The past year has brought about a huge amount of change. There weren’t too many surprises. It has been as much an acceleration of what was already happening alongside some of the radical changes we’ve had to make to our day-to-day lives.
For example, remote and flexible working has been on the rise for years, and this forced experiment looks to have permanently changed our working culture.
Another has been online shopping and interaction. Buying your wares and spending your money online has been on the rise for a long time, but the explosion in e-commerce and digital in this past year has been on another level.
What did come as a big surprise to me was learning how many businesses aren’t online.
This article from October 2019 reports that as many as 75% of small businesses in the UK don’t have a website. This number is likely smaller now, but this came as a big shock to me.
Perhaps it’s my age, but I have always shopped online more than I shop in-store. I would’ve guessed that 75% of small businesses are already online.
My father made his first ever online purchases for Christmas last year. I couldn’t believe it.
A few days before that, I saw a John Lewis representative talking on the BBC about how their online store has carried them through the pandemic.
This really drove home to me the extent of the changes happening. Online shopping is already established, but its role in the next decade and beyond is going to be much, much bigger.
This brings us on to our topic: setting up a website.
Why You Should Be Setting Up A Website
When we look at all the businesses and industries that did well in the pandemic, they are normally focused around digital.
This Financial Times report details who has performed the best in this crisis.
The biggest winners have been Amazon, who by June last year had added $401.1bn to their market cap.
As non-essential shops were forced to close their doors, e-commerce has been filling their boots.
Other big winners include PayPal who are benefitting from this huge rise in online transactions. Facebook has been making a killing through ads. Zoom, Microsoft, and Shopify have all grown massively in the past year.
These are all clues that if you aren’t online right now, you are missing out.
There are many valid reasons for not having a website set up.
If you aren’t a digital native or technically gifted, the prospect of setting up your own website can be pretty daunting.
There’s also the competition.
If you have to go up against e-commerce giants like Amazon, this is another daunting prospect.
Even if you’re not in retail, in the online world, you’re not just competing with your high street neighbours, you can also be competing against some of the biggest names in your industry.
You may also think that you don’t need one.
I had overheard a couple having a dispute about setting up a website for their business on the train one day. My ears were burning and I wanted to offer them some of the advice I will detail further in this article.
The anti-website party told me they were making good money without a website. Why bother?
But these reasons aren’t exactly based in truth. Let’s get into this.
Building Your Own Website Has Never Been Easier
The idea of building a website might overwhelm you but the truth is, it has never been easier to build a website.
There are many platforms that have taken so much of the difficulty out of building a site, such as:
- WordPress – a great all-rounder platform
- Squarespace – Less suited to e-commerce, but a really great platform that’s very easy to use
- Shopify – built for e-commerce
These platforms are instinctive to use and setting up a simple website on these platforms is surprisingly easy. They are geared towards business owners with little technical know-how.
There’s also an abundance of help online. YouTube videos, forums, guides – there is a wealth of knowledge out there.
The Competition Isn’t As Stiff As You Think
This is one of the things that I love so much about SEO, and one of the most important things I’ve learned about online spending.
It’s easy to think you don’t stand a chance when you’re going up against someone like Amazon, and the big boys in your field. But this is where keywords enter the fray.
Online purchasing, whether e-commerce or for services, is driven by search engines. Here in the UK, if you’re going to buy something online but you don’t know where from, the most likely thing you’ll do is Google it.
Now, let’s say you want to buy some home gym equipment. The keyword ‘home gym equipment’ gets 45,000 searches a month. Sitting #1 for this keyword is a good place to be.
Who’s there now? At the moment, it’s Powerhouse Fitness. Strong competition with over 600,000 monthly users right now.
This is an aside, but before the pandemic, they were getting less than 150,000 organic users a month.
But, if you search for, say, ‘all in one fitness machine’, that gets 720 searches a month. At the time of writing, Best Direct have pride of place here, who currently get around 12,000 monthly users.
