How to build a business website
If you’re a small business owner looking to set up your first business website, or a professional looking to establish an online presence, this step-by-step guide covers everything you need to get started.
1 December 2020 · 10 min read
It’s 2020 and running a business, even a brick-and-mortar one, is no longer feasible without a solid web presence. If that wasn’t clear before, the fallout from the COVID-19 crisis wherein people were asked to stay at home and had to conduct their business transactions online, has erased any lingering doubts.
Today’s consumers are turning to the internet for just about everything they need for their day-to-day activities. Even just a simple, well-designed business website can give you a competitive edge and open up new markets for growth. The best part is website design and development software have evolved to the stage where you don’t need to be an expert coder to build an attractive and functional website.
If you’re a small business owner looking to set up your first business website, or a professional looking to establish an online presence, this step-by-step guide covers everything you need to get started.
First things first: Determine the primary purpose of your website
Yes. we’ve established why your business needs a website, but what exactly do you expect to gain from it? Are you looking to create a simple site that provides general information about your business, or something more robust, like an eCommerce site?
In either case, the most important thing to keep in mind is the user experience. From the moment a visitor lands on your website’s homepage, they should be able to find the information they need and easily navigate their way around.
Simplicity and clarity should be the primary focus of any business website. If people have to jump through multiple hoops or check a thesaurus before finding what they’re looking for on your site, they’ll simply hit the back button and take their business someplace else, usually your competitor’s website. Convenience is also an important consideration, especially if you’re building an online store.
The key takeaway here is that you must first define how you want to use your business website. Afterward, your web design efforts should then revolve around achieving these goals.
What makes up a professional business website?
There are many elements that must come together to make up a successful business website. Depending on your website objectives, they could be as many as 10 or more elements, or a lot fewer. At the core, however, every professional website must have the following:
- Custom domain — Every website needs a catchy domain name that resonates with your business and is easy for people to remember.
- Attention-grabbing design — As with everything that revolves around having an online presence, first impressions matter, a lot. The design of your website needs to inspire trust and convince users that they have landed on the right page.
- Quality graphics and rich multimedia — This is part of the design, but important enough that it warrants its own separate discussion. Don’t forget to include these on your website.
- Optimal Page Load speed — The prevailing standard time for a web page to fully load and display its content is three seconds. Anything higher and you could be losing potential customers.
- Security — The security level of your website is a big deal. Even more so if you’re building an eCommerce site and plan to accept directly on your website.
We’ll cover these elements in more detail later in the article, but it is important to have an idea of why they are relevant now so you can see better how they all tie-up.
5 steps to building your business website
1. It starts with the right domain name
How much time and effort did you put into selecting the name of your company? For most people, it’s often a lengthy process. They’re not just looking for the right name that perfectly describes their business, but also something unique and catchy enough that it stands out from their competitors.
That’s how you should go about choosing a domain name for your business website.
If you’re not sure what a domain name is, it’s simply your website’s address. For example, the popular fast-food restaurant company, Burger King uses BK as its domain name. Other examples include Apple Inc., which uses apple as its domain name, and Microsoft, which uses microsoft as its domain name.
Best practices for choosing a domain name
- Keep it descriptive, but short
- It should be easy to remember and easier to type in
- Unless it’s a key part of your business name, avoid using numbers in your domain name
- Choose an appropriate domain extension.
The domain extension is an identifier of what the website is about — .com for commercial, .net for network, .org for organization, .edu for educational institutions, .gov for government websites, and so one.
In recent times, however, these extensions have expanded to include nontraditional terms and can be based on a specific industry — .law, .marketing, .biz, .io, etc. It can also be based on a specific location — .US, .UK, .NYC, .PH, and so on. In any case, .com and .net remain the most popular among small business owners.
After deciding on your domain name and extension, you’ll need to confirm that it is available to use. Your competitors might have the same idea as you and quickly move to purchase the domain name before anyone else. That’s why it’s important to go for a unique domain name so there’s a much lesser chance of someone else taking it.
