Establishing your first small business Web site might seem like a major undertaking. If you're confused by terms like domain name, Web hosting service and SEO, its easy to think that paying a Web professional is the only way you'll get the project done.
But you don't have to spend a lot of money or have a degree in Web site design to get a professional-looking site to market your business. Here's what you need to know to get started.
Web Site Design: What's Your Goal?
Start out with pen and paper and write down why you want a business Web site. Do you want to make it easy for people to find your business, or to attract new customers? Do you need to provide existing customers with product support? Until you know why your business needs a Web site you cant determine what sort of Web site you need or what it should contain.
Software like Coffee Cup Visual Site Designer offers design templates that you can use to develop your small business Web site.
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If you have lots of reasons, pare down the list to the most important reasons and prioritize them. You need to limit the size of the project so it doesnt get too big.
Now determine what you need on your Web site to meet the goals you listed. If you want people to be able to find your business you will need contact details, opening hours, a map, information detailing what your business does and how customers should contact you. If your needs are broader you might add a product catalog or a list of FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions).
Arrange your content into a series of hierarchical headings. For example, your site will have a home page that provides basic details about the business, a contact page with business location details, and pages that include information about products or services. You should limit yourself to four or five major headings to serve as the main pages on your site.
Your Own Domain Name
Every small business should own its own domain name. This is the address someone types into a browser to visit your business online. It's a name that you own, and its a crucial first step when creating your business Web site. You buy your domain name from a domain name registrar such as GoDaddy.com, and only one business can own any single domain name. You should choose a name that represents your business. For example, a business called Nails by Jaynie might try to buy the domain, NailsByJaynie.com.
Once you've purchased a domain name, you need a hosting service -- a company that hosts your site for you 24/7. For a small site, this can cost anywhere from $10 a month and up depending on the services you need. Never sign up with a hosting company that offers a free service in exchange for running ads on your site it looks unprofessional for a business. There are thousands of hosting services to choose from and your domain name registrar may also offer hosting options. You can compare various host companies at FindMyHosting.com.
You will need some software or an online tool to create the pages for your site. Most hosting services offer point-and-click tools to help you design your site. While these wont win any design awards, they are a good place to start. Alternately you can purchase software like Adobe Dreamweaver or Coffee Cup and do the work yourself. You can also have someone create the design for you.
If you are designing your own Web site, keep it very simple. Don't add animation or sounds to your Web site, and stick to two or three colors, one font for headings and one for body text. The more colors, fonts and font sizes you use, the less professional the result will be. See Web Shop Design: Font Fantastic for more information.
Use the headings that you determined earlier as the main pages of your Web site. You will need content for these pages, and it should be concisely written, spell checked and proofed carefully. You can also add photos to your site -- these will need to be resized to fit on your site and saved as JPG images. See Prepping Product Shots for Web Shops for more information.
Google can help you find keywords to make it easier for people to find your Web site.
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Once you have your site designed, test it thoroughly and have others test it for you to ensure that there are no problems with it and it can be easily found, navigated and read.
Keywords, Keywords, Keywords
To help people find your small business Web site through search engines like Google and Bing, you need to add keywords to each page. Keywords describe your business in terms that someone would use to find you, and every good Web-design tool will include a feature for adding them.
If your business is local your keywords should include your zip code, zip codes of surrounding towns and the county and towns from which you would reasonably expect to attract customers. You would also list keywords describing what your business does. To get help researching keywords, visit Google AdWords's keyword tool.
You should also search for business directories that service the areas where your customers live and get listed on them. It is vital that you make it easy for people to find your Web site.
Like all aspects of growing a business, your Web site is a work in progress. You dont have to get your site 100 percent right with the first design, and creating one doesnt have to cost thousands of dollars.
What you do need is to take a logical approach to the task --plan it carefully, start small and leave room to add extra features later on.
You'll find lots more software tips and tutorials from Helen Bradley in our Small Business Essentials series, How-To With Helen Bradley.
Helen Bradley is a respected international journalist writing regularly for small business and computer publications in the USA, Canada, South Africa, UK and Australia. You can learn more about her at her Web site, HelenBradley.com
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