These days, if your business doesn’t have a website, it doesn’t exist to your customers. From product research to store locations and operating hours, consumers and corporate buyers turn to the internet before they make any purchasing decision. So no matter how small your business is (or should I say especially if your business is small?), you need a functional website to stay in the game.
However, I fully empathise if you’re reluctant to spend thousands of dollars hiring web developers only to find out – months later – that they didn’t understand what you want and instead, went ahead to build a website that doesn’t represent your company. Yes, we’ve all been there.
Have you thought of building your own website? You must be thinking now, “Hey, wait a minute, I’m no web designer, and I don’t know the first thing about programming. Can I really do it?”
Here’s the good news. Nowadays, creating a website for your small business is easier than you think. With a little investment in time and some willingness to learn, you can do it. Here’s to share a personal experience: I’m neither a programmer nor a web designer, but I’ve built two websites with WordPress – including this one – without any help from a web developer. How’s that for a little inspiration?
Before we go into the nuts and bolts of building a website on your own, let’s look at its pros and cons.
Pros Of Building Your Business Website
Learn a new marketing skill – If you’re inclined to acquire new skills as you manoeuvre the business world, you’re a good candidate! With digital marketing being so important these days, knowing how to create websites is an invaluable business skill to have.
Keeping costs down – You can save some money by creating your own website. Keep in mind that while developing a website is a one-time cost, maintaining it is an ongoing expense, especially if the site requires frequent updating. After all, you don’t want to build a website and leave it to rot in the cyberspace. You need to keep it fresh with new information about your company and its products and services.
Maintaining full control – Nobody knows your business as well as you do. By DIY-ing your website, you can command absolute control of the look and feel of the pages, what to include, when to change, etc. Managing your website in-house is especially crucial if your website and online presence is the lifeline of your business.
Cons Of Building Your Business Website
Learning curve – I have to admit that there is a little bit of a learning curve here, especially if you opt for a flexible content management system (CMS) platform such as WordPress. However, there are drag-and-drop site builders such as Wix and Squarespace that are highly intuitive and require no technical skills.
Level of professionalism – We are, after all, not professionals, and we can’t handle complicated technical tasks that require programming. At a point where you need to incorporate complex features into your website, you would need to hire a web developer.
It takes time – Building website needs a bit of time, and yes, time is money. Even if you use site builders such as Wix or Weebly, you’ll likely spend hours creating each page. This means time away from your business, time you could spend on acquiring customers and improving sales. Is it worth it? Only you can answer that question.
Steps To Creating A Website
If you’re still reading this, you’re probably convinced that you can do it. Congratulations! Now, let’s follow this step-by-step guide to creating a successful business website.
1. Decide On Your Domain Name
Your domain name, which is the URL or address of your website (e.g. yourcompanyname.com) is one of the most important features of your website. Before you do anything else, make sure you get your domain name right.
Ideally, your domain name should match your business name, but, likely, your desired domain name is already taken, especially if it contains popular words. If it isn’t available, you’ll have to find an alternative domain name that is easily identifiable and memorable.
When choosing a domain name, try to keep it short (preferably not more than 18 characters) and easy to remember. While most businesses would simply use their business name, some might choose to add keywords (e.g. having the word “boots” somewhere if you’re selling boots) or indicators, such as business location (e.g. bootsinsingapore.com). Remember that your domain name is one of the most powerful SEO tools, and so, having a keyword in it would be very helpful in improving its organic search ranking.
Most domain name registrars allow you to check the availability of your desired domain name. I found this website nameboy.com particularly helpful in checking domain availability and generating suggestions if the domain name is taken up.
You can register and maintain your domain with either domain name registrars such as GoDaddy, Domains.com or Google Domains, or with web hosting providers such as Bluehost, SiteGround, Hostgator and Hostinger. Many domain name registrars are also web hosting service providers, and vice versa. If you are opting to build your web with all-in-one site builders such as Squarespace, Weebly and Wix (but not CMS like WordPress), they can also register your domain name for you.
The two costs you need to keep in mind here are the one-time cost of buying a domain name and the annual cost of keeping your domain name registered. Both costs will set you back around $15 to $20 per year if you go through domain name registrars such as GoDaddy. However, many web hosting plans or site builder plans come with a free domain (or domains), so it’s worth checking those out before you make a decision.
2. Choose Your Web Building Platform
There are a number of platforms for you to choose from, but it boils down to two recommended methods for beginners: using an all-in-one website builder such as Wix, Weebly or Squarespace, or using a CMS platform like WordPress and Joomla. The former is suitable for web-building novices, while the latter requires a steeper learning curve (still highly doable) but provides a more flexible platform.
They are both excellent options, so look at your business needs before deciding on one. But first, allow me to explain each method to you.
