If you haven’t done it before, designing a small business website can be daunting. There are literally hundreds of options out there when it comes to tools that claim they can make the process easier, cheaper or more effective.
How do you start designing a small business website? What services and tools are the best? How do you market your site once you’re done with it?
This guide will answer all of these questions and more.
- Key website terms
- What you’ll need to get started
- How should you design your website?
- What features should a website have?
- What not to do
- Building your website
- How to market your website
- How do I create a free small business website?
- Which website builder is best for small business?
- How much does it cost to set up a website for a small business?
- How effective is a website for small businesses?
- What is the cheapest way to get a website?
- What should be included in a business website?
- How can I create a professional website?
First, there are some technical terms to do with designing a small business website that are important to learn.
Key website terms
What is a domain name?
A domain name is a website’s unique name, like google.com or digitalsupermarket.com. It’s how people access the site.
Before you start designing a small business website, it’s important that you buy a domain name for your business.
Want to find the best services for finding and buying domain names? Check out our comparison page to learn more.
What is website hosting?
Once you’ve created a site, it needs to be ‘hosted’ online before people can visit it. You can do this yourself, but it’s much cheaper and more common to pay another company to host your sites for you.
What is a website builder?
Making websites requires writing computer code, which is often difficult and complex. Website builders are tools that let you create a site visually and provide templates to make it quicker.
We list some of the best website builders further down in this article, but if you’d like to see a more in-depth comparison on the most popular builders out there, our dedicated comparison page has the information you need.
What is an SSL certificate?
An SSL certificate is how sites prove that the connection between them and their users is secure and can’t be hacked. If you’ve ever seen a padlock next to a website’s domain name in your browser, that’s because it has an SSL certificate. You need an SSL certificate if you’re doing anything with sensitive user information, like passwords or bank details.
What you’ll need to get started
There’s a lot that goes into designing a small business website. You’ll need both a website builder to create the site and then a hosting service so people can access it.
Depending on the website builder you use, however, hosting might already be included, so you can hit two birds with one stone.
If you’re familiar with the process of buying a domain and hosting a website yourself, then services like WordPress or Wix are good choices to start with, as they give you a lot of control over how your site works.
But if you just want to get your page online ASAP, consider services like Shopify or GoDaddy.
These options take care of all the technical details and let you focus on actually creating a good site.
A domain name and URL
Your domain name is your site’s first impression, so it’s important to get right.
If your company is already established, the choice is easy – get a URL that matches its name as closely as possible.
As a general rule, you want your URLs to be as short as possible while still being easy to read. Rather than having lots of words broken up with hyphens, try to keep your domain name to just one or two words strung together.
Lots of hosting sites, such as GoDaddy, will tell you the estimated price for a domain name before you buy it, which means you can make a more informed judgement about whether a simpler yet more expensive name is worth it versus one that’s slightly less elegant but much cheaper.
Click here to compare web hosting deals
How should you design your website?
You’re finally ready to start actually building your website. But it’s very likely that you don’t know where to start – web designers spend months, if not years, researching the best way to design websites, after all.
There are hundreds of little ways that you can tweak the way your website looks and feels to bring in more visitors and turn them into customers.
But getting the fundamentals right is much more important: if your site looks ugly or is slow to load, people are going to close their browser tab right away.
Here are some basic guidelines you should follow when designing your website.
Keep it simple
The best way to start designing a small business website is to keep it as simple as possible.
Focus on the information the user needs to know, and avoid anything that distracts from that.
Rather than cluttering up the screen with lots of flashing text or pointless widgets, give top priority to the content users visited your site to see.
In turn, this means you should make navigation between the different pages of your site as easy as possible.
That’s why almost every site has a ‘nav-bar’: a horizontal strip at the top that contains links to all the main pages of your site. This means that no matter where they are, the user knows that they can always get back to the homepage easily.
When it comes to displaying content, you should make use of titles, subheadings, and bullet point lists to visually break up the text.
This causes much less stress on the eyes while reading and makes the entire page look more professional.
You should also be thinking about accessibility from the start. There will be people visiting your site who are colour-blind, or have to use a screen-reader to browse the web.
Designing accessible websites is a topic unto itself, but some important tips are to use large, easily-readable fonts and not rely on colour to convey important information. If you use any images, they should have ‘alt-text’ – short written descriptions for people using screen-readers.
On the web, images are definitely worth a thousand words.
Good images provide visual relief for the people reading your site, and they can help give it a more professional appearance overall.
One thing to note with images is that you should make sure their filesize isn’t too large. Your users will have to download the images to use your site, and if you make them wait too long, they’re going to get frustrated and leave.
