If you’re starting a business, it’s vital you have a website. Even if you’ve been trading for a while, building an online presence is a key channel to increase your customer base. 

As consumers have moved increasingly online, the importance of having a website has rocketed, even for bricks and mortar companies. Customers often turn to the internet first to research products and services, find store locations and opening hours or to buy directly online. Businesses that don’t have a website are trusted less than those that do and miss out on new markets.

Thankfully, it’s never been easier to get online and grow your business digitally.

Read on to find out more about: 

  • The costs of setting up a website
  • A step-by-step guide to building your website
  • Picking a domain name and choosing a web hosting provider
  • Should you pay for a web designer or do it yourself?
  • Pages your website should include
  • Payment gateways
  • Choosing the right images
  • Testing and publishing your site
  • Using social media to promote your site 
  • The importance of SEO
  • Maintaining your website

How much does it cost to set up a website?

A website can cost anything from a small monthly fee to build a simple framework to tens of thousands for something more complex with a large e-commerce component. There are many elements that will affect the cost of a website. If you’re starting a business or on a tight budget, you’ll need to decide which ones you can start with and which ones to save for later down the line.

At a minimum, you’ll need to pay for a domain name and website hosting. Domain names cost £15 to £20 annually on average and hosting can range from as little as £2 per month for a basic service and up to £400 per month for something bespoke. There are optional add-ons too such as site privacy and hacker protection. 

Beyond this, it depends on how bespoke or complex you would like your site to be and whether you use an online website builder or pay a designer to create something for you.

A step-by-step guide to setting up your website

1. Define the purpose of your website

Before you do anything else, think about the primary purpose of your website. This will dictate your website design and how complex it needs to be. If you just plan to use your website to tell potential customers about your company, a simple set-up with a few pages will probably suffice. If you intend to sell online, you’ll need an e-commerce element, and your site is likely to need more pages built.

Consider your customer journey early on. Users won’t hang about. If your site doesn’t tell them exactly what they’re looking for,or is hard to navigate, they’ll bounce off and perhaps visit a competitor instead.

2. Pick a domain name

Picking the right domain name is important. A domain name is the URL (website address) you’ll give to prospective customers,  promote on social media and your marketing materials. Make it memorable, easy to spell and something that represents your business. Try to keep it short, clear and avoid abbreviations or acronyms that could cause confusion.

You also need to decide upon your top-level domain (TLD). This is the bit that goes at the end of your domain name, for example, .co.uk, .com, .net., .org. There are lots more options available now but most people’s go-to is still .com which is seen as universally recognised. If your business operates solely in the UK then you could opt for .co.uk but if you intend to sell abroad or attract foreign clients .com might be preferable. 

Once you’ve decided on your name, check with a domain registrar to see if it’s available. It can be irritating to discover your ideal name has been taken but the registrar will throw up alternatives or you can go back to the drawing board and come up with something different.

3. Choose a web hosting provider

Once you’ve sorted a domain name, it’s time to choose a web host. This Is a server where data is stored and constantly connected to the internet. 

There are two options for this depending on your budget. The first option is a shared server. This costs less but your site is sharing the space with other sites, which means load times might be slower. Paying for a dedicated hosting service costs more but it means you won’t suffer loading issues, which could negatively affect user experience.

Often domain registrars will offer hosting services so you can buy a domain name and sign up to a web host in one place. Typically hosting costs anywhere between £40 to £100 annually for shared hosting and £650 to £2000 for dedicated hosting.

4. Choosing a designer versus doing-it-yourself

Whether you pay a web designer to create your site or decide to build one yourself comes down to your budget and your time.

Paying a designer who specialises in small business website design will cost you more but the right one will have the skills to create a professional website that works well and looks professional. It may take a web designer a fraction of the time that it will take you, particularly if you’ve never done it before. That can be really important when you’re running your business because you simply might not have the time spare to build your own site.

If you would like to build your website yourself, there are plenty of platforms out there with hundreds of templates to choose from, like Wix or GoDaddy. For a small fee each month you can choose a template and populate it with your content and images. Many of these sites will even host it for you and offer domain registration services so you can get everything organised in one place.

