Your website is one of your most important marketing tools. For many customers, it is the first interaction they have with your business. For others, it’s the place they visit to order your products or communicate with you about their experience. While there are a variety of ways to build a small business website, the good news is that it doesn’t have to be confusing or complicated. In this guide, we’ll walk step by step through the process of designing and building a website for your small business.
About the Writer
Kelly Main is a Marketing Expert and Staff Writer at Fit Small Business. She is an experienced marketer with a background working with businesses of all sizes and growth stages, from pre-launch startups to Fortune 500s. She is a former Google Tech Entrepreneur, an Apple App Developer, and she holds a Master of International Marketing from Edinburgh Napier University.
Building a new website for your business can be both exciting and a bit daunting. That’s why I recommend taking a moment to familiarize yourself with a few important aspects before you dive in. By doing so, the process of building your site will not only be easier, but more efficient. While it can be tempting to just sign up for different website builders and jump right in, taking the time to make sure you’ve planned out your site can save you time, frustration, and even money later on.
Designate a Project Point Person
Before you begin, always designate a point person. No matter what you do from here on out, you need one person who can champion the project and steward it through the entire process. Having one person who is responsible and accountable for the overall project will help keep it on track.
Identify the End Goal of Your Website
When building a small business website, you want to have a clear goal as to what you are looking to ultimately achieve. These days, websites serve as advanced marketing tools, and having an end goal will set the stage for creating a path to reaching that goal.
Common website goals:
- Drive awareness
- Generate leads
- Generate phone calls
- Book appointments, consultations, or reservations
- Increase online sales
- Drive offline sales
Building a Website: Hire an Expert vs DIY
A major decision a business will make in regard to its site is whether or not to hire an expert to build it on their behalf or build it themselves. In the past, building a business website would require a degree of technical expertise, and so most businesses would leave their site-building to the pros. Now, a large majority of businesses opt to build their site—even if they don’t have web design experience—thanks to the abundance of tools that make it easy.
When to Hire an Expert
Those looking to build a site with unique capabilities, advanced customizations, and potentially custom coding might want to hire an expert to build their site. Even those who aren’t looking to reinvent the wheel when it comes to their site may want to outsource to a pro if they simply lack the time or want the peace of mind of having a professionally built site.
Considering hiring an expert if:
- Your website requires advanced customizations and coding
- You lack the time or bandwidth to build in-house
- You would prefer your site to be fully managed by the experts on an ongoing basis
Pro tip: It is possible to affordably outsource your web design needs to the professionals. For example, at Hibu, you can get your site professionally designed for as little as $99.
When to Build Your Own Site
With an almost endless list of platforms and tools, it’s possible for nearly anyone to build a small business website without any technical or design experience. Businesses that are looking for an affordable option without complicated capabilities and are willing to spend their time building a site are good candidates for a website builder. Another benefit of building your own site is maintaining full control and the ease of managing it in-house.
Consider building your own website if:
- You have time to commit to building your site (no web design experience required)
- You’re on a tight budget
- You want full control over your site and plan to manage it in-house
Pro tip: It is possible to build a WordPress with no technical abilities using a drag-and-drop site builder plugin, such as Elementor or Beaver Builder. Both enable you to easily build a site with WordPress.
What to Expect: How to Build Your Own Website
Building a website is easier than ever, and small businesses will find that they can create a professional website without any web design experience thanks to the easy-to-use platforms and tools available. Businesses can build a website in as little as five steps: choose which content management system (CMS) platform to build a site on (e.g., WordPress or Squarespace), get a domain name, choose a template or theme, customize your site and build web pages, and finally review and launch it.
Pro tip: Gather Your Visual & Copy Assets (+ Checklist)
A good way to save yourself a lot of time when building your business website is to collect your site visuals (i.e., photos and videos) and copy before you begin building it. Collecting information and assets, such as your business logo, your color scheme (including color codes), fonts, sitemap, copy, media, and social links, will help make the process a lot smoother and faster.
Here’s how to create a website in five steps:
1. Choose Your Platform
Before you can begin building your small business website, you first need to decide which content management system (CMS) to build and manage your website with. The most popular platforms include WordPress and drag-and-drop site builders such as Squarespace, Weebly, Wix, and GoDaddy. Deciding which is right for you and your business will depend on your web design experience, site needs, budget, and time available.