There are lots of ways to find good images for your site. You can, of course, upload images or photos you’ve created yourself.
There are also many websites where you can find royalty-free stock images to make your pages that little bit more interesting.
You’ll often see this saying when reading about website design: “content is king!”
Good, high-quality content is the only reason people visit websites. It doesn’t matter how impressive your animations are or how much money you spent on bandwidth if your content is boring or unoriginal.
‘Content’ is a deliberately broad term, because it can mean almost anything.
The easiest kind of content to create, text posts, is also the most common.
The big advantage of text content is that it’s cheap to make and a natural place to slide in keywords for your SEO marketing (more on that later).
When designing a small business website, content can also include videos or audio that you’ve made.
Having lots of different kinds of content on your site is a great way to bring in different audiences and increase your overall traffic.
What features should a website have?
Every website is different, and it should be uniquely based on your business. That said, when designing a small business website, there are some features that basically all websites should have.
One of them is mobile accessibility. It’s more common nowadays to browse the internet on a smartphone than a desktop computer, and if your site isn’t designed for it, it’ll break on mobile browsers.
Most website builders will automatically make sure your site is mobile-friendly, but you should still test it yourself to make sure everything looks right and none of your site’s functionality is broken.
Another universally important feature is the ability to search through a site’s content. People usually visit sites because they have something on their mind already, and rather than wasting time trawling through every link on your site, they’re going to want to be able to quickly search for the specific content that interests them.
As a consequence of this, you should make your content easy to search for. This means good keyword usage, as well as clear, descriptive titles that tell the reader what the piece is about.
What not to do
When you’re designing a small business website, there are lots of pitfalls that are easy to fall into. Many people over the years have thought that putting in big, flashy animated images would be a great way to get people’s attention – turns out, it usually just annoys them.
Here are some of the most important things to avoid when designing your site.
- Ugly, unprofessional or hard-to-read fonts. Stick with standard fonts like Arial or Helvetica, and keep in mind that users can override your choice with their browser settings.
- Avoid the use of garish or overblown colours. Putting a bright yellow background on your page will hurt people’s eyes and make them turn away immediately.
- Never have content that autoplays. There’s nothing more infuriating than when you open up a website and it immediately begins playing a video or music track that you then have to hunt down and mute.
Building your website
If you’re just designing a small business website, however, that complexity usually isn’t necessary. Consider using one of these website builders to make the process of quickly getting your site up and running easy and stress-free.
Compare website builders here.
Squarespace is one of the most popular website builders out there for small businesses. Their interface for creating sites is easy to use and comes with a large library of pre-made templates that can give you a headstart on making a professional, modern webpage.
Many of these templates are focused on eCommerce sites, giving you access to valuable features like payment processors and tax management systems. Dealing with this stuff on your own is often incredibly confusing, but Squarespace takes care of it all for you.
Squarespace is sometimes criticised for the slow load speeds of its pages, but this is primarily something you can affect with the themes and images you choose to load onto your pages.
All in all, Squarespace is a good choice for someone entirely new to creating websites and wants a simple, streamlined process.
Weebly is one of the biggest website builder platforms out there, with over fifty million websites to their name (that’s right – millions). They were bought out a few years ago by Square, another builder on this list, but are still an independent site that you should consider on their own merits.
As with most website builders, Weebly offers an intuitive and visual drag-and-drop designer which lets you see what your website will look like in real-time. When you’re designing a small business website, first impressions and visual appeal are often the biggest priorities, making this particularly important.
Weebly stands out from other options on this list, such as Wix, in how well it handles sites with lots of individual pages. Its page management system is very robust and good at handling large amounts of content, so if you want to run a blog or simply have a lot of content to put online, Weebly might be your best choice.
It also contains many other interesting features for designing a small business website, such as the ability to mark off certain parts of your website as members-only – good if you have a paid membership model in mind.
In general, Weebly is an excellent choice if you’re designing a small business website and need something simple that gets the job done quickly.
Unlike the other options on this list, Shopify exists specifically for designing a small business website for eCommerce. In other words, if you want to sell products online, Shopify is likely to have unique and specialised features that other website builders won’t be able to offer you.
It’s easily the leading eCommerce solution on the web – more than 800,000 businesses use it to power their online stores.
Some of its key selling points, besides smoothing over the technical hurdles that come with dealing with payment processors and banks online, is how easy it makes it to connect your site with additional sales channels. Linking up your site with an Amazon store, eBay seller’s account or Facebook marketplace store is easy, seamless and takes only a few clicks.
It’s worth noting that Shopify charges a transaction fee for every sale you make, on top of a monthly subscription fee. But the ease with which they let you set up an eCommerce platform makes it almost always a good return on investment despite this.
