Think of a website that you have visited recently. What was your experience like? What impression did the site leave in your mind? For many, websites are a part of our daily lives. We may visit them for information, to make a purchase, to check the weather, or to connect with someone. Whatever the reasons, websites can make our lives easier and better. But do they always? Some websites lack core components necessary to provide the impact needed to drive the customer or consumer to action. As a small business owner, the intent of your website should tie into your core goals or business needs. In this workshop today, we will help you unravel the components around creating an effective website for your small business that will allow you to attract customers to your business.
As we get started today, we want to recognize the partners who helped to make this learning available to you. These companies have partnered with SCORE, the SCORE Foundation, the Small Business Administration and the Federal Communications Commission to create training and tools to help you be successful. All these organizations have volunteered significant resources, to help you understand how technology can assist you in achieving your business goals.
In today’s workshop, let’s take a look at the topics that we will cover, and also take a look at what this workshop will NOT cover. Today we will look at: the importance and benefits of a Web presence for your small business, strategies for integrating web technologies into your business, elements of effective website design, and website development options We will not be covering the topics of social media, search engine optimization, or internet marketing, as those topics will be covered in the workshop “Applying Technology to Jumpstart Your Sales.”
Every business needs a Web presence. How many small business owners have a Web presence? The numbers vary widely, from as little as 54 percent (according to an Ad-ology study 2009) to as much as 86 percent (according to a 2010 NSBA Small Business Technology Survey).
In today’s world, you must have a Web presence to be competitive. An astounding 78 percent of Americans use the Internet every day (according to a Pew Internet & American Life Project, from May 2010). Having a Web presence allows you to: Inform potential customers about your business Advertise and describe what your business has to offer Sell products and services Generate business leads Provide a brand for your business Spread the word and let customers find you rather than you having to find them Build a business foundation that will meet the needs of your customers
Having a Web presence will get more customers to look at and learn about your business, which, if done effectively, can translate to increased sales. How many of you use the Internet to research a product, company, or service before making a decision to purchase? The U.S. Department of Commerce predicts that 43 percent of all retail sales will be either influenced by or made on the Internet by 2012. Think of that….nearly half of the retail sales will be made or influenced by technology. Is your business set up to capture this ever-growing market? When we shift the focus from Business to Consumer, to Business to Business, the numbers are even more staggering. In a Business to Business survey conducted by Enquirio, 83% of businesses use the Internet to research and find vendors that meet their needs.
You might be thinking, I understand that the Web IS important; I just don’t know what to do to get started. The first step is creating a plan and strategy. Your business has a business plan as well as a marketing plan. The business plan sets out your overall goals for your business and how you will achieve those goals. The marketing plan sets out your goals for selling your products or services to customers and how you plan to achieve those goals. Your Internet strategy should serve the needs of both your business plan and your marketing plan. Some marketing plans are concrete and written down, while others are in the entrepreneur’s mind. SCORE recommends you create a written marketing plan that will help to drive your business’ success. Your marketing plan should: Define your target market, Detail your competitive strategy, Document your pricing strategy, Establish your marketing, sales, and advertising budgets, and Define your Internet strategy’s role in your marketing efforts
When creating your Internet strategy, it’s especially important to consider your target audience. Do you know who your target audience is? What is their income, interests, gender, age, level of technical savvy, etc.? What might they be looking for when they come to your website? Do as thorough of a job as possible when analyzing your target audience. This information will be key to the success of your website. Avoid falling into a trap where you think your target audience is ‘Everyone’. Aiming at everyone will hit no one. The more specific you can target your audience, the more specific you will be able to market to them. When defining markets think about different classifications such as demographics, buying patterns, roles within an organization, or donor levels, for example. Also look at your competitors’ websites. Just as if you were setting up a brick and mortar shop, you need to know who you are competing with online to get customers to your site. Ask yourself: Who are your competitors? What do their websites do well? What could they improve on? What differentiates this competitor or makes this competitor unique? How is this evident on their website? Capitalize on mistakes or opportunities you see.
