What not to do: How to build a website for your business that isn’t completely terrible


Bench PR managing director Jocelyn Hunter says simplicity is key in website design. Source: Supplied.

It’s 2019 and while the internet is a major part of the lives of most Australians, 59% of small-business owners apparently don’t have a website.

That’s according to domain host GoDaddy, who have released findings from a research project into the subject.

GoDaddy, whose findings closely mirror other recent research projects, says many businesses feel their company is too small (44%), or a website is too expensive to build (30%), so they’re avoiding it altogether.

Having a website doesn’t have to break the bank though, and while it may seem like a daunting task, plenty of business owners have gone through it.

Plenty of businesses with websites are also now switching to new ones or updating their existing platforms.

With that in mind, SmartCompany spoke to some small-business owners with experience to find out what they would and wouldn’t do again.

Avoid freelancers, hard coding and be prepared

Sharon Melamed is the managing director of Matchboard, an online company which matches suppliers with businesses.

Two months ago she moved her website from a custom-built platform to WordPress and actually had to create a second identical website to house the engine powering Matchboard’s matching platform.

“I started hearing: ‘I think it’s a fantastic business but your website looks a bit outdated’,” Melamed said about the six-year-old site.

“You do need to, at the very least, refresh and update the look and feel of a website to keep up with trends and to look like a modern company.”

Melamed’s tips?

  • Give your designer a brief from the start or risk finding yourself emailing back and forth fixing little issues.
  • Test everything on desktop as well as mobile don’t be lazy.
  • Build a buffer into your budget and your timeline. Website design always blows out, Melamed says.
  • Design the website with minimal hard coding, so you can change and adjust the websites text, headlines and images without a developer.
  • If you’re moving websites, make sure you create a URL redirect plan for all your old pages. Melamed didn’t do this and had to go back and redirect 500 pages.
  • Don’t use a freelancer, opt for a developer who you can easily go back to after the website is finished for additional support.
  • Platform-wise, go with something there’s lots of development support for. There are plenty of niche platforms, Melamed says, but WordPress has a massive community of developers and troubleshooters.

Don’t want to break the bank? Melamed says one of the hidden costs to websites is ongoing support charges.

“The biggest nasty surprise people have with the website is not the cost upfront but the cost of maintenance and change requests,” she says.

“What they don’t tell you with WordPress is there are so many updates … they can cause issues and then you have to get a developer to fix it in a testing environment.”

Simplicity wins 

Jocelyn Hunter is the managing director of Bench Public Relations and has made five websites for her business in the last 10 years, working with three separate designers.

Her philosophy on a good website is simplicity is a winner, both from a design and operational standpoint.

Hunter’s tips?

  • Visuals and videos are great but think about load times before you go filling a page with lots of multimedia. Customers will find it “annoying” if they’re waiting for too long for your website to function.
  • Opt for an easy-to-use content management system. Similarly to Melamed, Hunter likes WordPress. “We had a content management system on our last website that I hated. Not intuitive. Hard to use.”
  • A good host is also important. Unreliable hosts can lead to website downtime. Hunter uses WP Engine and says while it is a bit more expensive than some others, it is worth it for the reliability.
  • Go for simple content. Hunter says it’s best to explain what your business does in simple terms.
  • Keep it up to date. Consistency is key  if you are going to start a blog do it, or remove it from your website. “Nothing worse than seeing the last post is six months old,” Hunter says.
  • Don’t ever use an under construction page. “Your website should be the old version or the new one, but a holding page doesn’t help anyone,” Hunter says.

Both Hunter and Melamed are big on mobile-first websites. Responsive designs are also important as more potential consumers browse the internet on a variety of devices. It’s important to put your best foot forward.

Happy creating!

NOW READ: Half of small businesses don’t have a business website and only a quarter use SEO: Report

NOW READ: Why this digital marketer is supporting small businesses by standing up to “dodgy” SEO agencies


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Sarah Walker
Sarah Walker
2 years ago

Why is a leader from this firm giving advice on web design, when their own site is terrible? Have a look – awful! The storytelling is pretty average too, for a PR firm.

Nicole Leedham
Nicole Leedham
2 years ago

This is rubbish “Don’t use a freelancer, opt for a developer who you can easily go back to after the website is finished for additional support.” From my experience, freelance developers offer additional support, at a far reduced cost to agencies. Of course, there are cowboys out there. Which is why businesses need to do due diligence. Like they should be doing for every business expense.

Rebekah Lambert
2 years ago

I commented before but it appears to have disappeared. My issue is that you’re lumping freelancers in with rent-a-coders from cheap, eBidding websites. The whole “don’t trust freelancers because you’ll never find them again” is not a problem when you choose a local freelancer with an online presence and website. Just like any other startup or small business, they remain contactable. Just don’t use the cheapy websites that pit talent against each other in a race to the bottom. Choose someone based on their skill and experience instead, and pay them what they are worth. Simple.

Fiona Hamann
Fiona Hamann
2 years ago

I strongly disagree with assertion to avoid freelancers. Avoid the offshore companies that send unsolicited web development offers in badly written emails with hotmail addresses sure…and don’t look for them on those crappy bidding for the lowest price platforms, but in my experience you get a much better service using local freelancers, most of whom have excellent experience and credentials. Just like going with a larger company, you should ask to see their credentials and portfolio to ensure they are a good fit. I have used the services of freelancers for multiple projects and have found them far more attentive to my needs than a larger business would be. I have also found them completely approachable and available after the site goes live for updates etc.

Anna Butler
2 years ago

I fully agree that many small businesses are suffering from lack of a website. It’s an essential business tool and an investment worth the cost.

However, like any business investment, business owners need to do their research before hiring someone to do the work.

If they’re using bidding sites or offshore contractors to do the work – then buyer beware. There’s a reason they say “you get what you pay for”. If business owners are using the cheapest contractors they can find, then chances are they’ll regret the decision. Professionals don’t work for minimum wage – let alone *less* than minimum wage.

In the modern gig-economy, there are many, many reputable, professional freelancers who have been servicing businesses large and small for many years. They might not charge bargain basement prices, but they’re not likely to “disappear” in a hurry either.

They’ll have strong portfolios that potential customers can check for themselves.

They’ll have comprehensive briefing processes to avoid “budget blowouts” due to not understanding the full scope of work.

They’ll provide comprehensive proposals that fully outline what the work does and does not include and what it will cost.

They’ll have comprehensive Terms & Conditions that outline your rights and theirs – and what happens if the scope of work changes, or either of you wish to cancel the job, or if it doesn’t meet your expectations.

And they’ll be registered with ASIC so you can check their legitimacy.

Yes, there are dodgy operators. But dodgy operators operate in all industries. It’s up to us as consumers to do our research, ask for recommendations, and understand that we get what we pay for.

Rebekah Lambert
2 years ago

The issue I have with this article is that they assume “freelancer” means “rent-a-coder”. It doesn’t. Freelancing is distinct from the gig economy. If you want to be able to get back in touch with someone post build and have ongoing support, choose an Australian freelancer that has a profile online. Don’t pick someone via the vulgar eBidding websites that promote overwork, underpayment and exploiting offshore labour. Make a commitment to your branding.