10 things SME operators need to know about websites
If you think that over time, the web is getting easier for smaller business operators to understand and manage, think again.
While a web presence is becoming more and more affordable for them, the majority of smaller business operators I come across are both bewildered and befuddled by this complex and ever-changing stream of business.
Just as they think they have grasped the medium, yet another significant development comes along and moves the goalposts yet again.
In no particular order, these have included website “platforms” (as distinct from “show only” websites), social networking, the Open Source movement, eCommerce and more. Underlying these changes have been developments in the actual development languages and code – far too many (and to a degree irrelevant) to discuss here.
Little wonder smaller business are the slowest adopters of new technology.
So in an attempt to provide you with up-to-date “rules of engagement” of creating a website, here are the key things a smaller business operator should know about websites.
1. The six key components of a website estimate
When you get an estimate for a professional website, it should contain six key components:
1. Design: the overall look and feel of the website, though if on a tight budget this can be provided in the form of a design template.
2. Content: Your words, pictures and downloadable documents you wish to include on your website. In turn, this content needs to be optimised for search engines to ensure you appear prominently on Google et al.
3. Technology: Either the act of “building” your website using a range of web development tools or a ready-made, off the shelf website platform.
4. Project management and co-ordination: Pulling together these often disparate elements requires much time and effort.
5. Support: Technical and technique support once the website is completed.
6. Hosting: The provision of server space to allow your website to be published onto the world wide web.
All of this needs to be underpinned by good usability – ensuring all the actions your website visitor needs to make are easy and intuitive.
If your estimate fails to provide any of these elements – ask why.
2. “Licensing” far more affordable and maintainable than “building”
As outlined here many times before, the notion of having a website “built” (that is coded either in html or by using a website design software) for most smaller business is both out-dated and unnecessary when off the shelf website platforms containing all the tools you will ever need are now so affordable. The saving on one of these versus the developer alternative? Anywhere between 50% and 99% depending on the provider.
3. Scalability – ensuring your website grows with you
There’s nothing worse than needing a new feature or content section of your website only to be told that that work will cost you more than your original website! This is not uncommon at all. Therefore it’s critical to understand what this term means and ensure your new website has it. A good way to do this is by creating a future wishlist of features businesses in your industry typically require and getting budget indications of having them added later. This can save you much money and pain down the track.
4. Integration – ensuring all your systems talk to one another
Duplication of data is a killer for business today, when most is unnecessary. Try to have your website integrate with as many “data capturing” applications as possible, such as customer database, email marketing system, financial systems and more.
5. Never consider your website “finished”
This is a very common failure of smaller business as they consider websites as a “finished product”. But a website that has a completion date is one that will quickly fall foul of both visitors and search engines. A website is a dynamic document that requires ongoing amendment and refreshment. It needs to change constantly with the variations in your business, product, pricing and information. This means that a Content Management System and a plan for creating new content are both musts.
6. Mac compatibility is critical
Have you ever visited your website on an iPhone or iPad? If not, it’s worth doing so NOW. Due to competitive in-fighting, Macintosh and Adobe (makers of Flash animation and website technology) won’t play ball with each other, meaning any websites built completely in Flash won’t appear on these popular devices. Therefore Flash components in a website need to be kept to a minimum.
7. Be wary of Open Source solutions
Open Source refers to technology that has been created and developed by a community of enthusiasts instead of a company. While it provides a great platform for collaboration and innovation, it also means that the normal business protocols, legalities, support and backing are not included when it is used. Meaning that unlike “proprietary” technology, not only does the buck have nowhere to stop, there is often no buck! They need to be considered very carefully before committing to them.
8. Ensure handover procedures BEFORE building website
What happens when your website developer decides to get a day job? Or go on sabbatical? Or (touch wood) becomes ill? Is your website able to be handed to someone else who can make changes or upgrades to it? It’s a great idea to ensure that your website is able to be handed over to someone else to ensure you don’t get locked out – another common occurrence.
9. Social networking integration useful but not critical
With all the hype surrounding social networking, you would think that any business without a Facebook or Twitter page would cease to exist. When of course they just carry on regardless. There’s no question that the phenomenon is a major shift in the way we communicate, however it is certainly not critical for all businesses to engage in it. But if you are already practicing social networking or plan to in the near future, then ensure your website does integrate with those you have a presence in.
10 . One size does not fit all
Despite what you might hear, there is no single website platform or solution that meets the requirements of all small businesses. Every single business is different and every person within that business is different. This means that in turn, their online requirements are going to be different from the next business. Therefore it’s important to get independent advice on the web solution that’s right for you.
One final word of advice. As in any field, you get what you pay for. So don’t be seduced by offers of cheap or free websites because you will soon find that they are more trouble than they are worth. Worse still, they will drive away website traffic that you never knew you had!
Have I missed anything? Tell us about the critical website factors you have experienced by commenting below.
In addition to being a leading eBusiness educator to the smaller business sector, Craig Reardon is the founder and director of independent web services firm The E Team which was established to address the special website and web marketing needs of SMEs in Melbourne and beyond.