In the modern day of connectivity everywhere, it is a matter of “when” and not “why” when it comes to establishing an online presence. Any business, both established and fledgling, will eventually have to take on the challenge of creating a website, a social media account, or another online footprint. It can be easy to dismiss website building and think that only software startups or companies involved with technology need to invest in an online presence. Whether you are a local restaurant with ten years of industry experience or a startup that hopes to revolutionise commercial-grade cookware, taking your brand online can positively impact your company.
Once you decide to build an online presence, where do you go next? How do you create and promote your website to ensure that your business benefits from the added exposure? Just as important is the consideration of budget, as many businesses do not necessarily have significant resources to hire a full development team to create a custom website. Below is a beginner’s guide based on my own experience with Varsity Tutors:
1. Build your website
This step may seem obvious, and at the same time, for many business owners, web design is a daunting prospect. Building a website is more straightforward than you might think, even if you are unfamiliar with programming languages such as C++, Java, and Python, or do not know simple html code. There are a number of free tools online, including Weebly, Wix, and Doodlekit that work off a “what you see is what you get” model. These platforms allow you to drag and drop design elements into ready-to-use templates. Websites like 1&1 even walk you through the creation process step by step. If you can afford it, you can also purchase more premium plans that enable customization beyond the standard templates. Businesses with slightly larger budgets could consider contracting a developer to design the website. This is a great option if you have the budget.
Remember that your initial goal is to build a website, and simply be “online.” You can refine its appearance and content over time, so do not feel as though that first homepage you put online is going to represent your company in cyberspace for perpetuity. Unlike a highway billboard, a website gives you the power to change your company’s messaging and imaging within seconds. As this article demonstrates, companies as large as ESPN are continually re-envisioning their websites.
2. Design with your goals in mind
As you begin to build your website, carefully consider what you want to achieve with it. Creating a website just because you feel you need one will not help you meet your goals, so clarifying your objectives can help you decide how to design that website. For instance, maybe you want to process online orders through your website. If you own a restaurant, perhaps you hope that your online presence will increase your volume of table reservations and customers who stop in. Or maybe you would simply like to generate more leads for your young business.
Processing online orders will call for a different system than recording leads will. For example, the former will require that you have a credit card processing system integrated into your website. Fortunately, there is a spectrum of services available for you to set up shop relatively easily. There are services that offer shopping cart scripts and payment gateways, to services that offer a virtual “store-in-a-box” service. Services such as Shopify, Volusion, and Bigcommerce are all-in-one platforms that let you create an online store within a matter of hours.
Remember that while you may envy the slick website of that famous coffee shop franchise, chances are your needs are different than theirs. Websites come in all shapes, so rather than choosing a design that seems popular, select one that will assist you in achieving and measuring your goals.
3. Establish your presence
Once your website is complete, the next step is to promote it. There are several ways to do this. First, encourage search engines to crawl your website. This might mean directly submitting your link or your sitemap to Google, Yahoo, Bing, etc.
A simple way to think about search engine optimization (SEO) is: the more inbound links your website has, and the more relevant content on your site is to a particular search query, the more visible your website will become. In general, when you type a phrase like “auto repair shops” into a search engine, the websites with more inbound links and more relevant, high-quality content will be displayed first.
In our increasingly digital world, an online presence will pay dividends for your business. Even with limited resources, you can leverage a few tools and services to quickly establish a footprint on the internet for your company. The gains in growth for your company that result from starting and developing an online presence will be well worth the time spent.
Chuck Cohn is the CEO and founder of Varsity Tutors,