It’s no longer feasible to run a business, even a brick-and-mortar one, without a web presence.
Consumers turn to the internet for everything from product research to location and operating hours. Having even a simple website that’s well-designed can give you an edge in your field, and if you have products to sell, your site can open up new markets and expand your business cheaply and easily.
Website design software has evolved so it’s easier to use now more than ever. You don’t need to know coding to develop an attractive and functional site. No matter what program you use, there are basic rules and tips that will give your website a professional look, make it easy to find, and show your company in the best light.
Every website has a hosting provider, a content management system to build the website on, a theme, a builder within the theme, and plugins used to help the website function.
Here’s our step-by step guide to creating a successful business website.
1. Determine the Primary Purpose of Your Website
A business website generally serves as a space to provide general information about your company or a direct platform for e-commerce. Regardless of whether you create a simple website that tells a little about your company or a more complex e-commerce site, the most important thing you must do is say, on the home page in plain terms, what your company does. Do not make customers root around to discover if your company can do what they need.
“Think about your specific user experience, and the journey the user will go through as they navigate your site,” added Braedon Kruse, CEO of website design and digital marketing agency Sooner Marketing Solutions. “Whatever the fundamental goal of your website is or whatever the focus may be, users should be easily able to achieve it, and the goal itself should be reinforced as users navigate throughout your site.”
If you don’t plan to accept payments through your website, you won’t have as much work to do in setting it up. If you are a retailer or service provider and want to offer customers the option to pay online, you’ll need to use an external service to receive your payments, which will be discussed later in this article.
2. Decide Your Domain Name
Your domain name is one of the most important features of your website. It’s the URL you’ll be sharing with your current and potential clients and promoting on social media. Therefore, you want it to be descriptive and easy to remember and type in. Try to keep it short, and steer clear of abbreviations, acronyms and numbers if possible, to avoid customer confusion.
You also need to decide your top-level domain, or TLD. This is the suffix at the end of your domain name, such as .com, .net or .biz. However, nontraditional TLD names have grown in recent years. While these can be descriptive, .com is still the default. Read our article on choosing a nontraditional TLD for more information.
Once you’ve selected your domain name, you’ll need to confirm its availability and purchase it through a domain registrar like SiteGround GoDaddy, Squarespace, Wix or Web.com. Don’t forget to check copyrights to make sure you’re not infringing on anyone else’s protected name with your website. If your preferred URL is already taken, you can call the company and ask to buy it from them.
3. Choose A Website Hosting Provider
Every website needs a “host,” a server where all of the data is stored for the public to access at all times. As a small business, hosting your own website is simply too large an expense, so you’ll need to select an external host.
Depending on your budget, you can follow two different routes. A shared web host, the least-expensive option, means you’ll share a server with other sites. Dedicated hosting costs significantly more, but it means that you get your own private server and won’t have to compete with other sites that could drag down your speed. For help choosing a web hosting service, visit our buyer’s guide.
“When choosing a host, consider how well that host can answer questions about its server locations and reliability”, said Jim Cowie, chief scientist at cloud-based Internet performance company Dyn.
“It’s good to ask, ‘Can you show me how close you are to the major markets my customers are going to be in?'” said Cowie. “Any good hosting provider should have the tools to show you … measurements of their performance,” he added.
“As you grow, you may find that you need to upgrade to a different web host, or even work with multiple providers to handle your website traffic and operations.” Cowie advised keeping a close eye on your site performance and the experience your customers have using your website so you can determine your hosting needs.
4. Select Your CMS (Content Management System) Platform
Your Content Management System (CMS) is the chassis of your content marketing campaign.It doesn’t matter how great your content is, if your CMS can’t display and manage it right, it won’t have nearly half the impact it deserves.
This might sound like a moot point, but I’ve seen plenty of organizations plateau because their CMS can’t keep up with their ambitions or their growth. The fact that you can’t switch over your CMS with a flick of a button makes your choice all the more important.
So what should you look for when choosing a CMS? What features should you prioritize? Should you opt for a SaaS or a hosted solution? What stakeholders should be part of the decision-making process?
