What Type of Website Do I Need?

So, you’re putting your business online, by building a website. But you’re not sure where to start. There are different types of websites and there is too much information online about the different types. What do you do?

All websites are not created equal. This post will explain what type of website you should have, depending on your business needs.

There isn’t just one kind of website. There are, for our purposes, at least three kinds of websites:

  1. out-of-the-box sites
  2. CMS sites
  3. Custom sites

You can think about these three types in ascending order of complexity. Unless you plan on making all sorts of changes to your site all the time, you likely just need the out-of-the-box variety.

 

Out of the Box Websites

In the last few years, a new type of website has emerged allowing people with zero knowledge of website design and coding to create their own websites. These are known as “out of the box” websites because they are pretty much ready to use after you purchase them. Here are the major providers:

Who Should Use an Out-of-The-Box Site Creator?

If you just want a webpage for your business, say you just want a place for people to look you up, or find your contact information, this is for you.

If your business provides a product or service that is easily presented in pictures, I’d recommend Squarespace.

These sites even support e-commerce so if you are planning on selling items on your site, but you don’t want to make many changes to your site, this is also a good option.

However, if you want access to the “back end” of your site, or you want to customize elements of your site, these services are not for you.

 

Content Management System (CMS)

The most common type of website currently is a CMS or Content Management System. A CMS is software for a website that allows you, the average person, to do things to your website that used to require a coder or a designer, or both. The three most common CMSs are:

  • Drupal
  • Joomla
  • WordPress

All three of them are written in PHP, which is a programming language for the web. That’s not seemingly something you need to know, but there are different web languages and the advantage of these being written in the same language is that, theoretically, your site can be moved easily between them.

 

WordPress Above Everything Else

Though all three CMSs have their supporters and detractors and their pluses and minuses, Wordress is the most popular which has some distinct advantages, namely that you will be able to find templates and wordpress-centric designers and coders for WordPress much more easily than for the other two.

The short of it is: When in doubt, choose WordPress.

Drupal and Joomla are good for certain specific requirements, including very large sites, among other things, but are unlikely to be necessary.

Anyone can set up a WordPress site, just like anyone can set up an out-of-the-box website, there are a couple of extra steps with WordPress, but they are way easier than you’d think.

 

Custom Sites

It’s hard to come up with a reason, at this point, why you should pay someone to create a custom site for you.

If you need something really, really specific – say, a completely customized checkout process that meets security standards imposed upon you by regulatory body – you might (I stress might) need a fully customized site built from scratch.

But most of the most successful companies on the internet now use CMSs for their websites for the same reason small business owners should: a CMS removes the need for a developer on staff.

So if you are thinking of hiring someone who is offering you to build you a website, do not go the custom route without making sure you really, really need it. (This is especially if that person or company offering to build you a custom website is offering you a deal to build your custom site. They’re doing this specifically because they know a custom site will keep them employed after the site is built.)

 

Conclusion

When it doubt, go with a CMS. Really, when in doubt, go with WordPress. If you have specific needs use Drupal or Joomla. Or if you are really, really uncomfortable online, then use an out-of-the-box site creator. Don’t go custom.

Do I Need a Website?

If you haven’t already, please read “When Word of Mouth is No Longer Enough,” where I discuss why you might want to have a business online.

Everyone tells you that your business needs a website, don’t they? And the truth is, they’re probably right.

 

Am I Getting Enough Business?

The first question you should ask yourself is, are you getting enough business offline? Are you getting enough business from the following sources?

  • referrals
  • offline advertising (flyers, direct mail, billboards, Yellow Pages, radio and TV ads)
  • walk-ins.

If the answer is “I am getting enough business,” then maybe you don’t need a website. But, if you are planning for the future, it’s still worth thinking about getting a website. I suggest reading my post about referrals as the source of your business to see if you can subsist on them.

 

Am I Happy with My Knowledge About My Clients?

The other major question to ask yourself before you build a website is, “what do I know about my clients?” and “do I want to know more about my clients?” For example, would you like to know more about

  • who your clients are
  • what your clients do for a living and for fun
  • where your clients are from
  • why your clients chose your business
  • how your clients found your business.

Because the other advantage a website will give you is it will give you the ability to learn more about your online clients than you have ever known about any of your offline clients.

 

You should ask yourself these questions before you hire someone to build your website because, just because everyone else has a website, doesn’t mean that every single company needs a website. (Look at key cutting services – they don’t have websites.)