Thinking about the four elements we’ve discussed so far – your business goals, your marketing goals, your target audience and your competition—the next question to ask is, what do you need your website to do? The answers will create your Internet strategy , which is a measurable plan of action using the Internet to get desired business results. Remember, you must have clearly defined goals to help you reach your business results. For example, although having a goal of ‘increasing the number of visitors to my website’ may help you get closer to your goal, it is not the end goal. Having 1 million visitors to your site won’t mean anything if no one is buying anything or participating in what your business has to offer them.
The elements you include in your website serve four basic functions: Promote, Publish, Communicate and Serve. Let’s take a look at each of these four functions. First, you must promote your business by telling customers about you and your business with an About Us Page, Directory, Press releases, or biographies of key people. The second function of a website is so that you can publish information that’s useful to your customers including tips, advice, guides or special knowledge. Your website must communicate with customers via e-mail, forms, online chat, request for information forms, by including phone numbers or other contact information, or by offering online scheduling/reservations. And lastly, your website must serve customers by handling business functions such as taking payments, accepting orders, and making appointments.
As we look at these four functions (Promote, Publish, Communicate and Serve) which do you think your website needs? Every business has different needs, and your website will include different components depending on those needs. Here are some examples of elements that might be included in three different types of businesses: For a restaurant or retail store consider this: A business that depends on people physically coming into the location needs basic info such as an address, map, hours of operation, phone number or other ways to contact the business. You may also want to get more detailed with elements such as photos of the location; photos of products, employees or dishes on the menu; customer testimonials; a tool to let customers make reservations online; and a menu or anything else that might help the customer make the decision to come in to your location. This is the most basic type of website. For a consulting or Accounting Business consider this: A service business will want to include all of the same basic info above. They may also want to include photos/bios of key personnel, explanations of services provided, a client list, informational articles or tips customers can use, and more elaborate contact options, such as an online appointment scheduler. This is getting moderately complex. For an E-commerce Business consider this: If you are actually selling products online, your physical business is less important and the online experience is paramount. You will want to include detailed product photos and descriptions, online ordering, and payment options. To ensure a good shopping experience, you’ll need elements such as frequently asked questions, help/customer service, information about shipping policies and costs. You may also want to add extras such as video product demonstrations, reviews/ratings from customers, and shipping calculators. This type of site can be very complex. Think about components that you might include if these websites were for your business. As you think of the components that would be necessary to include on your website, be sure that the components help your business achieve its goals…whether it be driving sales, or increasing knowledge, or whatever goal your business is trying to achieve.
Now that you have an idea of your website goals and the functions your website needs to serve, let’s take a look at the specific components needed to create the perfect website for your business.
We’ve talked about the functions a website can serve and different elements you might want to include. Before we talk about actually building your site, let’s step back a bit and discuss the basic foundations of a website. Let’s use a real estate analogy. Imagine you were getting ready to build a new home. What you would need to make this happen? You would need an architect to design the home. In the world of website development, the architect is the web designer. The product that is created is the house, or in this case it is the website that you are building. You also need land for the house. Think of the land as hosting. Hosting is deciding where you will have the servers and files that will run (or “host”) your website. You also need an address for the house so people know where to find you. In Web terms, the address is your Web domain name, or URL ( www.yourbusiness.com ). Now understanding that this analogy is simplistic at best is important to understand. For any of you who have built your own house, you can understand that to be successful, you must have a clear plan so that what you build will suit your needs for years to come. Let’s take a few minutes to explain each of these four components in more depth.
A website is different from a Web page. Though the terms are sometimes used interchangeably, that is incorrect. Websites are defined as a collection of related web pages, images, videos or other digital assets that are addressed to the same domain name. All these various parts make up your website.