There’s no denying the popularity of WordPress. Powering over 32 percent of websites is a major feat. With its extensive directory of plugins and themes along with its easy-to-use front-end editor, WordPress has allowed many brands to set up a website, blog or app with little or no technical support.
However, the downside is that WordPress does suck up a lot of time in maintenance, and you’ll need technical knowledge to customize the design, functionality, and layout of your site.
Who it’s for: WordPress is suitable for setting up simple and straightforward blogs in travel, lifestyle and other recreational areas, news sites, and websites containing static content. Some businesses have used WordPress for eCommerce via the WooCommerce plugin.
WordPress.org (also known as self hosted WordPress) is the world’s most popular website building platform. Over 35% of all websites on the internet are powered by WordPress.
Note: There are two versions of WordPress available. There is self-hosted WordPress.org and WordPress.com. We will talk about WordPress.com later in this article. You can also read our WordPress.org vs WordPress.com comparison for more details.
The self-hosted WordPress tops our list of best website builder due to its popularity, powerful features, scalability, and ease of use.
WordPress is a free and open source website builder. This means that you have maximum control over your website compared to any other online website builder in this list.
Unlike other website builders, you will need a WordPress hosting account and host your own website (this is a lot easier than it sounds).
WordPress gives you complete control on every aspect of your website and online presence. It can be used to build any kind of website. For example, an eCommerce store, community forums, a social network, a membership website, personal website, and more.
There are thousands of pre-made WordPress themes that you can use for your website’s design. It also has amazing drag and drop page builders like Beaver Builder and Divi which allow you to easily create your own page layouts using a drag-and-drop editor.
Shopify is another popular eCommerce website builder designed specifically for online stores and ecommerce websites. It powers more than half a million businesses with 1 million active users. Over 40 Billion dollars worth of products have been sold on Shopify’s platform.
Shopify is an all-in-one fully hosted solution, this means you don’t have to worry about managing software, installing updates, or keeping backups. Shopify does all that for you.
It offers integrated payment solution called Shopify Payments. You can also add third-party payment gateways to accept payments.
As an ecommerce website builder, Shopify comes with full inventory management, unlimited products, powerful stats, easy marketing solutions, all neatly wrapped under one roof. They have hunereds of designs to choose from, and you will never need to add code.
With its intuitive drag and drop interface, Shopify makes it super-easy to create a full-fledged ecommerce store. They also offer in-store POS, which allows you to sell products at your location, while accepting all credit cards and taking advantage of Shopify’s inventory, shipping, marketing, and stats management tools.
You can even integrate Shopify into WordPress, allowing you to use both great solutions at the same time.
If you are just starting out, then you may find Shopify’s pricing a bit higher than some other website builders in this list.
If you ever want to move your website away from Shopify, you will find it quite difficult to do so.
Squarespace is known for its ease-of-use thanks to its user-friendly interface and drag and drop capability. Users can create their own customized designs for websites and online stores. It also comes with a multitude of built-in integrations including Adobe Creative Suite, Google Drive, Getty Images, and more.
But I would like to highlight that Squarespace is not a headless CMS out-of-the-box. It can be turned into an API, but you would need the assistance of a full-time developer to make this possible.
Who it’s for: Suitable for bloggers and small businesses who want to set up a website and just get going, without having to worry about any technical elements.
Weebly is an easy website builder software with tons of great designs. It includes a beautifully crafted page builder which allows you to edit your website without learning any coding skills.
Weebly is a fully hosted platform, so you don’t need to install and manage any software. They take care of hosting your website and managing all the software that runs in the backend.
It comes with dozens of website designs to use as an starting point for your website. These gorgeous designs are fully editable using Weebly’s live page editor.
Weebly also comes with built-in support for ecommerce. This allows you to easily create an online store and start selling.
Each Weebly site comes with built in features for contact forms, photo galleries, sliders, and more. This allows you to easily add features to your website without any complicated setup process.
Given the ease of use and great features, Weebly is consistently rated among the best DIY website builders for beginners.
Weebly.com offers a fully hosted platform, so you are locked to the features they offer. You cannot hire a developer or designer to add new functionality or feature to your website.
Weebly charges 3% transaction fees on every purchase made through your ecommerce store. You’ll need to upgrade to their business plan to avoid these additional fees.
