Checklist for building a small business website

The following checklist will be useful for anyone building or updating a small business website.

The links in the table provide examples or further information – we do not get paid for referral as part of any of these links.

I recommend first reading our website jargon buster explanation if the terms “domain name”, “hosting”, “theme”, and “content management system” sound like meaningless technobabble!

1. Understand the potential costs

For me, the very first step is to make sure you are prepared for the costs of a website.

The cost of a website varies dramatically depending on your needs, just as the price of a car varies dramatically depending on your needs.

This guides provides some insight on costs for relative basic sites, with a budget range of $500 to $5k.

2. Register a domain name

Most fully hosted website providers (more on this definition in step 5), will provide you a subdomain of the domain they own, i.e. yourwebsite.theirdomain.com. This is not great for branding, and you cant take your domain (or your user traffic) to another website solution. For this reason, register your own domain (most fully hosted website providers will give you an option to do this).

The companies that register domain names are called domain registrars; perhaps the best known registrar is GoDaddy due to its leading global market share.

As you can see from the below screenshot, the cost of a .com domain is really quite low, in this example, less than $20 for 2 years. Note, the cost requires an annual renewal.

domain prices at godaddy

 

Domain registration costs do vary by domain extension. For example, the lesser known .pr domain, controlled by Porto Rico, but sometimes an attractive domain for public relations firms, comes at a significant cost – in the below example, $1,369 per year!

pr domain registration

The following items should help in selecting your domain name:

deBaffle recommendation – Often website hosting companies (more in Step 5) will also provide domain registration services, but I recommend keeping your domain registration with a company separate to your hosting provider. This means if your hosting company has issues, you can update your domain records to a new website host.  This provides great flexibility. With this in mind, I recommend using GoDaddy. GoDaddy has excellent security measures in place to protect your domain name, and they provide true 24/7 support. GoDaddy is by far the biggest registrar in the world.

4. Understand your legal obligations

It is important to understand if there are any regulations that cover the type of data and translations that will apply to your website. The below list provides an example of items to consider:

5. Determine if you want a fully hosted or a self hosted solution

Fully hosted refers to an end to end solution available from a single provider; this includes the content management system (see step 6), the choice of website themes (step 7) and the computing power that makes your website available to visitors.

Fully hosted reduces the complexity out of building and running a website.

If you want more flexibility on features and layout, and better options around performance and disaster recovery, a self hosted solution is often a better option than a fully hosted solution.

6. Select a content management system (CMS)

A content management system is what will give the functionality to your website. The broad categories of CMS include; online shops, blogs, Wikis and forums.

Fully hosted solutions come with an integrated CMS, as such your hosting and CMS choice are directly tied.

A self hosted website lets you separate the decision of website host (step 9) with your CMS. See my advice here on the leading CMS platforms and how to pick one.

A CMS that is self hosted usually requires experienced help, or lots of patience to setup.

When you (or your trusted professional) first setup your CMS you will need to make a decision to omit, or include, “www” in your website name, i.e. yourwebsite.com or www.yourwebsite.com. It is really a matter of preference, but you can only choose one. These days omitting “www” is more common.

7. Select a website theme

A theme defines the look and feel of the website, and can change a website from looking amateurish to looking professional.

Fully hosted solutions will come with themes that you can choose from, and potentially also “theme stores”where you can buy premium themes.

In terms of evaluation, check the following: that it supports mobile devices (most do), make sure it doesn’t rely on flash (it won’t work on Apple devices), and think about your content layout (step 10).

Self hosted websites usually provide more flexibility of using themes from third party market places, or having a theme custom designed by engaging a website designer.

8. Determine if you need professional help

A fully hosted website solution will provide the tutorials and support to build your own website. That said, there are online market places where you can find someone to help if needed.

A self hosted website will need the assistance of a website developer (if you want functionality changes) or a website designer (if you want look and feel changes). Try the online market places for reasonable pricing.

9. Select a web host

A web host will provide the infrastructure to make your website available on the Internet.

A fully managed website will come with web hosting included, in which case make sure you are happy with their support channels, hours of support, website availability target (even if they are difficult to enforce).

True high availability (excellent uptime) requires multiple servers and will require self hosting with configuration by a skilled professional. Take this path if your website availability is critical to your business.

The site whoishostingthis.com provides great unbiased reviews of popular web hosts.

10. Carefully think about content layout

The website content management system (step 6) and also the website theme (step 7) will determine the options and flexibility you have for content layout.

Basic content layout really only needs consideration of the pages you will want, for example: home page; about us; service; products; contact and perhaps a blog.

A more completed approach involves designing landing pages for different campaigns, each with a clear call to action. These pages will also be directly linked to analytics and search engine optimisation strategies (see more on both these items lower in this table).