Before the pandemic, they were getting 6,000 monthly users.
Best Direct is still a pretty big site, but there is a big disparity in the size of the #1 spot holders here.
Best Direct’s fitness machine is priced at around £180. The keyword gets 720 searches a month. If we assume 30% of those searchers are clicking through to their page, and then 5% of those end up buying, sitting #1 for this keyword is bringing in over £1,900 a month.
And that’s just one keyword.
As a small business, don’t worry about these massive keywords. There are so many smaller keywords that convert better. Each one is a battlefield that you can have a good whack at.
Now, for pretty much any industry or niche there are many, many thousands upon thousands of keywords people are using to find what they want. This really levels the playing field.
Familiarise yourself with the long tail of keywords, there is so much to go after.
Don’t think it’s going to be a blowout, just do your keyword research!
Not only that, but there is local search too.
Google will serve results based on location data. Not every search defaults to the biggest name in your industry.
Someone searching online for flowers in Newcastle gets very different options to someone searching in Cornwall.
Don’t rule yourself out of the race. You have more of a chance than you might expect.
It Doesn’t Cost As Much As You Think
The price of setting up a simple website is really not too much:
- Domain name registration can be as little as £10-£15 a year.
- Server hosting for a small, nimble website can clock in as cheap as £5-£10 a month.
- An SSL certificate can be around £45 a year, less than £4 a month.
The above numbers apply to the most basic of websites. But if you have no website, and no need for a large, complex site, that price of admission is bearable.
If you think you don’t need a website because you’re already doing well, this can be low-cost, very high reward. There’s not much to lose.
The more complex your project is, however, the more it will cost.
You may need to bring in UX designers, a development agency, an SEO agency, a copywriter. You may need more robust server hosting and so on.
But it’s a sound investment. If you can’t open your doors, there is essentially no other way to do business.
What costs more? A good website build or not doing any business for months and no protection from any future crises? That’s for you to decide, but often the answer is pretty clear cut.
The Future of Shopping
Perhaps the biggest reason for setting up a website is the direction that shopping, and business as a whole, is heading in.
It is no secret that the high street has been on the decline here in the UK. There are many empty shop fronts on almost every high street and retail giants have been falling into administration.
Does this mean the high street is dead? Not at all.
Depending on who you ask, some will say that brick-and-mortar shops are toast. Killed by online shopping. Some say they are going to make a big comeback.
Emma Spagnuolo puts it best in this podcast for McKinsey titled ‘Meet Generation Z: Shaping the Future of Shopping’.
Gen Z already has huge purchasing power and if we are talking about the future, we are talking about Gen Z.
As Emma puts it:
‘You see Gen Z shopping across all formats. I think what it really gets back to is that millennials were given online shopping as this new, fun, exciting, convenient tool…Gen Zs, on the other hand—they want to shop across both types of channels all the time. So they might go online while they’re at school, look at something there, then decide they want to go to the store for fun, enjoy the experience.’
The high street dream is not over. It’s more a case of formatting your online and in-store experiences so they are complementary to each other.
The research is done online. But the in-store experience still has a role in the future. These are fast becoming just as important as the other.
If you aren’t online, you are hard to find and you are turning down a huge amount of potential business. Now, and even more so in the future.
Digital natives have grown up with devices and the internet. When Gen Z becomes the largest group of consumers, having no online presence is going to hurt and hurt bad.
This Business Insider survey gives us some really valuable insights too.
What stood out to me is that price is king. Gen Z reports that they have no loyalties to brands. More important than anything is that the price is right.
Combined with a driving need to be unique, this means there is an appetite for smaller brands to take on a bigger role in the future of shopping.
This loops back to our point that competition isn’t as stiff as you think. If you can hit the right price points, if you can offer something different, you have every chance of success.
By your very nature as a small business, you have so much to offer to a new generation of shoppers that Amazon can’t: authenticity, exclusivity and your own creativity.
