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« Go Back | Posted in: - on April 30, 2013

The human brain makes connections between beauty and value all the time – which is why it's no wonder that a good-looking, well-presented product has a better chance of selling than its less attractive counterpart.

But whether you’re a beginning photographer or the next Ansel Adams, the good news is that improving your website's product photography isn’t all that hard. Here are five easy ways to go about doing it:

Tip #1 – Purchase a Good Camera

You don’t have to invest in expensive equipment if you're a beginner on a budget. However, taking good quality images for your website's product photography is a must. To improve your images, invest in a good entry-level camera. Your camera phone simply won’t cut it if you're trying to create professional looking images!

When looking for a new camera, look for one with basic options, such as the ability to zoom and take high resolution images. You can find reviews for most digital cameras on websites like Digital Photography Review or CNET Digital Cameras.

Just be careful not to invest in professional lenses or fancy camera gear right now. Over time, you can use some of your website’s income to buy a better quality camera. But avoid all the bells and whistles that professional photographers thrive on for now, as they simply aren’t necessary to create good product images.

Once you've purchased a camera that you’re comfortable with, learn how to use it by reading the user's manual. Carry the camera around with you and use it as often as possible in order to get a good understanding of the features available to you.

Tip #2 – Take Good Quality Shots

Now that you have a good camera, you should find it quite easy to capture a good quality shot. The camera will do most of the work for you, but there are few things that you’ll need to pay attention to.

Make sure that the products you'll be photographing are brightly lit and that there’s no clutter in the shot. Anything that might distract your website's visitors from the product itself should be removed from the shot.

Ideally, you'll want to use a tripod to prevent camera wobbles and to create a sharp image without any blur. And, in most cases, the closer you are to the product, the better your picture will be. Snap a few pictures and review them on your camera screen to see how they’ll look on your website. Once you're comfortable with a specific distance, use it to take the rest of your pictures.

Tip #3 – Take Multiple Shots of Each Product

With digital cameras and hard drive spaces being so affordable, it doesn't cost you any more money or time to take multiple shots of the same product.

When you do so, you'll be able to showcase the product from various angles. To you, this might not matter much, but your prospects will appreciate being able to see your products from all possible angles. Keep in mind that your prospects can't touch, smell or handle your items. All they can do is view the pictures and read the descriptions you’ve provided for each product on your website.

As a result, you should take at least three pictures of every product on your website – including a front view, side view and back view. When possible add a top view, a bottom view and various other angles.

This is extremely important when showcasing a product with notable variations based on the view. As an example, if you’re selling basketballs, then most shots won’t vary from one to the next. However, if you're showcasing cars, food or furniture on your website, you’ll want to provide as many views as possible. It's better to have too many pictures than not enough, so snap away!

Tip #4 – Learn Basic Image Editing Skills

There are a number of different image editing tools out there, making it easy to find one that will suit your budget and skill level. Two to take a look at include Adobe Photoshop (a paid, highly-complex image editing system) and GIMP (a popular free service that allows users to easily manipulate images).

You don't need to become a graphic designer to improve your website's product photography. However, having the ability to re-size images, adjust colors and remove unwanted elements are all basic skills that you'll want to learn in order to gain more control over your product images.

Tip #5 – Enhance Your Website Presentation

At this point, you've done everything in your power to create the types of compelling product images that your website visitors will love. The last thing you’ll want to focus on is giving the images a good home on your website.

Great images on an ugly website will rub your prospects the wrong way. For your website readers to trust you, everything needs to be in alignment. Keep the following website management best practices in mind to prevent your site’s design from hindering your images’ effectiveness:

  • Keep your site’s code clean and light to increase page load times
  • Use a design template that’s simple, professional and appealing to the eyes
  • Make use of short product descriptions (remember – images are worth a thousand words)
  • Integrate tools that allow readers to view large versions of all your product images

If you really want to improve the quality of your website's product photography, you can’t go wrong by implementing any of these tips. Investing a bit of time and money up front can go a long way, as good product photography definitely separates your site from the crowd and increases your chances of converting visitors to buyers. Now stop reading and get to work!

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« Go Back | Posted in: - on April 24, 2013

So you want to build a new small business website… That’s great! But before you start brainstorming colors and design elements, there’s one crucial decision you need to make right off the bat – what domain name you’ll register for your new site!

If you aren’t quite clear on what a domain name is, think about your website as you would forming an offline business. There are two things you need to run a website:

  • A web hosting account, and
  • A domain name

Your web hosting account is like the physical space that you’d rent for an offline business – it’s the digital space your website occupies. Just like you need to rent out an office space, a storefront or a warehouse to hold your company’s goods or to meet clients, your web hosting account holds the code, scripts and other digital resources that make up your website.