11. Prepare your content

Prepare the text and images you want for your website.

You can also embed video and use a custom logo and favicon.

If you really want to get fancy, you can brand your own URL shortener.

Link your content creation directly to your search engine optimisation strategies (see step 15).

Once your website is built, you can use analytics to understand which content is providing your users the most value, and how they navigate through your site (step 20). This will help you understand if you can improve the content and page structure.

12. Build your website

Finally you, or your trusted professional, are ready to build your website.

For a basic fully managed website this will involve configuring the layout you have requested, adding content, and then additional configuration as need be on the steps that follow.

Self hosted websites require more effort to setup, and you will need an I.T. professional, or expect to spend a lot of time on support forums.

13. Security

A basic website has basic security, which may be sufficient for your business needs.

A more advanced website will consider the following security controls:

14. Optimise for speed

Even a basic website will need pro-active action to optimise the load time for speed. This is important as people go else where if you site is slow.

Perhaps the biggest influence on speed will be your website host from step 9.

Actions that can be taken include to optimise your website speed include:

  • Optimise your images for speed.
  • Using solutions that work in the background to serve a fast loading page to your users without compromising their experience.
  • Providing less bandwidth intensive content to users on mobile devices.
  • Using services on the Internet that specialise in delivering content to users fast.
  • Remove unused extensions/ plugins/ apps that load on your site but are not actually used.

15. Optimise for search engines

Search engine optimisation (SEO) is the science of improving the chances that search engines will notice your website. You will strike a traffic gold mine if search engines determine your website as more useful than your competitors. To take advantage of SEO you will need to:

To get the lead on SEO, and in turn get superior traffic form search engines compared to your competitors, you will need:

  • Ever growing fresh content that is worth reading, and more importantly worth other websites linking to. This is hard, and time consuming to do.
  • Review your website analytics so you can understand what content is most popular as that can help focus your content production efforts.
  • Avoid SEO consultants that offer guaranteed results, the results will be engineered, and waste you money.

16. Put a backup and disaster recovery plan in place

A backup lets you revert to an older version of your website if need be. This can be useful when applying changes that you then want to remove. It can also be useful if your content gets corrupted.

Disaster recovery lets you restore your full site to an alternative web host if your primary web host becomes unavailable for extended periods.

Unfortunately, most fully managed websites prevent, or have significant limitations, for backup and disaster recovery.

A significant advantage of using a self hosted CMS is you can put backup and disaster recovery in place.  Both will require setup by an I.T. professional. There are some approaches to automating disaster recovery, however doing a restore from backup will probably need an I.T. professional to assist.

17. Test

When your website is first built you should complete the following basic free tests:

If you want to be more thorough, then you should expand your testing to include:

18. Put monitoring in place

Monitoring provides ongoing intelligence about your website. The only basic level monitoring worth implementing is site availability and load time.

To get more insight, I would add:

  • regular vulnerability scans so that potential website issues can be proactively addressed
  • malware scans so that infected website content can be addressed and an impact minimised.

19. Promote

Now comes the hard part, how to attract visitors. You have a few options:

If you really want to get fancy, you can brand your own URL shortener.

20. Use traffic analytics

Using an analytics solution such as Google Analytics is essential for getting the most out of your website investment. Only with analytics can you gain intelligence about your visitors, including:

  • how many visitors you get, and if they are new or returning;
  • which pages they visit;
  • how long they stay;
  • where did they come from (i.e. from search engine, or did they come direct to your site);
  • how fast pages load; and,
  • if you want to be a website pro, you can also gain intelligence on which promotion campaigns are more effective.

Analytics does require a time commitment to review statistics and attempt to come to conclusions on actions required. For a great Google Analytics guide see here.

A lot of the effort in using analytics is reviewing the data, and then deciding what actions to take. This is an ongoing commitment that can also be very rewarding. Example activities include any of the following:

  • Analytics can easily report on something called conversion tracking. This is very useful when used with advertising campaigns, so you can tell which campaigns are resulting in sales (or any other action such as contact request) and which are not.
  • You can filter out visitor traffic that is effectively spam (and yes, there is heaps of this, and unless you filter it out, you will get distorted intelligence on your website performance).
  • You can directly integrate with Google AdWords to help optimise your advertising dollars.

21. Determine how updates will be managed

There are all sorts of updates required to a website, for example:

  • CMS security updates
  • Theme security updates
  • Security updates to CMS third party plugins/ extensions/apps
  • remove or update any broken links.
  • take advantages of new features

It is not difficult to apply updates, however, since it is not required regularly it can be easy to forget to do until you find you have an issue.

To be diligent in this area a backup will be taken just in case there is an issue during an update. In addition, the update will be applied to a test site first so that you can confirm the updates apply correctly. This approach means your updates just work.