If you’re in luck and the custom domain name is available, the next step is to register it.
Common ways to register your domain name
- Domain name registrars: Popular domain registrars include GoDaddy, NameCheap, Squarespace, and Domain.com. Simply sign up and buy your domain name from there.
- Web hosting providers: If you’re building your website on a popular content management system (CMS) like WordPress, you could get your custom domain as part of the web hosting plan package. Popular web hosting providers include Bluehost, HostGator, and Hostinger.
- All-in-one website builders: These are platforms that provide everything you need to build the website, from the domain name to the hosting provider, and even the CMS on which the site is built. Examples of popular website builders include Squarespace, Shopify, and Wix.
While not usually recommended, even for a small business website, you can always get a free domain name. These free domain names typically come with an additional extension that just makes the entire thing look clunky and unprofessional.
For example, WordPress allows users to select a free domain name on their platform, but the name is often followed by “.wordpress” before the extension. Let’s say your chosen domain name is “wafflefried,” and your chosen domain extension is “.com”. A free domain name from WordPress will show as “wafflefried.wordpress.com,” instead of the shorter, concise, and more professional “wafflefried.com.”
See our guide on How to choose a domain name that customers remember.
2. Choose your web hosting
As you may have gathered from the name, web hosting is simply where your website will be hosted. A website is essentially a collection of files. If these “files” are hosted on your computer, then the only way to access them is through that computer, which is not what you want with your business website. Instead, you need to host these files on a server that is accessible to everyone you’re trying to reach.
That’s what web hosting services do. It’s like if you own a physical store, then the building where your company is located is hosting the physical space of your business.
These website hosting companies offer space on their servers for a fee. Many of these hosting packages come with features, such as the ability to register custom domain names, free plugins and add-ons for the first year, and simple drag-and-drop website builders. It’s up to you to decide which package best suits your budget and business needs.
If you don’t want to share hosting space with other small business websites, you can pay for your own dedicated web server so it hosts only your website.
What to consider when choosing a web hosting provider
- Network uptime reliability — If something goes wrong with the hosting, your website becomes inaccessible. And if your visitors can’t access your website, then it’s not serving any useful purpose. Good hosting providers offer reliable network uptime and even if something does go wrong, the issue will be fixed in no time.
- Website speed — There are a number of other factors that affect the loading speed of a website, but your choice of hosting is one of the most important ones. And it’s not just about the user experience. Website speed is a ranking factor in Search Engine Optimization (SEO).
- Customer support — If this is your first attempt at building a small business website, expect mistakes to be made. Having a good support team in place is essential at such times. You should also be able to reach out to the hosting services provider at any time and they should be able to get back to you within a short while.
- Easy to use server interface — You should be able to access your server with an easy-to-use control panel. A good example is cPanel, which provides a suite of automation tools to access your website hosting without having to hire a professional server administrator.
- Server security — What security measures have been employed to prevent unauthorized access to the server? Does the company perform regular security checks?
3. Decide on the website design and functionalities
Before building your business website, you need to decide on the visual aspects — the layout, structure, color combinations, font style, and other design elements. Based on the primary purpose of the website, you’ll also want to decide on what functionalities need to be included in the build.
This step is also known as planning the site architecture. It’s important because it helps you see things more clearly and help you build the website in a more organized way.
Get a pen and paper and draft an outline of your website design. How many pages are you going for? Remember, every page on your business website must have a goal and a clear call to action (CTA).
There are four essential pages that work for every type of business website — Homepage, About page, Services page, and Contact page. You can add a blog section and FAQ page to flesh out the website as needed.
Standard web page layout
- Header – The top part of the page. It usually includes the name of your company, a tagline, the logo, and the site’s navigation menu.
- Body – This is the area where you include the main content of the page. The actual content and the type of information it conveys depends on the page. For instance, the homepage content provides a general idea of what your business is about — the problems it solves and the value it provides.
