Over the last few years, we have talked to hundreds of small business owners about the challenges that they face with promoting their business online. One of the major pain points for many business owners is that they just don’t know where to start. So I wanted to talk about that issue here, as well as a few other concerns we have heard along the way, and break it down by providing an easy step-by-step guide to getting online.
By outlining how business owners can get a small business website up and live to the world so that they can showcase their products and services, we hope that it will make it easier for them to take the next step and take some action so they are not left behind.
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Gone are the days when you can simply just do a good job and serve your customers well, and expect your business to grow. With so much competition around, you have to be present where your customers are, and these days everyone is online.
However, for many small business owners, there can be a bit of a blockage there.
With technology moving so fast, it’s hard to keep up. And once you are behind, catching up can seem even more daunting.
We know there are many reasons why business owners have not gone to the effort to get online… For example, they are so busy running their own business that they don’t have the time to get up-to-speed with what needs to be done to build their online presence. Or they don’t really have the desire to want to learn and understand. Or it’s all too overwhelming (Does the phrase… “Where do I start?” sound familiar?).
The problem is that if you don’t make some time to look into it, then nothing will get done. And if you don’t have a basic understanding of what is required, then how can you tell others what needs to be done, or whether or not they are doing the right thing if and when you do get someone working on it?
We think it is more important than ever for every small business to be online, and to have an understanding of what is required to get the best results for their business so that they can grow. These days, if you are standing still, you are actually going backward, so learning about the best ways to promote your business online is more important than ever.
We think that every small business should have an online presence and a website to showcase what they do to the world.
So here is our step-by-step guide for small business owners to get online. This outlines what is involved so that any small business owner can quickly, easily and confidently manage and maintain their own WordPress business website to save money and improve their online presence.
2. Getting Started
Choosing The Best Platform
Before you even start typing up the best content for your home page to showcase your products and services to the world, you have to make a decision… which platform to use. This is important, because once you build your website; it can be difficult to change to another platform. So you want to make sure that it is built with some thought of where your business will be in the next few years.
There are quite a few platforms on the market these days, all with their pros and cons. Well, we may be a little bit biased, but since setting up your website with the future in mind is, in our opinion, the best approach, we believe WordPress will be the best option for many small businesses.
We have written a more in-depth analysis of some of the reasons why we think this is the case… you can check it out here.
Picking a Domain Name
This may be a no-brainer for you, in that it may be the same as your business name. If you have an ABN, then you would likely want to get a .com.au domain name, so that visitors can easily see that you are an Australian-based business.
However, if you have a blog, and decide to sell products or advertising on your website, or have an overseas audience, then you may want to choose something a little more adventurous, with a .com or the many other variations available these days.
Picking a Domain Registrar
After choosing a domain name, you have to register that name with a Domain Registrar. There are plenty of good ones out there, some more expensive than others. We use and recommend Namecheap… they are reasonably priced and have good customer support. Check them out here.
When you do a search on the domain name you are after, if your domain name has already been taken, you may want to look into who has taken it and why (especially if it is a .com.au domain name – you may be able to find some information out here), or look for a different name.
Just because you have registered your domain name doesn’t mean you are quite ready to go yet. You need somewhere to store your files. This is where hosting comes in.
Now some companies can do both domain registration and hosting, such as Godaddy. This means that you can organise everything through them. We tend to keep domain registration and hosting separate, as it makes it easier to move things around if you need to… however the choice is yours.
Hosting companies have different plans and services, so you want to make sure that what you sign up to fits your requirements. Support is also a key consideration.
Hosting plans vary with regards to a number of things, including such things as:
- How many websites you can host
- The amount of space your website takes up
- The number of visitors (or traffic) your website receives
as well as other tools, functionality, and services such as SSL, backups, website speed enhancements, the level of support, etc.
Similarly to Registrars, there are many good hosting companies out there (as well as some not-so-good ones). However, we use and recommend SiteGround hosting. For many small businesses, their StartUp plan will be sufficient. Their plans are reasonably prices and support is great. You can check them out here.
After you have signed up to a hosting plan, you have to make sure that you point your nameservers to your new hosting. This is done from within your registrar account.
