, and more. However, it has been noted it is not as user-friendly as Shopify. And like Shopify, it is simply not as flexible as WooCommerce.
Wix: Wix actually has a Shopify extension which is very user friendly. You will have to upgrade your Wix account and subscribe to Shopify in order to use it.
GoDaddy Online Store: GoDaddy has a relatively new e-commerce standalone subscription platform that is relatively easy to set up and use. Very little technical knowledge is required to launch your shop with GoDaddy Online Store. The templates are simple and clean, and somewhat customizable. Features include marketing and SEO tools, social media integration, appointment booking, SSL security, rapid page loading, and more.
Create an interesting, memorable, and engaging website user interface
Make sure your small business website interface leaves a positive impression that drives results. You can do so by implementing the following suggestions:
Use beautiful graphics and easy-to-read fonts.
Make sure your graphics are compressed and optimized for fast loading. If your website is slow, search engines like Google will penalize your ranking.
Research the competition to see how they have designed and optimized their websites; implement similar components that will work for your small business website.
Research your target audience to see what they want from your site and make it easy for them to accomplish it.
Stay consistently on brand throughout your website design.
Design an intuitive navigation system which allows users to get to the pages they need quickly.
Publish easily accessible contact information.
Incorporate obvious call-to-actions (especially “buy now” buttons).
Create pages that are standard for small business websites, such as:
- About us
- Products/Services (with descriptions and visually appealing images)
- Sitemap (for SEO purposes)
- Management team
- Contact us
- Additional pages relevant to your specific small business
Prominently display a clear description of your business
It is important to let people know who you are and what you do right away so they don’t feel confused when they visit your small business website. Make sure your main homepage banner (also known as a “hero image”) and subsequent banners are visual representations of your services, and also that you have an introductory text blurb near the top of the page that describes who you are and what you do.
Additionally, make sure both your main and footer navigation menus have “About Us” page links easily accessible so people can click them and read more about your business in depth.
Optimize your small business website for search engines
SEO is a set of practices you apply to your website to ensure search engines index and rank your website appropriately and then show it to search engine users. Once your website is “crawled” by search engines, it competes with websites that have similar content. The better your website design and content is, the higher your site will show up on search engine result pages.
SEO mainly includes the following practices:
- Keyword research and implementation
- Optimal website code
- Fast loading speed
- Being secure and having an SSL certificate installed; SSL is the standard security technology that ensures data passed between web servers and browsers remains private
- Having a mobile-friendly site
- Existence of high-quality backlinks (links on external websites with related content) that lead to your site
- Having lots of positive reviews online (Google, Yelp, Facebook, etc.)
- Using internal links throughout your site to keep people clicking and reading
- Using social media to link to your site (LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, etc.)
SEO is an extremely important ongoing process that can mean the difference between showing up on the first page of search engine results pages (resulting in large amounts of free traffic to your website) or page 300 (resulting in no traffic).
Regularly create and publish quality content
Both content quantity and freshness are important to search engines, so it’s important that you create a plan to publish quality articles and/or blog posts on your site and on external sites that link to your site. If you want to rank highly in search engine results and encourage people to return to your site again and again, you will have to update your website with new and relevant content as frequently as possible.
In addition to static page content and articles, a great form of content to post on your website is testimonials. Asking for testimonials from your customers and then publishing them on your website is a great way to post fresh, high-quality content on your site that makes your small business more attractive.
Make sure your content uses an appropriate, on-brand tone that people will enjoy reading.
Install webmaster tools
Make use of vital data to help you analyze traffic and site performance by installing Google Analytics and Google Search Console (both preferably via Google Tag Manager), and Bing Webmaster Tools. These tools can be used to track the following types of information:
- Daily, weekly, and monthly visitors to your site
- Number of views on each page of your site
- “Bounce rate”—the percentage of users who come to your site and leave after having only viewed one page (Google algorithms give higher rankings to websites that have a low bounce rate, on the theory that visitors are spending more time on the site and find it valuable.)
- Average time spent on site by visitors
- Crawl errors on your site (errors that the search engines found on your site in crawling its content)
- Broken links on the site
- Keywords that lead users to your site
- Backlinks to your site
- Web page download time
- Other information that can help you enhance your SEO
Implement a website maintenance plan
A website shouldn’t be created and then allowed to grow stale. In order to have a successful website that ranks well in search engines and doesn’t get hacked, you need to make sure it is properly maintained.
Here are some tips to create a small business website maintenance plan:
- Check Webmaster Tools data at least once a month and have any vital errors emailed to you in real time.
- Use traffic data to learn more about your audience so you can better cater to them.
- Use performance data to optimize and fix warnings and errors.
- Make sure all software is always up to date.
- Run security scans so you know your website is clean of malware and hasn’t been hacked.
- Use “split testing” to see if certain variations of your website help performance; for example, if you are selling a product, you might have two versions of a particular landing page with different images and wording—the split testing allows you to see which version has a higher conversion rate.
- Follow my advice about SEO (see point #7), and continually publish quality content (see point #8).
- Find on-trend and effective ways to market your business online.
- Allow website users to provide you with feedback about your site.
- Continue to check out your competition from time to time to see what they are doing with their online presence and see if what they’ve done can work for you as well.
- Make sure your website is backed up in multiple ways at least once a day and at least 10 days back.
Have an Effective Overall Digital Marketing Strategy
Focusing time and effort on an effective digital marketing strategy is one of the main keys to digital success. Rather than throwing ideas at a wall and seeing if any of them stick, it’s crucial that you develop a strategy that is designed to help you meet your specific business goals. You need to have a plan for how you will get your content, your brand and your message out to the world. And you need to be able to adapt this plan to changes in the marketplace.
Making changes to your website and your digital strategy can have a huge impact on your success. For example, in 2012, Coca-Cola launched “Coca-Cola Unbottled,” a company blog. The website underwent several changes in design, content and focus over the next several months. After making changes and looking at the data, Coke used this data to determine what other changes are necessary to the design of the site. These changes resulted in a 106% increase in page views and a 1,247% increase in “Unbottled” home page visits. This shows how having a sound digital strategy and regularly monitoring how this strategy is performing can positively impact your business.
It’s also crucial that your website is designed in a way that helps funnel your users towards a purchasing decision. By directing visitors to a purchasing decision, you make it easier for them to buy from you. Not only does this increase sales, it also improves a user’s experience with your website and therefor will increase the likelihood of them shopping with you again and referring their friends and family to your site and product. The less hoops that someone has to go through to buy from you will directly translate into more revenue for your business.