Last reviewed 15 November 2019

Small businesses that don't have a website or need to update their existing online presence are now faced with a range of options. From e-commerce focused site builders to visual website building tools, Dave Howell assess the options.

A presence on the Web is now vital for all businesses no matter their size. However, according to research from the Approved Index, over two million businesses across the UK still don’t’ have a website.

Today it can be highly confusing when assessing which route to take when developing either your first website or updating an existing site.

The kind of business you have will determine how you should approach creating and then maintaining your website. Whether your website will be transactional is the main differentiator when deciding how to build a business website. Also, whether your business operates in the B2B or B2C space will influence the approach you take to website construction.

Ensuring your website can be accessed on all devices – especially mobiles, is critical, as Google favours websites that are efficient on smartphones and tablets. Balancing the features of your site with speed is vital to get right. Users want fast, efficient and safe access to your business’s website.

Tools and services

The foundation of any website is its domain name. The URL (Uniform Resource Locator) is the address of your site. The obvious URL is the name of your business. If this is unusual, the domain might still be free. If not, you will need to be creative to register a domain name your new website can use.

Also, the domain you choose will often come with some hosting package. For small businesses, shared server space is economical. However, if you anticipate high levels of traffic and need your site to perform at optimum speed, a dedicated server is more appropriate, but also more expensive.

Often, website hosting service providers such as 1&1 Ionos, GoDaddy and SiteGround have their own website creation tools. Assess these carefully before committing to them to ensure they have all the current features your website needs at the moment and, won’t limit your growth in the medium term. Think about how you will want to expand and develop your site. You don’t want to be starting from scratch every few years because the platform you chose has limited capabilities.

URL’s should be as short as possible to ensure they are memorable. Try to avoid hyphens, as they make your URL difficult to remember. Your new business must also take care if its name is similar to another business. If your company is in the technology sector, for instance, and you chose 'mike-row-soft’ as your business name, the lawyers from the Seattle based tech giant will come calling.

You have several options when you begin to actually build your business's website: E-commerce sites can be constructed quickly with platforms including Wix, Shopify and Squarespace. These systems use a template which you choose and then customise to your precise needs. If your website won’t need any bespoke or unusual features, these site builders are a cost-effective option for your business. Payment gateways are also usually built into these systems enabling easy credit and debit card processing.

Point and click

If you want to take full control of how your business’s website looks and operates, using a content management system such as WordPress, Joomla or Drupal is the best option.

You need to choose a 'theme' for your site for the CMS to use. There are thousands of different themes to choose from. Platforms like WordPress can also be almost infinitely expanded with plugins to customise the website you are creating.

Early websites had to be hand-coded. Learning HTML was something of an art and, is still an essential skill to gain the most from website construction. There will always be times when you need to make direct changes to the code that supports your site. Thankfully, the vast majority of your business’s website can be built with tools that are very easy to master.

Creating the content on a blank website page can be a daunting prospect. Today you can create a comprehensive web page using drag-and-drop visual tools. Two of the most mature page building systems is Divi and Elementor. Both use a similar system. Once installed into WordPress, page creation is via a visual interface that enables you to see each page component as you build them.

The content you create for your website is the key to great SEO (Search Engine Optimisation). The world’s leading search engines are looking for well-crafted web pages they can show to searchers. Think about the keywords your customers would use in their searches to find your goods or services. These words and phrases are the basis of your SEO and should be used throughout your website.

Also, your website should not exist in isolation. Connect your site to your business's social media. Plugins are readily available that enable the content on your website's blog, for instance, to be automatically placed on your social media. This kind of automation saves substantial quantities of time and other resources.

Designing the future

Your business's website should always be in constant development. Today, your customers will initially look at your site as your company's calling card. Often, the impression they gain from your website will influence their decision on whether to buy your business's goods or services.

Pay attention to your website. Having a blog on your site is a great way to communicate with existing customers, but also attract new ones that have benefitted from the information you have created. Think of your website as the hub around which the rest of your business orbits.

It's also vital to ensure that your website is connected with the other digital touchpoints your business has created. Often, customers will initially view your site on one device (a smartphone, for instance) and then visit your website on another device such as a desktop. It's imperative your site operates flawlessly as they move from one device to another.

Great website design is all about creating solid foundations onto which you build your site. Take the time to assess what you want to achieve with your website. With this information, you can then look for the applications and services to help you meet these goals.

Don’t forget that your site isn’t a create once and forget exercise. Your site is always in development. Pay attention to design trends and how your customers are using your website. This will inform how your site evolves into the future.

If you think your business won't benefit from a website, think again. With cost-effective tools now available, creating a new website or overhauling your existing site could be the best investment your business has ever made.