 

When Word of Mouth is No Longer Enough | What Type of Website Do I Need?

 

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What the hell is SEO?

Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. It’s online marketing jargon for a category of things that a site owner can do to make their site perform better online, all other things being equal (and they’re not).

But so often SEO is treated like some kind of mystical spirit. I cannot tell you the number of times I have heard a business owner say “I need SEO” or “I need my SEO to be better” or, more honestly, “What the hell is SEO, anyway?” I’ve even heard people within the online marketing industry use the term in such a way that I wasn’t sure they knew what it means. And that’s okay because it’s not something most people know the definition of.

Because SEO was one of the earliest acronyms coined to describe online promotion techniques, it has remained the most mysterious. PPC (Pay Per Click) is not mysterious at all: you pay someone (Google, Bing, Facebook) to display your ad. It’s simple. Not SEO.

This is because what SEO is has changed over the years, at least in terms of techniques, if not the end goal. And it’s also because SEO is not one thing, it’s a set of things.

I think the best way of thinking about SEO is by breaking it down into two categories: non-technical SEO and technical SEO.

 

Non-Technical SEO

When I say “non-technical” what I mean is that anyone can do this kind of SEO. As noted at the top of this post, SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. The goal is to make your site as appealing as possible to the search engine (principally Google these days), and ideally more appealing than your competition.

There are various ways of doing this but the biggest and most important has always been the use of keywords – words that your potential customer or client is using to search for what you provide.  If I am running a Vietnamese restaurant just outside of Gerard Square mall, I need to think about which keywords I want to use to get people to come to my restaurant. Here are some possibilities off the top of my head:

  • Vietnamese East End
  • Vietnamese Gerard Square
  • Pho East End
  • Pho Gerard Square
  • Pho Gerard
  • Vietnamese Gerard
  • Etc

In the early days of search engines, you could “stuff” these keywords into the top of the page and rank really high in the search results. (Un)Fortunately, those days are long gone.

But you still need to tell your prospective customers where your Vietnamese restaurant is located, so you need to make sure that the content on your site contains all of these keywords and more while, at the same time, making sure your content is readable, user friendly and answers the questions of your visitors. Google (and Bing) uses a whole host of metrics to determine whether or not people like your site once they find it, so you can’t just list off a bunch of keywords and hope for the best.

There are other aspects to non-technical SEO – such as meta-tags, which sound technical but are not – but basically it all amounts to the same thing: showing Google that your site is relevant to a particular group of people.

You can do this yourself. Seriously. (I can show you how.)

 

Technical SEO

The other side of SEO is the technical side. In this case ‘technical’ means that it involves working with the code of your site at some level. (Truth be told, there are a few aspects of non-technical SEO that can involve your code, but many CMS have plugins so that you don’t have to touch the code.) And that means that you usually need a developer to do this stuff for you.

Basically, technical SEO involves making sure your site complies with the standards set by Google (and Bing, to a much lesser extent) in terms of how your website operates. This includes things like the load time of your site (how long it takes for a page to display to a user) and whether or not your code is following Best Practices. These things need a developer to fix, but you have a ton of free resources online that can tell you what’s wrong before you go out and hire developer. So there’s some good news.

Continue reading “What the hell is SEO?”

Social Signals and What They Mean

Everyone tells you that you should use social media for your business. So you start using it, you post some of your content, and maybe some other content you like and…nothing happens. Nobody clicks on your links, your traffic doesn’t increase and, worst of all, there are no new sales. What is happening?

Well, to really make use of social media for your business that requires engagement. And engagement requires you to both spend time on social media – rather than just occasionally posting a link – and to interact with people – whether or not they are potential customers – on social media.

Today we’re going to look at the basic social signals on four of the biggest social networks and examine what messages they send so you can engage with the right people to both get your content shared more widely and to get leads.

Continue reading “Social Signals and What They Mean”

How to Set Up Google Search Console (Webmaster Tools)

Once you’ve set up Google Analytics, which will let you see your visitors, you should also set up Google Search Console (which used to be known as Google Webmaster Tools), which will tell you about your site’s health, how it complies with Google’s requirements for a good site experience, and other information. It seems confusing, but basically think about it this way:

  • Search Console is for basic site information
  • Analytics is for site traffic (visitors)

Don’t worry! You don’t need to a be a webmaster to do this! Once you have your Analytics account set up it’s actually quite easy.

