If you are running a small business or a start-up, and need to build a website, you will probably have lots of questions. Do I really need a website? How much will it cost? Will it be worth the investment? These are all perfectly reasonable questions that I am happy to answer. Over the years, I have been involved with the creation of countless sites, and I thought it might be helpful to share some of the lessons I have learned. This article is aimed at small business owners and founders of start-ups who are not technical and do not have in-house developers. So here goes – my top ten things that every SME should know about building a website.
1. Your domain name is really, really important.
Whether you are running a “bricks and mortar” business that is mostly carried out offline, or your entire business relies your site, getting the domain name right is key. Anything that is too long, too tricky to remember or read out over the phone, that involves multiple hyphens or dashes, is not going to be an asset. If your company name is long, consider a sensible abbreviation. It’s no coincidence that there seems to be a trend among online companies for names that are no longer than two syllables, particularly among tech businesses that need to have a memorable online brand (Uber, Twitter, Canva, Toggl etc), The shorter and snappier the name, the better. Try not to use a domain name that someone else is using but with a different extension, like .net or .com for example, as this can be confusing for your customers.
2. Websites have never been more affordable
In the olden days of the twentieth century, you could spend thousands on a website, tens of thousands, even hundreds of thousands of pounds. People who built websites were like alchemists, schooled in the dark arts of HTML and PHP, beavering away in their often shiny glass agency towers and turning gold into code. Nowadays, depending on what you need your site to do, and what your business does, you can buy a WordPress template for about $40, allow about £25 for some stock images if you don’t have your own, pay a freelance developer an hourly rate to build it for you and make it work, pay someone like me to write all the content for you and make sure it is user friendly and search engine friendly, and – ta da! You have a five page WordPress site without having to remortgage the house or sell an internal organ. Less exciting than alchemy but a lot more useful.
3. Nobody cares about clever
To be more accurate, nobody cares that your website pops up, revolves, zooms in and out, talks to you the minute you land on the homepage or has a theme tune. What people do care about is that your website is clear, well written, has good images, includes all the essential info they are looking for, and is easy to navigate.
4. Your website needs to be responsive
There is no excuse for a website that doesn’t work on mobile phones and tablets. All the WordPress templates we work with at Toccaweb are fully responsive as standard. If someone tries to sell you a feature or an add-on that doesn’t work on phones and tablets, ignore them.
5. The Wrong Browsers
Your website needs to work equally well in Google Chrome, Internet Explorer, Firefox and any other browsers. It also needs to display correctly when viewed in different screen resolutions. When you are putting together a website brief for a designer, specify that you want it to do this.
6. The Customer is always right, especially when they are wrong
What I mean here, is don’t think of yourself when you are putting your website together. You already know all about your business and how great it is. You might understand how to use a parallax scroll and what a quote icon means, but will your customer? If a customer looks at your website and doesn’t understand what you offer, why you are brilliant, and how to get in touch, then you may as well not bother. If in doubt, find a group of customers and let them tell you what they know, what they want, and what they expect from your site.
7. Get to grips with your back end
It amazes me that some businesses are still being sold websites where access to the back end content management system (CMS) is an extra, or in some cases, is not possible. Right at the start of the process, explain to the person building your site that you need to be in control of updating the site content and managing the CMS. In WordPress the CMS is fully accessible, and is so easy to use it takes me about 10 minutes to show even the least web-savvy client how to update their site.
8. The mysterious world of web hosting
Harking back to the olden days again, web hosting was another one of those mysterious and arcane topics that was essentially so boring that few clients would insist on much detail. This allowed hosting companies and re-sellers to basically make up numbers and say things like “On your basic hosting package, you can have 10,000 site visits a month, but anything over that and the whole thing will explode unless you upgrade to our superior max power package, which means that up to 15,000 people can use your website in a month without it breaking”. Now just go for a hosting company that offers 99.9% up time, with UK-based servers and a decent customer support reputation and start from there. Unless you have a site that uses lots of video, images or has a vast shop, usually the basic package will be fine.
9. Allow a realistic timescale for the build, then double it
Even the most basic website will take longer than you think to get it ready to go live. If you start with a good brief and a clear idea of what you need the site to do, you will be off to a good start, but along the way things will almost certainly get delayed. Always ask your web developer for a detailed project plan with timescales and milestones so that you have something to work from, but allow plenty of time for contingencies.
10. Don’t sweat the detail
The beauty of having a CMS which is accessible and easy to update is that you don’t have to get it 100% “right” before you go live. A website is not a book or a painting. It is never “done”. You may be the mastermind behind it (well, you and your designer), but you are not the best person to judge how effective the site is. This judgment can only be made by the customers who are using your site. More often than not, the project owner will slave away over the detail of the website for weeks, tweaking images, copy and bits of functionality. Customers will then take approximately 3 seconds to decide that they can’t understand the website and they will go elsewhere. The mistake is thinking that going live is the end of the process, when in reality, it is just the beginning.