The Web address or the domain name will help people find your business online. Domain names start with www., which stands for World Wide Web. After the www. comes the business name. With so many websites out there, the domain name you want (that is, the exact name of your business) may not be available. You may need to choose a variation on the name. Be sure to choose a domain name that is easy for customers to type and remember. Short and simple is better. If your business’s name is long or hard to spell, you may want to use a simplified domain name even if your business’s domain name is available. The key here is to make your domain name memorable for your business. For instance, a company called Admiralty Litigation Services Inc. might want the URL of www.als.com . However, you should still purchase the URL of www.admiraltylitigationservices.com , just so no one else can take it. Try to avoid hyphens, dashes or other elements that add complexity. Think as hard about your domain name as you did about your business name--this will be your face to the world. Once you’ve selected a domain name, you will need to buy it, which costs around $10 to $35 per year at most domain providers. Because domains are so cheap, you may want to purchase related domain names to prevent other companies from using them and causing confusion with your business. For instance, Admiraltylitigationservices.com may also want to buy admiraltylitigation.com and admiraltylitigationservicesinc.com. You get the idea.
Your website needs a place to live (think of the land analogy). Websites can take up a lot of space, so most small businesses do not host their site on their own servers. (Servers are computers that store your website files.) Instead, they choose an outside Web hosting company to host the site. There are many hosting solutions available starting from a few dollars per month depending on the size of your site. When selecting a web hosting provider, here are some factors to consider: Uptime: Have you ever heard “Our servers are down”? When your server is down, your site cannot be accessed, which means lost business. Ask about the company’s uptime rate (look for 99.9%) Support: When you have a problem or question, what kind of support can you expect? Regular backup: Obviously, website data is crucial to your business. You want to make sure the hosting company you choose is backing up the website data regularly. Number of domains: Some businesses have multiple domain names and need more bandwidth on the server that is hosting the website. Shared or dedicated server: A dedicated server means one dedicated to your business. A shared server is shared with other businesses. If you have heavy Web traffic you may want a dedicated server to handle it.
Now that you have a high-level understanding of the website design, let’s take a look at the specifics of building an effective website. Whether you end up creating or redesigning your own website or hire someone to do it for you, you will need to understand these basics of site design.
10/01/11 www.scoreworks.org An effective website is Professional . Your website’s appearance gives users the first impression of your business. It must look professional to give the visitor confidence in your site. Of course, looking “professional” can vary depending on your industry. A website for a toy company would look a lot different than one for a law firm. An effective website is Consistent . It is Consistent with similar sites – in other words, if you have an e-commerce site, customers will expect to see certain elements such as “Check Out,” “Add to Cart,” etc. It is Consistent with the conventions of websites in general. In other words, users expect to see certain things, such as your logo in the upper left, and tabs such as “Home,” “About Us,” “Contact Us,” “Shop,” etc. It is Consistent with your business brand - Your website should feature similar colors, fonts and design elements as your other marketing materials, such as your logo or business cards, so that the brand is clearly carried through the site. It is Consistent internally – Elements should remain in the same places from page to page. For instance, if the “Search” box is in the top right corner on the Home page, it should be there on every page. An effective website is Simple . Navigating through your site should be self-explanatory and easy to get around for visitors coming to your site.
10/01/11 www.scoreworks.org Tips for effective navigation: Have an organized structure to your site by having a navigation scheme that is easily identifiable and allows users to navigate through your site. Don’t make users work too hard to navigate. Ideally, a good navigation allows users to get to any page on your website with a maximum of two to three clicks. Keep the most important links, navigation tools, and content “above the fold”—in other words, in the upper half of the webpage—so that a visitor does not have to scroll down to find this information. The term “above the fold” comes from newspapers, where the most important articles on the front page appear literally above the fold of the paper. Use white space. Many websites are too “busy,” making it hard to navigate. Clean and simple is better.
