With the advent of web-enabled mobile phones and tablets, virtually everyone is searching online to find local businesses, from hair salons and dry cleaners to optometrists and automotive repair. If your local business does not yet have a dedicated website, chances are you’re losing revenue. Listing your business on local directories and social media networks is an essential start, but not having a website may send a signal to your customers that you’re not fully situated. And it doesn’t have to be complicated and expensive.
For the uninitiated, venturing into the world of website creation can be a daunting experience. In addition to actually creating the website, you will need to purchase a domain name and contract with a host. While a number of companies offer free website creation tools or services, you may still have to pay for your domain name and your monthly hosting.
What’s in a Domain Name?
Your domain name is the actual web address people type into their browser window to get to your web page, i.e. www.widgets.com. Domains can be registered as .com, .net, .org, .info, .biz, .co, .me, or a variety of other new realms that seem to be added daily, including .club and .guru. Once you register a domain name, it belongs only to you for as long as you continue to renew your registration. Domain registration can cost anywhere from $1 to $2 to upwards of $10 annually depending on the service. Many web hosting plans offer a free domain name, so you may want to hold off purchasing one right away.
Web Hosting Servers
As the name suggests, web hosting servers are just that, servers where your web site will reside, and from which it can be accessed by web browsers. Some companies offer cloud hosting, which really just means they’re using someone else’s servers. Web hosting packages vary depending on the amount of space being used and the features available, and may be “free” for those who purchase an overall web plan. If you’ve been procrastinating because you just can’t afford to pay a web designer, take heart. Here are some excellent sites where you can create your local business web page for free, even if you have little to no experience.
Wix Website Creation Software
With over 30 million customers, Wix is an extremely popular web design service that started out offering Flash design tools. As the internet transitioned to HTML5, Wix successfully navigated the change, and now offers beautiful, fully customizable HTML5 websites which also perform well on mobile devices. A drag and drop building editor lets you place text blocks, photos, videos and more, and requires no coding or design skills whatsoever. Choose one of 280 templates and make it your own. The bottom line? It’s completely free, even the hosting. The catch is that your domain will include “Wix” in the name and complete customization is only available with a paid membership. It’s a great way to get started for free, however, and upgrading to a paid membership costs as little as $4.08 per month if you pay for a full year. The most expensive plan is $19.99 per month, paid monthly, and plans can be changed at any time.
SquareSpace Website Builder
For the creative types, SquareSpace offers a seemingly endless number of customizable features and an easy-to-use editor. Although there are only 25 templates to choose from, templates can be combined in a variety of ways to create unique, beautifully designed websites suitable for professionals of all categories. SquareSpace also offers built-in website analytics which will allow you to see the number of visitors to your site in real time, as well as where they’re coming from and what keywords they used in their search. SEO tagging, article links, XML sitemaps, and XHTML code are also automatically built in to your site. Monthly packages at SquareSpace come in Standard, Unlimited, and Business, and include hosting and a free domain name, if desired. For just $8 per month, the Standard package includes a mobile optimized-site, 2GB of storage, 500GB of bandwidth, and 20 pages – perfect for personal pages without too much volume. The Unlimited package comes with unlimited bandwidth, storage, and pages and costs $16 per month, but does not include e-commerce for those who wish to actually sell online. The full e-commerce Business package, including inventory tracking, tax, and shipping controls will cost you $24 per month.
Weebly Site Builder
With over 12 million customers, Weebly is a powerful and intuitive website builder with a wide variety of features as well as a drag and drop editor. Included features are built-in analytics, e-commerce, and SEO features. Choose from over 100 templates, then add and customize various website elements including maps, media, social media widgets, and e-commerce functions for a website to suit any purpose. All Weebly websites are automatically mobile-optimized and can even be managed from an iPhone or android device. Weebly’s free package will allow you to create a fully functional website, with free hosting and a free domain name. Upgrade to a paid plan to get more pages and access to all of the features for as little as $4 per month with the Starter plan. The Pro plan costs $8 per month, and the Business plan, at $25 per month, includes integrated e-commerce features.
Go Live with GoDaddy
GoDaddy.com brings you an easy-to-use website builder called Website Tonight. Designed specifically for those with no technical knowledge, this software promises to have you up and running in a matter of hours. Choose from over 800 professional templates, and then customize it by adding pictures, animation, and music. The site even provides over 20,000 free images to use, plus Twitter and Facebook widgets. Integrate your site with PayPal and set up a shopping cart quickly and easily. GoDaddy plans range from $5.99 to $9.99 per month, and offer free hosting and up to 1,000 email accounts. Start small and upgrade as your page and bandwidth needs grow with time. Each plan even comes with a number of advertising credits to help you promote your site.
So if you’re one of the over 50% of small businesses who don’t have a website, stop procrastinating! All four of these web builders are easy to use and offer reasonably-priced plans suitable for your local business. If you’re not sure what you want, start for free. What have you got to lose?