Your domain name, on the other hand, is like the business name you registered with either your county or your state when you first started your company. It’s the name that you plaster on your business cards or on the signage in and around your company’s physical location – except that, online, your domain name is formatted like “www.yourbusinessname.com” and entered into web browsers to find your company’s digital location.

If you’re a Homestead SiteBuilder client, the web hosting part of this equation is taken care of for you. However, you’ll still need to select a domain name for your new website. Here’s what you’ll want to keep in mind as you go through this process:

Domain Tip #1 – Look for the “.com”

Choosing a domain name is as much an art as a science, as your whole goal should be to choose a URL that’s memorable to your potential customers. In an ideal situation, your domain name will be so obvious to both new and returning visitors that they’re able to type your URL directly into their web browsers without ever having to Google your company’s name to find your site.

And when it comes to memorability, keep in mind that – for most people – it’s something of a give-in to assume that most domains end in “.com.” Even if they know that your URL uses an alternate suffix (like “.biz” or “.us”), many customers will still type in the “.com” version of your domain name – redirecting themselves to your site only after they’ve landed on the wrong page.

Because these mistakes have the potential to send traffic to your competitors, it’s best to register a URL that ends in “.com.” You might also find it helpful to register alternate versions of your URL (in particular, “.org” and “.net”) to prevent others from encroaching on your company’s web territory.

Domain Tip #2 – Keep your domain name short

Unfortunately, the popularity of “.com” domain names means that they’re much more competitive to register. Don’t be surprised if your first choice URL has already been registered. Unless your business name is truly unique, competition for good “.com” URLs can be intense.

If you find that your preferred domain name has already been registered as a “.com” version, you have two choices. You can either:

  • Register an alternative suffix instead, or
  • Modify your desired domain name.

Because registering an alternative suffix is less desirable for the reasons described above, the better choice is to attempt to register modified domain names. For example, if you’re attempting to register a domain name for your company “Thomas Law Offices” and find that “www.thomaslawoffices.com” is taken, try modifying your URL to something like, “www.thomaslaw.com” or “www.thomaslawoffice.com.”

Just be careful not to go too far overboard with your domain name modifications. Since memorability is so important, keep your URL under 3-4 words. Any longer than that and potential customers will find it incredibly difficult to remember your website’s address!

Domain Tip #3 – Be careful with numbers and abbreviations

On a similar note, watch out for domain name options that involve numbers or abbreviations, as these alternatives can make it difficult to communicate your company’s web address. To see why, consider the fictional example of a company called “Flowers for You.” The company finds that – unfortunately – the URL “www.flowersforyou.com” has already been registered. So instead, the owner decides to register the domain name, “www.flowers4u.com.”

Although this looks like an ideal compromise in terms of being able to secure a “.com” domain that includes the company’s full business name, the owner finds it difficult to communicate the URL to others. When customers ask for the company’s web address over the phone, he’s forced to explain – over and over again – that the “4” and the “U” are numbers and abbreviations, not full words. In addition, customers find it difficult to remember the company’s web address – frequently winding up on a competitor’s page at “www.flowersforyou.com.”

The bottom line here is to keep your customer at the front of your mind when choosing a domain name for your business website. If you’d find it difficult to keep your URL straight in your mind, chances are your customers will too!

Domain Tip #4 – Avoid unintended domain hilarity

Finally, give your URL a good hard look before hitting the “Register” button to ensure that the words that comprise your business name don’t form an unintended second expression when squished together in a URL.

To understand why this is so important, imagine what URL you’d select for a website advertising the vacation destination of Pen Island. Without being crude, I think you get the idea that words that form a legitimate business name when separate can form an entirely different entity when squished together in a URL!

All of that said, keep in mind that your business website URL will become a major part of your company’s advertising presence. Changing your website domain down the road can be a challenging process that may result in lost business, so put some thought into your desired URL and take the time to get this critical decision right from the start.

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« Go Back | Posted in: - on April 18, 2013

One of the biggest reasons that small business owners cite for not launching company websites is a perceived lack of time. If you’re in this position, you’re already stressed by the demands of running a business – how can you be expected to add even more to your workload by building and managing a website?

In fact, running a business website doesn’t have to be that complicated or time-consuming. Though there’s no sure-fire way to estimate the exact amount of time needed to build and manage your site (as a number of different factors will play a role in determining your site’s size and complexity), there are plenty of ways you can save yourself time while fulfilling this vital business function.

Here’s what you need to know:

Time Saving Tip #1 – Use template services

First things first… When many business owners think about building a website, they’re envisioning the “old school” way – the one that requires you to learn HTML from the ground up and painstakingly hand-code every element on your website.