WordPress vs Website Builders
Businesses have a number of options when it comes to how their site can be built, from WordPress to drag-and-drop website builders such as Squarespace or Weebly. Generally, businesses with some technical experience (or willingness to learn) that require a highly custom site with unique capabilities should choose WordPress. Businesses looking for an easy way to build a professional site will likely find site builders to be a good solution.
Finding the Right Website Platform
Businesses have a number of options when it comes to where to build a site, from WordPress to all-in-one website builders such as Squarespace or Wix. Which is best for your business will depend on your unique set of needs, e.g., do you have any technical experience, how much time do you have to build a site, does your site require any custom elements, whether or not you want to manage the site in-house, and what your budget is.
Still on the fence about which website building platform to build your small business website on? Get the complete side-by-side breakdown of the leading platforms, including full pricing, ease of use, features, inclusions, customer reviews, and customer service in this guide on the best website builders.
Get Web Hosting (for WordPress Users)
While WordPress is a free CMS platform, it does require users to purchase web hosting separately in order for their site to be available online using a custom domain (e.g., www.yourbusiness.com). The leading web hosting companies offer affordable plans, such as Bluehost, which has plans that cost as little as $2.95 per month.
Pro tip: Save time and money by choosing a web hosting plan that includes a free domain and one-click WordPress installation, such as a Bluehost plan for as little as $2.95 per month.
Choosing a Website Hosting Company
Those building a website with a CMS such as WordPress will need web hosting, and while there are dozens of companies to choose from—each with nearly identical plans—each offers different features and inclusions. Choosing the right web hosting plan for your website needs is important and can also save you a lot of time and money, given extras such as a free domain, free business email, and a free SSL certificate.
Web Hosting Providers Compared
Best overall for low-cost, feature-rich hosting
Businesses that need unlimited storage
Highly-flexible, commitment-free hosting
Web hosting and a site builder-in one
Starting Price w/12-Month Contract
Contract Lengths Available
12, 24 & 36 months
1, 3. 6, 12, 24 & 36 months
1, 12 & 36 months
3, 6, 12, 24, & 36 months
Free Domain Name
✓ - w/annual plan
✓ - w/annual plan
Free SSL Certificate
Free Business Email
5 free email addresses
1 free Microsoft 365 email
Non-refundable (when services are rendered)
24/7 via live chat and phone
24/7 via online live chat, email, and by phone
24/7 via the user dashboard
24/7 via phone and live chat
Bluehost is the best overall web hosting provider given its extensive list of features and extras combined with competitive pricing. Annual plans start at $4.95 per month but cost as little as $2.95 per month with a 36-month contract. Plans include everything a business needs to start and manage a website, such as a free domain name, a free SSL certificate, free business email, and 24/7 support via live chat and phone.
HostGator is the leading web hosting provider for low-cost plans with unlimited storage, making it the best for media-rich websites such as a portfolio website or online store with a large volume of product listings and images. Plans start at $5.95 with a 12-month contract or as little as $2.75 with a 36-month contract. On top of unlimited storage and bandwidth, plans come with a free SSL certificate, a 45-day money-back guarantee, and 24/7 support.
DreamHost is an award-winning web hosting provider that is highly flexible with month-to-month plans and an industry-leading money-back guarantee of 97 days. Plans start at $3.95 per month with a 12-month contract, as little as $2.59 per month with a 36-month contract, or $4.95 for month-to-month. Plans come with a free domain, an SSL certificate, a 100% uptime guarantee, and 24/7 customer support via the user dashboard.
GoDaddy is the best web hosting provider for businesses that are looking for a low-cost way of building a website using a drag-and-drop site builder because GoDaddy plans include the use of its site builder. Plans start at $6.99 per month with a 12-month contract or as little as $2.59 per month with a 36-month contract. Plans include a free domain, business email with Microsoft 365, 24/7 support, and a 99.9% uptime guarantee.
2. Get a Domain Name
The next step is to choose a domain name, which is the address of your website, such as www.yourbusiness.com. Domain names cost around $12 to $15 per year using domain name registrars such as GoDaddy or Google Domains, but businesses will often get a free domain through their web hosting plan or site builder plan, so it’s worth choosing a hosting plan that includes a free domain or checking if your website builder includes one for free.
