Building a website. It sure has gotten easier, huh? I’ve been doing it for a long time--for myself, for other people, as a Wordpress consultant, as one of the bright minds behind software that effectively eliminated my original job--you get the picture. I’ve found that there are some pieces of advice that have remained true over the years. Here they are.
1. Don’t pay someone to do something just because you don’t understand it
This might seem counterintuitive, but it’s really important for people starting small businesses to understand this. Small business owners are inundated with proposals from people offering simple services at inflated rates. Website design is one of the most flagrant offenses. When it comes time to build your website, spend some time with a website builder and then compare it with the portfolio of the “professional” trying to sell you a website for $1500. Thank me later.
2. SEO is overrated
SEO is a term often used to confuse people who are new to the internet. It’s important for search rank, but none of those SEO Consultants or “Expert SEO Companies” will reveal the most fundamental truth--high quality, organic, dynamic content served by a website with a generic template is all you need. As in all problems, “optimizations” indeed exist, but they aren’t worth exploring until can be sure they will increase your revenue significantly
3. You can get sued for using images you don’t own
It’s pretty easy to Google search images and use them for various parts of your website and promotional campaigns. Unfortunately, that can be illegal. To save yourself from jail time, ensure that any images you use are marked free for reuse. Or, for pictures really worth having, pay for them.
4. Don’t install thirty plugins
Whether using a website builder, Wordpress, or building a custom website. It’s easy to get carried away with “one-click” installs and “just-copy-and-paste-this-code-once” widgets. Remember how your grandfather’s computer used to have ten different toolbars and Hepatitis-B? Adding too much junk just because it sounds good can have a similar effect on your website, hampering performance and endangering your customers. It’s best to research plugins and make sure you really need anything before you install it.
5. SSL is important
Having a secure site really matters! Google preferentially ranked sites that have valid SSL certificates, and it’s a must for eCommerce. Most website builders provide this feature free of charge. If you are building your own website, it has gotten significantly easier to set up manually, but do not think about taking your site live until you have that little lock next to the URL. Pay someone if necessary. But not too much.
6. Take advantage of locality
If you are looking to set up a business that exists in a physical location, it is simple to make it easy for customers to find you. Don’t let anyone convince you otherwise. If you have a restaurant, for example, make sure to create/claim your business on Google, Yelp, TripAdvisor and other (reputable) directory services. After a few days, you’ll be listed, and your customers will never miss you.
7. If you’re not an artist, your website shouldn’t be a work of art
This is the main way that web developers bilk money from people starting new businesses. Your website needs to plainly represent your brand and convey the information most relevant to your brand. Opening an Italian restaurant? Guess what? People only care about 1. Your hours, location, and phone number 2. Your full menu 3. Anything that affects your ability to operate on that day.
Every small business seems to think that they need to provide historical context and some type of “story” leading up to the grand opening. That is because people are egoists. People searching for your business--especially for restaurants--simply don’t care what you have to say beyond a terse description. Don’t try to be an artist. If your website is that critical to the aesthetic of your brand and you don’t have design skills, hopefully you have a business partner or employee who does, otherwise, you’re in way over your head.
8. Google Analytics is like your weight
Google Analytics is like your weight. Do you own a scale? Yes. Should you integrate your website with some type of analytics platform? Yes.
Is it healthy to check your weight every day? No! And you won’t see much progress. In the same vein, you shouldn’t check your Google Analytics results on a daily basis either. It can be discouraging when, in reality, you might be making meaningful progress, just not on a day-by-day scale.
9. Never upset anyone who knows your password
Originally, I used to give this advice to people who purchased website design services. Guess what? If you stiff a web developer, he can take your site down. Similarly, it’s important to safeguard your website passwords just as you would any other password. Any disgruntled employee or associate can pretty much destroy your business with a couple clicks if you share an administrative password carelessly.
10. Neurosis is bad
All these Superbowl ads have led you to believe that your website very possibly might be the most important thing in the world, haven’t they? Well, don’t be neurotic about making small updates to your website because, in the case of most (all) small businesses, it doesn’t matter at all. Instead of spending a few hours every week changing fonts and rearranging your columns, think critically about why your business may not be doing so well or, simply, just write a blog.
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