Fortunately, there’s a much better way of doing things these days!

Today, plenty of different services exist that provide basic website templates that can be modified to suit your business’s personality and objectives. In a sense, using these templates prevents you from reinventing the wheel and allows you to save a considerable amount of time over building a new website from scratch.

As an example, if you take a look at Homestead’s SiteBuilder program, you’ll find hundreds of different website templates that you can build on when creating your small business website. Using the program’s drag-and-drop features allows you to add in your own images, text and more – all without ever looking at a single line of code.

Or, if even the thought of customizing your own site template sounds overwhelming, you can always let Homestead’s team of professional designers build a site for you. There’s an extra charge, but you’ll walk away with a fully-functioning website, as well as all the training needed to maintain the site on your own.

All told, taking a complete business website from idea to launch can be done in less than an hour using the SiteBuilder tool (depending, of course, on the size of your finished site). This represents a huge time-savings over building a unique site from scratch, making small business website creation available to all company owners – no matter how crunched for time you may be!

Time Saving Tip #2 – Commit small blocks of time to website upkeep

Now, once your new template-based website is live, it’s important to keep in mind that proper website operation isn’t a “set it and forget it” type of thing. For best results, websites need to be updated periodically in order to appeal to both customer visitors (who love to engage with new content) and the search engines (who prefer to prioritize “fresher” sites in their results pages).

The amount of time your business will need to dedicate to website upkeep will vary, depending on the scope of your site’s content. If, for example, you have a simple, text-based “billboard style” website that doesn’t do much beyond advertising your products and/or services, your maintenance needs might be limited to adding “News” updates periodically in order to keep your site fresh.

On the other hand, if your website includes ecommerce or community-building tools, you may find yourself on the hook for significantly more upkeep. While scripted tools can make managing both of these features more efficient, you’ll still need to commit regular time to updating inventory levels, adding or removing products and reaching out to the community members who interact with your website.

But no matter what the case may be in your situation, one thing you can do to make website management easier is to commit small blocks of time to site upkeep within your schedule. As with so many other things in life, allowing website management tasks to build up and become backlogged can make the idea of taking any steps forward feel overwhelming. To prevent this situation from derailing your investment in your website, tackle tasks while they’re still small by making site maintenance a regular part of your routine.

Time Saving Tip #3 – Delegate website management when possible

Of course, no matter how good your intentions might be when it comes to regular site upkeep, most business owners are likely to encounter either temporary or permanent demands on their time that prevent them from actively managing their sites.

If you find yourself in this position, don’t give up! Simply running out of time isn’t a good enough reason to deny your company the benefits that having a fully-functioning, actively-managed website can entail.

Instead, consider delegating website upkeep tasks whenever your other responsibilities pull you away from your site work. When it comes to delegation, you have two different options:

  • Delegating to a member of your team, or
  • Delegating to an external website management agency

If you’re fortunate enough to have business partners or employees with extra time, ask them to take over certain aspects of your website’s maintenance. As long as you’ve used a template tool like Homestead’s SiteBuilder, it will be easy for even “non-techies” to take over your company’s website responsibilities.

If there’s nobody within your organization who can take on your site’s upkeep, consider bringing on a virtual assistant or website management agency on a regular or a project-limited basis. Homestead’s professional website designers can assist with site updates on a project-by-project basis, or you can look to services like Guru.com or Elance.com for long-term support from an outsourced worker.

So although there’s no perfect way to estimate how much time you’ll spend building or maintaining your website, odds are it’s less than you think. Following the time saving tips listed above – as well as taking advantage of Homestead’s suite of website creation tools – makes it possible for any small business owner to enjoy all the company benefits that a thriving, engaging website has to offer.

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« Go Back | Posted in: - on April 17, 2013

Although the structure of business website can vary wildly (think of the difference between a “mom and pop” retail website and Amazon), most successful sites have a few content elements in common.

So if you’re struggling to determine what exactly belongs on your pages, consider the following guide to what to include on your new website:

Content Element #1 – Important business details

Whether you’re a “brick and mortar” company or an internet-only business, be aware that many of the visitors who land on your website’s pages are looking for specific details about your business’s operation.

As an example, suppose you run a local pizza place. Right off the bat, many of your visitors will want to know:

  • Where you’re located
  • Whether you deliver
  • What your business hours are
  • What your phone number is
  • How to place an order

Obviously, the specific details that are important to your company’s operation will vary, so take a few moments to brainstorm the immediate questions that new visitors on your website might have. Then, place this important information prominently on your site in order to avoid frustrating potential customers.

Content Element #2 – An “About Us” page

Interestingly enough, your company’s “About” page will likely be one of your website’s most trafficked pages – so don’t treat it like an afterthought!