Getting the Right Domain
A domain name serves as a way to identify and access a website. Every professional business website needs to have its own domain name, or web address (e.g., www.fitsmallbusiness.com). Domains can be purchased individually for around $12 to $18 per year through domain name registrars. However, businesses may get a free domain directly through their web hosting plan or site builder.
Choosing a Domain for Your Business
In an ideal world, your domain name would match your business name. However, many businesses struggle to find an available domain name. If your desired domain name isn’t available, try to find an alternative domain that is easily identifiable and memorable by including your business name and adding keywords or indicators, such as business location.
When choosing a domain name, keep the following in mind:
- It should be easily identifiable
- Make it memorable
- Include your business name
- Keep it short (e.g., www.sealevelbar.com)
- Consider adding keywords (e.g., www.joespizza.com)
- Consider adding indicators (e.g., www.jrlawdallas.com)
When registering a domain name, another factor to consider is whether to publicly or privately register it. A publicly registered domain costs less than a privately registered domain, but a private domain comes with the benefit of keeping your information private, such as your name, location, and contact information. In return, you will also receive less spam by hiding your domain name registration information from the public. Learn more about choosing a domain name.
Check If Your Desired Domain Name Is Available
Where to Get a Domain
Businesses can get a domain name in a number of ways, from purchasing a domain name from a domain registrar, such as Namecheap, to getting one for free with a web hosting plan with providers such as Bluehost and Squarespace. For more guidance, read our article on domain name registration.
Three ways to get a domain:
- Domain name registrars (e.g., GoDaddy, Domains.com, Google Domains)
- Web hosting providers (e.g., Bluehost, GoDaddy, DreamHost)
- All-in-one site builders (e.g., Squarespace, Weebly, Wix)
Pro tip: Before purchasing a domain name, check that you’re not eligible for a free domain name. The top web site builders and web hosting companies include a free domain name with its plans.
Getting Business Email With Your Domain
On top of getting a free domain name with web hosting plans, many web hosting providers also include free business email with plans. Instead of purchasing a business email separately (which costs around $5 per month per email with providers such as Gmail), businesses can save money by choosing a web hosting plan that includes free business email. Learn more about how to get free business email addresses for you and your staff.
3. Choose a Template (or Theme)
Whichever platform you decide to use to build your site, you should choose a prebuilt template or theme before you begin building out your pages. This will not only make the web design process a lot easier, but your website will look professional regardless of whether or not you have web design experience. Most of the popular site builder platforms include libraries of free templates or themes, and some even allow you to upload your own.
4. Customize Your Site & Build Web Pages
Next, make your site your own by customizing the template you choose. We’ll cover this more with step-by-step instructions for each of the most common site builders, but the general process is the same for each.
Be sure to add your business name and logo, change the color scheme to match your branding, update the header and footer, and add web pages to suit your website needs. For example, a restaurant website would have a webpage for its menu, whereas a site for a professional photography business would share its portfolio of work using a gallery page.
5. Review & Launch Your Site
Once you’ve finished building out all your web pages and your site design, review your site. Double-check for any typos, test that your site is responsive and mobile-friendly, and that you don’t have any mistakes such as a broken link. After reviewing your site, launch it through the platform you built it on by clicking “Publish.”
Build Your Small Business Website
Now that you’ve chosen a platform and are ready to actually build out your website, I’ve created a series of tutorial videos to walk you through the process using the most popular site builders. In addition, we have a collection of articles that explain the process and help you create an effective website for your small business.
WordPress is one of the most popular content management systems, and is a great choice for businesses that want a highly customizable platform to build a website. While it does require a little more technical know-how than some of the other site builders, there are plenty of plugins and tools that make it relatively easy to build an affordable website that meets your company’s needs. In addition, with our guide, you can have your site up and running in just a short amount of time.
Squarespace is a drag-and-drop site builder that specializes in providing users with professionally designed prebuilt themes. As a result, most businesses can build and launch a site in a short amount of time with almost no technical experience. Squarespace includes themes for almost any business, including restaurants, ecommerce sites, professional services, nonprofits, and real estate, with affordable monthly subscriptions with everything you need, including a domain and business email address.