Go to google.com/webmaster or webmaster.google.com:

Home page

Click on the green button.

Once you are in the console, you want to “Add A Property,” which is the red button in the top-right:

Add A Property

Then you put your url in the pop up. Click “Add.”

Then you will be asked to verify your account.

The “Recommended method” to verify your account is usually to upload a file to your server.

Recommended Method

That’s not something you’ll have to do if your site has already been added to Analytics. Instead, you can click on “Alternate methods”:

Alternate method

And then once it’s verified you will be able to use Search Console to see your site health. Also, Google will email you with suggestions about how to make your site better.

We’ll cover how to use Search Console in a later post.

 

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Is Google Analytics set up and working on your site?

Recently, one of my clients launched a new site for a program he just recently launched. He was really proud of it and rightly so; it looks beautiful. So he showed it off to a colleague. One of the first things the colleague noticed is that Google Analytics was not installed on the website. This is a great reminder of one of the fundamental lessons for small business owners setting up new sites: your developer does not do SEO and will not set up any tools unless you ask them.

Do I Need Google Analytics?

Yes, yes you do. Unless you either a) don’t want to know what traffic is coming to your website or b) have an alternative program that you know and like (and then you wouldn’t be reading this post…), then you need Google Analytics. It is a requirement, one of the fundamental requirements of having a website.

If you’re not comfortable setting up, your developer should have zero problems setting it up for you. But you must ask your developer to do this. I have launched many websites and in every single case the developer did not set up Analytics until asked, or I did it myself.

More than once I have gotten angry with a developer for not setting up Analytics but later realized that I had never asked him to do so. Once again: Don’t assume your developer will set up your Analytics account.

 

How to Set Up Google Analytics

  • If you’re using wordpress, as most of you are, setting up Analytics is quite simple.
  • If you are using a different CMS, such as Joomla or Drupal, the process is different but not that much more complicated.
  • If you are not using a CMS, then it will require a developer.

 

Using WordPress

  1. Once you are logged in to your site, find “Plugins” on the left-hand side menu. Click on “Installed Plugins.”
    Wordpress plugin menu
  2. Click “Add New”
    Plugins
  3. In the search field type in “Google Analytics Dashboard for WP” or some combination of those words. You do not have to pick this plugin; it’s just my preferred plugin for Analytics. But it’s worth looking at both the installs (800,000 in this case) and the star rating before picking the one that’s right for you.
    Add plugins
  4. Click “Install” and then “Activate.” If you can’t activate it from the same screen as you installed it, you will have to go back to “Installed Plugins” to Activate it. How you do this will depend upon which version of WordPress you are using.
  5. Go to analytics.google.com. If you don’t already have an Analytics account, you will have to create one, either with a gmail address or with the email address associated with your business and your website.
  6. Once in the Dashboard, click on “Admin” and then click on “Create New Account” on the left panel of the Admin page.
    Analytics: create new account
  7. Complete the steps to name your account and property. Don’t forget to pick the correct time zone.
  8. Go to the plugin’s “Settings” and click “Authorize Plugin”
    Plugin authorization
  9. “Get Access Code”
    Get Access Code
  10. “Allow”
    08-analytics-wp
  11. Paste the code into the appropriate field in the other tab, which should still be open, and save the code. Double check that the UA number is the same in your plugin and your analytics account!
    Same UA number!
  12. Save changes and you’re now tracking your website visits!

Congratulations, you now have Google Analytics set up on your wordpress site.

 

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Why Not to Use PDFs for Your Content

One of my clients asked me the other day if he should be publishing his blogs as pdf files. I reacted in abject horror which probably shocked him and seemed inexplicable. So I explained myself but we realized that this may not be so obvious to small business owners. I mean, PDFs are really handy, why not use them?

There are many reasons not to use PDFs for your every day content but I will cover two of them in this post: the first is a “user experience” (UX in the lingo) reason, the second is a efficiency/practicality reason for you, the business owner.

Continue reading “Why Not to Use PDFs for Your Content”

When Word of Mouth is No Longer Enough

You’ve been relying on your friends and your happy clients to spread the word about your business. But what happens when your word-of-mouth referrals dry up?

I suspect this is the fear of every small business owner who relies on referrals. Fortunately, the internet has made it possible for us to get clients another way, without relying too heavily on referrals and without paying for expensive advertising in print, on billboards or on TV or radio.