Once potential customers have glanced at your important business details, many of them will want to learn more about the companies they’re thinking about engaging with. This is especially true in situations that involve high-dollar transactions (as in the case of auto repair businesses, lawyers and other well-compensated professionals); since people want to be sure they’re giving their money to the right companies.

To make your “About Us” page sparkle, start by addressing the “5 W’s”:

  • Who are you?
  • What does your company do?
  • When did you start doing what you’re doing?
  • Why do you love what you do?
  • How do you help your customers?

Answer all of these different questions on your “About Us” page, but avoid bogging your content down with unnecessary details. Customers don’t want to know your life’s story – they just need to hear enough about your company’s history and the benefits your business offers to decide to engage further with you.

Content Element #3 – A description of your products or services

Whether or not your website includes some type of ecommerce component, it’s a good idea to include at least a description of any products or services you offer on your site.

If, for example, you’re a teacher offering music lessons, use part of your new website to describe the instruments you teach, the skill levels of the students you take on and what these pupils can expect to learn from working with you.

On the other hand, if you plan to retail products on your website, you’ll want to set up an individual page for every product you intend to sell online. These product pages should then be fleshed out with product images, product descriptions and other pertinent details that will help viewers to determine whether or not to buy. If the process of manually creating multiple product pages sounds overwhelming, look into ecommerce tools that can handle many of these needs automatically.

When it comes to product and service descriptions, you can go as simplistic or as complex as you’d like. There’s no “one size fits all” solution to creating good product pages, but do make it a point to keep your customer in mind. Think through the information that he or she will need to have in order to make the decision to work with you, and then feature this content on your new website.

Content Element #4 – Social proof

Human beings are social animals – meaning that we like to follow the crowd and give weight to the opinions of others. As a result, including elements of “social proof” on your website can be a powerful way to encourage new customers to engage with your business.

When it comes to websites, a few popular ways to incorporate social proof into your pages include:

  • Adding user review sections to your product review pages (a process that can be simplified through the use of review scripts).
  • Publishing testimonials given to your business on a “Why Work with Us?” page (which can be made even more effective through the use of reviewer names, cities and pictures).
  • Sharing reviews that your business has garnered on review sites like Yelp and Google+.

While all of these techniques will require some extra effort on your part, they can be a powerful way to improve the overall effectiveness of your site.

Content Element #5 – A call-to-action

One last element you’ll want to include on your website is a call-to-action appeal. Odds are, you don’t just have a website “for fun.” You have one because you want people to use it to learn more about your business and to ultimately engage with your company in some way.

A few of these different types of possible actions include:

  • Buying your product
  • Filling out a lead generation form
  • Calling your company
  • Subscribing to your email list
  • Sharing your business website with friends

Unfortunately, you can’t assume that visitors will know what action you want them to take unless you explicitly state it somewhere on your website. This is what’s known as a “call-to-action,” and it’s a powerful way to take your website from being a digital billboard to being a functional member of your company’s sales team.

To add a call-to-action to your website, you’ll first need to decide what type of action you want your visitors to take. Once you’ve determined this, make a direct appeal to your customers by featuring your chosen call-to-action on a prominent part of your website. You may need to experiment with different options to determine which call-to-action will be most effective with your audience, but you’ll find that this process is well worth it in terms of increased business and revenue.

While the thought of putting together all of these different content elements might sound daunting, remember that your website doesn’t need to be perfect right off the bat. Do your best to include the elements listed above and to make them as appealing as possible to website visitors, but don’t be afraid to make modifications and improve your website as you go along.

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« Go Back | Posted in: - on April 11, 2013

When we hear the word "entrepreneur," we tend to conjure up images of tech magnates or other computer-based startup business owners. However, the process of small business ownership goes back much farther, with roots stemming as far back as the Middle Ages!

To see how the field of entrepreneurship has changed throughout history - as well as what the startup culture might look like for future generations of enterprising business owners - check out the following infographic on "The Evolution of the Entrepreneur:"

Embed this infographic on your site using the following code:

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« Go Back | Posted in: - on April 11, 2013

As a personal user, you’re probably already familiar with the use of social media websites as a way to interact with your family members, friends and acquaintances in an informal way online. But did you know that these sites can be used to promote your new website as well?

The use of social media as a marketing tool is well-established, although finding a place to jump in and start engaging with your audience can be overwhelming for first-time business users!

To eliminate some of this anxiety, let’s take a closer look at what social media is and what you need to know about using these sites to build awareness for your new website:

What is Social Media?

If you’re completely new to the world of social media, take a second to envision your website as a one-sided conversation between your business and your customers. While your customers might visit your site and interact with the information you’ve published, they aren’t ultimately in charge of the content of this information – making the delivery of information on traditional websites a one-way street.

