As any small business grows, having a digital presence is important to help make yourself more visible to potential customers. A website can serve multiple functions: generating online sales, taking reservations, being a signpost for customers or hosting content for lead generation and nurture.
Luckily, there are plenty of platforms available for small businesses and individuals to design and build their own websites without needing to understand how to read and write code.
Out-of-the-box solutions mean that, with a bit of planning and a small amount of investment, you can find a provider whose solution works for you – leaving you more time to focus on your business.
Which platforms are out there?
How long is a piece of string? There are plenty of providers out there, and each one will be slightly different in terms of pricing, functionality, design and so on. Some will give you more or less control over certain elements.
These platforms are the user-friendly interface behind your website which allows you to change things quickly and easily without being an IT whizz.
We’ve selected a few of the more well-known ones to look at, but if you feel they don’t suit your requirements, feel free to look around. As always, don’t rush into a decision – take the time to do the groundwork before committing.
Wix is a free website builder which uses an intuitive drag and drop system, allowing you to build the webpage you want by combining different elements. It’s versatile, too, as these elements can
Pricing is competitive, with seven different tiers. These are split across personal use and business use; the business use, with three different pricing plans, is suitable for businesses hoping to make online sales, while the website tier has four pricing options and a range of different benefits. Pricing ranges from £3-£22 per month.
One of the more interesting benefits of choosing Wix is that you get a G Suite plan, too. This is the paid-for version of Google’s online word processing and spreadsheet tools, as well as a branded mailbox and storage, plus video and voice calls, shared calendars and team messaging.
This may be particularly suitable if you’re operating as a small team and want something a little extra included to help manage team communication, shared access to files, and so on.
WordPress is a Content Management Systems (CMS), and is a more advanced and complex tool than Wix. Using it will require more technical nous, as it’s a very hands-off platform.
However, according to OptInMonster, a third of the internet is built on WordPress, and it’s no surprise given how flexible it is. There are free and paid versions, offering different levels of support and access to themes.
“Themes” are the general visual design; you can select a free one, or you can choose to pay for one, but due to the vast quantity, you’ll most likely be able to find one which is appropriate for your business.
Like most CMS, WordPress will allow you to create different types of pages; you can have fixed pages, as well as blog posts, and the site will host images and videos.
There are a range of plug-ins available to build on your theme, but this is where WordPress is very hands-off. If you install any plugins, you’ll need to make sure you update them to ensure that everything on your website works as it should.
If you don’t, then things may not appear as they should or work correctly. In addition, you’ll need to arrange hosting. If you want to play around with these elements but don’t want to add to your list of business admin, you may want to consider hiring someone to make sure everything runs smoothly.
Squarespace is, like Wix, a website builder rather than a CMS. It is also much more design-focused and may be more appropriate for graphic designers, photographers, and those who want to showcase their work.
While similar to Wix, its builder is more structured than the free-for-all drag and drop style of Wix. This is slightly more difficult to get to grips with, but should become intuitive after some experimenting. Squarespace prides itself on visual design, which is important if aesthetic experience is key for your business or customers.
Squarespace is slightly more competitive on price than Wix, with four tiers ranging from £10-£30 per month, versus Wix’s three business tiers. And unlike WordPress, with its open market plug-ins, everything in Squarespace is developed by and for Squarespace (so less worries about additional features not being compatible with each other).
Design and appearance
As with any good product, form and function should combine. Your website will be of little use to anyone if it looks good but doesn’t tell them anything about you!
Try not to get caught up in the smaller design details; focus instead on getting key information in. Thinking about user experience and the customer journey can help inform the design of a website.
For the most part, customers (and prospective customers) will be looking at your website for basic information: where to find you and when you’re open. They’ll most likely find your website through a search engine such as Google or Bing, or maybe by being signposted there from your social media channels. For these users, an easy-to-navigate structure and design is essential.
Of course, depending on the nature of your business, you may want to include other elements on your website to help bring it to life and make yourself more interesting or compelling to your audience. This could include built-in sales capability, reservations or image and video galleries.
When designing your website, think about how it will look when viewed on a mobile device. Increasingly, web traffic comes from mobile internet users. As such, having a website which works as well on mobile as it does on desktop is important.
We’ve written about SEO before, but in a nutshell, it’s about making your website visible to search engines, as this is the most likely way that users will find your website. Making sure that you use keywords and follow good SEO practice means that your website should be more visible to those people who should see it.
There’s plenty to think about when deciding to set up a website, but it’s important to start with good foundations. Once you’ve got those in place, you can start thinking about how to market your business in the most appropriate way.