Weebly is a low-cost way to build a small business website using prebuilt themes that can be customized for your business. It’s an especially good choice for businesses that need a simple website that can be customized to match its brand. Weebly may not have some of the advanced features found in WordPress, or even Squarespace, but the intuitive drag-and-drop designer makes it easy to get a site up and running without any design experience.
Building a Website Structure
Structurally, business websites contain the same basic elements. These include a homepage, site navigation, products or services pages, and a contact page. No matter what you’re going for in terms of design, it’s important to get these right, as they are the foundation of a business website.
The Home Page
A homepage is the main webpage of a site. It is often a business’ chance at a first impression; it welcomes site visitors with enough information to indicate what a business is along with a way to navigate to pages of their interest. Homepages typically follow a similar layout, which includes the business’ name and logo, navigation to primary web pages, a main image (aka hero), a headline, basic information, and a call to action.
Pro tip: When designing a homepage, make sure that you give visitors a way to easily achieve the goal of your site (e.g., make a reservation or an appointment) without having to scroll down on the page or navigate to other pages.
Planning Your Navigation
Navigation is simply how visitors get around your site. It should be simple, intuitive, and make it easy for visitors to find the information they are looking for without bombarding them with an overload of information. Instead, it breaks out a website by topic clusters, so that visitors have primary options to choose from which will guide them to more specific information as they click through the navigation.
Here are six navigation design tips:
- Always link your business name (or logo) to your homepage
- Include navigation in both your head and footer
- Keep page titles short and straightforward
- Primary navigation options (the pages that display from your homepage) should include the most common pages of interest to visitors
- Have no more than seven pages in your primary navigation (the fewer, the better)
- Use a call-to-action button in lieu of pages, where applicable
Pro tip: If you’re not sure how to organize your navigation, visit your competitors’ sites to see how others build their navigation for ideas on how to best serve your site visitors.
Product & Services Information
No matter what type of industry you’re in, your site needs to tell visitors what your business offers, whether that’s a clothing line, consulting services, or food. When building your products or services page, consider your sales funnel and the goal of your site. For example, a high-end wine storage business may be looking to use their site to generate leads for their sales, whereas a local ice cream shop would be looking to drive in-store visits with an enticing menu.
Here are seven tips for providing product or service information:
- Use professional-quality images or videos for product listings
- Give visitors an easy way of taking your desired action (e.g., making a purchase or requesting a demo)
- Be as direct and transparent with pricing as possible
- Preemptively answer visitor’s questions using a frequently asked questions (FAQs) section
- Add social proof by embedding reviews or testimonials
- Use a leading payment processor (for those accepting payments)
- Add a “similar products or services” section to pages to direct visitors to alternative options should they not find exactly what they’re looking for
Building an ecommerce website? Get more insight into designing product pages and how to generate more sales.
Getting the Contact Page Right
Websites must include a way for visitors to get in touch, and the most common way to do this is through a contact form. While contact forms are fairly simple, there are a few things to keep in mind when building yours in order to generate quality leads. This includes everything from the number of fields to use to building custom forms that serve a certain purpose or alternative methods to answering visitors’ questions.
Here are five tips when creating a contact form:
- Build custom contact forms to correlate to specific outcomes and actions (e.g., an apartment complex could use a contact form as a way to request to schedule a tour).
- Consider the sales funnel when designing your contact form and if a contact form is the best channel to connect with site visitors. For example, would live chat or a comprehensive FAQ section be more effective?
- Use as few form fields as possible to create the path of least resistance for visitors.
- Make sure your form includes information on what a visitor is seeking or interested in, as opposed to a blank text box.
- Connect your contact form to a customer relationship management software (CRM), such as HubSpot, to automatically add leads to your contact list.
Pro tip: If you are building a contact form in WordPress, easily create custom, high-quality forms with a contact form plugin, such as WPForms. Learn more about the best WordPress contact form plugins.
Designing Your Website as a Marketing Tool
Websites are marketing tools for business, though they are not all created equally and some are more effective marketing tools than others. Design your site to serve your business as a marketing tool that generates awareness, incites interest, and drives sales in a number of ways, from including a value proposition, to using live chat as a sales or customer service tool, to embedding reviews or using widely known and highly trusted integrations to drive sales.
