15 Step Checklist for Creating a Business Website
Below is a list of steps to guide small to mid-sized business owners on what is important when first building or revamping a business website.
Determine the Primary Purpose of your Website
Decide why you want your website and stick to it. Stay focused.
There can be many reasons for a website. Narrow them down and get focused. When building a website there can be lots of distractions – new markets to pursue, new approaches that pop up, new technical innovations to add in, and then there are other people’s opinions. Whatever the distractions, keep your focus strong – keep it simple. If you are starting a new website, start small. If you are revamping your current website, make sure you focus on your goals: what is missing from the current website and what is needed on the new one.
Figure Out the Audience You Want to Target (Keywords and SEO)
Planning your keywords in the very beginning will help build the bedrock of your website and focus your marketing.
Keywords are the bedrock of Search Engine Optimization (SEO). Intelligently researching and picking your keywords is one of the ways you will get found on the web. ATC Web Solutions can help, so don’t get too stressed. It’s important to document what keyword phrases you want to focus on for your website in the beginning. To start the process, think about what someone would type into the search box on Google to find your services or products. Keywords will be the bedrock and basis of how your Title tags (headings) are written, what your Meta tags (behind the scenes content) will be, what categories and tags are selected (for blogging) and the keywords you select will also be used in naming your images and/or photos.
For example, the keywords for an auto mechanic in Campbell might be:
- auto repair Campbell
- automotive repair services
- car maintenance San Jose
- air conditioning repair
- clutch repair
- exhaust system repair
- oil change Campbell
- oil change San Jose
- used car inspection
A wonderful tool to use is the Google Keyword Planner. It’s best if you are signed in with a Gmail account to use it.
While we are on the subject of SEO, Google (who owns over 86% of the search market) has an extensive list of ranking requirements for websites that you can read if you have the time. Suffice it to say that trying to rank on the first page of Google is tough for old and new websites alike.
Choosing and Purchasing Your Domain Name
Play around with different versions of domain names. It’s important to pick the right one.
A domain name is what will be in the search bar and what you tell people when you give them your web address. Your company will be associated with this name for as long as you are in business and it’s your first impression so it’s important to pick a good one. Try testing different domain names (called the mid-level domain) and extensions by going to Lean Domain Search. This tool matches what you enter with other keywords and generates a list of available domains.
For a new domain name it is recommended that you register it (pay for) at the same place where you have it hosted; it just makes life easier. So, for example, if you are going to have BlueHost host your website it would be easier to register your domain with BlueHost. You will be charged a yearly fee for your domain name. It is strongly encouraged that an https:// (secure socket) is also purchased for your website. This will help the website rank higher on Google. You don’t have to get a .com domain, although it is highly recommended.
Besides picking the right domain name, the following guidelines for domain names is also recommended:
- A shorter domain name is better than a longer one (aim for 6 to 14 characters long)
- Make sure it’s easy to spell – you don’t want to constantly explain your domain name
- Make sure it’s easy to pronounce – you want your domain name passed along easily to others
- Avoid hyphens and numbers – Google ranks them lower so stick to letters
- Consider using keywords as an option as your domain name
NOTE: If you already have a domain name with a website, you are better off sticking with it. One of the rankings in SEO is how long the domain name has been around. You probably will not rank well with a “young” domain name. If you are drastically changing the focus of your business then it might be a good idea to change the domain name, otherwise stick with the domain name you have and just update or revamp the website.
Plan Ahead – Organize Content Into a Sitemap
Create a graphic sitemap and stick to it. Adapt it, add to it and refer to it to help stay focused.
No matter how simple you think your website might be, take the time to create a sitemap so that everyone is “singing off the same song sheet.” Lay out exactly what you want your main menu to have on it in addition to the footer and any side menus. ATC Web Solutions can help with your sitemap. That way everyone will know what web pages have been completed and what web pages still need to be written. Small business owners still have to run their business even while working on this big project of creating or revamping a website which can lead to interruptions in the process. So if the website project needs to be put aside temporarily, the sitemap can help guide what needs to be completed and what can be delayed. The term “sitemap” is also used to describe web files that help search engines… and we mention those types of sitemaps later.
Choose a Good Hosting Company
Choosing a good hosting company in the beginning will make your life easier in the long term.
Some hosting companies that we have used at ATC Web Solutions are BlueHost and HostGator. All of these have good reputations and we tend to favor BlueHost. An undependable hosting company can cost you money, delayed connection time and possible downtime so choosing a good hosting company is important.