Nameservers are like the address where your hosting lives. Firstly, you need to go into your hosting account and copy your nameservers (alternatively, they may have been emailed to you when you set up your hosting). They vary depending on your hosting provider, but may be something like:
There may be 2 or 3 nameservers, generally starting with ns1, ns2, etc. Once you have these, go into your registrar account to manage your domain, and you need to paste these into the nameservers section. The method varies for each registrar, so if you are unsure, you may need to talk to your registrar support.
Once you update the nameservers, these have to propagate around the whole world, telling Internet service providers to go to your new hosting to get the website files needed to display your site. This can take a while (up to 72 hours, but normally it only takes a few hours at most), so you may have to be patient.
You can check if your nameservers have been updated by entering your URL into a browser. If the page comes up with information about your Registrar (ie. Namecheap in the above example), then the nameservers have not yet updated. If the page shows information about your hosting (eg. from above… SiteGround), then they have been updated.
Website Layout and Structure
An important step before jumping head-long into building your site is coming up with a layout that is going to work for your small business. Now this will vary for every single business, but there are some things you may want to consider.
It is good to have a consistent message across all your marketing efforts. This means colours, fonts, logos, images, etc are consistent across signage, business cards, flyers, etc, as well as your website. This makes it easier for people to recognise your brand and builds trust.
What is the purpose of each page on your website?
It should be clear to a visitor to your page what the page is about. Is it to get them to click on a “Contact Us” button, or to provide information about a product, or to establish credibility, or a combination of some of these things?
You also need to consider what pages to include. Generally, a business website will include such pages as:
However, there are an almost infinite number of other pages that could be included, such as:
- Sign Up / Subscribe
In addition to this is the actual layout of the information on the web page. Things such as contact details, navigation, and menu bars need to be easy to find and well laid out.
And calls-to-action need to be prominent. Colour schemes need to be complementary, and fonts easy to read. This is where a graphic designer can be of great assistance.
Whatever the reason for your website, you need to have good content. It needs to be informative, engaging, accurate and up-to-date. If it does not deliver the right message, is confusing, or leaves questions unanswered, then visitors to your site will tune out and you will lose their trust.
Don’t forget, a website with the information your audience is after (i.e. a competitor) is just a click away.
This is your opportunity to tell visitors about your products and services, as well as about you and your business. You can do this through a combination of text, images, audio, and video.
Make sure that you don’t just copy/paste from other websites. Apart from facing copyright issues, Google does not like duplicate content, so make sure that your content is original and informative.
If you are concerned about duplicate content issues, then try a service like Copyscape, which checks your content for duplicates on the internet.
It is important to consider Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) when creating content for pages and posts, as it is easier to incorporate it from the start, rather than update a site after it is built. SEO is a huge topic in itself… basically, it involves both on-page (on your website) and off-page (on other sites on the internet) techniques to help rank your site higher in the search engines.
After you have gathered all your content, and have an idea of the layout you would like to base your site on, you are ready to get started on getting your site live.
The 1st step here is installing WordPress.
This can be a little technical, but there are plenty of online resources including tutorials and YouTube videos that can help. Installing WordPress can depend on your hosting provider. With some providers, they supply installation tools like Softaculous (accessible via Cpanel), while others have simple WordPress installation via their custom dashboards.
An important thing to remember when setting up WordPress is to create a username other than “Admin” for your WordPress installation. You can choose anything you like, but for security reasons, you want to make it difficult for someone to guess, so go for something a little more obscure.
Once WordPress is installed, you can view your website by entering the domain name. It will contain the default theme and some dummy content. You can access the back end of WordPress by going to http://your-new-website.com/wp-admin, and entering the username and password you just used when installing WordPress.
3. Choosing The Best WordPress Plugins And Theme
WordPress uses themes and plugins to add extra functionality to your website. The theme gives a website a basic look and feel and functionality, while plugins enhance this by performing specific functions.
There are literally thousands of free themes and plugins available on the WordPress website.
There is probably no theme that will do exactly what you want it to do, so often there is a bit of compromise. But as long as it does the majority of what you want, this will often be good enough.
Choosing a Theme
Picking a theme can be a challenge because the options and variety can be overwhelming. You can install themes onto your site and give them a test run to see if you like them, and many have documentation to show you what they can look like when installed. However, there are a few things to keep in mind.
