Got a killer idea for a new business venture? Ready to dive head first into the exciting world of digital commerce with an innovative online model?
Great – it sounds like you’re at least halfway to joining the entrepreneurial ranks.
Many would-be business owners start to run into stumbling blocks as they think through how to turn their dream into a reality. One of the biggest concerns is about producing and launching a company website.
- 1 Starting a business website is easier than ever
- 2 What is the minimum content required to get started?
- 3 1. A domain name
- 4 2. A home page
- 5 3. A design or template
- 6 4. A mobile-friendly layout
- 7 5. Company information
- 8 6. Contact details
- 9 7. Product or service descriptions
- 10 8. A business blog
- 11 Getting help
Starting a business website is easier than ever
The natural assumption is that it takes a great deal of technical skill to develop the slick, eye-catching professional site. And if you don’t have the skills to programme a site yourself, you’d assume it’d cost an enormous amount to hire someone who does.
As a matter of fact, launching a new business website just gets easier.
- Content management systems (CMS) like WordPress and Joomla make it straightforward for even complete novices to create professional-looking sites that suit the needs of most small businesses and start-ups.
- Web hosting packages are available as subscription services starting at just a few pounds per month. There are even examples where you can find hosting for very basic websites for free, where you effectively pay for access to a CMS instead.
Which brings us neatly onto the topic of this blog – what exactly do you need for a basic business website?
What is the minimum content required to get started?
In truth, you may not need much website content, besides the content you’re required to have by law.
Many contractors and sole traders want a website to function much like a digital business card – a simple advertising resource with details on services and contact information.
For the sake of this blog, we are going to focus on the requirements of a fully-fledged online business – i.e. a company which aims to do a significant part of its business through its website. You can still get started quickly and effectively with a limited amount of content.
Here are the eight basics every digital business needs when first starting out.
1. A domain name
Domain names are the web addresses that you can type into a web browser to go straight to a website. So, in the case of this site, the domain name is red-robot.net.
As well as being able to click on the link, if you typed that into your browser, it would take you straight to our home page.
Most businesses want a domain name to match their company or brand name, for a variety of reasons. One of the golden rules of running a website is to make it as easy as possible for people to find you online. If someone knows your business name, you want that to be enough for them to find your website by having a matching domain name.
Domain names have to be bought, and the price you pay for them will depend on how much demand there is for each. Very generic business names – blogcompany.com, for example – will either be very expensive to buy on the ‘aftermarket’, or more than likely already in use.
It is even worth bearing the potential domain name in mind when naming a new company. You ideally want something unique so the domain name costs will be low, but still easy for people to remember.
2. A home page
All great websites start with a great home page. It’ll be the first direct contact many visitors have with your business.
Some businesses choose to build sites with a one-page design, where you effectively only have a home page, and all sections are accessed by scrolling up and down.
Your home page is often compared to the storefront window of a shop. It’s the place where first impressions of your company are created. A good home page should therefore include:
- A compelling introduction to your business, usually including a memorable strapline or heading and a top-line overview of who you are and what you do.
- Attractive visuals. High-quality graphics and images will do the trick, but if you want to be more adventurous, animations and video work well too.
- User-friendly navigation to the rest of the site, clearly flagged so visitors can see them.
3. A design or template
Appearances matter on a website. As well as creating the right aesthetic impression with a site that is attractive and engaging to look at, good web design requires thinking about how content is presented and organised on each page.
The main principle here is making sure information on the screen is clear, well segmented and easy to scan.
Unless you are experienced in HTML5 and CSS programming, presentation and layout is not something you are going to be able to take care of yourself. Fortunately, most web builder platforms and content management systems nowadays offer a wide range of templates providing ready-made professional designs.
Templates are very handy because they tend to be organised by business sector or purpose. So if you are opening a restaurant or cafe, you can choose a template that includes a menu section, if you want to launch an online store, you can choose templates with product description pages.
All you have to do then is add your own content to the pre-fab layouts. Many templates will also allow a significant amount of customisation in terms of fonts, colours, images and so on.
4. A mobile-friendly layout
Nowadays you can expect visitors to access your site on a range of different devices – desktop, laptop, tablet and smartphone. All of these devices come with different size screens and different processing capabilities which impact the way your site will appear and perform on them.
The concept of responsive web design is that all sites should be built to perform at their optimum regardless of what device a visitor is browsing on. It involves programming sites so they operate differently from device to device.
For example, page elements will be organised in a different way on mobile compared to desktop to account for the smaller screen. Navigation might also be designed differently, to make use of swipe motions on touchscreens and so on.
Most WordPress templates now include a mobile layout as standard, but it is worth checking that your mobile-friendly layout performs well in Google’s ‘eyes’.