Wix.com is another popular cloud based website builder software. It offers ease of use combined with a powerful set of features to easily build your website.
Wix website creator is a fully hosted platform, so you will not have to pay for hosting. You get access to hundreds of templates to choose for your website’s design. Each template is fully editable with their intuitive drag and drop site builder.
It also comes with dozens of free and paid apps that you can install on your website. These apps allow you to add new features and functionality to your website. Some of them are created by Wix, and others are created by third-party developers.
Wix offers a free plan with limited bandwidth and storage. However, you can use this plan to test drive their drag and drop website builder. It does not include a domain name, so if you decide to keep your website, then you may want to upgrade to a premium plan.
You also get a free SSL with all Wix plans, but you will need to turn it on for your website.
Free and Connect Domain plans will show Wix branded ads on your website. You’ll need to upgrade to their Combo or Unlimited plan to remove those ads.
If you ever decide to move your website away from Wix, then you will find it quite complicated to do so.
Their Connect Domain plan which costs $9.16 per month only lets you connect a custom domain name, so you’ll still have to buy a domain name separately.
Originally developed as a student community solution, Drupal has gone on to become a fully-fledged open source social publishing CMS with a flexible and modular layout, making it highly customizable. Plus, with over 36,000 extension modules, Drupal can be extended to suit a company’s needs.
The downside though, is that the backend administration in Drupal is quite complicated and does require a lot of technical expertise. For example, to add a module, you need to install it via FTP, which is a complex process. Plus, updating extensions are also quite tedious, since some of the extensions are not always compatible with the backend.
Who it’s for: Drupal is suitable for small and medium-sized organizations who have access to technical expertise. It’s ideal for community platforms, sites with multiple users, and sites which require complex data organization.
Joomla is the second biggest open source CMS offering in the market with over 2.5 million installations. Unlike WordPress, Joomla comes with more comprehensive out-of-the-box features, meaning you don’t need to install a load of extensions during the initial set up.
This particular CMS is based on a stand-alone MVC framework, allowing Joomla users to create their own extensions and share it with the community.
But similar to Drupal, the extensions need to be installed via the backend. Also, the premium extensions can be quite pricey as well. And in terms of rights management and approval, this is often seen as inadequate.
Who it’s for: Despite being aimed at both beginners and advanced users, Joomla is more challenging than WordPress. It is suitable for smaller and medium-sized projects in e-commerce, community platforms, social publishing, and social networking.
5. Select Your CMS (Content Management System) Platform
Choosing the Best Website Builder — What to Look for?
Before comparing the top website builders, we recommend that you write down what you want to do with your website? What are your goals and what features would you like to see on your website.
For example, you can write down things like: have a blog section, photo gallery, online store, reservation system, contact form, slider, etc.
If you are unsure about what you want, then check out your competitors or other websites for inspiration.
Most website builders offer a drag and drop user interface to build your website. You can take advantage of the trial accounts to test drive before you make your final decision.
Next, you need to consider your growth options. Will you be adding regular updates to your website? Do you need a blog section? Would you be selling more products on your website in the future?
You need to make sure that the website builder you choose is capable of handling your needs as your business grows
6. Build Your Pages
A good website is more than a static home page. You’ll want to create multiple pages dedicated to different aspects of your business, such as a detailed catalog of your products or services, or a blog section for company updates. As for your overall website, you want to be sure each page supports the primary goal of the website, has a clear purpose and includes a call to action (e.g., learn more, sign up, contact us or buy this).
A contact page, your customers’ direct link to you, is one of the most important sections of a website, so make sure you include as much information as you can (phone number, email address and physical location, if applicable). It’s also a good idea to include information about the founding team or staff on an “About” page to help customers put real names and faces to your brand.
If your business doesn’t already have a logo, hire a graphic designer from Sooner Marketing Solutions or create a logo yourself to use on your website, business cards and social media profiles. This will help your clients identify your company quickly and easily on the web.
Be clear about what your business does. Distill what your business does into a clear, concise statement and lead with that. Visitors should be able to understand what you do within seconds of landing on your home page. A few well-written pages are more effective than dozens of poorly written ones.