There is a real appetite to push back against Amazon too. For example, a Chrome extension that takes you from Amazon’s product pages directly to the seller so you can buy from their website has been picking up steam.
If you want to tap into this in the future, you have to be online.
But the future isn’t all about Gen Z. Take John Lewis, for example. A veteran of the high street, they’re a brand held in high regard in the UK.
And they certainly aren’t a store that you expect to see swathes of Gen Zs flocking to.
But in this interview with the BBC (not the one mentioned earlier in this article) Chairman Sharon White discusses John Lewis’ pivot to online.
They are aiming to eventually do 70% of their business online.
Is there any bigger canary in the gold mine for moving to online than John Lewis?
Founded in 1864, John Lewis has been a mainstay of the UK high street. Their target audience is definitely older than Gen Z. The bulk of their stock is homeware, electrical goods, clothes, furniture and so on.
If John Lewis is turning their focus to online, that is a clear as day sign of the times and you need to start thinking about joining them.
John Lewis relied on their online store to carry them through the pandemic. It just goes to show, no matter your brand authority or prestige, an online presence is a safety net, and a wise move.
It pains me to write it and I don’t mean to scaremonger, but there is no guarantee that there won’t be another pandemic in the next decade.
We are only 12 years from swine flu. We are still in the middle of this one. The future is uncertain, and an online presence gives you a failsafe.
The Benefits of a Website
We’ve gone through a few already, but there are a number of really good, solid reasons to set up a website.
Our top 3 reasons are as follows.
As touched upon already, a website gives your business resilience. We have seen how fragile our freedom is in the face of crises.
The whole world changed forever seemingly overnight, but which businesses pulled through, and even prospered? Those with an online presence.
Of course, there is a lot the in-store experience can offer that online can’t. And that should be celebrated. But the most important thing online offers is business continuity.
Online stores give you so much more insight into the behaviour of your customers than a physical shop.
You are able to track essentially every movement and action on your website.
Google Analytics is an incredibly powerful data studio that allows you to dig deep into how people are using your website.
You can cater to the needs of your customers with a much more sharp focus than you can in-store.
At what point on the conversion journey are people going away from the site? How long are they spending on the site? What devices are they using? Who are they?
A website with Analytics tracking gives you so much information to work with.
You will learn so much about your target audience through keyword research and data analysis that is hard to find anywhere else.
One of the most important reasons is giving yourself credibility.
People are increasingly doing their research online, even if they are planning to buy in-store.
If you’re not in e-commerce and offer professional services, why should anyone trust you? Your website is how you build that authority and trust with customers.
They can see reviews, they can see what you’re about in your own words, they can see your qualifications, they can see work you have done.
When you can’t open your doors, how are you able to do that?
This write-up from Forbes is a nice, quick read that explores some other points.
For me, it’s all about those three:
- Business Continuity
- Understanding Your Customers
- Building Credibility
Tips For Building a Website
As an SEO agency, we have come across many websites. We’ve worked with sites that are being built, we’ve worked with site migrations and so on.
These are some key tips that you should take away today if you’re planning on building a website.
Own Your Domain and Website
This is super important. If you are hiring someone to build a website for you, make sure that you have full ownership over your site.
Working with a web development agency can yield amazing results. If your website has complex needs, we encourage you to seek professional advice and input for this.
If you are going down this route, more than anything, ensure you are in control of your domain and website.
If, for whatever reason, something sours between you and the party that built your website, your online business can essentially be held to ransom.
Things don’t need to sour, you may just want to go in a different direction, or scale up with a different partner.
Own your website. Have complete control.
Plan Your Site Structure
Site structure (or information architecture) is so important, especially to us in SEO.
You want your website to be great for humans to use. But more important than anything is making sure Google can move around the whole website for crawling and indexing.
Before you start building out a website, it helps to draw some diagrams. Figure out how you are going to organise each part of the site.