Years back we had some clients’ websites “hacked.” It happens. Website security has to be addressed and a good hosting company can help. There are extra precautions you can have your hosting company put on your website and your web developer can add additional security too. The first step, though, is choosing a good hosting company.
Decide on the Content Management System (Platform) to Use for Your Website
Select a Content Management System (CMS) that is well-supported and popular. Also, make sure you have a plan for growth; things change.
There are all-in-one platforms available like Wix or Squarespace for a multi-page website.
However, if your aren’t going that route (their costs can go up considerably once you start adding more functionality), then you need to decide what CMS to use:
- The most used CMS today is WordPress. There are multiple reasons to use WordPress: easy-to-use technology, easy to add plugins to expand features, and lots of people know and support the technologies used on the WordPress platform. We are experts at building WordPress websites for small businesses.
- Joomla CMS platform
- Drupal CMS platform
- Many other CMS’s exist
If you are going to have a very small website some options are:
- A simple HTML/CSS website using Dreamweaver and FTP (old school, really)
- Google My Business one-page website
- Hosting companies offering simple or one-page websites using their website building application
The standard today is to use a CMS because they make building and maintaining websites so much easier. Trust us, you will want to add more content as time goes on and your business grows; having a limited one-page website will be confining over time. Although, if having a one-page website is all you can afford then it’s better than no website
Writing the Content for Your Website
Writing content for your website takes time. Don’t beat yourself up if it takes longer than you expect.
Writing your content can be the toughest task when creating a small business website. It takes time, writing skills, photos need to coincide with what is being written and, finally, it really helps to have knowledge of SEO. View our tips on writing web content. If you, as the owner, don’t have the time to write the content, ATC Web Solutions is happy to help. It’s best to assign the task of communicating with the web developer to one person in your company. When running a web project like creating or re-vamping a website, it helps to have a point person when answers are needed quickly to move the project along.
Photos and Images
Photos are “read” faster than words and are recommended to improve SEO. Take the time to find the right images for your small business website.
Google prioritizes websites where the image is central to and higher on the page. Therefore it is highly recommended that you have photos, graphs, charts and/or images on every page of your website.
There are four ways to get images and/or photos:
- Take the photos yourself or have someone give them to you royalty-free.
- Buy the photos online from royalty-free websites such as shutterstock.com, istockphoto.com, gettyimages.com, stock.adobe.com.
- Free royalty-free photos from online royalty-free websites. Unsplash.com is an example of where the photos are free.
- Pay to have a photographer take your photos
We highly recommend one of these 4 options since downloading and using photos illegally can come back to bite you and result in fines or other legal actions.
When the time comes, please note that selecting photos can take time. However long you think it will take to sort through photos, double the time – it’s amazing how easy it is to underestimate how long selecting photos can take.
If you are going to take payments or orders on website, make sure you are ready to start.
Will you take money via your website? If so, then a payment system needs to be set up. There are lots of options for payments systems and you need to be aware of the back-end and on-going costs. We recommend WooCommerce, Shopify and Dropbox Online Store. If this is your first version of a website we recommend not taking payments over the web in the beginning. There can be lots of issues making things work on YOUR (banking) end and, for first time website owners, just getting a website launched is a big undertaking. When you are ready, we can talk about the different ways to accept payments on your website, how online payments will work with your budget and your current company procedures. We can help with the online payment setup.
Testing the Website
Have others view your development site. They may catch things you’ve missed.
When the website is getting built hopefully it will be on a development (dev) site so that everyone can view it and review it before it goes live. The hosting company will be able to set up the dev site. In the development process of the website there may be features you want to have but, for the sake of time, it may be better to put them into a second phase. This is another good reason to set up a sitemap ahead of time.
Ask trusted family members, friends and special customers to view the dev site and give their opinion. As the website owner, you have the final say but we believe the more “eyes” the more eyes, the better.
Be forewarned that sometimes testing and quality assurance (QA) can take longer than expected. There is light at the end of the tunnel when you get to the testing phase!
Getting Reviews and Testimonials
Customers usually don’t mind giving a Testimonial, so just ask.
Testimonials are an important addition to your website, so much so that we have separated them from the content phrase. People like reading them. Ask all of your best clients or customers to send you a short reference. Blame the “ask” on your web mistress! Try to get at least 10 references – that would be a great start.
