If there’s one thing we understand about Small Business, it’s that money is usually tight, and your marketing dollars are precious. There is nothing more infuriating to us than finding that a new client has been hood winked or sold a bill of goods by a web developer. Your website is no joke; it is usually your company’s face to the world. People don’t look you up in the phone book anymore, they Google you and/or your services. The single most important thing is that you show up. The second is that your website is easy to use and immediately tells your visitor how you will help them. But it’s not that simple getting there. To help you avoid costly mistakes, here’s our list of what you need to do.
- Buy your own domain. Your website needs a domain – think of it as your online address. You can purchase domains at Blue Host or Godaddy if you must (we are not fans of their advertising so we avoid them). There are any number of domain registrants out there, just make sure that YOU own the domain, no matter how much you love your website developer. Relationships end and businesses close down. It is very difficult to get control of your domain if the company that owns it won’t cooperate. If you don’t renew your domain yearly you can actually lose control of it if someone else purchases it. So, register it for at least 3 years and make sure that your registrant has your current email address at all times.
- Pay for a decent hosting service. Your website needs somewhere to sit, which is where your host comes into play. We strongly advise that you host it with a company you trust that has customer service you can rely on. At Ariel Marketing Group we like to host our client’s sites because it means that we have full access when they want to make changes or have issues. If you have no technical knowledge of web development we highly recommend you do your homework finding the right host. Expect to pay $25 or more per month for this service, depending on the size of your site.
- Buy a WordPress site. Yes, we know tons of great programmers who build in php and other excellent languages, and you can buy a beautiful site built on a lot of different languages or platforms, but for small business we think there is no better alternative than WordPress unless you have an ecommerce site with thousands of products on it. WordPress gives you a professional design, built in SEO (we’ll get to what that is in a minute) and you can do most of the updating to your site yourself. That means you don’t have to wait a week to put up a new event or change the wording of a page. In addition, there are thousands of WordPress designers out there if you have a falling out with whomever built your site.
- Maintenance Fees. Once your website is live it’s not finished. It’s NEVER finished. Your website is a living, breathing part of your business, and it needs to reflect that. New events, new products, and yes, blog posts that provide your visitors with valuable information will need to be updated regularly. If you’ve purchased a WordPress site then you can do a lot of it yourself, but if you want design and layout changes you’ll probably need a programmer. Hopefully you’ll be using the same developer who built your site, but regardless of whom is making the changes, expect to pay them for it. We don’t recommend regular maintenance contracts, but expect to pay at least $60/hour for maintenance on your site.
- Ranking on Google. Yes, there are other Search Engines out there such as Bing and Yahoo, but Google makes up the huge majority of search traffic. Just because you have a beautiful website does not mean you’ll show up on any of them when someone searches for you or your product. SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization and basically means that Google understands what you do and thinks your site is valuable enough when compared to your competitors. It’s a complex but very important issue. Hiring a web development company that understands SEO gives you a huge headstart. If not, you can hire an SEO professional to audit your site and provide you with organic SEO. Expect to pay $5,000+ for an audit on a fairly large site – less for smaller sites. The audit helps the SEO expert determine what is wrong with your site, but also what your competitors are doing. Then, plan on at least $1,000/month for 4 – 6 months minimum to get you up to fairly high ranking, and of course a lot depends upon where you start. Then you’ll have to pay a maintenance fee to remain in a strong position. If you’re not on the first page, your site is invisible.
There is a lot to take in, and a lot to pay if you add it all up. Of course many businesses start without doing all of the above, but if you’re serious about your website and your online presence, you need to understand the costs and the strategy. We hope that helps you avoid an expensive mistake.