Starting My Own Website – Tips and Advice.

I’ve just had this email from a visitor, who has given me permission to share the question:

I have a small business, a specialist pet store and up until now I have only used twitter and instagram. I’m thinking now of starting my own website, and I was looking for some tips and advice. I spoke to a website design company who said that they specialise in small business web design, but they wanted a lot of money, far more than I could afford! I don’t need to sell my products online, I just need people in the local area searching for what I sell to be able to find me and find where my shop is so that they will call in. I’m not on a high street, so I need people to be able to find me online and find out how to get to my shop.

So should I try to create my own website, should I use one of the free website offers, or a template or something – and what else do I need to do to get traffic, do websites that people can build themselves actually get any traffic?

This is a common question to be asked from a small business person who doesn’t have thousands available to invest in web development. There are many traditional businesses who are setting up in less expensive locations that don’t have lots of passing trade, that are hoping to use the web & social media to replace passing foot traffic, and this makes a lot of sense especially when it comes to specialist stores.

So what kind of a website does a small local business need & how much should it cost?

As you are running a local business (meaning you’re selling to local customers who call in, rather than selling nationally or internationally) and you don’t need ecommerce, then it really doesn’t need to cost you a lot of money to have a website developed. What a business like this needs in my humble opinion, is a simple fast loading, mobile friendly (responsive) website with good sales copy  to compel the web visitor to convert to a store visitor and customer. An Aweber or Mailchimp mailing list with an autoresponder series set up and working 24/7/365 for you to convert visitors into repeat visitors and customers is a huge plus, a must in my opinion.  An embedded Google maps direction feed, and social media follow buttons and / or feeds are also great additions to a small business website.

By the way when I say “responsive” web design, a responsive web design is one which automatically responds according to the size of the screen of the device being used to view the website, so if someone is viewing your website on an Iphone 6 for instance the page layout will transform to be the perfect size for that device, and the same is true if someone visits your website from a PC or Mac with a 22″ monitor for instance. It used to be that developers had to decide what size screen to make the website best suited for, and a completely different version had to be made for mobile viewing, responsive design changed all of that, and makes the website look perfect on any device with any screen size. 

The actual cost in developing a website like this really, is from a few hundred quid. If you’re quoted substantially more than this for a very simple website with just one or two pages, then you may be being quoted for more work than is actually required, or you may be dealing with a bigger development firm. It’s common for larger web design companies or ‘Digital Marketing Agencies” to have higher costs, as they have higher overheads. Think about it, if a sales person telephoned you, and then a sales rep came to see you and then followed up, how much has it cost that firm in staffing costs just of the sales department (and commissions) even before their development staff start working? If you’re quoted several hundreds or thousands, then just look at what you’re being quoted for, as it may be more than you really require as a small retail business selling only locally, in store.

Do you need more than this?

If your business is in an area where there is relatively little competition, then setting up a website like this and regularly posting to your social media channels including links to your website, may well be enough in terms of the potential search traffic that your business actually stands to benefit from. If, however, there is more potential search traffic that your website could be benefiting from which is outside of the reach of your website initially, then what you will need to do is build Google Authority over time, by continually adding fresh, unique, valuable and relevant content, and also work on getting links to your website from relevant and respectable sources.

So a small  simple website which is set up to be a great marketing machine for local search traffic, may well be enough for your business – but then again, if you find that your local area is very competitive, or probably more likely, that you need to start ranking for national search terms rather than just local ones, then you may need to make your website “bigger” than this, in terms of the amount of pages of content, and the links to your website from relevant high quality websites.

I see some small businesses that are underperforming online because they are only benefitting from the very easy less competitive local search terms, while failing to tap into a huge wealth of potential search traffic which would be available to them if they focused on building their website content and Google Authority. On the flip side, I also see some businesses completely wasting their time effort and money on trying to rank for search terms that are unlikely to convert for them anyway.

For instance, if we assume that people have to visit your pet store and you can’t take orders on the phone or online, and if it is unlikely that customers will travel hundreds of miles to visit your store, as there will be a similar store more local to therm, then it would be overkill to try to raise your website to the level that it would start ranking for competitive national search terms. For example if your store sells food and other items for reptiles, and if one of your biggest sellers is feeder rodents for snakes, then one of your main search terms might be ‘frozen mice’. If  people need to come and call in to your business and physically pay you and pick up the food for their snake, then all you really need to be ranking for when it comes to this product, is local terms such as ‘Frozen mice in (town)’ or ‘feeder mice (town)’, and so on. You would be wasting time and effort trying to rank for search terms which don’t qualify the searcher as being in your local area, if you only sell in store.

If however you sell these products over the phone, and you will mail them anywhere in the country, then you’re missing out on a wealth of potential converting traffic by not continually working on growing your website to the point that you stand to rank highly for these search terms nationally rather than only locally.

It’s not always as straight forward as this. For example I have a client who provides health related treatments, they are a local business, customers have to visit them locally in order to receive the treatments, but due to the fact that there are very few business in the country who can offer these specific treatments, people travel for hundreds of miles in order to have these treatments, so this client needs to rank for national search terms as well as local terms.

Could you build your own website?

You could, but I’m not sure that you should. Someone who has never done web design and development before to attempt to create their own website, is similar to someone who has never done anything with construction before trying to do their own home renovation. They will be able to figure out how to do it, but the chances are that it will take them far longer than it would take an expert, and that they wouldn’t do as good a job as a professional would.

There is a lot more to web development than you may think, and while there may be software and services which claim to be able to allow you to create your own professional website, personally I have never seen a particularly successful website that hasn’t been developed by someone who knows what they’re doing. I’ve seen many template driven websites and ‘build your own’ websites that have proven to be very unsuccessful, I’ve had many business people coming to me asking why they get terrible results from their website, and the answer has been largely to do with the way it was built, and this is usually when it’s a self build or using a build it yourself template driven service.

Want me to quote you?

I create simple and effective websites for small business, focusing on SEO and conversion. I charge very reasonable rates, and I know what I’m doing. If you’d like more info, just drop me an email.