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Make a Website for Your Business

Nearly every business today has some online presence. It may be an informational website that tells customers about products or services. Perhaps it's an e-commerce site that lets customers buy products directly from the maker and pay for them securely. Social media pages let users and site owners interact with each other and possibly charge fees for the opportunity. Wherever there is a business, there is probably a website letting consumers know about it.

Having a small-business website is no longer optional. What type of web presence should you have? What rules and regulations should you follow when creating a business website? Read on to learn how to optimize the internet for your business needs.

Website Building 101

In the early days of the internet, companies' websites were little more than online billboards. Small-business owners rushed to the nearest website developer and slapped their contact info on a webpage. They gave almost no thought to attracting new customers to the page. Free websites today provide similar services, with nothing more than a name and a street address or phone number.

Things are much different now. You need to tailor your website's design to your market. Your landing page (often called the homepage) must draw users further into the site. Search engine optimization (SEO) terms must conform with sophisticated algorithms used by Google and Bing. Before you start your own website, you should decide what you need your site to do.

Identify Your Business Type

Do you sell a product, such as shoes or hair care products? Or are you in the service business, like being an attorney or a mechanic? Are you selling things that people must go to a physical store (perhaps your store) to buy, or can they order them from you online? Will you use an existing retail platform like Shopify, Squarespace, or Wix to help you handle transactions?

The type of business you operate will define the website you need. A service site should be information-rich and contain one or more FAQ sections that aim to answer frequently asked questions. Product sites will need e-commerce features. Your business plan will help to define the type of website you create.

Identify Your Website Goals

If you plan to use your business website to generate income, you need an e-commerce platform that gives customers a complete catalog of your products. E-commerce websites don't need to be as complex as Amazon, but they must be user-friendly and guide customers easily through from the product to the purchase point.

If your goal is attracting potential customers or clients to your business, your site must contain information to draw customers in. Web design for these sites usually includes contact forms and links to other pages on the site that customers may find helpful.

And if you're in the legal field, FindLaw can help you get the word out about your services as an attorney. At lawyermarketing.com, you'll find business development solutions that can be tailored to your practice. FindLaw aims to empower solo, small, and midsize law firms to successfully build their brands and connect with legal consumers to grow their practice.

Domain Names

domain name is the key part of your website's Universal Resource Locator (URL). When people talk about a web address of "www.something-or-other.com," the domain name is the "something-or-other" in the middle. The domain extension — .com, .net, .biz, .us, .org, etc. — is also considered a part of the domain name. You need a domain name that's similar to your business name, reasonably short, and unique.

You can search domain names at the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). If your proposed domain name already exists, you must think of another. Things to avoid with your domain name:

  • Names that are too long or complicated to type
  • Names that sound like another name or are easily misspelled
  • Trademarked or copyrighted words (like "starwars.com")
  • An X or XX in your domain name, which will likely catch traffic from users assuming your website has pornographic content. It may also result in some web filters blocking your site

You will want your own domain name. Free website builders may claim to throw in a free domain name when you buy a web design package. This usually gives you an address like www.yoursitename.webhostname.com. These URLs — technically just subdomains — are signs of an amateur or startup business and are not recommended. You're not likely to sustain business growth if you just pick a free plan.

Building Your Website

You can build a simple website with the aid of templates. Today, good web hosting sites provide sophisticated website designs for all types of sites for reasonable fees. These sites may include custom domain names for a small additional charge. The fee is worth having your own domain name.

Website templates are customizable to the extent that you can put your own images and content into predetermined spaces. You are usually given a specific number of pages sufficient for a small business, with the option to add more. Images are usually drag-and-drop with some on-screen scaling, and you can upload text from standard formats like Microsoft Word. These systems are intuitive enough for beginners to use for basic site-building. They may even offer free tutorials that let you customize a little more.

For more complex sites or when you want something special, you need a professional web developer. The best website builders are not cheap but will give you flexibility and control over the final product. If your site has an interactive catalog — for example, if you run an online store, and other people will be adding products to your site — or if you have more than one person blogging for you, a professional site builder is essential.

Web Hosting and Content Management

A web hosting company maintains your website on its server so customers can access it. Web hosting services are not always the same companies that provide the software to make your website. Most often, a web development company will charge one price for the site template and add an additional charge for web hosting services. Otherwise, you can take your site and place it on a different hosting provider or your own server.

A content management system, or CMS, is like a more advanced version of a website builder. A good CMS automatically installs and updates plug-ins that make your site visually attractive and easier to use. It contains SEO tools and marketing tools for ease of use. It also makes it easier to add information and updates. Not all website builders have a CMS, or the system may be an add-on to a basic website purchase.

If you want a popular website that can pull in customers and land at the top of a Google search, you need a good CMS and good search engine optimization. If your CMS has installed Google Analytics or a similar ranking software, you can see where you appear in searches and assess your marketing strategies. You may need some customer support to explain what your ranking means.

Social Media, Blogging, and Podcasting

Social media isn't just for keeping up with family, former classmates, and far-flung friends. Social media outlets are vital for everything from sharing business tips to holding classes. Your business is no different. Some business website builders include plug-ins that allow you to create and link your Facebook or YouTube page to your own site. This increases the functionality of your site and pulls in more traffic.

Using social media effectively comes with a steep learning curve. Fortunately, professionals can assist you with developing the know-how to write and post blogs and create professional podcasts. You can also purchase content from other providers and post it on your site. If you don't have time to keep your site active, it's better to have a company providing content than to let your site grow stale.

See FindLaw's Internet and E-Commerce section for related resources.

A Store Is Born

E-commerce, already more pervasive than many people ever imagined, exploded when the 2020 pandemic shook up consumers' shopping habits. With even more shoppers on the web, more businesses moved their catalogs online, aided by increased bandwidth and more powerful mobile devices. Customers used to shopping in a company's brick-and-mortar store instead placed orders by tapping their phone screens.

Creating an e-commerce store requires a few extra steps. You must be PCI SSC compliant to accept credit card payments online. The Payment Card Industry (PCI) Security Standards Council oversees online safety and remediation for breaches in credit card transactions.

There are several ways to handle online transactions through your bank. You must have proper encryption and use their preferred payment service (Zelle, PayPal, and Venmo are the most common bank transfer systems). You can also accept debit or credit cards online, although you will need to charge appropriate taxes and transaction fees depending on your state.

When You Need an Attorney

You might not need a business attorney to set up your website, but if you're going into e-commerce, you may want to consult one. Selling online involves more than just posting a picture of your product and waiting for orders.

Some states require that you pay sales taxes on internet transactions. You must provide shipping and handling information compliant with state and federal law. You may need to file a patent if you want to protect your trademarks or copyright. Talk things over with an internet legal professional before you need one, not after.

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