Social media websites, on the other hand, exist to facilitate conversations between different people. On Facebook, for example, you might log on to respond to a message from a high school friend or to post a message on the “Wall” of a sibling who lives across the country. These types of interactions and more cause social media to resemble a two-way street in a way that static websites can’t.

Currently, there are hundreds upon hundreds of different social media networks that exist – some of which cater to very different types of interactions than others. However, as a business owner, you really only need to be familiar with the most popular of these social networks, as making it a priority to engage with your followers on these sites will ensure that you reach the highest possible percentage of potential customers:

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google+
  • Pinterest
  • Instagram
  • StumbleUpon
  • Youtube

How Can Businesses Use Social Media?

Essentially, forming connections with current and potential customers on the social networks listed above allows you to engage with your business’s followers in a non-threatening way. As an example, posting to your business Facebook page allows your message to be displayed in the News Feed of some of the people who have “Liked” your brand, generating easy exposure compared to other advertising techniques.

Businesses can also use their social media profiles in order to:

  • Improve their reputation as industry leaders – By regularly posting helpful advice and informative updates to your company’s social media profiles, you’ll position your company as a “go to” leader within your space. Though your business’s brand recognition won’t directly result in more sales, it can go a long way towards helping “on the fence” buyers to feel more comfortable purchasing from your company.
  • Provide real-time customer support – When people have questions about your company’s products and services, they want answers as quickly as possible! For this reason, many consumers turn to a company’s social profiles in order to ask businesses for the information they need – rather than waiting for sometimes-lengthy email support response times. Being present and actively engaging your followers in this way is a great way to demonstrate how much you care about your customers, increasing their confidence in buying from you in the future.
  • Conduct market research – Having a two-way connection with real people who have demonstrated an interest in your company can also be incredibly useful from a market research standpoint. Wondering what type of product to add to your shelves? Curious about what type of promotion would encourage the most website visitors to buy your products? Just ask your social media followers and get direct feedback that would otherwise be expensive to gather using traditional market research techniques.

How Can I Get Started?

If all of these different social media benefits sound promising, they should! Social media usage is a great way to connect with potential customers and to expand your brand’s recognition without resorting to expensive, higher-pressure sales techniques.

To get started, the first thing you’ll want to do is to choose 1-2 social networks to focus your efforts on. It isn’t necessary to maintain an active presence on all of the different websites listed above – and, in fact, attempting to do so is likely to tax your marketing time and budget without providing a significantly better return than investing in a few well-chosen platforms.

Instead, do some preliminary market research to determine where your competitors are and where your target market is most active, and then use the results of this research as the starting point for your social media campaigns. Remember, you can always go back and start working with additional networks in the future, so don’t burn yourself out trying to do too much all at once!

Once you’ve chosen the 1-2 sites on which you’ll begin your social media promotions, start by setting up a business account on each service. Some social networks – including Google+ and Facebook – offer business-specific page services that allow you to create a digital “home base” for your business. Others – including Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram – offer a single type of account that can be configured to include your business’s information. Consulting the “Help” section of each platform and searching for business-specific instructions will reveal instructions on how to create your new social media account.

As soon as your business profile has been created, you’re ready to start engaging with your audience! “Engaging” can take a number of different formats, including everything from the sharing of pictures and updates to the purchase of sponsored stories and ads. We’ll cover more of these different strategies in the future on this site, but for now, simply taking the first step of building profiles on the networks that best enable you to connect with your target audience is a great way to get started with social media.

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« Go Back | Posted in: - on April 9, 2013

Suppose you’ve taken the time to write down your business’s most pertinent information, selected a SiteBuilder template design and launched your very first business website. You’re ready to open your digital doors, but wait… Where are all the people?

Unfortunately, websites aren’t an “if you build it, they will come,” type of thing. While it’s likely that some potential customers will find your website by Google searching for your business’s name online, this represents only a small slice of the possible web traffic that’s out there. For this reason, your website’s presence must be paired with a solid traffic generation strategy in order to achieve the best possible results.

Typically, visitors reach your website through a number of different channels:

  • Paid advertisements
  • Organic search engine optimization (SEO)
  • Referral websites

Each of these different traffic systems has advantages and disadvantages; it’s important to recognize the strengths and limitations of each alternative in order to target the traffic sources that will best serve your website.

For example, paid advertisements represent the banner ads that are placed in the “Sponsored Ads” sections of the search results pages, as well as any banner ads that are embedded in other websites (either through direct placements or ad buying programs that distribute banners to a large number of sites). Although paid advertisements can be a great way to build quick exposure for your website, they can be costly – and managing a positive paid advertisement campaign ROI is something that’s best left to more skilled webmasters.

