Today’s consumers are Web-heads. Google reported in September 2012 that 97 percent of Americans who use the Internet are looking for specific products and services. And yet, half of all small businesses don’t have a website, rendering them invisible to a lot of potential customers. At the same time, the Web’s impact on business is steadily increasing. According to the respected consulting firm BCG, the Internet economy grows by about 10 percent each year, making a Web presence a vital survival business tool.
Creating a website is an empowering step for your business. Your site is another venue to use to talk about your product, service or topic. Think of it as your online living room or reception area. Even better, the time and cost to build a good website are lower than ever today. Today’s web development tools are user-friendly and designed to help you decide how your site looks to visitors.
Before you even begin shopping for a Web host (more on that below), think about the text, or content you will write for your website. It should clearly state your marketing message. You might have already have existing marketing materials like brochures and flyers. But unlike hard copy materials, your website lets you adjust your content as you need. Go beyond the brochure, and write about what makes your business or idea unique and different from the competition. Above all, make sure your content is relevant to your product and useful to people who want it. Think about what they are looking for.
As you write, you might notice certain words that really define what you do. These might be possible keywords or phrases, and they can be valuable tools that help people find your site when they go to search engines such as Google to find the type of product or idea you’re selling. After you’ve finished your content (aim for at least 300 words per page), you may want to think about testing your keywords to see how popular they are in Google searches. Google’s own AdWords tool lets you check out how useful your keywords are.
Get photographs of your product(s) to put on your site. Some manufacturers provide web-ready photos, or you can take your own digital photos. Pictures that are relevant to your product can be great attention-grabbers.
Web Hosting 101
You are probably wondering, “Who will host my site?” You can actually host from your own computer, but there are some disadvantages to this, including security and up-time. There are lots of places on the web where you can get free or low-cost hosting. Many free hosting sites, however, create URLs (Uniform Resource Locator) that include their name for advertising purposes. You may not want to be presented as www.cheap.com/yourname instead of www.yourname.com.
Your last major decision is what Web software to use. Most hosting services offer free, user-friendly Web software, as do WordPress, Joomla and Drupal. You can also download these packages for free from their sites. Each offers free or low-cost themes that house and organize your content, photos, and video, and offer plugins to link to social media such as LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. You will have dozens of, themes to choose from to create your site’s physical appearance. It’s like decorating that reception area, and probably the most enjoyable part of the website process.