The importance of a company website
Recent research shows that only 60 per cent of Australian small and medium businesses have a company website. The 2013 TNS survey of 500 small and medium businesses found that nowadays almost all companies have a business email address (95 per cent) and most have an online business directory listing (74 per cent). However, there are still a significant number of small and medium businesses (39 per cent) operating without a company websitei.
Today consumers are spending more and more of their time on the Internet, looking for business information and buying products or services. It's more likely than ever that many potential customers and clients will first come into contact with your business onlineii. This is why it's so important that your small business has an easily-accessible, attractive website.
Take your small business online
Even if your business builds and maintains its customer base in traditional, offline methods, a clear website with your business' essential information (contact details, operating hours, descriptions of your services) can still facilitate your current customers' shopping experience, and attract new customers who search for products and services online.
It helps to familiarise yourself with the process of building and maintaining an appealing website, and if you have friends with experience in IT or web design, don't be afraid to ask them for advice. The initial steps to plan include registering a domain name, choosing how you will build and host the site, and finding or creating a design.
When deciding on a domain name, it's important to keep it as recognisable and representative as possible. In order to buy a .com.au domain name, you must be a commercial entity and have either an Australian Company Number (ACN) or Australian Business Number (ABN)iii.
There are many choices when building your small business website. A simple hand-coded site with one or a few sub-pages is the most basic option, and for many businesses may be more than adequate. You can either do-it-yourself, buy a readymade static HTML Website which you can edit, or engage a web development firm.
If you will be updating your site frequently, you can consider a Content Management System (CMS). A CMS provides you with web pages from which you can administer your site: depending on the CMS, you'll be able to add pages, menus, content, change the design and more. To change the look of a CMS, you can buy many different templates off the shelf. A CMS is an easy way to get a basic functional site up and running quickly, but be aware that if you want to customise the CMS platform yourself, there can be a steep learning curve and you may require development skills to do more complex changes.
A CMS generally has to connect to a database server, which stores the content you create, as well as the configuration of your website. You can set this up on your own, or your web host may also offer to set up a CMS with database already configured. You can also use a "Software as a Service" (SaaS) CMS, which will already be set up - and you won't need separate web hosting as it will be included. A SaaS CMS service can make it possible to get an advanced CMS website even if you aren't a programmer.
Web hosting can vary in cost (some of them are even available for free) and quality, and there are a lot of different hosts to choose from. To set up your own website, pick a web host that has a simple "how to" section. There are also all-in-one solutions available, such as Google sites or Web.com, to simplify registering a domain name, web hosting and site design.
Ensure your website is appealing and easy to navigate
Just as a book can be judged by its cover, so too can a business be judged by its website. It's crucial that your small business' website gives off a great first impression, but that doesn't mean you need to have a complex website layout with interactive elements; in fact simply ensuring that your website has a clear sitemap and is easy to navigate is bestiv. Your website should also have a clear description of what your business does, prominent contact details and easy-to-scan contentv. To take your website to the next level, establish your business' credibility and professionalism by displaying a list of achievements, case studies or customer testimonialsii.
Optimise your search engine results
There's not much point having a great website if no one can find it! Spend a little time deciding which keywords and phrases should be attributed to your website in order to improve its search engine ranking. The key to search engine optimisation (SEO) is selecting the keywords which your desired clientele would most likely search for, and embedding them in quality content. "Quality content" refers to the length of text content, the use of images and videos, correct spelling and proper grammar, and proper text formatting. These content properties, as well as both outbound links (from your website) to other high quality sites, and inbound links from high quality sources to your website, will help Google determine your content as quality contentv.
Google AdWords can tell you exactly how many people search for certain phrases, and can generate lists of related keyword suggestionsii. Bear in mind that for some companies which rely on local business, the names of suburbs and localities could be important keywordsii.
With a little research, and possibly some support from an IT professional, you can have an easy-to-use and well-presented website up and running in no time. Even if you've already been using a business website for a while, it could be a good idea to reassess its usability and see which simple additions - such as customer testimonials, the integration of quality content or links to social media - could be used to enhance its attractiveness to potential clients or customers.