Step 1: Decide on the Type of Web Site You Need
The type of Web site you need depends on the nature of your business and the goals you have for the site.
A brochure Web site is the easiest to build (www.earlsnyc.com is a good example). These sites combine the roles of brochure, yellow pages ad, and direct mail piece. Brochure sites are used primarily by restaurants and other small businesses that need to drive foot traffic to their physical location. Brochure sites usually have basic information about the business’s products or services, location, and the hours it’s open. They make heavy use of photographs and marketing copy to entice potential customers to visit.
If you want to sell your company’s products directly to customers, you will need a Web site that revolves around a catalog (www.amazon.com is a good example). Each product in the catalog contains a thorough description and often includes a photograph and product review. Catalog sites need e-commerce software that manages the catalog, provides a customer shopping cart, and includes a method for customers to pay. These sites may seem complicated to build, but there are many pre-built software solutions available to get you started.
Businesses such as Google, Mapquest, and Verio offer unique services. In cases such as Google, the leading Internet search engine, their Web site is their business. Businesses such as Verio use their Web site to advertise and provide information about their Web hosting services, but they also enable customers to purchase and actually use the Web hosting services. Other service sites allow you to make plane, car, or hotel reservations. Web sites that offer unique services are among the most difficult to build but can generate considerable revenue.
Many businesses publish or distribute newsletters, articles, bulletins, reports, editorial opinions, educational materials, cartoons, music, animations, and other information (www.webmd.com is a good example). These sites are usually heavy with text and graphics and are often designed to resemble a newspaper or magazine. Some information/entertainment sites add e-commerce capability and charge visitors a fee.
Once you choose the general type of site you want, you need to decide what features you will offer. The choices are almost unlimited, but some of the most popular additional features are: message boards, news articles, file downloads, and automated customer service.
Before deciding the type of Web site you need, look at your competitor’s sites and position your site accordingly.
Step 2: Register a Domain Name
A domain name is your business’s address on the Internet; it will be used as part of your company’s e-mail address and its Web site address (URL). For instance, if your domain name is smallbiz.com, then your e-mail address might be email@example.com, and your Web site URL would be www.smallbiz.com.
It is important that your domain name be short, descriptive, and memorable. For instance, IBM’s domain name is ibm.com. If you can’t be descriptive, then be short and memorable. When Amazon obtained its domain name, it had many choices: AmazonBookstore.com, AmazonBooksandCDs.com, AmazonPrintandMultimedia.com, but they chose the simplest name: amazon.com.
Also note that www.smallbiz.com and www.smallbiz.biz are two entirely different domain names. If you own one and a competitor owns another, then your customers may mistakenly go to the wrong site. To avoid this problem, consider registering several domain names.
Step 3: Host Your Own Web Site or Work with a Web Hosting Service?
The Web site you build must be stored on a computer that has a reliable, secure connection to the Internet. Hosting a Web site means providing the technical resources (the computer hardware and operating system, the networking equipment, the Internet connection, etc.) needed to make your Web site available to your customers. You can either host your own Web site or hire a Web hosting company, such as Verio, to host your site. There are advantages and disadvantages to both.
Hosting Your Own SiteHosting Your Own Site
Working with a Web Hosting Service
Step 4: Build the Web Site Yourself or Hire a Web Designer and Developer?
Someone must design the look of your site, create the images, and write the programming code. Should you do it yourself or hire a Web designer and developer? The decision boils down to a few factors:
Step 5: Optimize Your Web Site for Search Engines
Many customers will use a Web search engine to find you, so making your Web site “search engine friendly” is extremely important. To do this, first create keywords that describe your business. For instance, if you sell reconditioned laser printer cartridges, then your keywords might include reconditioned, refurbished, used, laser, printer, toner, cartridge, ink, and supplies. You might also include words like quality, inexpensive, and guaranteed, depending on how you differentiate yourself from your competitors.
Once you have these keywords, you need to do two things:
Step 6: Thoroughly Test Your Web Site, and Then Go Live
Once you’ve built your Web site, test every aspect of it before opening up for business. Click on every link. Make sure all the text, images, colors, and page layouts are correct. Check your spelling one more time-spelling mistakes are likely to make customers think your business is sloppy and amateurish.
If you have an e-commerce component, get out your credit card and order something. If there are any problems, find them now before your customers do. There are many free tools that will help you test your site: go to www.netmechanic.com for spellcheckers, link checkers, Web browser compatibility checkers, and more.
Once you are satisfied that everything works properly, put your site online and you’re in business! Congratulate yourself, but don’t stop now. There’s more to do.
Step 7: Promote Your Site
How you promote your site depends on your budget, but there are several free things you should do immediately:
Step 8: Analyze Your Web Site Traffic
If you own a restaurant, it is impossible to know how many people thought about making a reservation, but it is easy to count how many people sit down to eat. On your Web site, you can track many statistics critical to improving your business, including how many unique visitors came to your site, what they looked at, how many just browsed, how many bought something, how many are repeat customers, and how effective your advertising/marketing campaigns are.
To get these statistics you must have Web analysis software installed on your site. Some of this software, such as StatCounter, is free but has limited functionality. Commercial software, such as Urchin, can easily cost $600-$1,000 but offers more detailed analysis and far better reports. Some Web hosting companies offer inexpensive analysis software; for instance, Verio offers free use of Urchin to everyone who signs up for a hosting plan.
If you have decided to use a Web hosting service, make sure they offer robust Web analysis software. If you are hosting your own site, it will probably be worth your time to install and use Web analysis software.
Step 9: Obtain Customer Feedback
Web sites offer many ways to obtain customer feedback. The Web statistical analysis software discussed in Step 8 is a form of customer feedback. Two additional methods are customer surveys and community forums.
Community forums (also called message boards) are a more open, less formal way to gather customer feedback. Customers post messages on your site, most often to other customers, to discuss their opinions. You can use the community forum to ask direct questions, clarify misunderstandings, and respond to complaints. Because anyone can post messages and the messages are available for everyone to see, community forums are susceptible to manipulation by your competition. Properly managing a forum can be rewarding but very time-consuming.
Community forum software varies in price from free to several thousands of dollars. Setting up this software usually takes some technical skill. For more information, see our article “Developing Effective Online Surveys for Customer Feedback.”
Step 10: Rethink, Refresh, Revise
At this point, you’ve put a lot of work into building your Web site. It’s tempting to sit back and watch it run, but you can’t afford to do that. Running a successful site means updating it regularly.
You don’t have to completely redo your site every month, but freshen it up. A Web site that looks the same and has the same product information month-after-month becomes stagnant. Your customers will lose interest and drift away. Frequently change a few colors, replace one your key graphics, change your greeting, or add the latest news about your company.
Keep on top of your sales data, your Web analysis statistics, your customer feedback, and what your competitors are doing. Use this information to substantively improve the structure of your Web site, as well as the products and services you offer.
Invest wisely in your Web site and it will be a critical business tool that drives your company’s growth and success.
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