Your Business Really Needs A Website

These days, a website is like a phone number; it’s simply expected that every business has one. Even among the Amish and other communities which typically shun technology, most businesses have come around to the idea that having a website carries great benefits. Worse, not having one may be holding your business back in ways you probably don’t even realize.

When customers and potential customers want to find basic information about your business, the first place they will turn is online. Such basic information includes:

  • Your phone number(s)
  • Business address(es)
  • Directions to your location
  • Hours
  • Information about the products and/or services you offer

Don’t make it hard for customers to do business with you. If I’m looking for a plumber and I remember seeing a truck out on the road but only remember the business name, I will look online. If that business has no website or makes me “work” to track them down but another local plumber’s website pops up right in front of me, chances are very good that I’ll simply use the one which was easiest for me to find. The same is true of just about any business I patronize.

Not having a website may be costing you in other ways too. Say I need to find your location. I could call and you or one of your employees could take time away from other productive tasks to give me directions, or I could simply look at a map on your website.

Your website is your 24 hour storefront. Even if your real business hours are more limited, if I want to look up information about your business at 2am and no one is there to pick up the phone or answer my questions, a good website will take care of my needs. If you engage in e-commerce, I may even be able to buy what I want right off your site while you are asleep.

What kind of site should you have?

At the very least, you should have your own domain name (also known as a “URL”) and a static page with the basic business information listed on the previous page.

Of course you can get progressively more fancy with multiple pages, regularly updated content, a searchable online catalogue and even a shopping cart which enables customers to buy from you online. Each of these things can be added incrementally when you come to need or want them as part of your online presence.

By integrating some of your existing systems such as inventory tracking, your employees could simply look up product availability or technician’s schedules by pulling up your web site right in your store or office. At the same time, you also give your customers the ability to do the same thing for themselves.

A word about URLs

A URL is your domain name. (The acronym stands for Universal Resource Locator, but that isn’t important.) A good domain name has several very important characteristics:

1. It is clear and easy for you to give out both verbally and in writing.

Very often you may find yourself out somewhere such as at the park or grocery store when a casual conversation turns toward business. If you do not have a business card with you, you are better off giving out just your web site URL than expecting someone else to remember a bunch of information about you or your business. The caveat to that is that a weird or complex name, especially if it has nonstandard spelling or unusual characters, may be both difficult for you to share and for others to remember.

Examples of (fictitious) bad URLs:

  • Try2win$.com
  • Gr8dealsonstuff.com
  • Cheepflytes.com

2. It is easy for others to remember.

Don’t make things hard on your customers and prospects. Give them a simple, memorable URL and make it easy for them to find your web site. This is especially true if you merely tell someone the domain name.

Even if you hand it out on your business card, it may still be garbled. Say you meet someone at a business meeting where they have collected dozens of business cards. Chances are they won’t “read” your business card. Instead, they may look over it or use it to jog their memory of their interaction with you and then look up your web site using your card merely as a reference.

3. It isn’t difficult to spell or likely to be misspelled.

Let’s say that your name is John Doe and you are the owner of John Doe’s Limousine Service. A domain name like JohnDoeLimousine.com seems like a good bet. The problem is that many people don’t know how to correctly spell the word “limousine”. Call it a testament to the sad state of education but if it hurts your business then the reason doesn’t matter. A simpler name like JohnDoeLimo.com might be better.

Alternatively, you can also purchase all the likely misspellings and have them all redirected to point to your correct URL. This is a relatively simple and inexpensive solution.

4. It fits the tone and image of your business.

Your URL doesn’t necessarily have to be the same as the name of your business, but it should be reflective of your business. A name like FunForAll.com could be great for a family fun center with activities for kids. It would be less fitting for a dentist, though GreatSmiles.com would be descriptive and memorable.

Understanding “CMS”

There are lots of different platforms on which your web site could be built but the easiest way to get a site up and running without having to hire a programmer is to use a Content Management System, or CMS for short. These are the software architecture platforms that make building and maintaining a web site user- friendly.

CMS systems go by some unusual names, many of which may not be familiar to you: Joomla, Drupal, WordPress, Tumblr, FrogCMS, Moodle, Mambo, Habari, Tango…

All share some common characteristics. They all build multi-page web sites. They all enable some form of blogging or article publishing. All have an extensive library of plugins or extensions to add new functionality that isn’t native to the base CMS. All are also available free of charge.

By and large, the CMS interface is a bit like a word processor for writing internet content. They are usually not 100% intuitive but they also aren’t hard to learn and you don’t need to know anything about internet code to make them work.

Where can you get a domain name and website?

There are literally dozens of companies where you can reserve a domain name and get web hosting. One of my favorites is HostGator.

Not only is Host Gator one of the least expensive hosting services around but they don’t require a contract commitment, won’t try to sell you a lot of extra services you don’t need and they’re environmentally friendly. (The parent company owns a windmill farm which generates 120% of the electricity used by their computer operations.)

How much will it cost?

The cost of web hosting will vary based on many factors: the number of URLs you purchase, your contract term, extra features, etc. For a single URL and basic web site, it should be less than $25 to get started and less than $10 a month to keep the site up and running.

This assumes that you do everything yourself. If you hire someone to set up your site, write content or perform other tasks for you the cost for those services will be in addition to the basic hosting.