Organic search engine optimization (SEO), on the other hand, is a traffic channel that’s available to all webmasters of all experience levels. To understand what SEO is, it’s first important that you understand a little bit more about how the search engines work.

Every search engine – including Google, Bing and Yahoo, among others – uses a series of automated programs that navigate across different websites, processing their content and storing a copy in their databases for later use (this process is known as “indexing”). Then, whenever a user searches for a particular query, the engine utilizes its series of algorithms to determine which of these stored index pages represent the best possible resource for the user’s needs.

In Google’s case, these algorithms consider more than 200 individual factors about a given web page automatically when determining whether or not to include it in the results that are displayed to the user. And while Google and the other engines never reveal the inner workings of their algorithms, savvy online marketers have uncovered many of these different factors through the process of experimentation – revealing a series of techniques that can be implemented both on and off a site to make it more attractive to the search engines’ indexing programs.

As an example, including a phrase for which you’d like your site to appear in the search engine results pages (known as a “keyword”) in the page title tag of your individual web pages is one SEO best practice that demonstrates the relevance of your page to the keyword query.

If that sounds confusing, don’t worry – we’ll discuss SEO techniques in more detail in future articles on this site. For now, what you need to know is that SEO represents a low cost way to get your website found by a number of potential customers, making it a great option for beginning webmasters to explore.

One last general traffic generation strategy you’ll want to be aware of is referral traffic – that is, other websites that link back to your own and funnel visitors your way. A few different examples of referral traffic sources include:

  • Social media sites
  • Business directories
  • Business review sites
  • Sites on which you post guest articles
  • Product reviews that mention your company

In this case, a potential customer might see your business mentioned on one of the sources described above – say, a post that references your brand on Twitter – and then click through the link to visit your website. Referral traffic can be a very attractive source of new website visitors, given that it’s largely free to generate and that being mentioned by referral sources gives your brand additional credibility that you may not yet have on your own as a new website.

Again, we’ll discuss different techniques for generating referral traffic in the future in new posts on this site. What you need to keep in mind at this point is that traffic generation must be a priority for every webmaster out there – no matter how new or advanced your site may be. And while there are several mechanisms that can be used to fuel the growth of visitors to your site, it’s up to you to determine which technique best suits your needs, your budget and your overall comfort level with online marketing.

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« Go Back | Posted in: - on April 2, 2013

After years of working with small business owners, we’ve heard every excuse under the sun for why any given company doesn’t need to have a website. “But my industry isn’t technical,” we hear as one common refrain. Another excuse, “I just don’t have time to build a website right now,” comes from business owners who haven’t kept up with just how simple website construction can be these days.

Using tools like Homestead’s SiteBuilder, you can have a new website up and running within an hour, for a very affordable fee. So whatever your excuse may be for not having a website, it’s time to give it up! The following are just a few of the reasons your small business needs a web presence built ASAP:

Customers pre-qualify the businesses they’ll work with in the future by checking their websites

According to research conducted by marketing agency Hubspot, as many as 78% of internet users conduct product research online before pursuing a transaction. This encompasses both users who are looking for places to buy products online and those who are conducting research on local businesses that they’ll eventually go on to buy from.

To see this effect in action, think about how you pre-qualify the businesses you’ll work with in your own life. If you’re looking for a new auto repair mechanic, you probably won’t just drive around your neighborhood and drop your car off at the first shop you find. Instead, you’ll take the time to read reviews and check websites online, using the information found throughout this process to determine where you’ll eventually spend your hard-earned dollars.

As a result, if your business isn’t online, you’re missing out on a crucial part of this product and business research process – simply being found by your customers in the first place!

Not having a website risks losing business to your web-savvy competitors

However, you aren’t just at a disadvantage if your website isn’t available for this initial consumer research period. Your chances of coming out on top of a future customer’s decision-making process become even slimmer if your competitors are more active online than you are!

Smart businesses recognize that having a website is a non-negotiable part of their marketing and branding initiatives. Even companies that sell sub-par products or services are aware that many of their deficiencies can be overcome through the deployment of a professional-looking website (when it comes to courting new customers, that is). We all judge books by their covers – so if your customers can’t even find your “book” (or website, in this case), you’re starting off from a much more negative brand perception than your web-savvy competitors.

If you don’t have a website and your competitors do, you’re losing out on business – plain and simple. Take an hour or so today to set up your first business website in order to avoid missing out on even more potential sales in the future.

People are already talking about you online – with a website, you control the conversation!

Another interesting thing to consider when it comes to the power of business websites is that, even if you haven’t yet taken the time to set up any kind of web presence, your customers are doing it for you!