When creating an effective website, consider how visitors to your site “scan” across your web pages. To do this, think for yourself how you scan across a web page when you visit a site. Studies have shown that visitors to websites do not read—they scan web pages very quickly. The way users scan a page is consistent across users. The scanning pattern is called an “F Pattern.” This F pattern gets its name from the way a user’s eyes travel across a web page. Their eyes start at the upper left corner and scan across the top of the page. Then their eyes move back to the left corner and scan down the left side of the page. From here the user scans across the mid-section of the page. As you can see from the image, they create an “F” with their eyes. When designing your site, be cognizant of this F Pattern and use it to your advantage. The hottest spot on the screen is the upper left corner of the page. This is why on most websites, you find the company logo in the upper left corner. Since that is where a user’s eye starts and returns, you can reinforce your company brand by putting the logo there. Conversely, the lower right corner is the “coldest” spot on the website. Be very selective about what goes in this location, as users’ eyes don’t automatically scan there. Avoid putting things like Login links or Buy Now links in this section of the web page.
10/01/11 www.scoreworks.org Using visual techniques can have a big impact on a visitor as they visit your site. Let’s look at some tips for using color, graphics and text. Use colors that work well together. Be sure to address color blindness and avoid color combinations that are hard for people with vision impairments to read. Contrasting colors that work well together can be a good combination for your website. Keep colors consistent with your brand and your other marketing materials. Keep the text at a size that is easily readable. If you are using really small font size, it may be an indication that you are trying to fit too much text on one page. Edit content down and use a font size that allows for easy reading. Use text and background colors that are easily readable. For instance, reverse-out type (light colors on a dark background) are difficult for many users to read. Consider your audience: Colors that appeal to teenagers may be hard for seniors to read. Use art or photos that are of appropriate quality for online usage. Grainy or blurry images should not be used. You can get professional images by hiring a professional photographer or by purchasing them from a stock photography site. Sound is typically a distractor and should be avoided unless sound is your business.
What is content? “Content” refers to any written material on your website. Content on your site includes: Titles, Headlines, Product names, Product descriptions, “ About Us” page, Help page, FAQs, Customer service information, Articles, and Blogs
You may be writing your own content for your website, or you may have someone else do it (an employee or a freelance writer). Either way, you need to know the basics of good content: Know your reader. Remember your target audience? Write with them in mind. What type of content will attract your desired audience? Keep it short. Visitors to your site will not read every word. If there is too much text, they may just leave. People scan websites and read headers first. Use headers and sub headers to break up text and emphasize key points. Keep paragraphs short (2-3 sentences). Find ways to draw attention to important content by using graphic treatments like bullet points or bolded text. When a visitor is scanning your site, these types of attention grabbers might slow down a scanners eye’s long enough for you to entice them to investigate further, rather than abandon your site. Write active content. Write as if you are speaking directly to the customer. Make sure every sentence moves the visitor to your desired action, whether that’s clicking on a link, placing an order or visiting your business. Write for how people search. Use keywords. When people search online, they use “keywords.” For instance, someone searching for an auto repair shop might type in “auto repair” or “car repair” or “auto body.” Know what keywords people are using when they search for businesses like yours. Include those keywords in your content, especially in titles and headers. This helps search engines find your site. Google and Bing both have Search-Based Keyword Tools to help you find the most popular keywords that people use when looking for businesses like yours. Edit and proofread your content. Errors or misspellings on your website can make visitors distrust your professionalism. If you’re not a good editor, find someone who is.
Effective web design includes all of the components necessary to create a great online experience for the visitors to your website. There is one other element that every small business owner with a website needs to take into account: Cybersecurity.
Why should a small business be concerned with information security? Several reasons: You need to protect customer and employee information: Customers and employees expect you to keep their personal data, such as credit card numbers, social security numbers and passwords, secure. There are also legal penalties for failing to do so that can put your business at risk. You need to protect business partner, vendor, and supplier information: Partners and suppliers expect you to take the same security precautions with their sensitive information as you do with your own. You need to protect your business’s information. Every business has proprietary data such as customer lists and contact information, as well as data such as tax ID numbers or banking information, it needs to protect. There are several different reasons you need to protect data: Confidentiality: Make sure that only the people who need the information have access to it. Integrity: Make sure the information hasn’t been tampered with, deleted or corrupted. Availability: Make sure the information is there when it’s needed.
