A Sane Approach to Building a Small Business Website
Forget all the whiz bang effects and the $10K design your marketing team says you simply must have, and let's get down to business. You're convinced you need a Web presence or a new website design, but what do you really need on your small business website? And how can you achieve your goals realistically and within budget? In this article, I'll explain how to get what you want in a website and how to do it without wasting time and money.
Step 1: Start with the Basics
The first step to determine what you need on a small business website is to clearly define the purpose of the website. What do you want to achieve with the site? This is pen and paper stuff -- write down the goals you have for your website. This is vital not only to help you get the website design right so it will achieve these goals but, written goals give you something to track later on to see if the website is doing what it is supposed to do.
Step 2: Define Your Target Audience
The second step in the design process is to identify your target audience. Your website design needs to be focused on and relevant and meaningful to -- the target audience for your product or services. A scattergun approach and where you try to be all things to all people just wastes your resources. Once you identify your target audience, you can design a small business website that will service them.
Step 3: Set a Website Design Budget
Any small business website project can easily balloon out of control and consume an unlimited amount of money, time and resources. Setting a budget will help keep costs under control and help you focus on the goals the website design must achieve rather than just the nice-to-haves.
When you are considering the cost of your small business website, think in terms of time (both yours and your employees') and other business resources as well as money. Even if you have a designer create your site for you, you'll be doing more than just signing checks.
Factor in the cost of gathering or producing the website content. If your project calls for a blog or a presence on social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter, know that these need a long-term time commitment to keep them up to date. That may be acceptable if they help to achieve your stated goals, but if it comes at the expense of providing customer service to those customers you already have then you may need to consider whether these are appropriate places to be spending resources.
Step 4 - Prioritize Your Goals
Now that you have a budget, it's time to make choices about the scope of the project. If you have a lot of goals, the project may end up being beyond your budget and you may not be able to achieve everything. Prioritize your goals into stages, and keep a list of high-priority items you'll add to the site in the first stage and a list of features that you can roll out in stages two and three.
Knowing what's on the list for these later stages is a great planning tool. It can keep you from making choices today that could prevent expansion or make it more costly later on.
It's important to understand that all websites are constantly in a state of development, so it's not necessary or even desirable to get everything done all at once. You'll need to revisit your site time and time again to adjust it and add additional features as these become appropriate and necessary.
Step 5: Design and Test
Once you have a prioritized list of goals and a budget, you or your Web designer can plan a site solution that meets these goals within your budget constraints. Whether your designer is in-house or external, make sure that you allow adequate time is for testing the site, for fixing problems, and addressing small business SEO needs. You dont want to be left with a site that can't be found by search engines. The project should also include an allowance for ongoing maintenance and updating.
Step 6: Monitor and Evaluate
Building a small business website takes cash and a fair commitment in time and resources. Over the long term your website has to show a return on this investment, and the only way to know whether the site's meeting the goals you established is by measuring and analysis.
How you measure depends on your site. If you sell online, Web analytics software lets you track visitors entering the site, what pages they look at, what products they put in their carts and whether a shopping cart converts to a sale or is abandoned. Read this article for more help understanding Web analytics.
For a brick-and mortar-store you need to be a more creative. Consider referring online visitors to a special phone number for your store so you can identify when customers are coming to you from the Web. Website tracking services can tell you how people find you, where they enter and leave your site, how long they are there and what they do while they are there. Site surveys too can help you get feedback about whether visitors are finding what they are looking for when they visit.
You'll use this analysis to decide whether to expand into the next stage of your website design. If your site's achieving the goals you set, then it's worth looking at developing the next stage; if it's not, then your money may be better spent on fixing the site's problems rather than just adding more to it.
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
You'll find lots more software tips and tutorials from Helen Bradley in our Small Business In-Depth series, How-To With Helen Bradley.
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