Although the total percentage of Internet users world-wide is growing by leaps and bounds, it is a fact that many small businesses still have little or no Internet presence. Tess Townsend of Inc.com says that a recent survey shows that “about 60 percent of very small businesses (made up of one to five people) don’t have websites.”
These businesses depend upon platforms like Yelp, Angie’s List or Facebook to establish their presence. Otherwise, they depend wholly upon word-of-mouth to help get the word out about their business services.
Why, in this world of Internet connections and networking, do many small business still not have websites? Ms. Townsend’s article claims the survey shows that 35% of small business owners perceive themselves and their businesses to be too small to merit a website; 21% of them feel that they “lack the technical expertise” to build and/or maintain a website; and 20% of them feel they simply cannot afford a website.
In addition, a large number of these small business owners feel that maintaining a social presence on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter or other such platforms offer all the exposure they really need, with none of the costs associated with building and maintaining a website.
Whatever the reasons small business owners concoct for hesitating on taking the website plunge, this is 2017. In other words, it’s a new year, and as such, it’s definitely time for a change.
Why a small business website is important
Before we explore the elements of a great small business website, let’s first get an understanding of exactly why a website is important in the first place.
First of all, being on the web makes your business easier to find. Fewer and fewer people use the yellow or white pages to find businesses. And although websites like Yelp and Angie’s List are popular resources, they are on the web…which means that potential customers will need to access the Internet to use them.
Even customers who use voice-to-text search apps on their phone are actually accessing the Internet to find telephone numbers and locations. This is why establishing a presence on the Internet is an all-around great idea. What could be easier than typing or “speaking” your business’ name into a favorite search engine in order to gather information about you or contact you?
By the same token, being on the web is great advertising without paying exorbitant advertising fees. How? Because when potential customers find your business name and address in Google, Yahoo or Yelp pages, it gives your business an aura of credibility.
It makes customers feel “you have arrived;” that you’re legit—especially when there are also accompanying reviews from other satisfied customers. On the other hand, NOT having a website can give customers the impression that you are not a true professional or that you’ve had some sort of problem in the past and don’t want people to know that you exist.
Establishing a web presence with a small business website can greatly improve customer experience, including the fact that customers can browse your stock and learn all about your business at their own leisure. This includes reading various reviews or checking out any customer ratings you may have accumulated.
Being on the web can also bring in new customers who may not have even known your business existed, but were instead searching broad keywords as they browsed for services and then managed to land on your website by accident. In fact, Rehan Fernando, CEO of Eight25Media, says it is crucial for small businesses to have a website because that is the way most customers will find your business. Says Fernando, “studies have shown that over 70-80% of people will research a company on the web before making a purchase decision, usually by visiting its website. Even having a one-page website can establish credibility. It shows that the business is actually real and has taken the time to put out a presentation.”
Finally, Max Elman, founder of RazorFrog Web Design says, “if you have customers, it’s necessary to have some sort of information online, at least a page describing who you are and offering contact information.” In other words, even a one-page website is better than nothing. At least when you’re being researched, some type of information will come up, and even if it doesn’t answer the searcher’s questions, at least they will know how to contact you for more information.
Elements of a Great Small Business Website
Now that we’ve established all the reasons why it is important to establish your presence on the web, we can discuss the elements that go into a great small business website. For brevity’s sake, let’s assume you already know that your website must be comprised of the correct colors, the proper symmetry and layout, and appropriate clear and crisp images that are not hard on the eye. Besides these, what, then, are the elements of a great business website?
Domain name: You would first want a modest, easy-to-remember domain name. By modest, we mean that you wouldn’t want a name that’s so long there is no way your customer would ever remember it. For example, let’s say you sell big and tall suits for men at amazing sale prices. You would want an appropriate, easy-to-remember domain name like BigandTallMen.com, or ClothesForBigandTall.com. You wouldn’t want a domain name that is impossibly long, like BigandBiggerSuitsandCoatsForMenOnSaleEveryday.com. It is entirely too long, even if it does spell out what your services are all about. In short, a long domain name would make it too easy for your customer to make a mistake when typing the name.
Logo: You want a great logo, a catchy tag line (or slogan).
Contact Info: You want an easily visible section with Contact information (name, telephone number, street address and email) so customers can contact you in the way that is most comfortable for them.