Whether or not you have a website, your customers can leave reviews about your business on sites like Yelp, Google Reviews, Facebook and Twitter. And believe me; they’re doing this – even if you aren’t aware that the process is occurring.

Now, truth be told, simply having a website won’t prevent your company from receiving negative brand mentions online. However, when you have a website of your own, you at least have a voice in the conversation. With a website, you can respond to reviews, introduce product feature improvements designed to remedy past negative reviews and showcase your product or service’s better features – but you can only do this if you have a site of your own.

Having a website makes you discoverable through GPS, review sites, social sites and more

Of course, getting “found” online doesn’t just happen through Google and the other search engines. Increasingly large numbers of people rely on external sources of information – including everything from their GPS units to review sites, social sites and more – to discover new businesses in their area.

But what you, as a business owner, need to recognize is that many of these new services pull company information from the websites of businesses in any given area. Many of the business discovery systems listed above rely on their ability to read local websites and gather pertinent company details – which is why having your own site can play a major role in helping your business to be found by potential customers.

If you don’t yet have a business website, take the time to create one that prominently features pertinent business information (including your telephone number, your address and your business hours) to improve your odds of being featured on one of these services. And if you do already have a website, make sure this information is easily accessible to both website visitors and the indexing programs that pull company details for business discovery systems.

Website sales can add a significant revenue stream to your bottom line

One final website-owning advantage to consider is that your new site can also add a potential new revenue stream to your company’s finances. These days, setting up a functional ecommerce system on your site is as simple as clicking a few buttons, adding inventory to your digital shelves and collecting the money you’ve earned. There’s no more hand-coding your shopping cart or manually processing every transaction that occurs on your site – especially if you take advantage of pre-built ecommerce systems like Homestead’s.

Even if your business doesn’t ever plan to make the leap to physical product sales online, simple ecommerce systems can be used to sell gift cards and other digital download products – adding a new stream of income without significantly increasing your overhead and/or management time.

By now, it should be clear that your small business website needs a website. Whether you’re most concerned about the ability of future customers to consider you in their product research, about controlling the conversation that exists online surrounding your brand or about the potential revenue a business website can generate, the bottom line is the same. Building a website for your company offers a number of different business advantages and has never been easier to do. Get started today to see for yourself!

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« Go Back | Posted in: - on April 2, 2013

Our last article gave you insights on why all small businesses need to have websites has hopefully convinced you take the leap into website ownership. If not, go back and read through all of the different benefits that come with website ownership. It is important to embrace a digital presence as an important marketing strategy.

But unfortunately, making the decision to build your own website is only half the battle. Now, you’ve got to actually go about doing it!

And while you don’t need to be an expert coder or a technical genius to create a professional looking website, there are a few basic guidelines you’ll want to keep in mind. Pay attention to the following lists of “do’s and don’ts,” and you’ll set your new website up for success – now and in the future!

What to do when building your website:

  • Work with the Sitebuilder tool and templates in order to minimize both cost and design experience needed

These days, you don’t need to hire a website developer or marketing agency to create a custom site for your small business. In nearly all cases, starting out with SiteBuilder and a good design template represents a much more cost-effective website creation solution that’ll help you to explore the world of web management before deciding whether or not it’s necessary to invest in a totally unique design.

To get started with a template website, sign up for a free trial of Homestead’s SiteBuilder tool. When you decide to go ahead with Homestead’s offerings, be sure to take a look at our Design Gallery to get a feel for all of the different styles and types of websites that can be built using this program. We’ve got thousands of designs in all sorts of industries, making it easy to find a template that will meet your business’s needs.

  • Choose a template that suits your business’s personality

When choosing between the different designs that are available from Homestead’s SiteBuilder templates, take the time to carefully consider the industry and “personality” you want your site to convey.

For example, are you a forward-thinking, innovative startup, or are you a more traditional professional services firm? If you’re a young, modern company, your website design should reflect this in your choice of bold colors, contemporary fonts and innovative layouts. Or, if your business leans more towards the traditional, consider darker colors, serif fonts and layouts that convey a more professional feel.

  • Make priority information easily available for customers

Once you’ve chosen a template, your first priority when crafting your website’s content should be to make priority information as easily accessible as possible. At this point, do your best to keep things simple. You don’t need to have all of the bells and whistles you can envision in place at your site’s launch – as you can always come back later to expand your site with advanced features like shopping carts, order status updates and more as your webmaster skills improve.

Instead, take a few moments to brainstorm what pieces of information your customers will first be looking for when they arrive on your site. A few examples of this priority information could include:

  • Who you are
  • What your business offers
  • Why a customer should choose your products and/or services
  • Your business hours
  • Your business phone number
  • Maps and directions
  • Any current promotions your business is offering

Highlight the specific pieces of information that you believe will be of the most interest to your customers, and then look for ways to feature this content prominently on your new website.

