Small Business Website Design and Hosting Essentials

Everybody knows their small business needs a web presence today. But what are the essentials? What style site do you need? What about SEO and SMM and CMS and other acronyms? Here is a simple Top Ten list of website requirements for success today:

  1. A clear, concise description of your business: You need to grab your visitor in the first 2 or 3 seconds. Be Clear, Concise and Compelling.
  2. A simple, easy-to-remember and easy-to-type web domain: ideally, a .com URL omitting hyphens and unusual spellings if possible as these are stumbling blocks to potential visitors.
  3. Easy to follow navigation: an navigation scheme with top level sections and sub-sections as needed, typically a navigation bar at the top with your main sections and dropdowns for your sub-sections.
  4. Contact Info! Make it easy for folks to contact you with contact info in the footer and a contact us page with phone, email, physical address, and any other pertinent information. Set your email to your domain so potential customers can easily remember it and associate it with you (example: me@mydomain.com rather than me@gmail.com).
  5. Fresh, high quality content: keep your site updated regularly so it’s always fresh; a blog can help immensely in keeping fresh content on the homepage.
  6. Attention-grabbing design fitting your subject area: a tourism site, for instance, should feature photo galleries of key destinations, a photographer’s site a rich gallery of sample work, and a manufacturer’s site aiming at online sales product info, photos, and easy way to purchase
  7. Reliable, secure hosting: it’s easy to get web hosting for $10 or less per month these days, but how reliable is the host? how readily available to service your needs? how flexible in their offerings? I offer my clients a hosting plus support package tailored to their needs, so that they have guaranteed time each month for their special requirements at a reduced rate.
  8. SEO (Search Engine Optimization): website elements that help drive search engines to find your site, including keywords, alt and title tags, inbound links, and social media.
  9. SMM (Social Media Marketing) or just “Social”: your social media connections, from Facebook to Twitter and LinkedIn to Tumblr.
  10. CMS (Content Management System): you need a CMS that facilitates easy and flexible site maintenance, whether you edit the site yourself, have a webmaster or even team to manage the site, or a combination. There are many platforms available today, but the most versatile and simple to use for a small business is a WordPress site.

I will address these issues in more detail future posts.

So You Have Facebook, Do You Still Need a Website?

Ernie Black, WebmasterNo doubt Facebook is powerful, and your company, however large or small, should be on Facebook. And you should have a Twitter feed. And don’t forget Pinterest, Tumblr, and all the other great social media out there today. So with all this, do you still need your own destination website?

In a word, yes. Or rather, in a word, Branding. Image. Your website is your online presence, your best opportunity to develop your Brand online, with the look and feel and features that reflect what you do. On Facebook, every page pretty much looks the same: different photos and text, sure, and you can build specific tabs for your Twitter profile, YouTube channel, and even open an F-Commerce store to sell your products, but all with the same generic Facebook look and feel. But on your own website, you control the layout, the choice and positioning of graphics, the features you want to display, and more. Compare any company’s Facebook page to their unique website, and the difference is immediate and striking. Yes, you need a Facebook presence, but to build your brand, you also need your own website.

The second big reason for your own website: it’s yours. You own the content and the data. If–or rather, when–Facebook decides to make a major change in how things are done on Facebook (like they’ve never done this before), you have no recourse but to go along with the changes. And if they decide for whatever reason to close your page, you’re lost. Most important, if you’re gathering data and building a database of your users, customers, products, events, etc., on your site that database is yours, not Facebook’s. (Yes, you should backup your data on a regular basis and keep it safely in a separate location, but it’s yours.)

You want another reason? SEO: Search Engine Optimization. If your website is built with SEO in mind, then you have a better chance to be found in the top search engine results on Google, Bing, or Yahoo. This is a big topic, deserving separate discussion, but just Google SEO to learn more.

There’s lots more you can do with your own database: create forms for user input and interactivity; promote your products; promote other websites; connect to your YouTube channel, Twitter, Tumblr, and, yes, Facebook; blog to build more interest and traffic; create a forum for discussion groups; and so much more.

So the short answer is, yes, you still need your own website. And yes, you still need to take advantage of Facebook and other Social Media. It’s not either/or, it’s both.