Navigation bar: You want a great navigation bar with titles that are self-explanatory. For example, you’ll notice that most navigation bars have an “About us” section. This is self-explanatory, and lets you know that on the other side of that title is an explanation of who owns the business and how it came into existence. Likewise, you want other self-explanatory titles on your navigation bar. For example, if you sell big and tall suits for men, you might have the title 6ft+ on the navigation bar. This title is self-explanatory, and lets customers know that everything on the other side of this title will be geared toward men who are at least 6 feet tall.
Gallery page: You’ll want to provide a way for customers to browse your inventory to see what you offer and how your prices compare to other stores. You might even have features like Wish List or Price Comparison to help customers save their favorites or determine whether your prices are the best out there.
Shopping cart: If you actually provide products that can be shipped to customers, you’ll want to either offer a shopping cart on your site, or at least offer the ability to surf to Paypal or some other payment vendor when the customer is ready to make a purchase.
Other Necessary Elements: Other great elements include your mission statement, your business hours, your return policy, your privacy statement, and any online chat features your site may offer. You’ll also want to display your social platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Youtube, etc) where customers can reach you or learn more about who you are and what you do. You might also have a blog page where you talk about day-to-day deals, what’s new in your business, or future plans; and a FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) page where you answers popular questions for your clients.
In addition to all of the above, your website should definitely be responsive and mobile-friendly. Why? Because more and more people conduct their Internet searches on phones, tablets and other mobile devices, and not desktop pc’s or laptops.
How Much Will it Cost?
What a new website will cost remains the “million dollar question.” Most small businesses are trying to save money, not spend it, and a new website may be far down on their “to do” list. Still, according to Clutch.co’s Small Business Websites in 2016: A Survey, “the cost of not having a website is much higher than the cost of building a website…” Why? Because “a website is not only useful for capturing new customers, it is also necessary for credibility, visibility and meeting current clients needs.” In other words, a business without a website is viewed as not credible and not able to meet clients’ needs.
That being said, the cost of a great small business website will vary widely from one business to the next. Paying a WordPress or other web design expert to create a website with flexibility, appeal and numerous features can run anywhere from thousands to tens of thousands of dollars. And even if the cost is only a few thousand, the type of server (dedicated or shared) that is required to run the site can cost several hundred dollars per month.
We have written several articles about how to get started finding the right company to build your Wordpress website, and what to expect as far as prices are concerned. Here is a summary of these articles to give you an idea of what you may need to spend to get your small business website up and running on the Internet.
Do-it-Yourself: If you understand basic or advanced coding , you can always create your own website. In this case you would spend $0 to build your site, and whatever it costs to purchase the domain name and host your site on the web. Just keep in mind that whatever you save in dollars you’ll probably spend in the time it takes to actually design and launch a functional, pleasant, eye-appealing website.
Pre-made Templates: Another option to do-it-yourself is to purchase a premium pre-made template and lay it out on the Internet. In this case, you would spend anywhere from $50 to $200 and up to purchase a template. You may also have to spend a few hundred dollars for customization to make the template look unique to your business.
It may also cost extra to keep the template updated and functioning well. For example, most Themeforest.net themes offer lifetime updates free-of-charge, but other theme companies charge a membership fee in order for you to have access to updated files and widgets.
Free templates: Free templates are…well, free. But as such, they often lack originality and they are not updated as often as premium templates. This means that you may need to spend an inordinate amount of time finding someone to keep your files updated and running. You may also need to spend money on customizing the site to give it something more than that “cookie cutter” look that so many free sites have. Just as a FYI, sites like Weebly.com, WordPress.com and Wix offer free website templates.
Hiring a professional website designer: If you cannot bear to think of spending time coding your own site or trying to keep your site updated, you can always hire a professional WordPress (or other software) website designer. Costs will vary, of course, but it’s safe to say that you can expect to pay anywhere from $2,000 to $10,000 for a unique, multifunctional, responsive, aesthetically pleasing site that is also mobile-friendly.
This cost would not include the cost of your domain name and the amount you’ll need to pay for an appropriate hosting account. By appropriate, we mean a hosting account that can accommodate the type of website you have. For example, some sites do well on shared hosting accounts, while other sites need dedicated servers with plenty of resources to keep the site up and running smoothly.
It’s a new year. Whatever your reasons for not establishing a web presence last year, now is the time to act. It is not only easy to get up and running on the web, it’s also fun. Plus, as we mentioned above, these days it costs more to not be on the web in terms of lost customer opportunities and missed sales than it costs to establish a presence and build credibility. Whatever you do, don’t miss out.