5. Pages your website should include

Once you have the fundamentals sorted you will need to decide what pages you need. Your site can be a simple one-page website, or it can have hundreds of pages depending on what your business needs.

The elements contained in many small business websites include: 

  • About page
  • Blog section for news, events and content sharing
  • Social media feed for content sharing
  • Product / services / ecommerce pages
  • Testimonials and / or reviews
  • Other relevant features such as online calculators, tutorials and user guides 

You can set up your site to reflect the industry you’re in. If you’re an online seller, you’ll probably have lots of categories featuring your different products with plenty of imagery. If you’re a builder, your site might be straightforward with just a few pages but a larger gallery of before and after pictures showcasing your work.

No matter how many pages your site has, always ask yourself whether they serve your primary goal. Will this page encourage my customers to buy from me? Does it make people want to sign up? How can I make the user experience more seamless and functional? Can people get in touch easily?

Include strategic calls to action which support that primary purpose such as ‘sign up’, ‘buy now’ or ‘subscribe’. In essence, make the customer journey so strong that they won’t think of visiting a competitor.

6. Payment gateways

If your site has an e-commerce element, you’ll need to install a payment gateway through which you can take online payments. This is straightforward and any e-commerce software you use will normally have a built-in electronic payment system or link up with one. 

7. Invest in good imagery 

A picture is worth a thousand words. Professional-looking images will help sell your products or services. Bad ones will have people leaving your site in seconds. If you can it’s worth splashing out on decent photography to give you the edge. 

Use stock photos sparingly too – you’re better off having photos that specifically relate to you and your business than generic ones.

8. Testing and publishing your site

Once you have all your pages completed, all media uploaded and everything is ready to go, it’s time to test your site. Check it works in all major web browsers and that it’s mobile friendly. Google has also moved to a mobile-first indexing algorithm, so if your site isn’t optimised for phones and tablets, you’re at an immediate disadvantage when it comes to being found online.

You also need to check that all links and buttons work and will direct users to where they are meant to go. It’s worth putting some effort into this before you launch because it will save you from complaints down the line.

Installing analytics at this stage is really important because it can give you lots of useful information that you can use to tweak your marketing and adjust your website as you grow. It will track the number of visitors, which pages they visit and for how long, your bounce rate (the percentage of people who visit one page and then leave right away), new versus returning visitors and traffic source (whether they came to your site organically, through a referral or a pay-per-click ad).

9. Using social media to market your site

One of the best ways to market your site and increase audience reach is by using social media such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, Pinterest, TikTok and Twitter. You can update your audience every time you post something new, have news to share or want to promote a new product.

You should include links to your website, so it drives traffic from your social media pages.

10. Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)

Once your site is live it is worth investing in search engine optimisation (SEO). Your site is competing with millions of others to be displayed on the first page of Google and by making the most of SEO you can increase your chances of making it to the top of those search results. Specialist companies can do this for you, but there are things you can do yourself to increase your presence.  

Choose the right keywords (the phrases or queries that users type into search engines) for your business and include them in your content in a natural way. Creating fresh content regularly, like blog posts, guides, videos, podcast episodes and social media posts, is also a great way of boosting your profile. Google likes sites that are updated often and this means that you have a better chance of appearing on the first page of the search engine results pages (SERP). 

Adding external and internal links to your site can increase traffic. Internal ones lead to other pages on your site, external ones link to high-authority sites. Make sure they make sense in the content and try and link to official or popular sites or linking could count against you.

Optimise your images by compressing them so they don’t slow down the load time of your site and check your site speed — it should ideally load within seconds.

11. Maintaining your website

Update your new website regularly: both the front end where your content and products are displayed and the back end, the working end. You should check the software and plugins monthly and update as necessary — developers will release new versions of software you’re running such as your ecommerce cart and it’s important you install the latest version, so your site keeps running properly.

While you get your website up and running, keep on top of your financial admin with Countingup, the business current account that automates your bookkeeping. With live cash flow insights, automated bookkeeping and simplified tax returns, you can focus on making your dream venture a success. Find out more here.