Place strategic calls to action. Call-to-action buttons tend to perform best when they match the information on the page. For example, a “Buy Now” button makes sense on a product page, but not on the About page. Rather a “Contact us to learn more” might be more appropriate. Likewise, a page listing customer reviews might have a button that takes the reader to the available plans and pricing.
Automate speed improvements. Set up as many automated speed improvements as you can. If you use a content management system (CMS), installing the right plugins will cache parts of your site so visitors don’t need to download anything more than once. For WordPress users, Braedon Kruse recommended WP Rocket, which compresses files and allows visitors to browse your site more quickly. Some of the more technical aspects of caching and compressing files may require a Web development partner if you’re not particularly tech-savvy.
Avoid stock photos. Cheesy stock photography is the quickest way to turn a great site into a mediocre one. If you’re looking for photos to use on your page, it’s best to use a picture of your actual team or office.
Braedon added that high-quality images of the products increase sales, so invest in good photos of the products or services you sell.
7. Set Up Your Payment System (if applicable)
While this step won’t apply to all business websites, companies that want to offer the option to pay online will need to integrate electronic payment systems into their websites. The easiest way to do this is through e-commerce software or third-party payment processors.
Many web hosts offer an in-house shopping cart or integration with e-commerce programs. Do some research to make sure you get a solution that’s easy to work with and flexible enough to meet your needs now and in the future. To explore your e-commerce software options, visit Business News Daily’s best picks list.
6. Test and Publish Your Website
Before announcing that your site is live on the web, make sure it works on all major browsers, like Internet Explorer, Microsoft Edge, Firefox, Safari and Chrome. Click through each page and feature on every browser to ensure images show up, links are correct and the format looks smooth. This will take some time, but the effort you put in now will save future complaints from visitors who can’t access certain features.
Another important feature to incorporate into your website from the very beginning is an analytics program. By setting this up before the website is live, you can iron out any issues and coordinate a proper setup, Shaoolian said. Once the website is live, you can monitor page performance and determine why a page is successful or unsuccessful based on your analytics.
“You can look at which of your marketing campaigns are showing the most conversions, and examine any metrics such as city, browser, etc., to shed some light on how your audience is interacting with your site,” Shaoolian said. “If you … implement this [after] the site goes live, you’ll miss out on valuable data and have no way of seeing which elements of your site are successful or unsuccessful right from the start.”
7. Market Your Website on Social Media/Search Engines
Social media, whether Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or Pinterest, is the best way to increase your audience reach and alert customers and clients about what’s going on with your company. Whenever you update your website, post about it on your social media outlets — but balance that out with genuine, nonpromotional engagement.
Also include links to your social media on your website. The most common places are the footer or the ancillary bar (the extra menu in the top right that often holds login or contact links). Learn more about social media for business in our marketer’s guide.
Submitting your website to major search engines will also help direct potential leads to your page, as will deploying a strong search engine optimization (SEO) strategy across your site. Braedon Kruse said that defining title tags, meta-descriptions and uniform resource identifiers (URIs) that are relevant to your company and aspects of your industry will help ensure that you rank correctly in search engines for the products or services that you’re trying to market.
“Building relevant keywords into your content from the very first phases of your website, and having a strong focus on SEO from website launch, will help you generate traffic early on,” he said.
8. Maintain your site
Staying relevant is important, so update your website frequently with blog posts on current industry events, new products and offers, and company news to keep visitors coming back to the site.
Our Managed Wordpress Website Support Plan’s offer everything from daily back-ups, performance monitoring (site speed), security monitoring, Wordpress and plugin up-dates, and much more.
You should also check at least monthly to ensure your software and all add-ons are up to date. Braedon said that if your software is not up to date, it’s in danger of being hacked, even if the website host’s security is strong. If you don’t have time to do this yourself, delegate the task to a trusted employee or hire a freelance website manager from Sooner Marketing Solutions.
Starting a website for your business is a low-cost investment that will help you to both establish credibility and reach a wider customer base than you ever could through traditional marketing techniques. If you keep your website updated with fresh, current content and are quick to address technical issues, you’ll never have to worry about “not existing” to your current and future clients.