  • Allow for regular website updates

One final consideration to make when building your first business website is that nobody wants to land on a dead website! If it’s clear to visitors that your site hasn’t been updated in months, their estimation of your brand will diminish as a result.

The easiest way to do this is to integrate a blog or news section into your SiteBuilder website. Doing so provides you with an easy opportunity to add regular website updates without disrupting your main content. Adding new posts to this type of system helps to keep your website looking “fresh” and avoids turning off site visitors who would otherwise choose to engage with your brand. Again, keep in mind that you don’t need to have advanced features like a blog or a news section in place when you first open the doors to your new digital presence. Start with the simple priorities described above, but keep the importance of a feature that allows for regular updates in mind for future website revisions.

What not to do when building your website

  • Pay tens of thousands of dollars for custom designs you don’t need

If you’re a small business owner contemplating the creation of your first website, it’s nearly impossible to know what kind of site will suit both your preferences and your customers’ needs the best. As a result, you could settle on a particular design style in your head – only to find out later on that the website you visualized in your mind doesn’t really resonate with customers. This isn’t a problem if you’ve kept your costs to a minimum and started out with a SiteBuilder template design that allows you to easily make changes and swap out underperforming elements with those that’ll work more effectively. It is, however, an issue if you’ve invested thousands of dollars into a custom design right off the bat. Instead, start small and remember that you can always upgrade as your webmaster skills develop.

  • Turn your business website into a billboard

One of the biggest traps small business owners fall into when creating their first websites is to replicate their static marketing pieces on their sites – effectively turning them into digital bill boards.

Think about the websites you enjoy most. Chances are, the sites that stand out in your mind aren’t those that are composed of a few unchanging pages. Instead, the websites you remember are those that are packed full of engaging elements and interactive features, like social sharing tools, blogs and user review sections.

If you want your customers to love your new site, show them you care by turning your website into a thriving community on its own.

  • Pack your site full of unnecessary bells and whistles

At the end of the day, your website serves a single purpose – to advance the growth of your business by reaching out to online customers. So while it’s very possible to pack your site full of all the latest interactive bells and whistles, these features may, in fact, wind up distracting website visitors from actually engaging with your business.

Instead of overwhelming consumers, take a step back and integrate only those features that provide some sort of measurable, tangible benefit to potential customers. As with clothing choices and accessories, less is more – for best results, try removing extraneous website features to see if your site’s performance improves.

Certainly, there’s more to running a successful website than following such a simple list of guidelines. However, by keeping these guiding principles in mind throughout the site creation process, you’ll provide your business with the foundation it needs to function effectively – and profitably – online!

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« Go Back | Posted in: - on April 2, 2013

Hello there, and thanks for visiting the new Homestead blog! Since 1996, we’ve been honored to help more than 12 million customers build attractive, easy-to-manage and affordable websites, and now we’re pleased to introduce our newest resource – the Homestead community blog.

Going forward, our goal is to turn this site into a one-stop resource for small business owners who are interested in launching websites and maximizing their companies’ online performance. Here’s what you can expect from future posts on the site:

If there are any specific topics you’d like to see us tackle in future articles, please don’t hesitate to let us know! And again, thanks for stopping by. We’re happy to have you here and look forward to sharing plenty of great website building tips with you in the future.

  • Regular updates – We’ll be posting new content to this blog at least 2-3 times a week going forward, so be sure to subscribe to our RSS feed to be notified whenever new articles are live. For your convenience, you can also follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Google+ for access to even more exclusive subscriber content.
  • Actionable advice on how to get your small business website up and running – We know that, as a small business owner, you’ve got a thousand different things on your “to do” list. For this reason, we won’t bore you with in-depth web theory or technical information that isn’t really required to run a successful website. Instead, we’ll keep our tips action-oriented and designed to help you get the most out of your new web property.
  • Online marketing tips geared specifically towards small business owners – We aren’t just going to show you how to build a website; we’re also going to help you turn it into a business-generating, profit machine! In the future, we’ll be covering social media marketing, SEO, content marketing and a number of other techniques that you can use to make measurable improvements in your website’s performance.
    Don’t worry – though some of the marketing techniques we’ll cover can be complex, we’ll break things down into easily-understandable, actionable steps that even the greenest of webmasters can benefit from!
  • New product or feature announcements – Whenever we release new features or functionalities for our SiteBuilder tool and other products, you’ll hear about it first on this blog. Be sure to check back regularly for updates on how our latest releases can help your small business take its website to the next level.

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