If you’re specifically interested in designing a small business website that’s focused on eCommerce, check out Shopify first. It might be the perfect choice for you.
Not to be confused with Squarespace!
Despite being best known as the digital payment processor that brought eCommerce to mobile devices, Square also offers a fully-featured website builder.
It’s interesting to know that Square actually bought out competing website builder service Weebly in 2018, and as you might expect, their builder is fairly similar. What sets it apart, however, is their experience with eCommerce, which means that Square offers several handy features for different kinds of online stores.
If you’ve ever ran a fundraising campaign online, for instance, you’ve probably wished you didn’t have to send users to a third-party site to collect donations. Square offers an integrated donation-widget that makes it easy to integrate to help charities get heard on the digital marketplace.
As you might expect, the websites you create with them integrate effortlessly with the Square payment processor – there’s not many options to use anything else, as it happens. This makes it a natural choice if you already like using Square and want to unify your business practices.
Some of Square’s other retail-focused features include tax management, inventory tracking and an intuitive interface for adding new products to your catalogue. All in all, it’s incredibly easy to get a professional-looking store online in very little time at all – the main downside is that their library of pre-made designs is somewhat lacking.
If you’re not concerned about customizing your site, though, Square is one of the best options out there for eCommerce websites. It’s a shame their payment processor overshadows their website builder, as it’s a really fantastic tool.
They even offer a free plan which you can use to test out their tools before paying for their more advanced features.
As a beginner, Wix is an ideal choice for designing a small business website.
Their builder has a simplistic yet powerful layout which lets you pick templates from a vast selection of professional, mobile-friendly designs. If you’re not quite satisfied with one of their templates, Wix also makes it easy to dive into the code for minor tweaks here and there.
Speaking of mobile support, Wix also has a built-in optimisation suite which helps reduce your website’s load speeds – absolutely crucial for keeping steady traffic from smartphone users.
Wix is a general-purpose website builder, so it’s easy to customise their base designs and slot in extra widgets that enable eCommerce features, blog posts and other interesting additions.
If you’re not sure which website builder to pick, it’s hard to go wrong with Wix. They even offer a free plan which you can use to see how well you like their building tools, with no risk attached.
It’s an easy way to get started with designing a small business website.
Click here to visit Wix.
WordPress is one of the biggest website builders and hosts in the world. You’ve probably used dozens, if not hundreds of websites hosted by WordPress without realising it.
One of the reasons it’s so popular is that WordPress is actually two services in one.
They offer a fully-featured website builder service, where you can create and customise your site and get it hosted in one seamless process. But you can also download WordPress as an independent piece of software to put on your hosting platform, giving you much more flexibility in how you configure your website.
For designing a small business website, of course, simplicity is usually what you’re after, so the integrated-hosting option is usually best.
Similar to Wix, WordPress offers dozens of highly-professional, mobile-friendly themes that are easy to customise and tweak to your liking. They also offer specialised eCommerce plans for sites that need to trade online, making it easy to get your payment process set up.
WordPress is one of the most popular website solutions on the market for a reason – it’s incredibly good at what it does. If you’re unsure which of these options to go with, try sticking with WordPress for a while. You can use it to build almost any kind of site you can imagine.
How to market your website
Congratulations – you’ve created your website.
Unfortunately, that was the easy part. Now you have to get people to actually visit it! Digital marketing is an incredibly complex and fast-moving field, but here are some of the basics for marketing your new website.
A golden rule of marketing is that word-of-mouth is the best advertising you can ever hope for. Social media buzz is the equivalent of that for the digital age.
Social media is free to use, and every business with a website should have profiles on all the major platforms. It’s an easy and effective way to spread messages, contact your customers or offer promotions.
Of course, your customers likely won’t use each social media site equally.
Depending on your audience, they might skew towards one site or another. It’s important to do demographics research to figure out where you should be spending most of your energy.
A useful point to remember when you’re designing a small business website is to include social media sharing buttons, so that readers can easily share your content, giving you a publicity boost.
Google is the biggest advertiser on the planet, so once you’ve finished designing a small business website, it makes sense to start with them if you want to get your name out there, and have a budget to do so,
Google Ads is the name of their massive advertising platform that brings in literally hundreds of billions of dollars of profit every year.
Their ads all work off of a ‘pay per click’ (PPC) model, which means you only have to pay Google when someone clicks on your ad. This is particularly great when you’re designing a small business website, because it means you don’t risk losing any money on ads that nobody clicks.
