New business owner series: do I need a website?

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Let me start this piece by saying, every modern business must have a web presence.

It doesn’t matter whether you run a corner store, a food truck or a gym, nine in ten potential customers do a search online before they make any kind of purchasing decision. And at least 70 percent of them are doing it on their smart phone.

Big businesses call this the start of the customer journey. For every other business, the new reality is that 65% of your future customers will come from the web. That includes people who have done an online search for providers of a particular product or service and then enter your store, as well as those that order online and purchase via your website.

Putting it another way, if you can’t be found online, you are missing out on 65% of your potential customers. So, it makes a lot of sense to get a website.

Now before you start asking for recommendations on the best web site providers, I’m not going to recommend or criticise any operators out there at the moment because every one of them is entitled to offer a service. It’s up to you to decide whether their offer is right for your business. And every business has its unique needs. What I am going to do, is give you a five tip cheat sheet on things you need to consider when setting up a website.

Before I do that, let me say upfront that if you are reading this and you don’t have a website (but desperately want one), you are absolutely right to be cautious. It pays to do your homework before leaping online.

1.  Choose a domain name wisely

Before you get a website you need to buy a domain name (e.g. www.yourname.com.au), ideally the same as your business name. Google it. Check on a domain registry whether the .com.au or .com versions of the domain are available.

Remember the shorter the web address the better (more letters equals more typo’s which equals less visits). They cost roughly $40 – $80 for a two year license. Yes, there are other domain suffixes you can purchase (e.g. .biz or .net) but leave them until you’re an advanced user.

2.  Take small steps and invest the time to learn the basics

When you first tried to ride a bike, you didn’t jump on and rocket down the nearest hill. You put the time in doing circles of the driveway and learnt how to avoid falling off i.e. using the brakes and steering. The same applies for setting up a website.

For first timers, find a website provider that lets you build the website yourself. I don’t mean you have to write the code. There are lots of web site providers who offer easy, build-it-yourself, template designs where you just pay a monthly hosting fee.

By doing it yourself, you can input your text that describes your own business and match it with the right images (or video). If the site has an ecommerce capability built-in (highly desirable), you can describe and set the price of each product and service (and sell direct to customers anywhere in the world). Customers like to know what’s included and see how much something costs before they commit to a purchase (step two on the customer journey – consideration).

Yes, this will take time but you are learning about how to run your most powerful marketing and sales tool. You’ll quickly find out if the content management system (CMS) is easy or hard to use, if the site allows you to design your pages the way you like, does it let you change the prices or offer specials easily and is it linked to a secure payment gateway (e.g. Paypal). Is it available (i.e. works) all the time or does it crash regularly and most importantly, is your website quick and easy for customers to load, refresh and read on any device (PC, tablet or smart phone).

Once you’ve mastered the basics in setting up and running the site, you can then hand it over to a trusted employee (or family member). The main thing is, if there is a problem with the site in future, you have enough knowledge to find the fault.

3.  Get a custom website built after you’ve been running yours for at least 18 months

A website novice (and I mean that nicely) asking an expert web designer to build them a website is a bit like a 10 year old designing a sports car. Colour and speed are important – headlights, windscreens, mirrors, brakes and airbags might not make the list.

Website novices simply don’t know what features and functionality to ask for in a website design. The world of technology is a massive, dark forest full of complex jargon and no one is handing out torches without something to gain.

For every new feature or capability there is a corresponding trade off e.g. having beautiful HD videos running on your landing page will mean your site is slow to load on a smart phone. A load delay of more than 3 seconds means the person who clicked on your site has terminated the search and moved to a competitor’s site (step three on the customer journey – comparison).

All of these features and capabilities are listed on the most important document in any custom website build. The brief. It’s like an architect’s floor plan for a new house. Like a builder, the web designer will follow the brief to the letter.

So if you don’t ask for an eCommerce facility or a Word-based CMS or AdWords interoperability in the brief, you won’t get it. This is where the time you invested in learning the basics pays off. You will have a better understanding of the web jargon thrown at you (like I just did) and more importantly, you will have a better idea of what these features will do for your business. And which features you really need.

It also pays to find a web designer who can patiently explain what everything means before the brief is finalised. Because once it’s finalised, anything not on the brief will cost you more. A lot more. To use the house analogy again, it’s a bit like having half the house built and then realising that you forgot to include a second bathroom. Expensive.

4.  Avoid your site becoming a billboard in the desert

Now that you have a website, you have to make it work for you. By that I mean, there are hundreds of thousands of businesses with a website. Your site won’t jump out to a potential customer unless you promote it.

Welcome to your second jargon-rich environment of this article, online marketing. Terms like search engine marketing (SEM) and search engine optimisation (SEO) are just the tip of the iceberg. Soon you’ll be dabbling in impressions, conversions, CPC and CTRs. The bottom line is you’ve entered a new, darker forest where the trees are constantly changing position.

The ultimate goal for your website is to appear on the first page of any online search relating to your business. This can be achieved in two ways – paid online advertising (e.g. Google AdWords) or by producing content (like this article). It’s a good idea to try and post something new on your site every week. In time, this will move your site to the first page of any Google, Bing or Yahoo7 search relating to the content.

Understanding online advertising which includes search engine marketing (e.g. Adwords), is an entire blog post on its own. Whether you want your video ads to appear on YouTube or you use Google AdWords for your ads to appear in Google searches, this is the guaranteed way to get your site being seen by potential customers. Google has produced numerous How To videos which I strongly recommend you watch.

As a rough guide, you’ll need to allow for a spend of at least A$500 a month for basic search engine marketing. Search ‘Adwords’ and watch the YouTube videos closely before setting up an account.

5.  Be careful out there

As with any new environment, there are traps for the unwary when setting up a website. Here are some common pitfalls for new players.

“The very cheap custom website build.” The cheap upfront website build cost usually means there is no accessible content management system so you will be charged for every change you need to make in future (e.g. product pricing, new products or even a new blog post). Expensive in the long run.

“We do everything for you.” You getcharged for every change you need to make in future plus hosting and admin fees. Very expensive and no control.

“We build it offshore to keep costs down.” This means they are hosting it somewhere overseas. Make sure your site is hosted in Australia. Everything on your site is your business information. Your business insurance may not cover you for any breach of the Australian Privacy Act if the site is hosted overseas and data gets hacked.

“We guarantee your website will appear on the first page of Google results every time – for a really cheap price.” These online marketing agencies commonly use ‘bots’ to manipulate the Google algorithm. Google doesn’t like companies manipulating their algorithm so they will black list your site i.e. your site will not appear on any online search. If you plead your innocence your website might be re-registered in six months. Google it for more details.

“Don’t go crazy with AdWords.” Before using Google Adwords watch the How To videos or speak to a Google account manager. It is a very detailed marketing tool that can get very expensive (with little or no result) if you aren’t careful. Used correctly, it can be your most effective sales weapon. Remember 90% of your potential customers are typing in a google search right now.

Original article written by Anthony Lowe, Director, The Roxburgh Group for Businesses. The Roxburgh Group for Businesses provides business plan and copywriting services to Australian businesses with less than 100 staff.

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