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What every small business owner should know about websites

For a long (and growing) list of reasons, your business website is a must. From helping you find new customers and supporting the ones you already have to giving your business greater legitimacy and marketing power – it can do a lot to make your life as a business owner easier. But half of improving it is understanding how to talk about it. 

Whether you’ve made it this far without one, or you’re looking to brush up on the basics: here’s what you need to know.

Know its goal

Is it just there, or are you using it to its fullest?

In its simplest form, your website is simply a digital business card. But it can be so much more. From helping you get found by new customers and supporting the ones you already have, to marketing, scheduling, accepting payment, educating customers, and collecting data – the scope of what you can accomplish with a little bit of understanding and strategy is incredible. That’s why every business owner should understand the true purpose of their website. How does it play into your strategy? What more could it be doing for you? When it comes to accomplishing your goals, it could be one of the most powerful multi-tools you have.


Know what’s under the hood

Understanding hosting & domain names

You have the keys to your car, and – in a perfect world – you know how to drive it. When it starts making funny noises, you also have a general idea where to look and who to call for help. As a business owner, the same should be true for your website. This starts with hosting. Website hosting is the foundation of everything you see online – and ultimately decides how fast, reliable, and secure you are.

When it comes to making everything work, there’s a few different pieces at play, but at its core – web hosting provides the computer resources, memory, and bandwidth that help your website files appear online. While some businesses with more advanced needs might build and manage their own web server, the most common and cost effective solution is a professional hosting provider. All major hosting providers offer similar features including email addresses, security, backups, around the clock support, and easy integration with the most popular content management systems (CMS) like WordPress – more on that later.

Your website relies on its own ‘supply chain’ to be seen by your customers. Each of these pieces can be managed by a single provider, or a third party. For example: it’s possible to buy your domain name from a company like GoDaddy and also have them host your website files and your email address. It’s also possible for you to buy your domain name from Godaddy, host your website files with a company like WPengine, and get email from Google Gsuite. Many business owners prefer the convenience of an all-in-one solution.

These are the essentials that keep your business running online

Registering a domain name is done with a domain registrar like GoDaddy. This is how you actually reserve and renew your domain name (ex: Example.com).

This is where the files that drive your website are stored. With your domain name and DNS in place, these files are accessible by web browsers.

Your DNS server is what translates your domain name into an IP address. When someone types your domain name, your DNS ensures the internet knows how to serve your visitor the files your web host is storing. Google, Amazon, Cloudflare, and Verisign are all examples of DNS providers.

It’s a good idea for any serious business to have a custom email address, rather than something from Yahoo.com, Gmail.com, or aol.com. This can be a service provided by your web host or a third party like Google’s Gsuite or Microsoft 365.

Where was your domain purchased, and who’s hosting your website?

It’s not uncommon for a business to obtain website services from a provider that handles it all, from buying the domain and setting it up to managing everyday maintenance, security, and upgrades. It’s also not uncommon for a business to not know exactly where a domain was bought or how to access important settings. Fortunately, these things are easy to look-up with a few keystrokes.

How to check domain name ownership and more

  • Option 1: Check your billing records.

  • Option 2: Go to lookup.icann.org, enter your domain name in the search field, then click lookup. This is what you’ll see.


Is it a static site or is it on a CMS?

Content Management Systems (CMS) have become increasingly popular

There was a time when every website had to be coded by hand. In order to make the simplest update, you needed someone who knew the proper coding languages to make your website function. Today, while web developers can still help you accomplish a lot, the fastest and easiest way to get a site you can easily update and grow is to use a content management system like WordPress. Even if you have some more complex needs – like eCommerce, scheduling, and more, there’s a whole marketplace of free (and paid) integrations to help get the job done.

If you have a static website now, converting to WordPress can be a good way to make updates much easier moving forward.

How to tell if your website is a WordPress site:

Visit www.your-website-URL.com/wp-admin. This is the default login page to manage a wordpress site. If your site is WordPress, there’s a good chance this is what you’ll see:

Visit any page on your website right click and select “view source”. Next, use control + F to search for “wordpress”. If your site is WordPress, it won’t be hard to find!