- CTA – The CTA is usually the concluding paragraph of the body. It tells the website visitors to take your desired action. It can be as simple as asking them to call you or fill out your site’s contact form.
- Footer – This bottom part of the page usually contains additional information about your business and relevant links to the other pages on the site.
For the sake of consistency and to make the build process faster, it is best to use the same header and footer across every page.
What do you want your website to do? Write them down
The next thing to write down is the list of features and functionalities you want on the site. You don’t need to know the actual plugins or applications that make these functions possible. Describe what you want to achieve.
For example, if you’re a photography professional, then your small business website should have an attractive photo gallery that showcases your portfolio. If you’re building an eCommerce site, then you want your visitors to be able to see all the variations of a product on a single page. You’ll also want to customize the add-to-cart and checkout processes so it is convenient and fast.
Write all the features down and don’t be afraid to cut out any that are not absolutely needed. Too many plugins, programs, and applications on a website will slow down the load speed.
4. Execute the build on your chosen content management system
A CMS lets you create and manage digital content. This digital content is what makes up your website. Most content management systems are user-friendly and allow for the installation of various programs to support the proper functioning of your site.
Popular CMS platforms
- WordPress — As of 2020, there are over 455 million WordPress websites, accounting for around 35% of all websites in the world. It’s relatively easy to set up a WordPress site, easier still to find a WordPress developer to do the work for you.
However, this popularity also means WordPress websites are often the most targeted by hackers and spam software. As such, if you’re planning to install WordPress as your CMS of choice, be ready to invest in top security for your site.
- **Joomla! **— This is another CMS platform with around 5.7% of all websites. For many, it is not as user friendly as WordPress, though it boasts better security.
- Squarespace — Squarespace provides a “drag and drop” experience for website building. The platform is packed with features, including SSL security, outstanding design templates, and 24/7 support. However, it has somewhat limited extensibility options.
- Drupal — Security and ease of use are the main selling points of this CMS. From 2009 to 2017, the White House website was run on Drupal. Its main drawback is its limited plugin and theme options compared to other CMS platforms on this list.
- Weebly — Another drag-and-drop website builder, Weebly scores some solid points for user-friendliness. The platform also provides for an extensive selection of website templates, and dozens of different page layouts.
What if I’m building an e-commerce site?
There are lots of e-commerce platforms available today and you can simply choose which one is best suited to your business model. Popular options include:
- WooCommerce — WooCommerce works with WordPress websites to transform it into a fully functioning online store.
- Shopify — This cloud-based e-commerce platform allows you to build an online store, complete with all the requisite features, such as inventory management, payment processing, and shipping.
- BigCommerce — Like Shopify, BigCommerce is a flexible e-Commerce website builder with tons of customization features. One key difference though, is that BigCommerce also has a commerce plugin that you can install on your WordPress website to make it an e-commerce site.
- Wix — Best known for its easy website building setup and drag-and-drop functionality. Wix also features tons of free themes and simple-to-install website designs.
Choosing the best platform
It all comes down to your preference and budgetary constraints. The best CMS or e-Commerce platform for one business won’t necessarily be the best choice for your business. Among the things to keep in mind when making your selection are ease-of-use, affordability, customization options, and search engine friendliness.
Related: See our comprehensive guide on how to choose the best website builder in 2020.
5. Set up and customize your business website
The actual build process will depend on the type of website builder you’re using. However, the steps generally look like this:
- Choose a website template
- Customize based on your finalized site architecture
- Install plugins and any other add-on programs
- Add optimized content and images/videos
- Run a couple of tests and tweak as needed
Looks simple, right? For the most part, it really is. Let’s see a typical website set up and customization on a WordPress site:
Remember the web hosting you picked earlier, that’s where you’ll set up your CMS. Most hosting service providers already have WordPress pre-installed or offer a simple WordPress installation feature.
Get familiar with the dashboard
Learn how to add a new page, where to upload images and other multimedia, where to find plugins and widgets, etc. Don’t be afraid to explore each function in detail; you can always revert any changes you make.
