How to Build Your Small Business Website
Regardless of your small business marketing goals (brand building, establishing thought leadership, lead generation, product sales or distributing content,) choosing the right small business web hosting and software is critical for your business.
For most SMBs and solopreneurs, self-hosting is the best option. (Please check: 4 ways to host a website for a small business.)
Small business self-hosting advantages
There are 3 reasons for a small business or solopreneur to use self-hosting:
- Freedom. Run any software you want for any purpose (subject to government laws and regulations, of course.)
- Single Source. Get the full range of services from one vendor. This includes: domain registration, webhosting, email and other marketing services.
- Low Cost. Reduce your investment due to global competition and Moore’s law.
In my experience good web hosting companies often get bought by larger firms. When this happens, their performance and customer support noticeably declines. I’ve had good experiences with clients using Dreamhost, Hostmonster and Media Temple.
The Actionable Marketing Guide uses and loves WebFaction.
To find other options, look for “Best Web Hosting” on your favorite search engine. Read the reviews and compare features to find the best web hosting company for your specific business needs. Where possible, ask your peers for input.
How much web hosting does my small business need?
The quick answer is just enough. Major hosting companies generally take a Goldilocks approach and offer 3 plans:
|Shared Server||Many websites share the same webserver software||$3 – $10|
|Virtual Private Server||Each account runs its own webserver software||$10 – $50|
|Dedicated Server||A full machine is dedicated to your account||$50 – $500|
Actionable small business web hosting tips:
- Select a shared server hosting plan. This should suffice for most solopreneurs and SMBs. You can upgrade later if you use more resources than your plan limits.
- Choose a virtual private server (VPS) plan if you know you’ll have hundreds of thousands of page views a month, or if you’re running website applications that require heavy processing.
- Always choose Linux hosting when offered a choice between Windows and Linux, unless you need to run Microsoft web applications (e.g: Silverlight, Dot-net, ASP) in your webspace.
- Put your Videos on YouTube rather than stream them from your own website. Videos eat bandwidth. This saves bandwidth and expense. Further, a YouTube channel gives your content more visibility.
What kind of website should I install?
Determining what kind of website to install depends on what you want to publish. For a website that is brochureware and rarely changed, use a static HTML website consisting of a small number of files. The hosting company may have a “Website Builder” or “Homepage Generator” that will create these files using a visual (aka: WYSIWYG) editor.
For most small business I recommend using WordPress unless there’s a specific reason not to. Started as blogging software, WordPress is now a general purpose CMS (Content Management System.) It can be used for most purposes. WordPress is the most popular choice. WordPress powers 25% of all websites globally—that’s over 75 million websites!
Half of WordPress websites are on WordPress.com, Automattic’s free hosting service. This is third-party hosting. You can only run WordPress and are limited in your choice of themes and plugins.
When you self-host a WordPress site, you use the control panel to install WordPress into a web directory. Or, you can do it manually by downloading the latest version from wordpress.org, uploading it to your web directory and configuring it.
BTW—Here’s help if you’re starting a blog.
5 WordPress advantages for small businesses
WordPress provides 5 advantages for small businesses and solopreneurs.
- Open Source. 100% of WordPress’ source code is visible and editable. Released under the Gnu Public License (GPL,) you have the freedom to modify it any way you want. You can even share your modifications provided that you also adhere to the GPL.
- Theme structure. A theme is a set of templates that WordPress uses to dynamically generate webpages from the content in your database. The theme controls the page layout, typography, colors and other elements. There are 10,000 to 20,000 themes available. This is an important marketing decision. It sets how your content will be presented online.
- Plugin architecture. Plugins extend the functionality of WordPress. For example, Akismet, the most popular plugin, blocks comment spam. Yoast SEO helps you optimize a page for search engines. There are 40,000+ plugins in WordPress’ official plugin Repository! Here are the WordPress plugins I recommend.
- Easy to install, update and migrate. Most hosting companies provide a script that you launch from the web hosting control panel. It installs and configures WordPress for you.. Updates are performed through the WordPress admin interface (aka: the Dashboard) and there are export/import tools for copying content between WordPress websites and other software environments.
- Community support. There’re tons of WordPress developers, an active forum on WordPress.org and dozens of WordPress discussion groups on LinkedIn.
WordPress will grow with your small business.
[ Note: There’s not enough space here to go into the details of configuring WordPress, selecting a theme and deciding which plugins to use. These topics will be covered in future posts.]
WordPress themes can be divided into three categories:
- Starter themes. These are lightweight, Free themes. They provide a bare or minimal framework for a developer to build upon and customize.
- Free themes. These themes are free to download, modify and use. They’re typically smaller in scope and complexity than premium themes. they don’t have formal support. A WordPress install includes several free themes such as Twenty Sixteen, the current default.
- Premium themes. These large, full-featured themes come bundled with many extras for a fee. The costs vary with along with support provided. Genesis and Woo are popular prem
BTW–Here’s help with your WordPress or blog design (Useful checklist to guide you).
If you have a graphic designer produce an Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator design for your website, have a WordPress developer create a custom theme for the design from a starter theme. Underscores is my favorite starter themes for clients.
Don’t have a design? If you have a good idea of how you want your website to look, search the free themes first. You can do this from the WordPress Dashboard by clicking the Featured and/or Popular tabs on the Appearance page.
Premium themes are wonderful for marketing agencies. They enable employees without strong design or Web programming skills to create beautiful websites quickly for clients who have a vague idea of their website look.
WordPress comes with a minimal set of plugins. A premium theme may add other plugins based on website purpose. Use a search engine to find articles discussing the best WordPress plugins for your website.
A plugin has full access to the resources of your website. Badly written plugins can conflict with other plugins and cause problems. Therefore, only install plugins from reputable sources with good histories and reviews. Don’t install plugins you don’t need. They can affect your website’s performance.
Actionable Marketing WordPress Tips:
- Focus on page layout and features when evaluating WordPress themes. The colors, background images, fonts, menus and sidebar widgets can be changed via the Dashboard.
- Make sure that the theme and plugins you select were recently updated and compatible with the latest version of WordPress.
- Install a backup plugin with a scheduling feature. This is a must. I like WP Backup. It’s easy to use and integrates with DropBox.
- Update WordPress when a new version is released. Do this to keep your website secure. WordPress does a fantastic job of automating updates. They are quick and safe. I’ve done hundreds of WordPress updates and never had one fail.
The small business web hosting bottom line: You can create a website for your business cost-effectively. Using a self-hosted WordPress installation will allow your website to grow with your business.
When it comes to web hosting, WordPress themes, and plugins, this is relatively easy to use technology. It requires limited technology support.
The biggest challenge for most small businesses is deciding on positioning and branding first.
What has your experience with small business web hosting been?
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