Know what needs to be updated and maintained

Updates help you stay secure and successful

Staying on top of your website is important for a few reasons. From a security and maintenance standpoint, it’s easier for bugs and compatibility issues to rear their ugly head if your website isn’t kept updated. It’s also easier for hackers to exploit vulnerabilities when websites and their features aren’t updated to the latest standards. This can lead to hijacking, fraud, viruses, and more.

At the most basic level, your web hosting provider is only responsible for keeping your website online. Backups, software updates, email archives, and troubleshooting is your responsibility – but most hosting providers offer support for these exact situations for a low monthly fee.

It’s not just reliability and security that you want to stay up-to-date on, though.You also want to be aware of how your website (and business name) appear to the many people and platforms that come across it. After all, your website is the home of your business online. It’s the first impression you make on so many of your potential customers. Like a brick and mortar store-front, does it need a pressure washing? That’s why a digital audit can be such a valuable tool. An audit can quickly and easily identify shortcomings with your digital presence, some of which can be resolved with website updates.


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Know what traffic you’re getting (and how it’s helping)

How many website visitors did you get last month? Did they search for your business by name, or did they use a keyword that you appear for on Google? Are there any pages that people leave immediately?

Many businesses use data or retail analytics, but virtually every business can learn from and take advantage of web analytics. While plenty of paid options remain, Google Analytics (free) sets the standard and is easy to configure with a little help from your website expert.

The amount of information you can gather is remarkable, and there are free courses available as part of Google’s Analytics Academy if you hope to dive deeper. That said, even understanding who’s visiting, what’s bringing them, and which pages on your website are performing the best can give you an invaluable insight into how your efforts are working.

The most common terms you’ll hear when discussing website analytics:

  • Direct traffic: Traffic that came to your site by typing in your exact URL

  • Organic traffic: Traffic that searched for you with a search engine, found a listing, and entered your site

  • Referral traffic: Traffic from somewhere else. Common referrers are often social media sites like Facebook or Linkedin or business directories like Yellow Pages, Yelp, or a local Chamber of Commerce directory.

  • Bounce rate: Bounce rate indicates the percentage of users who left your website without navigating any further than the home-page. 

  • Pageviews / Unique Pageviews: Pageviews refers to the total number of individual views a single page has gotten. Unique pageviews indicates how many fresh, new views you’re receiving.

  • Visitors: the total number of visitors that came to your site in a given period

  • Event: An event is a custom interaction, triggered by user behaviors. You can have events set up to track specific actions on your site, like a button click or a file being downloaded.

  • Goals/Conversions: This is the most valuable action on your website. Whether a user is buying a product, sending an email, or filling out a form – goals (or conversions) can be configured to help you easily track progress and growth.

  • Landing page: A Landing page is the very first page a user visited on your site. Think of it as the front door for a particular user. The beauty of your website is that – through Search Engine Optimization (SEO) you can reliably help each user find the most relevant page of your site as quickly as possible.The more relevant content you provide – the more “doors” your potential customers can step through to your website. Landing page data will show you how you’re doing. 


Know how you’re getting found

and how to improve it…

The Search Engine Optimization (SEO) industry is BIG, and it’s only getting bigger. That’s because getting found online can be a major marketing objective for virtually every kind of business. Whether your focus is local, regional, or national – understanding and optimizing how people are finding your website is a powerful way to use what you’ve learned from data.

Whether you’re doing it yourself, hiring an expert, or you have a marketing expert handling SEO on staff, a key point to understand is that search engines want to deliver the most relevant, high-quality result for a search query. At the same time, they also work to understand whether that search query is localized or not. By doing SEO, you ensure that your business is sending every signal possible that you’ve got the best answer in a user-friendly format.

Recommended optimization efforts will likely include a mix of the following:

  • Keyword research
  • Content creation (including video, FAQ content, and more)
  • User experience improvements
  • Improvements to website speed and load times
  • Mobile experience optimizations
  • Link building
  • Reviews

Know what your plan is…

Will this be the year you complete your digital transformation?

Today, it’s a common customer expectation that your website is an accurate and current representation of your business. If your website is just sitting there online, it’s not working around the clock for you (and it can). If you don’t know how to access your website, your first call should be to your hosting provider. Then, it’s time to make a plan.


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