Here are nine marketing elements and tools to use for your business website:
- Include a value proposition or offer, such as a free demo or consultation.
- Build custom landing pages for all paid digital ads, such as Google Ads.
- Use call-to-action buttons to drive specific actions.
- Utilize custom lead capture forms to generate leads and build your contact list.
- Add live chat to provide immediate sales and customer service assistance.
- Use analytics and data insights tools (e.g., heat maps and user video recording tools) to get more information on your site visitors and how they interact with your site.
- Embed reviews or testimonials from third-party platforms (e.g., Yelp, Google, or Trustpilot) to gain social proof.
- Link to social media accounts to increase following and to build a community.
- Use well-known (and trusted) industry-specific integrations to increase sales (e.g., OpenTable for the food service industry or MindBody for the fitness industry).
Pro tip: Plan to approach your web design as an ongoing process that will enable you to optimize your site and make it a more effective marketing tool. Get more information about website marketing strategies.
Key Website Design Principles
When building a business website, there are a few web design principles to keep in mind. These include designing your site with your audience in mind (aka user experience or UX), telling a story, making it easy to navigate, consistent styling, fully responsible, up to date, and quick to load. By upholding these key design principles, your site will be a more effective marketing machine.
Focus on Your Audience
A website is created to serve a business’ audience, and so the core of good web design is your audience and user experience (UX). Consider ways to best serve them, including how to intuitively best provide information that they will be seeking and ways to provide value while leading them through the sales funnel. To do this, consider your customer profiles and their user journey.
Here are some things to consider when designing a site for UX:
- Who will be visiting your site (your audience)?
- How much do they know about your business and what are they looking to find by visiting your site (e.g., more information, make a purchase, book an appointment)?
- What is your site’s main traffic source (e.g., direct, search, paid ads, social)?
- What types of devices are your visitors using (e.g., mobile, desktop, tablet)?
- When are they visiting your site (e.g., at work, on their way to work, on personal time)?
By having a good understanding of who your audience is, how they’re finding your site, and what they’re looking to gain from visiting it, you can then begin to understand how to design a site that best serves them.
For example, a towing business has an audience that largely consists of people who are having automobile troubles, and they are finding them from their phones and seeking to quickly call the company to see if they’re available. The towing business designs its site with a front-and-center click-to-call button on its homepage so visitors can quickly call from their mobile device.
Tell a Story
A website should not only communicate the information that your audience is seeking, but ideally communicate in a way that tells a story and is engaging. In other words, think about how you can convey your business information that doesn’t just tell the “what,” but the “why.” Think about why someone should be interested in your business, what they have to benefit from becoming (or staying) a customer, and what motivates them to become a customer.
With that, give consideration to what type of language speaks to them. People have certain expectations based on your business type or industry. For example, a medical or legal practice should use language that is professional and even sterile to match expectations, whereas a children’s summer camp would use a more relaxed and fun language.
Make It Easy
A well-designed website is easy to use and intuitively leads users through a site. It should be easy for site visitors to find the information they’re looking for, whether that’s a pricing page, a menu, or contact information from the homepage. Each web page should then logically guide a visitor through the site from the initial stages in the buying decision process of learning about the business and what it offers to becoming a customer.
A good way to build out your site so that it serves your audience and their customer journey is by creating a wireframe, or sitemap. This outlines each web page, including which pages will be part of the site navigation and which pages each one links to.
One leading rookie mistake in web design that will quickly make any site look unprofessional is inconsistency. To create a professional-looking website, make sure that all of the following are consistent across the site and all of its pages, media, and copy: page layouts, styling, typography, color scheme, and general language used. In other words, every page of your site should be cohesive, and with that, it should look like it belongs within the same website.
Pro tip: Choose a prebuilt theme that comes with the styling that matches what you want for your site to eliminate the need to customize elements. This, in return, ensures that your site is consistent.
