Create a great website

Every business, no matter how small or new needs a website. And not just any old website – a good professional-looking one will do wonders for your business, but a bad amateurish-looking one will drive customers away.

Related: How to get your website noticed

How it works

If you are at all technically minded, you can design a basic website yourself, using an online website builder such as Moonfruit.com, Wix.com and Basekit.com which provides a selection of templates to choose from. The simplest versions are free – you pay for the more complex ones by the month.

However if your website is going to be in any way complicated – requiring an e-commerce facility, or video content, or complex search function, for example, then you need to find a website designer to work with. The best way to find a good one is by recommendation – go to a networking event for small businesses being held in your area and ask around. If that doesn’t produce anything, draw up a list of websites which you like the look of and contact the designer direct – they will have put their name or business website at the bottom of the home page.

However, you decide to go about it before you get going you need to think about three things:

1. Will the purpose of your website be to provide information only, or do you want to sell your products and services through the site?

2. Will your customers be primarily in the UK, or will your website be viewed by a global audience?

3. Are you planning to write a blog, or upload video content, either now or in the future?

4. Take a look at the websites of your nearest competitors – what functions do they have that you will need to offer too, and what functions have they missed that you could add to yours to give you the edge?

How to make a website look good

1. Use black text on pale or white backgrounds to make it easy to read. Never put white text on a black ground – it is very hard work to read

2. Don’t put too much information on a page – it will look crowded, messy and amateurish

3. Make sure your website is clearly and logically laid out and is easy for your customers to navigate their way around.

4. Include a few well-placed high-quality pictures and images

5. Avoid flashing banners, neon colours, exclamation marks and anything that could potentially give your customers a headache. The whole idea is to create something pleasant to read where customers will be happy to browse and linger.

The practicalities

1. Start by creating a diagram – called a sitemap – that shows the structure of your website, including the proposed content, navigation and layout of your web pages.

2. Use wireframes to plan out the structure of your website. This allows you to create a skeleton of your site that shows the basic elements you intend to include. The wireframe is made up of labelled boxes that illustrate the overall navigation and the blocks of content that each web page will contain. The wireframe can be drawn using packages such as Word, PowerPoint or Illustrator, or just with a pencil and paper.

3. Make sure your website is coded onto a good content management system such as WordPress so you can easily change and add to content yourself without having to rely on an IT expert to do it for you.

4. Host it on a reliable server such as Godaddy.com which promises a 99.9% uptime guarantee.

5. Don’t make it so high tech that it requires the very latest Flash technology to function properly which your customers may not have.

6. If you want to offer an e-commerce function on your website so you can sell your products or services, but are daunted by the cost and effort of building your own from scratch, a simple option is to bolt on a Paypal shopping cart and checkout, which will enable customers to pay by credit or debit card. It is straightforward to add on and requires no upfront cost – instead, you pay Paypal a percentage of each transaction.

Things to consider

If you have set up a limited company or a limited liability partnership, for legal reasons your website must also include your:

  • registered name
  • registered office and geographic addresses
  • registered number
  • place of registration
  • VAT number (if VAT registered)
  • membership details for any trade or professional association

Tip top one

If you use the services of a website designer, make sure you agree upfront that they will be handing over the intellectual property rights to you at the end of the project, together with all the relevant login details and instructions.

Top tip two

Get friends and family to try out your website before it goes live to check that it works as it is supposed to. Pages that don’t load properly, links that don’t link – there are a hundred different snags that can turn a professional looking website into something half-baked.

Useful resources

WordPress.org

Moonfruit.com

Wix.com

Basekit.com

Godaddy.com

Case study

Will Sussman, who lives on the Isle of Wight, saw bookings rise almost overnight when he revamped the website for his chalet holiday company Meribel Ski Chalets. He says: ‘I made silly mistakes on the original website, such as white print on a blue background. We changed it to black on white, made it all much clearer, got a new logo and spent money on nice images.’ His revamp worked. He says: ‘In less than a week I had phone calls from customers saying they were booking because they loved the website.’