Internet marketing – or digital marketing – allows the small business owner to both better target their marketing efforts and to handle these efforts ourselves, if we’re willing to spend the time.

There are four main types of digital marketing:

  • Content Marketing
  • Pay-Per-Click Advertizing (PPC)
  • Search Engine Optimization (the infamous SEO)
  • Social Media Marketing

No matter which methods you choose, all of these methods are cheaper than conventional media advertizing and all can be handled by you, the owner, if you are willing to commit the time to learning how. When done properly, they will also provide you with leads on a far more consistent basis than word of mouth referrals.

 

Content Marketing

Content Marketing is basically the use of “content” – blogs, videos, podcasts, reviews, and other internet content – in lieu of traditional advertizing. This blog post is an example of content marketing – I give you some information for free in the hope that you will not only like the information but come to trust me as an expert and a person you can trust.

 

Pay Per Click (PPC)

PPC is the most famous kind of digital marketing – it includes both the ads you see when you use Google or Bing, and the banner ads you often see on websites. Think of PPC as the ability to have an online billboard, but have that billboard shown only to people who are looking for words related to your services, and this billboard doesn’t stay in one place. Also, you only pay for the billboard if people look at it.

 

Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

SEO is the basic, ground-floor building block of digital marketing but the industry is jargon-obsessed and so understanding what it is and why you do it can be hard to figure out. The short version is that SEO is all about compliance of your website with the best practices dictated by Google (and Bing, to a lesser extent). That’s all it is. It isn’t a secret sauce for huge traffic and leads. It can be done well and poorly and the effects of either aren’t always apparent. But it is necessary in the long run so that you will get “organic” (i.e. unpaid) search engine traffic to your site. There are both technical and non-technical aspects to SEO, and the technical stuff will require a developer.

 

Social Media Marketing

The trendiest form of digital marketing is also the most misunderstood (well, outside of SEO) and most time-consuming. You should engage in social media marketing only if your product or service can fit into one or more social networks and you can spend the time to perform it consistently. If you can’t do both of those things, there is no point whatsoever.

 

I will be covering all of these topics in more detail in the future but know that you do not have to rely on referrals. You can become a master of some or all of these marketing techniques which can support your referral marketing efforts going forward.

Email me any time at riley dot haas at gmail dot com or find me on skype at riley dot haas.

 

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Do I Need a Facebook Business Page?

If you’re a small business owner or solopreneur, whether or not you need a Facebook business page to market your business on Facebook depends upon why and how you use Facebook. Facebook business pages can be useful, but they’re quite limited in what you can do with them in terms of outreach. So, what do you use Facebook for?

  • If you have been on Facebook for years, you need a Facebook business page.
  • If you haven’t used Facebook personally, but intend to do so at any time in the future, you need a Facebook business page.
  • If you are not comfortable “being your brand,” then you need a Facebook business page.
  • However, if you have not used Facebook for social or personal reasons and you are comfortable being your own brand, you shouldn’t use a Facebook business page as your principal Facebook marketing strategy.

Facebook was originally intended as a social tool. It is still a social tool, but it is being used increasingly for business. If you have not put up photos, personal posts or expressed personal opinions on Facebook that you might not want associated with your business, then you can use your profile to promote your business, rather than a page. Why would you want to do that?

Well, because a Facebook page is limited in how it can interact with potential customers – someone has to interact with your page before you can contact them. Your profile page is not limited in this way: you can approach new people regardless of whether or not they’ve ever heard of you (or indicted to Facebook that they’re interested in your business). Mind you, you still have to respectful, follow good social media etiquette and not come across as hunting for profits but, provided you do those things, you’re in much better shape using your profile to perform outreach, rather than your business page. (Note: you should still have a business page!)

But, if you like Facebook for the connections it allows between your friends and family, or you want to give that a try, using your profile both for personal connections and your business is unwise and I would strongly recommend sticking to a business page if this is how you intend to use Facebook.

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Create a Google Brand Page


After you create your website, there are few things more fundamental to being found online than having a Google Business or Brand Page. This video gives basic steps for how to do that for those who are not digital natives.
The Google Brand Page allows users to find your brand and your site through Google’s search engine even if your individual pages may not be ranking that well. It also provides a place for customer reviews to display right in the search results, allowing potential clients to learn about your previous successes. It is an essential part of any small business marketing endeavour.

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