The essential elements of a successful small business website

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A website is a vital requirement for pretty much any small business. But what are the key features that will make it successful? Drawing on advice from the experts at domain, hosting and website solutions provider 1&1 Internet and members of our sister community UK Business Forums, Dan Martin finds out.

Most of your customers will expect you to have a business website, and if they can’t find one, they’ll likely be suspicious and not view you as a credible company.  
But just because you have a website, doesn’t mean customers and clients will pour in. You need to spend some time getting several things right for it to be successful.
Domain name
Choosing your website domain name is very important so don’t rush. Spend time thinking about it properly, as what you select will be a key part of your marketing. Aim for a name that’s catchy and easy to remember.  Richard Stevenson, at 1&1 Internet, advises: "The shorter and snappier the better.  For longer names, use hyphens to improve readability. Website visitors often misspell words, switch or miss letters.  
"Local search engine listings are increasingly of high importance to small firms. The more keywords referenced in your domain name, the more search engines will rate your website and position it higher in results, meaning more visitors."
You also need to think about the bit that comes after your company name, traditionally .com and .co.uk. It's also now possible to better reflect your geographic location thanks to the introduction of new total level domains (TLDs) such as .UK, .LONDON, .SCOT and .WALES. Trade-specific TLDs such as .plumbing and .restaurant will also soon be introduced which allow customers to immediately recognise what it your company offers.
Be reliable
Slow running websites regularly top polls of internet users’ gripes. If they have to wait for a site to load, many customers will leave and go elsewhere. In our fast-moving, 24-hour society, consumers are unforgiving of poor running sites, so it’s vital that you ensure your site is operating at the highest possible speed or you risk losing business to your competitors. Stevenson comments: "Do your research, and ensure that your hosting provider maintains fast network speeds."
Go mobile
With the popularity of smartphones ever increasing, more and more of your customers will be looking for businesses just like yours using their mobile. As a result, it’s important that your website is optimised for this new way of surfing the internet.
UK Business Forums member Lynette says: "Take a look at Google Analytics for your site and discover how many people are already viewing your website on mobile devices. If your audience is frequently using mobile devices it's worth improving the site to fit in with their needs, especially if the bounce rates are high and the conversion rates are low.

"In my opinion it's certainly worth updating your website to be responsive. I use my phone and tablet to browse online and there's nothing more annoying than coming across a website that isn't responsive, especially if there are pop up screens!" 

A responsive website is one which automatically changes its format based on the screen size of the device from which the website is being accessed. This allows for optimal viewing pleasure for the site visitor on any device, whether it's a smartphone, tablet, notebook, laptop, or PC. Going responsive will help you convert more site visitors into customers.
Embrace SEO
Search engine optimisation (SEO) is key to making sure your website is easy to find when customers search for terms related to your business activity.  The best website packages today include integral tools for SEO.
Choose keywords relevant to what you do, but don't get too obsessed with targeting hundreds of search terms. Make sure your website is regularly updated with new and useful content, something which the search engines love. 
SEO is an ever-evolving beast so get into the habit of checking your website statistics to ensure it’s working and adapt if necessary. The data will show how popular your website is and which pages are most used or losing you traffic.  The statistics will also reveal from which websites and which geographic locations your online audience is originating. This will allow you to better measure your online marketing, and is particularly useful if you are looking to expand some services to overseas clients.
Be social
Your online presence doesn’t end with your website; you need to be in other places as well. That’s where social media comes in. The chances are that your customers will already be using at least one social network so you need to be there too. Recent research commissioned by 1&1 Internet found that almost half of consumers expect small businesses to communicate through social media platforms, and 40% said they were more likely to buy from SMEs active on social media.
The key to making a success of social is being present on the platforms most relevant to your customers, and being focused on what you want to get out of it. UK Business Forums member Concept Vehicle Leasing comments: "Social media is a great way to instantly communicate with your current audience and also allows you to quickly build up your own database of people who are interested in your industry. We find that our Facebook page is more for brand awareness and LinkedIn and Twitter is more useful for generating leads and discussing daily goings-on."
Make sure you link your social presence to your website. Use the same branding in your Facebook, Twitter and Instagram profile images, and use buttons on your site linking to your social profiles.
"Not only does social media impact the business/consumer relationship, but search engines are now relying more heavily on social media likes, shares and tweets within SEO algorithms," advises Stevenson. "In order to become more highly visible and reputable online, a business owner should incorporate a social media strategy as part of their overall business plan.”
Don't let social media take over your life though! It's easier to get overwhelmed by posting and monitoring social activity so it’s worth signing up to a service that allows you to manage different social media platforms in one, centralised location.
For more advice, visit the IT & Internet, E-commerce and SEO, PPC and Online Marketing forums on UK Business Forums.
1&1 MyWebsite and 1&1 eShops are automatically optimised for mobile devices and provide all the elements you need to build and run a successful business website. For more information, click here.

