You’ve probably already heard it said that every growing business needs a website. This is actually one step away from the truth; what every growing business needs is an effective website. You see, even if your customer base is primarily local, most customers will find you first online.
According to the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), 97% of consumers search online for products and services. Of those that do, 82% will use a mobile phone.
From these two facts alone, we can deduce three important things about what the word effective means in relation to websites: 1. it must be easy to find through search engines, 2. it must be optimised for mobile devices and 3. it must provide a great user experience once people get there.
If your website does these three things, it will attract customers, boost profitability and enhance your brand reputation. If it doesn’t… well, it might not be worth having after all.
So now you know what you need, it’s time to decide how to get there. Most businesses on a budget will consider DIY options through online website builders, while those with a little more money (or a fear of tech) may try to find a professional design service that doesn’t break the bank.
Here, we take a look at some of the options available and the ways in which businesses can avoid common pitfalls.
DIY: The benefits and limitations of self-build websites
The thing that draws most people to online website builders is the price. There is certainly no denying that they can provide the cheapest option – although adding the apps you need to get the functionality you want will push that price up considerably.
Many website builders claim to let you build a website in under an hour. In truth, they are often frustrating things to use and are rarely the best long-term option for a growing business.
In the absence of any coding requirement, what you actually end up with is a very basic template that’s been used hundreds of times before – with limited functionality and nothing that counts as genuine customisation. (Should you need to change that template in the future, you’ll often lose all existing content and be forced to start from scratch.)
Rather than giving an impression of professionalism and original thinking – which most SME businesses have in bucket-loads – self-build websites can often look a little piecemeal. The template designs quickly seem outdated.
The simplest web builders to use will inevitably leave you with the least impressive website, while those that offer more flexibility and room for creativity are generally not beginner-friendly, come with frustratingly limited online support through bots or e-guides, and will require an investment of time that you may not have – especially if web building is a completely new skill for you.
An important note: web builder packages rarely offer integrated search engine optimisation (SEO), and getting things to look exactly how you want them to on mobile devices can also be an issue; meaning the first impression you make on all those potential customers using their phones to find you will not be a great one. If they can find you at all.
Should you read this and decide that you’re still willing to take a risk on a DIY site, our advice would be to head over to Trustpilot. Look beyond the star ratings to the reviews – to hear what users really think, how much technical knowledge you need to get a decent result, and what actually happens when things go wrong and expert support is needed.
Designer: the benefits of national vs. local
If all of the above has put you off plumping for a self-build website, the next choice will be who you want to build your website for you. This is where we really know our stuff – because it’s where we’ve built our own business.
As a professional website design company, we took a long, hard look at the marketplace and came up with a better way. If that sounds biased, it’s because we are. We passionately believe that it’seeze gives growing businesses the service they need and deserve.
But that shouldn’t stop you from considering all of the options, so here they are:
The two main options for a professionally designed website are: a larger national provider using a closed source content management system (CMS), and a smaller local website designer using a free open source CMS like WordPress, Joomla, or Drupal.
The big shots
Large national website providers are often costly, so if you’re going to make the investment, choose one who offers great customer service and a high level of ongoing support, brilliant security features, and help with SEO as standard.
That way, at least you’ll be more likely to end up with a design you love, that is unique to your business, and some real return on your investment.
Unfortunately, far too many national website businesses outsource design and support to centres outside the UK, making security questionable and online support unreliable. They will rarely provide ongoing or face-to-face support, while CMS training to help you make changes yourself is also often neglected.
Once again, head over to Trustpilot to reassure yourself that the company you choose can deliver on their promises and be sure to ask plenty of questions about what’s included in the price. You’ll undoubtedly get a slick design, but will you also get the ability to upgrade functionality or make changes further down the line if you need to – or will this end up costing you even more?
Small and freelance web designers
Small local web designers might seem like the most accessible option for small businesses, but can often end up being more expensive than you expect. Unfortunately, they are unlikely to be able to offer the same security or design features as larger providers as they will need to rely on regular updates and various different plug-ins to achieve a similar result.
The open source CMS used by most smaller businesses will be free for anyone to download and install, with many developers around the world working on features and updates. This means that, without constant management, websites created on an open source CMS can quickly become vulnerable to serious security issues, while updates have been known to crash whole systems. The login process can also be manipulated by hackers, and cause functions to fail during updates.
If you still decide to use a freelancer or smaller company for your web build, keep in mind that they won’t have the infrastructure of a larger business. Builds can end up being far slower and support is often inconsistent.
There is also the question of continuity should the freelancer or small business you use go out of business or move on to pastures new; you could all too easily end up with a poorly performing website and no-one to help you fix it.
As you may have realised, we’re big believers in the power of customer reviews. It can be difficult to find reviews for small independent providers, so you may need to rely on word of mouth. Always ask for testimonials and examples of previous work before you sign on the dotted line.
An exception to the rule
While it’seeze falls into the ‘large national provider’ category covered above, we like to think we’re actually very different from the rest. Yes, we’re a well-established business that operates nationwide, but our network of regional consultants make everything easier when you’re getting your website project rolling. And that personalised service comes with professional design and build undertaken at our UK based support hub.
What’s more, we promise not to vanish once the build is done. Our monthly subscription model means you have no large initial outlay but will receive a whole host of ongoing benefits, like reliable technical support and security updates. You can read about them here.
If you’d like to find out more about it’seeze websites, why not get in touch today? We’re committed to building brilliant websites that help businesses grow – and we’d love to hear your plans.
This post was written by Sahra of AFA on the AFA website here. They will be joining as an exhibitor on the FranchiseShow247 Franchise Advice & Support floor.