5. Company information
The type of information you should include about your company on you website can be divided into two types:
- Information that you are required to include by law, such as your company registration details. Read more about the legal requirements for a business website in our blog on the topic here.
- General background information about your company which might be included in an About Us section.
Whether or not you choose to have a separate page dedicated to it, having some kind of About Us section is strongly recommended because they are widely read and secure lots of hits. People like to know who they are buying from or doing business with, and are likely to treat any site with minimal information about the company behind it with caution.
What’s in an About page?
Things you can include in an About Us section are:
- The history and background of the business
- Its key personnel
- Staff profiles
- A mission statement outlining your brand values and service level commitments.
Much like the personal statement of a CV, people can find writing an About Us section daunting. The best advice we can give you is to be honest about who you are and why you run the business.
It’s not a sales pitch, it is an opportunity to let people see the personalities behind the brand, which is important in establishing trust.
In our experience, the About page is often the most-viewed static page on the site, so it’s important to get this right.
6. Contact details
Going back to the storefront analogy for a home page, what you really want with your website is for people to do more than just window shop – i.e. have a quick look around your site and then leave. The aim is to convert interest into sales, and your site must provide means to aid that process.
Whether you build a direct ecommerce sales platform into your site will depend on the nature of your business (see below). But one thing that is absolutely essential for all companies is to provide contact details, and to actively encourage visitors to use them to communicate with you.
Any sort of action a potential customer can take to establish a connection with you, whether it is a simple query or contacting you to make a firm order or booking, is a step further towards converting traffic into sales.
The best advice with contact details is:
- Provide as many different options as possible, as different people will have different preferences; phone number and email are essential, and many businesses choose to have an online enquiry form linked to email so visitors don’t have to open their own email account to send a message
- Include social media buttons, which create direct links to your social accounts from the user’s own accounts when they are logged in
- Consider a live chat box; compare options from Olark, PureChat, and Intercom.
7. Product or service descriptions
Your site should include details of the products and services you are selling, as well as a means for customers to buy them.
There will be a different route for producing content for this, depending on whether your business primarily sells goods or provides services.
Website content you need for selling products
If you sell products, you need product description pages, with images, brief descriptions, options and stock availability for each product line. Importantly, these pages should contain unique content — not content copied from other sites or suppliers.
For a complete online commerce experience – i.e. allowing people to purchase directly from your site – these product pages will need to be linked to a shopping cart, checkout and payment platform, and potentially also to a wider stock management system.
WordPress offers plug-ins for ecommerce sites, like WooCommerce, while companies like Shopify specialise in building and hosting online stores.
Website content you need for selling services
For a service-based business, shopping carts aren’t usually required. But descriptions of what you offer need to be more in-depth, explaining clearly the nature of the service, how contracts/projects operate, and your credentials in that field.
Each service description should include a call-to-action to contact you to make further inquiries, and many businesses choose to have a contact form directly on each service page.
8. A business blog
Most business websites rely on search engines significantly when it comes to attracting visitors. If your aim is to reach new audiences and attract new business, visibility in search engine results is essential.
SEO is an enormous topic in its own right – too big and too complex we feel to be a top priority for launching your first business site. However, some basic principles that will help with SEO can be implemented right from the start.
For example, you want your site to be easy to navigate with clear layouts, and you want your written content to be clean, error-free, well-written and informative.
These are all factors search engine algorithms take into account when deciding where your pages should rank.
For SEO purposes, you should also have an active blog.
Business blogs matter because, led by Google, modern search engines love content. They favour sites which are regularly updated with new, fresh content, and they favour sites which go the extra mile to inform and, yes, entertain a readership. Both of these are criteria a blog can help you to fulfill.
Blogs are also a great way to create internal links to relevant content in the rest of your site, and external links to authoritative content from elsewhere on the web – also both things Google likes to see.
SEO is only a means to an end, of course, albeit a very important means. The more blog posts you create, the more pages you have that can be indexed in search rankings, the greater the chances that people will see links to your site and click through to have a look.
A good blog will give people a reason to visit again and it will build trust in your brand as an authoritative voice in your field. Those two factors combined, repeat visits and trust, will lead to more sales. Finally, a blog gives you content to share on social media, offering a starting point for discussions with your followers, which again will lead to more people clicking through onto your site, and helping to establish that brand authority.
All in all, having a blog from the very outset brings many benefits to your business site, and deserves to be considered an essential feature.
We hope the above has at least taken away some of the mystery about getting started with a business site, and shown that the requirements for are not beyond anyone. However, we recognise that launching a website is still a lot of work – we have been there and done it, too. This guide should get you started with the right foundations.