All-In-One Website Builder
Using all-in-one website builders like Wix and Squarespace is the quickest and easiest way to create a professional-looking website without having to know a single line of code. Even if you have no prior knowledge of web creation, as long as you have worked with software like PowerPoint, you can create a very decent website, fuss-free. Most functions are intuitively designed, with drag-and-drop and SEO enhancement features to guide you along the way. They also come with domain name registration and web hosting services, so you don’t have to use multiple service providers.
There are many such solutions available in the market. For brevity sake, I’ve narrowed down to three popular and often voted easiest-to-use website builders.
Most people find Wix to be a true drag-and-drop builder, and one of the easiest to use. It offers a wide choice of over 500 beautiful templates while allowing you to customise the themes to make the design your own. The templates are also mobile responsive (meaning the size and dimension of the website change according to the type of devices used).
Unfortunately, Wix doesn’t allow you to switch templates once the website is published, which can be troublesome if you find out at a later stage of the designing process that the selected template doesn’t work for you. The lack of storage space can also be an issue with businesses that have lots of pages or visual content.
Wix comes with a free plan, but you’ll have to make do with the advertisements and limited feature, so I don’t recommend it (it makes your business look cheap). Their non-ads plans range from US$8.50 to US$24.50 per month (paid annually), and they come with a free custom domain, SSL security, web hosting and email service.
Squarespace’s pre-built themes are known to be some of the most stunning, and this site builder is suitable for businesses that benefit from showcasing their products or services visually, for example, photographers, fashion designers and restaurants. Its themes are also mobile-friendly and highly flexible.
However, their quality features come with a slightly steeper price of US$12 to $40 per month (paid annually).
Weebly offers the best features to scale your website and has one of the cheapest starting plans. On the other hand, it isn’t great in the design department, but it is still relatively easy to use. If you want a no-frill, cost-effective website, Weebly may be your choice.
Weebly’s pricing starts at US$5 per month (paid annually).
There are several CMS platforms, but since WordPress is now the most popular (it is reported that in 2020, over 455 million websites, or around 35% of websites in the world use WordPress), we’ll stick to this one.
WordPress is a flexible tool for those who want a highly customisable platform to build a website. It also has thousands of plugins and tools with unique capabilities for every need and requirement.
WordPress does require some learning, and thus, is suitable for those who are keen to acquire the skills in creating and maintaining more complex websites. There are plenty of free web tutorials online that offer step-by-step guidance on how to use WordPress (I recommend wpbeginner.com). If you want a more structured way to learn, websites such as Fiverr Learn and Udemy offer very affordable online courses. Overall, my experience is that it’s not difficult to learn how to use WordPress as long as you are familiar with internet terms and can follow instructions well.
WordPress is absolutely free to use, although some plugins are not (but many highly popular ones are free too). However, being an open-source system, it doesn’t provide any domain registration or web hosting service. If you’re planning to use WordPress, I suggest that you choose your web hosting service provider first (see the next section). Pick one that is WordPress friendly, that is, one that allows you to install WordPress with one click to save you some steps when getting started.
Final Note on WordPress: There’s a difference between WordPress.org and WordPress.com, and you need to be careful not to confuse the two. WordPress.org is the actual open-source WordPress software that anyone can download and use (this is the one I’ve mentioned). WordPress.com, on the other hand, is a for-profit web builder that also offers site hosting services.
3. Choose A Web Hosting Service Provider
You can skip this section if you’re using an all-in-one site builder because most of them come with web hosting. If it doesn’t, or if you’re planning to use WordPress, then you need a web hosting service provider. Again, there are plenty to choose from, and they come with different features and free stuff. Here are the things I would look out for when picking the right web hosting service provider:
Price – The entry price for web hosting can be as low as US$2.95 per month (for an annual contract). Beware of service providers that offer packages that are too good to be true because usually, it means that they come with strings attached like ads or limited storage and bandwidth.
Storage – It depends on your needs. If your website only requires a few pages, this isn’t an issue. But if you plan to blog and expand your pages infinitely, make sure you can scale quickly with an upgrade.
Free stuff – These include free domain name, free emails and free SSL certificate (necessary because Google will flag your website if it is unsecured and also for search-ranking reason).
The more popular web hosting service providers are:
|Web Hosting Provider||Features|
|Bluehost||Basic shared hosting starts from US$2.95 (3-year contract).|
|SiteGround||Known for their excellent customer service, this is one of the best web hosting service providers (and a personal favourite of this author). While it is not the cheapest, it gives the best bang for the buck.|
|HostGator||Offers a range of hosting services from domains to dedicated servers. Its Hatchling Plan starts from US$2.64 per month.|
|Hostinger||With over 30 million users, its popularity is rising. The pricing depends on how long you commit to the service.|
|WP Engine||Offers a comprehensive managed WordPress service that is friendly for setup, updates, security, performance optimisation, troubleshooting, etc.|
4. Organise Your Website
So, you’ve chosen the platform to build your website, and you’re rearing to go. Before you hit that “Choose a Template” button, you must first think about how you want to organise your website. Ask yourself:
- How do you want your website to look like?