About Dan Martin

About Dan Martin

Dan Martin has 10 years experience as a journalist writing about entrepreneurs and the issues that affect them.

After three years working as a researcher for Sky News, he joined BusinessEurope.com as a reporter. This was followed by two years working as news editor for Startups.co.uk during which time Dan also contributed to Growing Business magazine. In 2006, he joined Sift Media as business editor before being promoted to editor of BusinessZone.co.uk. He also has responsibility for UK Business Forums, the UK’s most active online forums for small business entrepreneurs. In addition, Dan founded The Pitch, BusinessZone.co.uk's nationwide competition for small business owners. He host the grand finals in 2009 and 2010 in front of an audience of 300. 

As well as interviewing many entrepreneurs, Dan has written content for leading business organisations such as the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, British Chambers of Commerce, Forum of Private Business, Investors in People and Business Link for London. Among the publications that have quoted Dan are The Times, Mail On Sunday, Financial Times, Personnel Today and Bristol Evening Post. His articles have also been published by publications including eGov Monitor, Virgin Express in-flight magazine and Personal Success.

Dan regularly speaks at events about small business and social media issues. Among the events he has presented at are the National Federation of Enterprise Agencies' annual conference, Learning Technologies, Publishing Expo and World of Learning. He has also chaired high profile debates featuring senior representatives from Business Link and the Federation of Small Businesses and Dragons' Den judge James Caan.

Dan was named the 10th most influential political blogger on Twitter by the Independent and won the public award for best B2B tweeter at the Golden Twits 2010. He also organised the Bristol Twestival, part of a global Twitter driven charity initiative, in February 2009 and March 2010. Volunteers from 175 cities around the world organised events using the social network. In total, $350,000 was raised for charity: water in 2009 and $500,000 for Concern in 2010. In Bristol, £1,500 and £5,600 was raised.

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By patwalsh
06th Aug 2014 13:07

To ensure you have a truly great small business website - one that's effective, reliable, efficient - you need to also undertake some website testing. Ideally, this would cover the website functionality and the user experience. It's also a good idea to test the website across the main browsers - Chrome, Firefox, Safari and IE11/10/9 - and on the main mobile devices - iPhones, iPads, Android phones, Android tablets. 

A well-equipped, independent website tester will be able to perform this testing, providing an independent review of your website, uncovering any issues and - with the emphasis on quality - help turn a good website into a great website.

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By proweb365
07th Aug 2014 15:56

In my point of view, content is the most important element for all websites. Content is the foundation of your website. Be sure that you are describing your product or service in a clear and engaging way. Remember to keep content short and to the point, use headings, subheadings and bulleted lists to help user quickly scan your content.

by ProWeb365

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By jeffnevil
19th Dec 2014 15:21

Thanks for writing this article Dan, I think too often people assume that they can set up a website which will just run itself. I particularly agree with your point about reliability, no matter how simple a businesses website may be, it will undoubtedly need updating with new content, if for no other reason than to convey to visitors that you maintain this site and are a trustworthy company. It surprises me how many people will neglect to maintain their website, even so much as checking that the contact forms are all working on a regular basis.

To compete online these days people really need to be savvy about SEO techniques to have a chance of ranking well in Google. And there are so many factors to consider for SEO, as you’ve mentioned here, site speed is a factor not only for user experience but also SEO, then you’ve got keywords, content and linkbuilding all of which can be done the right or wrong way either boosting your website’s rankings or seriously harming them. Not to mention the time that all these techniques take for Google to recognise your website as authoritative! I really believe that in order to give your website the best chance of success you need to start thinking about marketing and SEO before you even build or launch your website. I have found this guide called The CMO’s Guide to SEO Web Design really helpful in the process of building my website:

http://thoughtshift.co.uk/freebies/free-guides/the-cmos-guide-to-seo-web-design/

Being a website owner, you really do need to read up about digital as it’s always changing and speaking for myself, I don’t want to hand over complete control to my developer because it’s ‘too technical’.

Thanks again Dan, I look forward to reading more of your work.

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