Getting started on your website
Small business website design only requires a few key building blocks:
- A domain name
- A hosting service
- A website template that suits your business
- A payment service if you’re making an e-commerce site
Your domain name is what people type in their address bar when they’re trying to visit your site. For example, “mailchimp.com,” “wikipedia.org,” and “irs.gov” are all domain names. Ideally, your domain name should include some or all of your business name to make it easy for customers to remember.
However, the domain name you want might not be available if someone else has already registered it. For example, if your business’s name is Tom’s Hardware, you wouldn’t be able to use the domain name “tomshardware.com” because it’s already taken.
One easy workaround is to change the suffix at the end of your domain name. That’s the “.com,” “.net,” “.org,” or other letters at the end of your domain. For example, while “tomshardware.com” is taken, “tomshardware.biz” might be available.
Another option is to add something to the domain name. If your business is a brick-and-mortar shop, you might add its location: “tomshardwareboston.com.”
Where can you buy a domain name?
You buy a domain name from a domain name registrar, a company that sells and registers domain names, ensuring that you and no one else owns it. Many of these companies can also host your website, give you branded email, and offer marketing tools. Some of the most popular companies selling domain names include:
You can go to any of these sites and easily buy a domain name. Once you make the purchase, the name is yours and yours alone. Note that you don’t have to use it to build a website right away because you own the name as long as you continue to pay the registration fee.
A hosting service is a company you use to put your website online. They “host” your site by providing a place for it to reside on the internet.
A hosting site sells you the space you need for your site on a web server. A web server refers to the computer software and hardware that store your content and deliver it to your browser when you type in a web address. The pages, images, videos, features, and apps on your site all require storage space. You should try to keep the amount of storage each page needs relatively small so users with slow internet connections don’t have to wait a long time for them to load.
If you purchased a plan with 10MB of storage and kept each page to 100 KB, you could have 100 pages on your website. Most services offer an option to upgrade later if you need more space.
Some of the top hosting services include:
Bandwidth refers to the amount of data that’s passed to and from your website. Bandwidth is consumed as visitors access your website content. Your hosting service provides this bandwidth so that users can have a smooth, efficient, and enjoyable experience.
Most small businesses don’t need more than around 5GB per month of bandwidth. That gives you enough space to accommodate around 20,000 visitors a month, with each one visiting 5 pages on your site.
Choosing a hosting provider
If you check out different hosting providers, you may find that their fees are either close or identical, especially for their baseline services. Therefore, choosing a hosting provider will come down to the features you need. Some considerations may include:
- Maximum storage space
- Complimentary features such as SEO tools
- The number of domains and subdomains you’re allowed to have
- Email accounts
- Tech support
If all you need is a relatively simple site to feature your products or services, give customers a chance to engage with your business, and reinforce your brand identity, you may find that the baseline features of many hosting providers are more than enough. In that case, the ease of the site design process could be your deciding factor.
For most people, a web template is all they need to design their own site. A web template comes with everything you need to set up your site except the content. Many templates even have images that work with your small business, so all you have to do is enter the words. Designing a site using a web template is straightforward. Each template has fields where you enter text. For example, you can input your business’s:
- Mission statement
- History and “About Us” information
- Description of services
- Lists of credentials
- People and organizations you’ve worked with
Because there are so many templates available, you may find one that lets you enter all this information and more. If not, most hosting providers make it easy to create your own sections to accommodate the specific needs of your business.
As you look into how to make a business website, you may, like many business owners, consider building an e-commerce site. E-commerce lets you sell products and services online, allowing customers to pay using a credit card, bank account information, or a payment service like PayPal or Stripe.
Many website templates include the infrastructure for e-commerce. In that case, you can build your site using a template that has e-commerce features and connect your payment solution. For a service like PayPal, you’ll enter your login credentials and confirm that PayPal will accept payment from your target market. (Not all payment services are available in every country.)
When you set up an e-commerce solution, it’s also important to consider how much it will cost per transaction. It’s usually a small percentage of the total. This will vary depending on the e-commerce provider and where you and your customers live. The prices of your goods or services should accommodate the added cost of e-commerce transactions.
If you use Mailchimp, it’s easy to set up your e-commerce website. It’s free to create a store—you only pay when you make a sale. All payments for stores built with Mailchimp are processed using Stripe.
Bonus features and add-ons
The simplest websites only need a domain name, a hosting service, and a template to get up and running. But depending on the nature of your small business, you may want to consider other features to enhance the experience for your visitors and even make more money on your site. Some of the most popular features include:
- Contact forms so customers can get in touch with you
- Search engine optimization (SEO) tools, which help your site appear higher in search engines
- Customer relationship management (CRM) systems to keep track of customers and their information
- Membership add-ons, which make it possible to charge users to access exclusive content like e-books, software, or courses you’ve designed
- Landing page builders that give you an attractive standalone page to welcome visitors using strategic images, video, or other on-brand content
- Appointment management systems, which let customers book a time slot for your services directly from your website
Some web hosting companies will offer features like these for an extra fee per month; others may offer them for free. Either way, you don’t have to shop for a separate provider—simply select the package with the features you want.