To succeed online you need a great business website. The trouble is it can be a minefield finding the right people to build it, the right content management system (CMS) to run it, and the right web strategy to help your business grow.
So to get the lowdown on buying a website and the more technical side of online communications, I talked to Johnny Spence, a web-developer who runs Oscarrweb! out of Barcelona.
As well as knowing his way around web code and developing great business sites, the great thing about Johnny is that he's an awesome communicator and blogger. Vist his blog: The Freelance Rant
We chatted over email and twitter between Spain and Stockholm.
Jon: Getting started with online content marketing means you need a website. As a web programmer, what do you think a business should be looking for in a web site or CMS?
Johnny: There are thousands of possibilities for a business website with a budget to match. Rather than picking a CMS and going from there, you should ask yourself the following to start planning a website:
- What is my budget?
- What is the purpose of my business website (advertise, inform, both)?
- Will I need to update my website on a regular basis?
- Will I need to expand my website in the near future?
- Will I need a blog?
Then the next step is to find a recommended web designer/developer and consult on a solution with the above needs in mind. Better yet, if you know of a freelance designer you communicate with on Twitter or other social media, hit one of them up.
Jon: There are SO many different kinds of CMS out there. How does a business user know what's right for them? And how do they make the right choice?
Johnny: There really isn't a wrong choice for a CMS whether it is a custom made or utilizes one of the widely available open-source softwares such as WordPress or Drupal. It does have to suit needs and for a website though. So, before deciding on one, you will want to have a test run with a similar CMS with a developer to see if you will be comfortable with what you will be using.
As a general rule, WordPress is great for a business website with an emphasis on a blogging platform and is the most cost friendly to implement since it is so popular. Drupal is good for a larger scale website, with or without a blog, but development costs can run higher. A custom CMS, however, can be made how you like it and is generally easier to use, not having all of the complexities of a commercial CMS.
Due to the custom and/or proprietary nature of a custom CMS, though, costs can run higher and, if you decide to migrate to a more commercial CMS in the future, you could incur more costs there as well.
Jon: Small businesses just starting out probably aren't going to have a massive budget to develop their website. There's always a battle between investing in the “visual stuff” and “technical stuff”. If you're on a tight budget what's essential if you're looking to use a website as a place to market your company?
Johnny: For starters, if you are on a tight budget, you really don't need all the bells and whistles to put up your website. Sure, we all have visited business websites that wowed us at some point and have wanted exactly that. A clean, simple website would serve your purpose just as well though. At the very minimum a business website should have:
- Your logo integrated with a simple design that reflects your business.
- A page describing what you do and services you provide.
- A page with a history of your company. Bios of employees would be great here too.
- A contact page with a form.
A simple static site with the above can be the most cost friendly solution and, if you decide to have a blog, you can utilize free accounts at WordPress.com or Blogger and link to it from your static site. One issue, though, is that if you decide later that you want a CMS to manage your business website, then you'll run into development costs to migrate your site and blog.
An alternative is to utilize WordPress as your CMS platform and have a free or low cost professional theme (such as one from ThemeForest) installed. Later, when you want a more customized look to your business website, creating a new theme design for your WordPress site won't break your bank. Plus, website migration won't be necessary.
Jon: As a web developer, what's your take on blogs? Do you think they are ideal for a first website for small businesses or is it better to integrate a blog with a more static site?
Johnny: I think blogs are a great extension to your website but only if (and I mean a big if) you are committed to it right from the start. I don't know how many websites I run across with “blogs” containing posts that are years old and really don't say anything meaningful. This pretty much says “Hey, I have a blog like everyone else but I have absolutely no idea what to do with it.”
I would say it is more important to have a more static business website first, then integrate the blog at a time when you know you can commit to it and write good content on a somewhat frequent basis. One of the best examples of this is with one of our hosting partners Brownrice Internet. They started their blog last January and added it as a part of their main website that has been around for a few years.
It doesn't have much as far as content but they used it properly from the start in writing some good articles and posts that keep their customers up to date on issues with their service.
Jon: How difficult is it to move from one CMS to another? For example, say a business starts out with a WordPress install and then outgrows it? Is it better to think big from the start?
Johnny: Well, it's nice to think big right from the start, but it definitely is not necessary when just starting out. Unless you suddenly become one of those new hot commodities on the web (not typical) you won't outgrow the non-commercial CMS software out there such as Drupal or WordPress. Starting with either of those, will scale well from the beginning and will easily handle the steady (or sudden) growth.
One thing is important to consider at the start which is your web hosting. It is very important to choose a provider that has a reliable uptime and one where you can easily upgrade your hosting to suit increasing traffic needs. Shared hosting is fine in the beginning, but you will likely find a need for dedicated hosting down the road if traffic reaches epic proportions.
Oh, and one last thing. If you use a commercial CMS, plan on regular upgrades which are important to the security of your website. The last thing you want is a hacker attack on that shiny new website of yours.
Bonus Question: Tell us about a business website that you think rocks in terms of the way the whole package of technology, design and content hangs together.
Johnny: I'll give you two here:
The first is Zen Habits. It may not be a business website per se but its simplicity should be a model for any website, business or not. It is also important to note that it uses just the everyday WordPress with a custom theme and handles over two million page views a month. Did I mention the great inspiring articles too?
The second is Sober World Travel. This is a website I did with Desert Elements Designs for a recovering alcoholic who's business is organizing alcohol-free trips around the world for other recovering alcoholics. I'm really intrigued by this niche and love how this theme works out perfectly with the design and content. It uses a simple custom CMS to manage it too. Of course, I'm a little biased here since I programmed it 😉