Many businesses recognise the benefits of having a website to tell customers about the goods or services they offer. More and more people turn first to the internet when they are searching for a product or service that they require, and it could mean more business for you if it's your website that they find first - and they like what they see there. Websites can provide information for other people too - like suppliers, investors and staff.
Some businesses use their website mainly as an online brochure, giving information about the business and its staff, explaining what it is about the business that sets it apart from its competitors, providing contact details and so on. It can be a useful means of advertising job vacancies and making special announcements too. This type of 'brochure' website could be ideal for your business if it provides a product or service that could not easily be sold over the internet - perhaps because the product is too large and heavy to send, or because the service needs to be carried out in person.
If your business sells any products - either to other businesses or to end users - then it could be well worth looking into setting up an e-commerce enabled website. This also applies if your business sells a service that could be made available over the internet - for example pay-to-view web content. The advantage of e-commerce is that it means your 'shop' is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. And it's available to anyone anywhere in the world. An e-commerce website will normally require some form of 'shopping cart' facility and a means for customers to pay online using a debit or credit card. It may be necessary to integrate the website software with your other IT systems so that, for example, online customers can be alerted if a product runs out of stock.
It's important to build a professional looking website that works well and has been properly checked before going 'live'. Some of the key steps involved include:
- examining your business and deciding what type of website you need
- choosing and securing your domain name
- deciding what content you need for the website - this includes both words and pictures. Remember that text should be written specially for the web - it may not be appropriate just to use text straight out of an existing brochure
- writing - or commissioning - any content that you need and obtaining any pictures that are required
- working out the website navigation - what will go on each page, how will the pages be ordered and how will users navigate from one page to the next
- deciding on and commissioning the website design - how to incorporate your business logos, colours and trademarks. You will also want to work with your web designer to make sure that your site is 'optimised' for maximum visibility to search engines like Google
- deciding on and commissioning any other features that might be needed - for example a search facility, shopping cart or other feature that requires bespoke programming
- choosing a web host - a reliable server provider that can make your website available to the public
- testing the website before it goes live - this includes 'usability testing' to make sure it is user-friendly and 'stress testing' to make sure everything works properly. This can be done by specialist professionals, or you can do it yourself with the aid of friends, family and colleagues
- submitting the website to search engines to make it 'visible' on the web. You can do this yourself or you can pay a specialist to do it for you
Things don't end once your website is live. It's very important to maintain even the most basic of websites to make sure that all of the information is complete and up to date, the site still looks modern and is still appropriate to your business needs. If possible, keep the website fresh by changing certain bits of content regularly. You could, for example, incorporate a news feed. Because of the need to maintain a website, part of the design process should include looking at how it will be maintained and who will maintain it. It might be necessary for the designer to build in a simple to use updating feature and to give you or a colleague some tuition on how to carry out updates.
Whatever type of website you set up, it's important to make sure that your business can live up to the promises it makes online. For example, there's no point offering a customer contact facility if no one ever replies to the customer. It's important too to make sure that all orders are sent out promptly and efficiently.