So what are the main things to look out for? You want to choose a theme that:
- has recently been updated (you don’t want a theme that has no support, and that has been abandoned)
- has a lot of good feedback (stars and reviews)
- is mobile responsive (basically all new themes are mobile responsive these days)
- can provide you with the look and feel you are after.
There are many other things that people look out for, but the above are some of the main things to consider.
However I prefer paid themes, as the support is generally better, are generally well built, have good functionality and are fast. Some of the paid themes that I use and prefer are Beaver Builder and Divi, but there are plenty of good options out there.
From the WordPress Dashboard, you change, install, upload, activate and update themes by going to Appearance > Themes.
Similarly to themes, there are literally thousands of plugins available for use from the WordPress repository. They can add all sorts of functionality to your website, including improving website security, caching for performance enhancement, running of backups, image manipulation, adding customised contact forms, adding CTA buttons, etc, etc. The list is almost endless.
There are also paid plugins that add even more specialised functionality to a website.
Choosing the right plugin can also be a challenge, but following the same rules above as when choosing a theme is a good starting point.
Don’t just go and download any theme or plugin you found on a Google search, though. Only download and install from the WordPress repository or from a reputable source.
From the WordPress Dashboard, you change, install, upload, activate and update plugins by going to Plugins > Installed Plugins.
4. Adding Content
Creating Posts And Pages
WordPress content is published on posts and pages.
Basically, pages are static and contain information that is generally published and then does not change or become dated quickly. This includes pages like your Home Page, About Us, Contact, Terms & Privacy pages.
Posts are more for updates that you may post once every week or month or so. They are often ordered reverse chronologically so that the older ones will be at the bottom and newer at the top. If you have a blog section, then your posts will make this up.
You enter the content for pages and posts via a WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) editor. If you are familiar with Microsoft Word, then you shouldn’t have too much trouble adding content to pages and posts.
For extra functionality, you can add plugins that make it easier to add content such as tables, buttons, forms, SEO data, etc.
You add, edit and delete pages and posts from the WordPress dashboard.
As the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words. Images are used to convey information and break up large chunks of text, making things easier to read. So it’s generally always a good idea to add some images to enhance the user experience.
However, there are a few important points to consider with images.
You never generally want to load full size (pixels or image quality) images onto a page or post, as this is one of the main reasons that websites are slow to load. I have covered off optimising your images in another post… please check it out here.
The other important thing to keep in mind is that you do not want to infringe on someone else’s copyright. It’s best to use your own images, images you have purchased, or copyright free images. Check out this post for more information.
Links, or hyperlinks, make the internet world go round. Without them, you would not be able to navigate your way around to find what you want.
Adding links to any page or post is easy. When you are editing a page or post, highlight the text you want to create a link from, then click on the Insert/edit link button, and type in or paste the link URL where you want to link to. If you have other pages already on the website, just type in a word that is contained on that page or post, and a drop-down list of all pages and posts that contain that word will appear; simply select and save the one you want to link to.
Click here to view more information on how to create, modify, and delete links on your WordPress website.
Adding Documents / PDFs
A lot of small businesses may want to add files that visitors can download; things like food menus, application forms, and other resources. This is quite easy to do.
From the WordPress dashboard, simply go to Media > Add New, and upload your file to the media library. Once you have done this, copy the URL of the newly uploaded file, and then you can insert it as a hyperlink on any page or post.
Adding Contact Forms
Using contact forms is an easy way for people to get in touch with you. These can be customised in lots of different ways, by changing the look and feel, asking different questions, making certain fields required; adding conditional logic that changes the way the form behaves depending on input, etc.
There are different ways to add forms, which depend on the theme and plugins you use. They can be entered in the page/post content, or in the sidebar or footer area.
Videos are used for a variety of reasons… for example for educational, informational, entertainment and promotional reasons. Generally, they are hosted on a 3rd party provider, such as YouTube or Vimeo. This means that they do not use your hosting’s resources each time someone watches your video.
Once you upload your video to one of these services, they will provide you with some embed code that you use to insert into pages or posts on your website.
For more information on how to post a YouTube video on your WordPress website, click here.
Adding Privacy / Terms Pages
Privacy is an important part of your online presence, and users need to know that you take their privacy seriously when they have any interaction with you.
You may also be required to have one for legal reasons, or by third party services you use… for example, if you collect personal information from visitors to your website.
