Small Business Website Design and Development
In this post I'll discuss the absolute fundamentals necessary to build an effective website. I'm going to give you a few ideas to do it yourself and a few more about services I recommend if you want someone else to do the work for you. Along the way I'll share a few tricks that you can put in play to get your website working for you. You'll learn how to look at a website performance report and see how your customers are finding you, where they are coming from and how often they are buying something. I'll also share a step-by-step process to "optimizing" your web site which is basically a fancy way of saying "notifying search engines that your website exists.
Some quick facts:
- Spend on websites by small business owners is expected to increase from 7.9% of interactive ad spend in 2008 to 18.1% to 2013 ( Source: Kelsey Data, VSS, eMarketer, Forrester, and Borrell Associates). So that means that the amount of money being spent on Internet advertising will more than double in the next 5 years.
- In April of 2009, The Discover Small Business Watch conducted a survey that found that only 38% of small businesses with 5 or fewer employees even have a website ( source Entrepreneur.com ).
The first step to building a website is determining what your budget is and who will do the work. When determining budget, be sure to factor in things like purchasing a domain name, web site hosting fees and logo design (if you do not already have a web friendly version). I'll make recommendations later in this guide as to my personal favorites regarding service providers for each of those. To give you an idea of what pricing should be, never spend more than $ 10 for a new domain name and web hosting should never exceed $ 8 a month depending on the size and complexity of your web site. Once you have a budget carved out we can look at the two different paths to getting the website built.
Hire Someone to Design the Website for You.
I'll be honest with you, building a website yourself can be time consuming and quite honestly a disaster. It was OK to take a shot at the DIY approach a few years ago when Google and the other search engines were not as advanced as they are today. However, building a malformed website today can really do more harm than not having one at all. A poorly built site could convey an image that is non-professional and missing trust. Trust is so important on the web and your website is the first step in your Internet marketing strategy to gain trust. Mess it up and you could lose a customer for life. The good news is that hiring someone to build your website is not as expensive as it once was. Let's take a look at some of the potential candidates that you may want to consider before hiring someone to build your website.
The Freelancer: This is a person who typically gets paid by the hour to build your website. Freelancers can range from $ 3.00 hr to over $ 100 depending on how good the freelancer is. The location of the freelancer is also important because some parts of the world have a weaker economy and therefore charge less then someone from the United States. In my experience most freelancers will take between 5-20 hours to build a 5-15 page website. Any more than that and I'd question the integrity of the invoice. I've posted a list complete with links to the best websites to hire a freelancer.
The Relative: We all have one, the person n your family who claims to get this stuff. They're probably even offered to do your site for you. Every once-in -while these folks work out. But more often than not it is a big mistake. The relative will probably be doing it either for free or for less then what a professional would charge. This may be effective in terms of budget but you may sacrifice quality and effectiveness by working with a more amateur version of the freelancer. These folks also tend to extend deadlines and drag the project on for months simply because they lose motivation.
The Local Web Design Firm: The local website development company is another option. However, I'd like to warn you against going this route without thoroughly researching your budget. Local firms typically charge more and they also frequently ask for a hefty down payment. To give you an idea, the price range that these folks typical charge would be between $ 1,000 to $ 7,500 depending on the size and complexity of the website. In my experience these folks are also slow. They tend to take longer and make the process seem harder than it really is to validate the amount of money they will charge you. This can get frustrating and lead to set backs with your project. That being said, some local firms truly are fair and capable. Just be sure to research as much as you can before you buy. Take a look at the portfolio section on their website and look at past client work. Call the customers and get feedback directly from the people that used them before you. I'm telling you, the more deep you dig the more ammonition you will have to negotiate your final price. Plus you'll know what to expect from a completion point.
The Big Box Web Design Company: These companies have everything under one roof and typically provide a higher level of service. They may have cookie cutter products but are more often affordable and competitive in terms of price. Some products that these folks carry include domain names, web hosting, email addresses, and more all under roof. Examples would include GoDaddy, Web.com, Homestead and SiteCube to name a few. The price range for a web site to be built by a company like this will range between $ 49.99 to $ 199 per month depending on the type of site you require. I provide a few links with reviews of the some of the most popular big-box web design companies in the resource section at the end of this guide.
Do it Yourself : It took me awhile but I actually taught myself how to build websites. I learned HTML, CSS and a little PHP. These are all code languages that can be used to build a website. There is also the option of using a Content Management System (CMS). A CMS is a tool that can be used to design, format and display web site content such as images, words and other relevant information. An example of a CMS tool would be, WordPress, Joomla! Or Drupal. Google also provides a free web site development tool called Google sites that can be used to build a simple yet functional web site. These tools could take a few days or even weeks to learn so patience and a regular time commitment will be needed to master them. Doing it yourself can be a rewarding and empowering part of running your business. Some people really get into this and reap huge rewards. However, unless you really feel passionate about learning web design, I would not recommend this path. There are so many mistakes that will inevitably be made along the way. And while they will no doubt provide a valuable learning experience they may also frustrate and stress you out.
Most local community colleges offer short courses that will teach Photoshop, Dreamweaver and HTML as well as other more advanced web design skills. Sometimes it helps to have an instructor teaching and this might be helpful in honing your web design skills. There are also a lot of online resources to consider. Visit WordPress.tv for online tutorials to learn WordPress and JoomlaForums.com is another valuable place for learning Joomla !. Furthermore, a lot of web hosts will have what are called one-click installations of popular CMSs' so you can install them quickly and begin experimenting. The two sites I use most often for one-click installs is a toss-up between GoDaddy and Bluehost.com. You can also call customer service at these sites and ask them about the one-click install and then have them walk you through it.