Fully Responsive Design & Cross-browser Compatibility
Websites need to work (and look good) from any device type and browser. Having a fully responsive website that is cross-browser compatible is a necessity, and search engines such as Google require sites to be responsive in order to rank in search results. The good news is that these days, most website templates and themes are fully responsive, though it’s worth testing your site to ensure that it actually looks good and functions properly from any screen size.
Check the Google Search Console for mobile usability.
Pro tip: Businesses whose audience is largely visiting their site from mobile should consider choosing an AMP-friendly theme. This will help your web pages load more quickly from mobile devices, creating a better user experience and in return, helping your site rank in mobile search.
Keep It Current
Businesses need to ensure that their websites are kept current in order to provide the best, most applicable information to visitors, but also because search engines, such as Google, consider how recently a site was updated in order to determine how good it is as a result. A common way for businesses to keep their site frequently updated is by adding a blog to it. Get more information about how to start a blog.
Design for Speed
How quickly a site loads can greatly impact both a user’s experience as well as how well your site ranks in search. There are a number of ways to design a site for speed, and a few of the easiest and most effective ways include reducing the number of plugins you’re using, compressing photos so they do not take up as much storage, and using only a limited number of redirects.
Here are three simple ways to increase website load speed:
- Keep plugins to a minimum: Plugins can slow down your site’s load speed, so use only necessary plugins.
- Compress photos: Use an image compression tool such as Compressor.io to reduce the size of images and increase your site’s load speed.
- Limit redirects: Too many redirects will make your site take more time to load, so limit redirects to create a faster site.
Pro tip: Enable browser caching to increase speed for those who have previously visited your site.
Tips for Great Content
Not all content is created equal, but we’re here to show you a few simple things you can do to help ensure the quality of your content. To help you create great content that not only looks good but resonates with your audience and helps drive sales, let’s look at some of the top tips, from using quality media to writing site copy that speaks to your audience.
1. Use Professional Photos & Videos
One of the fastest ways to compromise a business website’s quality is by using poor-quality photos and videos. People are visual, and so the visual used on your site must be professional quality. Consider hiring a professional photographer a good investment, and if you do not currently have the budget for that, source high-quality stock photos.
2. Keep It Concise
When people visit a website, they are generally scanning it to find the information they are looking for, so keep it concise. A few ways to do that is to be direct with short sentences and by breaking out chunks of text into smaller paragraphs. Also, when possible, take a “show and don’t tell” approach. By showing visitors information instead of hiding within the text, your message will reach more people.
3. Write Copy That Speaks to Your Audience
When writing your website copy, consider who will be reading your site and what type of language, or prose, they expect from your business. Be sure to minimize or eliminate industry jargon for business-to-consumer (B2C) businesses so that your audience will understand what you are saying. Check that your message actually translates to your readers; what might seem obvious to you as the site creator may not always be conveyed to the reader.
Pro tip: Lead with your value. Consider what your readers have to gain from your business and how you can effectively lead with that benefit or value to entice them to continue reading your site or to become a customer.
4. Edit Everything Before Publishing Anything
No matter how experienced a writer you are, always have a second set of eyes edit everything before publishing. The reason is that even expert writers make mistakes, as it’s harder for us to see our own typos. Your site copy reflects your business as a whole, so to uphold professionalism, have someone with an eye for detail review your copy.
Pro tip: If you do not have someone available to review work, consider hiring a freelancer or a project-based editor at an affordable rate from platforms such as Upwork and Fiverr.
5. Create a Content Calendar
One way for businesses to leverage their website as a marketing tool and to stay on top of all content from blogs and social media posts to digital campaigns is to create a content calendar or a publishing schedule. It helps businesses plan ahead and more strategically create content based on seasonality and relevance.
Pro tip: Use a content calendar tool, such as HubSpot, to easily build out content calendars, schedule posts, assign users, and easily manage content across multiple platforms in one place.
Examples of Great Small Business Website Design
For web design inspiration and ideas, here are examples of small business web designs that effectively reach their goals. For more inspiration, check out what your competition is doing, consider industry standards, and overall usability.
- Drive awareness
- Drive offline sales
- Generate leads and phone calls
- Increase online sales
Drive Offline Sales
Drive Online Sales
Websites are a vital component of marketing and running a successful business. Thanks to the platforms and tools available, it’s easier and more affordable than ever to build and maintain a small business website in-house.