Adding Buttons / CTA’s
Buttons are a great way to draw the attention of visitors, telling them what you would like them to do. You would have no doubt seen buttons and calls-to-action such as “Contact Us” or “Click Here For More Information” used all the time… this is for good reason… they work.
We have discussed how to create CTA’s for your website in a previous post. Click here for more information.
5. Changing The Look And Feel Of Your Website
After installing WordPress and your theme, a default font will be selected for all the text on your site (i.e. for all headings and body text). However, if you have a style guide from a graphic designer, or for your own personal preference, you may wish to choose different fonts across your site.
If you do want to choose your own fonts, it’s important to choose something that is suited to your target market, and also works well together if you choose different fonts for your headings and body text. Have a read of this resource from Elegant Themes on choosing good fonts for your website.
Depending on the theme you have chosen, they usually have a selection of fonts that you can choose from. However, if you have come up with a font that is not included, you may have to install it, which may require you to purchase a license. It’s often easier just to choose one of the freely available fonts included within your theme.
Depending on your theme, you can set the default fonts for headings and body text (as well as font size, font weight, etc) by going into the WordPress Dashboard > Appearance > Customize. Generally, there is a section in there where you can set the font for each type of text. If your theme does not have this option, then you may have to set it using CSS (this is a bit more technical, so you may have to get help from someone who knows CSS).
An important part of making your site easy for visitors to navigate and find the information they are after is to have a good menu structure. This can be as simple as adding links to the most important 4 or 5 pages on your site or can be much more complex with multi-level menus.
Depending on your theme, you may have 1 or 2 menus at the top, and also possibly a footer menu. You set these up from the WordPress Dashboard > Appearance > Menus.
Please check out our previous post on modifying menus on your WordPress website… click here for more information.
Widgets add extra information to certain sections of your website. They are generally located in the sidebar (e.g. Right sidebar), and multiple widget areas in the footer section. However, depending on your theme, there can be numerous other sections (e.g. Heading widget area).
These are generally static areas that appear on some or all pages of your website and can contain things like your contact details, an opt-in form, a short bio or About Us information, your latest blog posts, a Facebook feed… the list is endless.
We have published a post on modifying widgets on your WordPress website… have a look here.
Making Changes To Pages And Posts
Because things are always changing in the online world, you will no doubt want to make changes to pages and posts on your website. It is easy to update pages and posts that are already published.
If you are logged into WordPress, you can simply navigate to the page or post you wish to modify, and then select “Edit Page” or “Edit Post” at the top of the page, or if you are in the WordPress Dashboard, go to Pages > All Pages, or Posts > All Posts, and navigate to that which you wish to update and click on it to enter the editor screen.
Similarly to when you initially created the page or post, you use the WYSIWYG editor and save changes to make it public.
6. WordPress Maintenance Tasks
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WordPress maintenance is an important topic. Once your website is live to the world, you want to protect your investment. We have provided a thorough guide to maintaining your site… click here to check it out.
However, below we will revisit a few of the most important parts:
Backing Up Your Website
Before you make any updates or changes to your website, it is best to take a backup, so that in the unforeseen circumstance that something goes wrong, you can restore your website to a previous known working version.
Just a few pointers for backing up your website:
- it’s good to backup your website to remote storage (eg. Dropbox). This way, if something goes wrong with your hosting, then your backups will be safe
- it’s good to have multiple backups run independently. For example, you may have a plugin that runs daily or weekly backups automatically, which is uploaded to Dropbox; as well as your hosting company may perform off-site backups as part of their package.
We use and recommend UpdraftPlus for backups. Make sure that you check out our previously written post here for more information.
Restoring Your Website
Following on from the previous point, if something does go wrong and you can’t figure out what happened, you may be forced to restore your website to a previous version. Sometimes there can be issues when restoring websites, hence often it is best only to do this as a last resort.
If you are using UpdraftPlus, then in the UpdraftPlus Backups > Existing Backups page, it will show you a list of all the backups that exist. Simply chose one of the most recent ones (from when the website did not have issues), and click on Restore.
For more information on this, please check out this article.
We have all heard that security is important, but it is still surprising how many small business owners do not take website security seriously.
As they say… “Prevention is better than cure”, so it’s in your best interests to keep your online presence safe at all times.