When you set up your Google My Business listing, your clients and/or customers can easily post testimonials for you.
Marketing Your Website
Just because you build a website doesn’t mean that people will flock to it. You have to proactively reach out to people using methods that are appropriate for your business.
- Setting Up Social Presence
Setting up Yelp, Google My Business, Facebook and if appropriate Instagram and Pinterest are all important. Google likes seeing social signals and that you are connecting to your customers or clients. Pick the social platforms where you think you can connect to your customers. Those sites or profiles should be set up before the website gets launched.
- Sending Out Emails
Sending out emails to your customers in the form of a newsletter or with a promotion is another method of marketing your website. Constant Contact, MailChimp or GetResponse are just some of the email marketing companies that have good reputations.
- Email Address Matching your Domain Name
Part of marketing your website is getting an email address matching your domain name. If you are setting up your website for the first time, right before the launch, acquire email addresses that match your domain name. For example, email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. It costs a little bit more but a professional email address that matches your domain name will help reinforce your business and professional identity. Emails won’t get sidetracked into spam folders and your clients will know exactly who emailed them. It builds trust with your audience when you have your email match your domain name.
- Car Magnets
Are you a local business? If you have a vehicle and drive in the area where you work, do you have a car magnet sign on your car? It’s amazing how people may be looking for your services and when they see your car, they’ll jot down your contact information.
- Send Out Mailers or Postcards
My sister-in-law owned a small boutique shop and she tried everything to market to her clientele. She finally figured out that sending out postcards with a discount got her the response she wanted. People loved carrying in that postcard and getting their 20% off. So think about what other unique options might work for you and your business.
- Promote your Website Getting Launched
What about having a promotion when you launch your website in order to announce it? Think of some offer that would be attractive to your current or potential clients.
- Setting Up Social Presence
Housework for the Web Developer
Taking care of a website means having a web developer who can set things up that, you as the business owner, may not even know you need.
A good web developer will have a list of essential details to finish up a new website or a revamped website (what we refer to as web housework).
- Create an HTML sitemap and link it in the footer of your site (HTML links are the way search bots (programs that search your website) prefer to discover the web so having an HTML sitemap helps to call attention to all of your web pages)
- Generate an XML sitemap and get it uploaded to the website root directory (important so that search engines, especially Google, can find your web pages. There are also WordPress plugins for this
- Install an SEO plugin if using a CMS and work on adding in the keywords, title tags, etc.
- Create a Favicon icon and get it uploaded (It can take a day to show up but if done right it should show up in the URL)
- Set up Google Analytics and get the site verified BEFORE launching the site
- Install a plugin for Backups if using WordPress
Launch the Website
Brag and email everyone that you have a new or revamped website. Add the link to your email signature.
Time to pop the champagne! After all of the hard work this is when you finally get to pat yourself on the back. Brag and EMAIL EVERYONE that you have a new or revised launched website!! Be sure to add the link to your email signature. Send the link of your new website to all of your friends and acquaintances! Ask them to send their comments to you – you would love their feedback. That way you know they took the time to view it! Better yet, have them give their positive comments on Yelp! and/or Google. You will have Yelp and Google My Business already set up so you can send them to links to make their comments (if you KNOW they will say something nice).
Maintain your Website
After spending all of the time and effort on a website, don’t let it go to waste. Continue to take care of your investment by maintaining it.
Having a website is not a “one and done” task (although many small businesses treat them that way). Websites really do need to be maintained and it will be obvious to your audience if it is not. Yes, it can be a pain for a small business owner to do updates but it’s truly a necessary part of having a website. Regularly updating your website is like maintaining your company car. The oil needs to be regularly changed, the tires last longer if they are rotated and you want to catch that water pump before it goes. Reviewing your website regularly allows you to spot broken links, fix broken images, add new images, add new keywords, and keep your content up-to-date with what is going on in your business. Updating your website allows you to communicate changes in your business and will help drive both new and returning visitors to your website. In addition to that, it is essential for SEO. Google wants to see that websites are regularly updated. Google doesn’t “tell us” how often to update websites but there are statistics available showing that websites that post 3 or 4 times a month rank higher on Google. We’ve also seen websites drop in ranking when they don’t touch their website for months. It doesn’t take long to go down in ranking.
ATC Web Solutions loves helping website owners maintain their websites. View how we charge for our services.
If you want to learn even more about building a small business website, here is a good article regarding small business websites called 10 Key Steps for Building a Great Small Business Website.