What are the risks of NOT protecting your information online? Failure to properly protect information can result in significant fines and penalties from various sources. Depending on the type of information breached, you might be fined by your bank, credit card merchant account issuer, state regulatory agencies and federal regulators. You may also be sued by customers or partner companies affected by the breach. Many states have passed notification laws that require any business to notify, in a specified manner, all persons whose data might have been exposed in a security breach (a hacker incident, malicious code incident, an employee doing an unauthorized release of information, etc). According to the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the average estimated cost for these notifications and associated security breach costs is well over $130.00 per person. On top of this, there are other significant costs to your business: Lost productivity if the information loss creates downtime, Lost sales, Costs and time to repair the damage, Loss of trust on the part of customers or partners, Lost reputation in the business community, or Legal costs if any lawsuits arise
Let’s take a look at 10 basic steps to keep your business and your website secure. Use and update antivirus/anti-spyware software Secure your Internet connection. Most businesses have broadband (or high speed) access to the Internet. It is important to keep in mind that this type of Internet access is always “on.” Therefore, your computer - or any network your computer is attached to - is exposed to threats from the Internet 24/7. Install and run a hardware firewall between your internal network and the Internet. This may be a function of a wireless access point/router or may be a function of a router provided by the Internet Service Provider (ISP) of your small business. Turn on the firewall on each computer. Most Operating Systems (OS) come with firewalls; you just need to make sure they’re on. Patch/update the Operating Systems and applications. Regularly updating your business operating systems and applications helps protect data. Regularly back up data. There are many “cloud” options available that backup your data online and store it online in offsite servers. Secure wireless access. If you use wireless networking, it is a good idea to set the wireless access point so that it does not broadcast its Service Set Identifier (SSID). Also, it is critical to change the administrative password that was on the device when you received it. It is important to use strong encryption so that your data being transmitted between your computers and the wireless access point cannot be easily intercepted and read by electronic eavesdroppers. Train employees in security processes. The best security rules are no good if your employees don’t follow them. Require individual user accounts. Each employee should have his or her own account and secure password. Use strong passwords that include both numbers and uppercase/lowercase letters. Change passwords frequently. Do not share passwords. Limit employee access to data/limit installation authority. Make sure sensitive data is accessible only to those who really need to know. Prohibit employees from downloading or installing personal software on business computers.
We’ve listed some resources for additional information about cybersecurity, as well as some popular online backup services. Cybersecurity is something that you will want to learn as much as you can about, to protect you, your customers, and your business.
Now let’s take a moment to talk about your website development options.
When choosing Web hosting companies, you’ll need to compare packages depending on your needs (how many domains you have, bandwidth needs, shared or dedicated servers, etc). There are many Web hosting companies to choose from. We have provided a few here for your information.
Another option is using easy Web templates to build your own site. This can be a great option if you’re creating a fairly simple site. Most of the tools are fairly easy to learn even if you don’t have programming knowledge. There are many template resources available to you. Here are a few for you to consider.
However, whether you need a professional Web design package or are looking for a Do-It-Yourself Web design with templates, you’ll find most Web providers today do it all: domain registry, hosting and Web design--the whole nine yards. Here are some popular one-stop Web shops. You can find others by asking business colleagues for referrals or searching online.
When you are assessing your Web development options, consider: How much time do I and my employees have to devote to this task? Outsourcing can save you a lot of time. But keep in mind that even if you outsource the task, you will need to spend time working with the developers and approving/modifying designs to get the desired result. What level of tech skills do we have? If you are handling your site in-house, you’ll need to consider issues like coding languages, web development software, where to host the site and troubleshooting/debugging. What is your budget? Outsourcing development of your site can be very affordable, ranging from $200 and up depending on complexity and number of pages. Pricing options can be by the hour, page or package.