Online security requires a multi-pronged approach. Things you need to consider include always using strong passwords, being careful what you access using public Wi-Fi hotspots, always keeping virus scanning software up-to-date, etc.
With regards to your website, in addition to above, it is also advisable to have a security system in place. We use and recommend Wordfence. They have a free option whereby you install a plugin which implements things such as restricts access attempts, runs security scans, adds firewall protection, and notifies you of outstanding core/theme/plugin updates, plus many other features.
You can also subscribe to the Wordfence blog for updates on security issues in the online space.
Installing / Analysing Google Analytics
Without analytics data, you are flying blind – you will have no idea how many people are coming to your site, what they are looking at, how long they are visiting for, etc. And a super-easy way to find out this, plus a lot more information, is to install Google Analytics.
Installing Google Analytics is very easy. If you have a Google account, simply go to https://www.google.com/analytics and register, and then add your website. They will provide you with some tracking code (starting with <script> and ending in </script>) as well as a tracking ID (which looks like UA-xxxxxxx-1, where xxxxxxx is a unique set of numbers).
Probably the simplest method is to install a plugin (such as All In One SEO) and copy the tracking ID into the Google Settings section.
After a day or so, in your Google Analytics window, you can start viewing all sorts of interesting information on what visitors are doing. You can use this data to analyse which pages are not performing well and then you can investigate why this may be, make adjustments, and review. This fine-tuning is an ongoing process with the aim to get the best performance from your website.
For more information on Google Analytics, make sure you check out our posts here.
Analysing Website Performance
No-one likes a slow website. With ever-reducing attention spans, it is important to have a fast loading website and to provide a good user experience. If this does not happen, not only will visitors move onto your competitors quickly, Google may also penalise your website in their search engine rankings.
Therefore, it is in your best interest as a small business website owner to check the performance of your website regularly.
There are a few good tools around that can assist, for example, Google PageSpeed Insights, and GTmetrix. Simply enter your website URL, and these tools will scan your site and notify you of issues. They are both free and provide some really good information.
7. Getting Help – Outsourcing The Work
As a small business owner, you are no doubt an expert at what you do, but being that as well as an expert in getting your website exactly how you would like it may be asking a bit too much. So it’s important to know how to ask for help when you need it.
It doesn’t matter how IT savvy you are, sometimes there are things that you just don’t know. There are a lot of people around that can help, but it may be hard to know who will be the best person to be able to help, who you can trust, who you can talk to so that you know you are being treated right and getting the job done correctly, as well as who will do it in a timely manner, and not rip you off.
Sure, you can outsource a lot of work overseas, but I’m sure you have heard a lot of horror stories of work taking years to finish, or others being held to ransom and being forced to make payments so that they can get access to their own websites.
For reasons like this, it’s often best to stick to locals that you can actually have a conversation with, that know their stuff, that comes referred and with good reviews and feedback. You want to go with someone who you can communicate with you, that stick to the timeframes, and delivers what they say they will.
Now, as mentioned earlier, there are a lot of these tasks that you can do by yourself, but you have to ask yourself:
- Is this the best use of your time?
- Do you have the knowledge (and if not, are you willing to learn)?
- Do you have the desire and interest to get in there and do the work, to the level that an expert can do it?
If not, then it may be a better option to get some outside help to get the job done. Often it can be done better, faster and cheaper if you get an expert to do it.
So before you jump headlong into building your own website, consider that it will be an investment in the long term for your business, and just who is the best person for the job.
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So congratulations on taking the initiative on wanting to get a professional online presence for your small business up and running. Done right, it will be a great investment of your time and money, and will easily pay for itself.
With some initiative, and by following the above points, you can get yourself online and visible to the world, expanding your reach and attracting visitors and converting them into clients easier than before.
However, this is really just a very brief summary of what is involved in designing, building and maintaining a small business website. Like a lot of things, once you get into it, it can become overwhelming as you learn and realise what is actually involved.
However, we believe that every small business should have an online presence that properly showcases their business to the world… hence why we put this guide together. For those that are tech-savvy and like to get in and get their hands dirty, then by following the steps above sill be a good start to getting your business online.
But for those that realise that they have better things to do, like focusing on running their business and marketing to increase sales, then we are always here to take the burden away and make your life easier.
Feel free to contact us today to see how we can help you get online.