“What does a small business website need?” This was one of the many questions asked at the Small Business Tech Panel at the Warehaüs, a coworking space in Holland, Michigan in March 2014. Here’s an expanded version of the answer I gave. The items (in no particular order) are as follows:
- Effective content (text, images, video)
- Mobile-friendly design
- Good hosting
Effective content (text, images, video)
Too often, small businesses are more focused on having a pretty website than on having effective content. What’s effective content? Content refers to the text, images, and video on a site. Effective content is content that accomplishes goals. For a marketing site (one that markets a business’ products or services), a goal might be to have a visitor request a quote. For an e-commerce site, a goal might be to have the visitor purchase a physical or digital product.
Effective content will persuade visitors to perform actions that lead to these goals. This requires calls to action: text, images, or videos that prompt the visitor to take the next step towards the goal. Each visitor is asking, “What’s in it for me?”as they browse your site. Effective content answers that question.
Creating effective content isn’t easy. For the best results, we recommend involving specialists in web design, graphic design, copywriting, lead generation, and conversion optimization. You can create content without such specialists, but your results aren’t likely to be as good as if you involved experienced experts.
The number of visitors viewing the Web from mobile devices (phones, tablets, etc.) continues to increase. The exact number will vary depending on your site and target audience (see your analytics for a good approximation), but the important thing is that the numbers are climbing. If your site isn’t mobile-friendly, mobile device users may leave the site. You may lose a prospect, and it’s also sending a negative signal to Google. If they notice that mobile visitors are leaving your site immediately after arriving, it could negatively affect your ranking.
We build WordPress sites with responsive design, meaning that the sites adapt to fit the screen size. This is a best practice in web design, and is Google’s preferred method for mobile-friendly sites.
I’ve written about why your business website needs a blog. Blogs help build relationships, establish credibility, aid in marketing, and have SEO benefits. With so many benefits and so little effort required on your part, what are you waiting for?
Small business websites should have some level of SEO (search engine optimization). Although SEO is changing (to incorporate social media and personalized results), it isn’t going anywhere soon. At a minimum a small business site should have the basics of on-site SEO. We configure WordPress sites with basic on-site technical SEO, which includes URL settings, indexing settings, page titles, meta descriptions, sitemap, and Open Graph settings, as well as connecting the site to Google Webmaster Tools.
Basic on-site SEO is a good first step, but there’s much more to SEO. There’s more advanced on-site SEO, which often involves copywriting and conversion optimization. There’s also off-site SEO, which includes all the areas outside your site, including
- email marketing
- social media marketing
- link building and directory listings (getting other sites to link back to yours)
- local SEO (optimizing for local search, which is especially important for geographically-based businesses)
We handle basic on-site SEO, and partner with SEO specialists for other aspects of SEO.
It’s important to use a good web host for the sake of speed, availability, security, and disaster recovery.
Visitors, especially mobile visitors, don’t like waiting for sites to load. You may lose a prospect, and it’s also sending a negative signal to Google. If they notice that mobile visitors are leaving your site immediately after arriving, it could negatively affect your ranking. A faster site can result in higher conversion rates and higher revenue, and a slow site could be penalized by Google, especially if it’s a slow mobile site.
In addition to a good web host, we recommend using caching and a CDN (content delivery network) to make the site even faster.
Worse than a slow site is an unavailable one. Low-cost hosts may suffer outages that leave your site completely unavailable for minutes or hours each week.
Any public website can be targeted by hackers. The unfortunate reality is that WordPress sites are heavily targeted by malicious bots and individuals. WP WhiteSecurity states that, “According to statistics From 40,000+ WordPress Websites in Alexa Top 1 Million, more than 70% of WordPress installations are vulnerable to hacker attacks.” Your host needs to be up to the challenge.
Websites can be damaged in several ways, including user error, hackers, and hosting issues. That’s why regular backups and simple restoration options are critical. Many hosts offer backup and restoration, but we recommend that you also keep an offsite backup (using Amazon S3, Dropbox, etc.) in case something happens to the host. Don’t keep all your eggs in one basket.
We recommend SiteGround or WP Engine for most small business sites (affiliate links). SiteGround works well for most small business sites, and WP Engine offers additional benefits that are worth considering for larger or higher-traffic sites. Both hosts are optimized for WordPress, and in our experience, provide better speed, security, and customer service than inexpensive hosting from GoDaddy, Bluehost, Hostmonster, iPage, and small local hosting companies.
I’ve written about the importance of updating WordPress for security, bug fixes, and new features and functionality. In addition to installing WordPress updates, you may need assistance in with the following tasks related to maintaining your site:
- security hardening (depending on your host)
- backup and restoration
- monitoring error pages (404s, etc.)
- creating redirects
- configuring caching
- configuring the CDN (content delivery network)
If you have the skills and time to maintain your site software, go for it! Most small businesses don’t, which is why we offer WordPress maintenance. Most of our clients would rather not be bothered by the technical side of their websites.
There are many other things that are important in a small business website, but these are a few areas to get you started. What else would you consider important factors in a small business website?