When choosing a Web Team to help with your Web development, here are some things you need to consider: How experienced is the company/team you are working with? How long have they been in business? What is their track record for completing projects like this? How much are they going to charge you to complete this task? What does the cost include? Are there any hidden costs? Do they frequently work with companies like yours? Have they designed websites similar to what you are seeking? A company may be great at designing music- and video-heavy websites for musicians, but if you own an accounting firm, that may not be a good fit for you. Look at their portfolio of work or templates. Does the work look professional? Does it appeal to you? Can they provide all the elements you’re seeking in your website? (You may want to refer back to your Web Assessment Worksheet). Can the company handle your future needs? These include maintenance of the site, further growth and development of the site, and routine updates to the site. For example, if you need to add new content, how much will it cost and how quickly will it be completed? Check references. Ask around your network of colleagues. Get references from the company and check them.
Cost and legal considerations are important to the overall success of the project. How much will it cost? Establish a clear budget from the start Understand how fees are set (hourly, per page, per package?) Understand payment terms (upfront, multiple payments, upon completion?) Get a total cost estimate Have a written contract that establishes the development price, handling of charges and extras, project schedule, and maintenance costs. Have a written contract around documentation and the keys to all security systems, which include user names and passwords. Be sure to get a release signed by the developer so that you own the code to your website. It is your content so you need to protect your intellectual capital by protecting your copyright. You will need to confirm that whatever is developed is “portable,” which means it can be hosted on a number of different hosting sites. You may want to move to a new Web host at some point in the future. Also, you will need to be sure you have a clear understanding of who will own the content and technology once the project is delivered to you.
The last step in building a business website is measuring your results.
Getting your site up and running is a big accomplishment, but unfortunately it is not the end of the story. A successful website is one that generates measurable results for your business—and that requires some ongoing effort on your part. To get the most from your site, follow this 3-step process: Know your goals for the website. What did you hope to achieve—more brand recognition? More sales? More leads? Continually adjust the site as needed based on your results. What’s working, and what isn’t? Measure results. Search engines like Bing, Google, and Yahoo offer free tools to help you track and benchmark your website results.
The specifics of what you’ll want to measure depend on your goals, your site, and your industry. Here are some of the key metrics that you may want to measure: Number of site visitors Individual page impressions Average visit length Most/least popular pages Most popular site entry pages Where users come from (sites or search engine phrases) Number of inquiries, leads or sales generated Conversion rates Total sales volume online Average purchase per online customer Measuring results on your website is commonly referred to as web analytics. Web analytics is the means of capturing the information about your website, visitors, and the metrics needed for you to continually improve your website experience so that you can maximize your opportunities to attract, capture, and sell to your customers.
We have covered a lot of ground today. We have talked about: The benefits of a Web presence, Developing an Internet strategy, Components of a website, Elements of effective Web design, Website development options, and Measuring Your website effectiveness through web analytics
As you look to Next Steps, consider the following: First, consult the e-Business Now How-To Guides. These free guides will help deepen your knowledge and understanding of technology and what it can do for you and your business. Second, contact SCORE to set up a meeting with a SCORE Mentor. SCORE has over 13,000 successful and experienced executives with small business know-how that are available to help you with your business and technology needs. Visit www.ebusinessnow.org for more information. Third, share your feedback with us. It is important for us to know what you are thinking. Take the “Share Your Feedback Survey” to provide your feedback and perspectives.
This concludes Tech Made Simple: Building the Perfect Website for Your Small Business
Tech Made Simple: Building the Perfect Website for Your Small Business
Web Hosting Choices If you build your own site, you can host it on your own servers, or use a Web hosting company. As discussed earlier, you’ll need to compare packages depending on your needs. Some of the top Web hosting companies include:
Using Web Templates There are many template resources available to you. Here are a few for you to consider.