Online is the place to be in terms of business. UK retailers pulled in £133bn in online retail sales in 2016; a figure that continues to grow. So, it’s understandable that all businesses want a slice of that pie.
Then you need to consider that businesses with an online presence are more likely to grow. In fact, research shows that small businesses with a website are 51% more likely to grow than those without.
It’s clear that if you have your sights set on a successful business then this is synonymous with an online presence.
It’s not just about buying
It’s tempting to think that the sole purpose of your business website is that it should be raking in sales. However, creating and maintaining an online presence is considerably more valuable than that. 70% of retailers see shoppers conducting their research online before they make a purchase.
Consumers are a considerably savvier bunch than in pre-internet days. They know how to compare and contrast, hunt down reviews and find out everything about a product. Their tool for doing so is simply the internet and if you’re not there, you’re missing out as part of meeting customer expectations is having an online presence.
However, knowing you want to be online is a different ballgame to getting online. It can seem overwhelming to a newbie and a game for the techies only. But that’s definitely not the case. Here we’ll offer you a helping hand by taking you through everything you need to know.
How to get a website
Believe it or not, setting up a website is only the beginning of successfully building an online presence for your business.
Your first step is to secure a suitable, and potentially great, domain name. This is the website address which your visitors will use to find you. It needs to speak volumes about your brand in a succinct way.
If you’re worried about money, as so many entrepreneurs are, there are cost-effective ways you can go about choosing a domain name. You’ll find dot com domains are more expensive, but as a small business, you’re likely to do just as well opting for .co.uk or .co extensions. Head to Nominet, type various options in and you’ll find the right domain sellers for you. Here, you’ll soon discover which options are available to you, and at what cost.
Just because this step is so easy and low cost, don’t pass it by without giving it careful thought. Your domain name is akin to your business name and branding: everything hinges on it. You need to get it right.
Two words will help you choose your domain name: unique and memorable. Your name needs to be unique, as in not used by anyone else, in any similar form. It also needs to stand out, capture the imagination and be memorable.
Here are our top tips for choosing a domain name:
- Search it on Google: Type your ideas into Google and see what comes up. You need to make sure that your name isn’t too similar to another business, especially if it’s a competitor.
- Think about spelling and typos: Your domain name needs to be simple. Consider whether you’re using commonly misspelt words and if so think of alternatives.
- Keep it short: the shorter the domain name, the easier it is for users to remember.
- Get cracking: As domain names are relatively cheap they get snapped up quickly. Even if you’re not ready to build your website just yet, buy the domain you like. Then as you work towards your online presence you don’t risk losing the name.
- Consider registering multiple domains: Again, because domain names are cheap you can register a few. This is particularly valuable if you want to corner all the potential domain extensions (e.g. .co.uk or .org.uk) using your name.
Now you’ve got the domain name, you’re ready to start building the website itself.
How to build a website
When it comes to building your website there are several different factors to consider. The first one is hosting.
Your web host is the company with the technology which means your website can be viewed on the internet. New small business owners will quickly discover that there are a range of cheap hosting options in the UK.
The most important thing to consider is support. If you’re new to running an online business then the support available to you is essential. For example, you need to be able to quickly and easily get in touch with your web host if your site goes down. For this reason, for small UK businesses we recommend a host with UK servers and customer support which is available 24/7.
Next, you have two main choices: choose a web builder tool or engage a website designer.
Web builder tools use ready-made templates which you can edit to suit your branding and fit your content. These are simple and straight-forward and a good way to create a website quickly. However, they are somewhat more restricted if you’re looking to create a more complex e-commerce site.
A website designer is an individual or business who will build your website for you, to your specifications, from scratch. Whilst this will entail a higher initial outlay, the approach is more versatile and bespoke. You can often also use their help and knowledge ensuring search engine optimisation – how you’ll be found by potential customers.
Search Engine Optimisation
It’s not enough to have a great domain name and an all-singing-all-dancing website which looks fantastic. People rarely stumble upon a website without some clever Search Engine Optimisation (SEO).
We strongly recommend that you consider SEO from the moment you first take your baby steps towards creating a website as it’s your way of building exposure and competing against others.
For small businesses, we strongly recommend you focus on your local SEO in the immediate term. This way you can relatively easily compete against bigger brands.
The arena of SEO is an entire subject in itself. You can search for online SEO tutorials or employ an SEO specialist or digital marketing agency to get you going. If your budget is limited then use them to do the research and strategy then teach yourself how to implement the SEO practices.
Get seen on social media
A website with a great domain and UK hosting as well as SEO on side is a powerful start for your business’ online presence. However, you shouldn’t stop there. Instead, you should consider how you can leverage social media to your advantage.
Now, this can be a tall order for some small businesses. Effectively managing multiple different online channels can be time consuming and overwhelming. However, there are tricks of the trade and tools which will make it considerably easier for you.
Hold in mind that your customers are already on social media, so this is about meeting them where they are. This is your chance to engage with them, hook them in and build loyalty. We recommend you follow this approach:
- Set goals and objectives: Don’t take a scattergun approach. Instead, consider what your aim is. Perhaps it is building brand awareness, directing traffic to your website or stimulating discussion.
- Target: Your audience is likely defined by some key demographics. If you’re armed with knowledge about your audience you can target them on social media more easily and create appropriate content.
- Choose your platforms: It’s tempting to go all out and use every platform available. However, this could be an ultimate goal but not a short-term one. Start on the platforms where your audience is and add more channels as you go.
- Be strategic: Think carefully about your content in terms of type, frequency and timing. However, always think quality over quantity.
Don’t stand paralysed by indecision. Take steps forward to create an online presence for your business. Learn and refine your approach as you go.