- What pages (e.g. home page, about us, company history, management team, products/services, etc.) do you wish to include?
- What goes on the main menu and sub-menu?
- Do you have a company logo?
- Do you have other visuals available that can sprite up your website?
- Do you have the web copy ready?
One way to start organising your website is to create a sitemap. From the sitemap, you can visualise the structure of your website, including the number of pages to create, the link between the pages, and what pages go to the main or sub-menus. With the sitemap, you can then start gathering or creating the content needed to populate your website.
5. Develop Your Web Content
Content development is perhaps the most challenging part of the web creation process. Your content needs to be engaging, easy to understand (but not boring) and convey the right kind of information at the right level. Content can include copy, images, and if you’re ambitious, videos.
You should also think about branding your company with visuals such as logos, corporate colours and pictures of products/services. Remember that the visual appeal of your website is crucial for your visitors to decide whether to continue browsing or leave, so be sure to leave a good impression. The best way to create visuals is to hire a photographer and take original pictures, but if you don’t have the budget for that, using stock photos from sites such as Shutterstock and iStock is a good alternative.
In addition to images, you must also include text that engages your visitors. Not everyone is fond of writing, and if that’s not your cup of tea, you can hire professional copywriters (we’re one of them!) to create winning copy for your site.
6. Choose A Template
Now you can choose a pre-built template or theme from your site builder. Using templates not only makes the design process a lot easier, but it also ensures your website look professional.
Select a template that closely matches your sitemap, and look out for features like submenus, etc. A template with visual elements or background images that match your company’s brand identity would be a bonus.
7. Customise Your Site & Build Your Pages
At this point, let your creativity flow! Customising your site and building its pages take time, but it’s so worth it when you see your efforts come to fruition. A word of caution – don’t overdo it by trying too hard to impress or squeezing too many things into a page.
Here are a few tips when customising your site:
- The website should be intuitive and easy to navigate; it should allow visitors to get to pages quickly without getting lost.
- Don’t overcrowd each page. Make sure there is sufficient white space for your readers’ eyes to focus on the important stuff.
- Choose easy-to-read fonts, especially for the body text.
- Make sure your graphics and images are compressed and optimised. Nothing turns your visitors off more than a slow-loading website. It’ll also affect your search engine ranking.
- Make sure there is consistency in design and branding throughout your site.
- Make sure your call-to-action (e.g. contact us now) is prominent and accessible on each page.
8. Don’t Forget To Test Before You Publish!
There is bound to be errors or omissions, so review your website thoroughly once you’ve finished creating all the pages. Check for typos and grammatical mistakes in the text, broken links or missing images. If possible, get other people to test your site (when you look at it for too long, you can no longer see what’s wrong with it). Only when you’re confident that your website is error-free, then you click the “Publish” button.
9. Optimise Your Website With SEO
Internet traffic doesn’t magically appear once you’ve launched your website. Like anything in business (and in life), you need to work for it.
That’s where search engine optimisation (SEO) comes in. It is the set of practices and processes that you apply to your website to ensure optimal organic (or free) ranking in search engines. The aim is to rank as high as possible when someone searches for your products or services. Preferably, your website should show up on the first or first few pages of the search engine result.
Some of the SEO practices include:
- Incorporating well-researched keywords into the web copy
- Optimising codes on the website
- Improving loading speed
- Installing an SSL certificate
- Having high-quality backlinks (links on external websites with related content) that lead to your site
- Incorporating internal links (links within the website so that your visitors will continue reading or browsing)
- Using social media to link to your site
I cannot emphasize enough the importance of SEO, especially for small businesses that have fewer resources to compete. It can truly provide you with a competitive edge if you know how to tweet your SEOs to your advantage.
For a more comprehensive understanding of SEO and how to incorporate it into your website, please read our article DIY SEO Tips For Small Business Owners.
10. What About Business Email Address?
Almost all site-building and web hosting plans include free business emails. Upgrade to one if your plan doesn’t offer one now. Whatever it is, please avoid using your Gmail account for your business because it makes you look unprofessional. If you still insist on using Gmail, opt for Gmail business email, which allows you to use your domain in the email (e.g. firstname.lastname@example.org) for as low as US$5 per month.
Final Note: Remember this: the internet is your friend, and it contains all the information you need to create a website. If you’re stuck with something, search for a solution. Chances are that you’ll find an article or advice on some forum that can show you how to overcome the problem. And finally, the sense of fulfilment you’ll get from knowing that you can build your website is priceless!