Open WP Website Builder and select a WordPress theme
The theme is the skeletal framework of the website which you will then flesh out with custom designs, unique content, and various functionalities. There’s thousands of WordPress themes available, many of which are completely free to use.
Each theme comes with a customizable layout and countless color variation choices so it’s just a matter of choosing one that best captures how you envision the look and function of your site. Have your credit card ready just in case you come across a paid theme version that you really like.
Customize the theme
First impressions matter a lot with business websites so remember to go for a design that echoes your brand values matched with easy-to-read content and quality graphics. With the WP Website Builder, you simply drag and drop each element you need on the website, then tweak it as necessary.
One of the most common mistakes people make when building a website is to slack off on the customization. Anyone can install a theme, paste content, and call it a website; it’s your ability to properly customize the site that makes you a website builder.
Install relevant plugins and extensions
Which programs you actually install depend on what you want your website to do. For example, if you want to be able to create contact forms for your site, you could install WPForms. If you want to track web data and user behavior on your site (you definitely should), you can install the Google Analytics plugin.
If you can’t find the right plugin that does what you want the site to do, you might need to check out a paid version or hire a freelance web developer to do some back-end coding.
Add relevant content
Every page you create should have content. Avoid jargon and let the content be readable. Use a mix of images and videos and infographics to make your content more attention-grabbing and engaging.
**Check out the site on mobile view **
Since 2017, accessing the web with mobile devices has consistently made up more than 50% of all website traffic across the globe. This figure will only rise in the coming years. Having a mobile-responsive site is a must.
Test load speed
Aim for the 3-second benchmark and make any necessary edits to achieve it. Too many plugins and multimedia files can slow down the load speed of your website, so be careful not to pile them on.
Do a soft launch
Show your website to a few select people and ask them to check it out from a user standpoint. Having extra pairs of eyes go through your website can reveal things you may have omitted or areas that need more work.
If there are no more edits to be made, the only thing left to do is to fully launch the website. Test the live site over and over again both on desktop and mobile so you can be sure you’re off to a great start.
You’ve built your small business website — now what?
Once the excitement from building your own website has started to go down, remember that the work is not yet over. The first thing you want to figure out is how to drive traffic to your new business website. There are a number of proven ways to do that:
- Social media marketing
- Email marketing
- Paid ads, and so on
Read our guide on 16 ways to drive traffic and increase ranking to your website
Next, you want to make sure your website is searchable and visible on the web. That’s what SEO is all about. If you’re not familiar with implementing SEO best practices, you could hire a freelancer to do it for you. It’s just more efficient that way.
Lastly, you’ll want to monitor your web data. Google Analytics is one of the easiest data tracking tools available. It tracks everything from what pages an online user visits on your site, how long they spent on each page, what device they used to access your website, where they accessed it from, and so much more. These insights are crucial to your online marketing strategy and website maintenance.
What if you could avoid all this work and see a draft of your new website in the next 5 minutes?
Whoa! Did they just walk us through that lengthy process only to tell us that there was a much simpler and faster way to build our business websites? Well, you needed to see for yourself what it takes.
At best, your website will be ready in a couple of weeks if you go this route.
But at B12, we offer a simple solution that lets you see a draft of your new business website in as little as five minutes. Afterward, the rest of the customization usually just takes a week or two and you’re ready to launch.
Orchestra, our AI-powered website builder takes care of the website set up while our expert web design teams handle the personalization. The result is a stunning, professional website ready to deliver an outstanding online presence for your business.
In addition to building your website, we also provide everything you need to dominate your business online presence, such as SEO, social media feeds, blogging, copywriting, and of course, dedicated support.
Check out our pricing schedule to get started. You could even get started with a free website
The Bottom Line
The best way to build a business website is to do it the old-fashioned way — hire professional web developers, let them know exactly what you want on your website, and let them do their thing. With that in mind, get started with a free website draft today from B12.