You might assume that working with them will only get you appearing directly in Google’s search results. But it actually goes much deeper than that: your company can appear in YouTube ads, Google’s promoted sites in search reviews and even text-based ads on other websites.
The flexibility and wide reach of Google’s ad networks make them a very powerful tool in the right hands.
Before you start writing content or designing a small business website, you should understand the basics of search engine optimisation, also known as SEO.
SEO is the art of writing high-quality, engaging content that’s easy for search engines like Google or Yahoo to read and index. COntent that matches this criteria gets ranked more highly by search engines, meaning they show up closer to the top when people search for keywords relevant to your content.
Getting the top spot on a Google results page can be an enormous boost to your site’s popularity – a vast majority of people only ever look at the top three or five.
It goes without saying, of course, that increasing traffic to your website also gives you more chances to turn those idle browsers into active customers and sales.
SEO is different from traditional advertising, because you’re not directly paying Google or other search engines to promote your website. Instead, you’re creating high-quality content that their algorithms will pick up and spotlight.
What are the basics of SEO?
SEO is pretty complicated – people have written books on it, and there are lots of marketing agencies that would love to handle it for you, in exchange for a fee (often in the thousands per month). There are, however, some basic tips that anyone can apply to their site.
- Make your site user-friendly and easy to navigate. Search engines will notice if people ‘bounce’ off of your site soon after entering it.
- Create well-written content that answers people’s questions and tells them what they want to know.
- Research what keywords people online are searching for related to your business. If you run a plumbing company, for instance, see whether more people are searching for sink repairs or toilet repairs. This lets you decide what to target your content towards.
- Avoid manipulative tactics like keyword-stuffing. The algorithms of search engines are smarter than you and will punish you if you try to game the system!
When designing a small business website, it’s important to conduct keyword research and make your website as SEO friendly as possible, so that your site eventually shows up in search engines.
These SEO tools can help you do just that.
How do I create a free small business website?
The quickest and easiest way to create a free small business website is to use a free website builder. These tools help you create a website with visual drag-and-drop editors, and once it’s done, they’ll even host it for you for free.
Different website builders come with different limitations, like how many ads they put on sites hosted for free. If you want to learn more and decide which free website builder is right for you, check out our list of the best five options on the market.
Which website builder is best for small business?
The best website builder for small businesses depends on your business needs.
Weebly, WordPress, Squarespace and Shopify are popular options. For general-purpose sites, Squarespace makes designing a small business website quick and easy, with no coding or technical skills required.
If you’re designing a small business website that focuses on eCommerce, however, Shopify might make more sense as a specialised option.
Check out our full review of website builders to find the best one for your business.
How much does it cost to set up a website for a small business?
There’s no set cost when it comes to setting up a website for small businesses.
There are many free services that will host websites for you in exchange for showing their ads next to your content, and paid services run from small-scale affairs that cost less than £5 a month to massive hosting services that cost thousands of pounds a month.
How effective is a website for small businesses?
Websites are incredibly useful and effective for small businesses that want to get their name out there. They’re like an interactive billboard that’s online 24/7, every day of the year, where people can find out more about them and what services they offer.
Websites are incredibly cheap to set up and maintain, especially if you use one of the many website builder services out there. This means they’re almost always a great return on investment – with how many people now do most of their shopping online, bringing in new customers is almost guaranteed.
Website builders make it extremely easy to start designing a small business website and start your presence online.
What is the cheapest way to get a website?
The cheapest way to start designing a small business website is to use a free website builder service, like Wix or WordPress. These sites let you create a site in a matter of minutes using their online visual editors. They’ll also take care of the hosting and other technical details for you.
The main downside to using free website builders is that they won’t give you much control over how the site works, and will usually insert ads into your pages that you can’t get rid of.
What should be included in a business website?
A business’ website should include all the information that an interested customer is likely to want to know. This includes basic details, like the company’s name, location, contact details and opening hours.
It’s also a good idea to include an ‘About Us’ page to give people an overview of your company’s history, what it stands for and what you do today.
Finally, every business site should include a ‘call to action’ that urges readers to take the next step with the business, whether that’s buying a product, calling a telephone number or signing up for a newsletter.
How can I create a professional website?
There are many ways to create a professional website, from hiring a freelance web designer to make one for you to learning how to create one yourself.
If you’re just designing a small business website, however, the easiest and cheapest option for a professional website is to use a website builder service, like Wix, Squarespace or WordPress.com.
Thousands of businesses across the world use these services to create their homepages. They make it easy to reach your customers and even come with additional features for eCommerce, mailing lists, landing pages and more.
Thinking of starting a dropshipping website? Make sure you check out our review of AliExpress before you choose a supplier!
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