Check out our article on information architecture here.
If you have a good idea of the site structure before you start building, it will be so much easier to create. Especially if you are building it yourself.
Build for SEO
This might sound a bit biased from us, and not every single website needs to rely on SEO.
But every website on the internet needs to adopt SEO to a certain degree.
At its most fundamental level, SEO is essentially internet compliance.
Search engines are how people navigate the internet, even if they know where they are going.
If your site cannot be found, crawled and indexed by Google, it’s not going anywhere.
It doesn’t matter how good the website is, it simply needs to pass those most basic tests.
You may get most people on your site from your social channels, from email marketing and so on. Those channels might be how users found you. If you want them to come back, you need to be indexed.
So that’s SEO at its most fundamental. But, the power of SEO goes much, much further. It’s an incredibly broad field and one of the hardest skills to learn in 2021.
Our own Caitlin Hathaway wrote this awesome article on learning SEO which covers a lot. It’s a good place to start and uncover more.
We also have an extensive learning hub, called Hawk Academy.
I can tell you that SEO is valuable, but the proof is in the pudding. Numbers don’t lie.
Picture the User Journey
SEO isn’t the only sector of digital you need to think about. Whilst it’s important for search engines to understand your website, you also need humans to enjoy using it.
SEO can help with this. We conduct a lot of keyword research, which is essentially online market research.
Knowledge of UX design is very valuable here.
If you can’t call on the help of professional UX designers, you need to understand the user journey on your website.
From landing on the site to a conversion, you need to map out that whole journey and think about how to make that happen, but also how to make it enjoyable, how to make it easy, and how to make people want to do it again.
All the SEO in the world can’t save a website that is a nightmare to use.
On the flip side of that, sometimes the most user-friendly options can kill your SEO before it’s even started.
Bring SEO, UX & Development Together
If you are outsourcing your website management to a development agency, an SEO agency and a design agency, you need to make sure they are working together and are on the same page.
At the end of the day, there needs to be trade-offs from all three of these tribes to get a good, successful website build completed on time.
Developers can build some amazing websites with crazy functionalities that create memorable experiences. If a search engine can’t see it and rank you for it though, what’s the point?
Sometimes we in SEO are asking for changes on the site, but there may be limitations. It helps us to be in cordial contact with the developers so we can work together to overcome an issue.
Optimising written content for SEO can sometimes feel a bit joyless. This is where we can work together with the website owner, copywriters and UX designers to find that happy medium between staying true to your brand voice and hitting the right keywords.
The UX team may have an amazing idea for the site, but again, if it murders your SEO then you can take down all your organic traffic with this idea.
At the end of the day, these components of a website build need to be in contact with each other to ensure things run smoothly.
Consult an SEO Before It Goes Live
Not much to say about this one. But if you are going to consult a professional SEO which we strongly recommend, it helps to no end to get in touch before the site goes live.
As important as reaching out to an SEO, is doing so with time to make changes before you go live.
If you get in touch a week before it goes live and there’s a long list of problems, then that’s no good to you and the project will struggle to get off the ground.
Beef Up Your Security
It’s crucial that you are taking the security of the website into consideration.
For WordPress sites, this can be as simple as installing security plugins and keeping your CMS updated at all times.
Those updates are there for a reason, they are to protect the platform and your website.
Invest in an SSL certificate. This isn’t just for your own benefit but for your target audience too.
Web browsers can serve a warning to people trying to get on an unsecure website that heavily suggests you don’t visit that website.
If they don’t do that, there will be an icon in the browser bar telling people this website is not secure.
This is make or break if you’re an e-commerce site. If you’re selling online and have no SSL certificate, then you will struggle.
Stay on top of this and be vigilant. Use secure passwords. Don’t hand out access to anybody.
Test, Test, Test
Stress-test your website and put it through its paces.
You don’t want to discover a litany of issues once it’s already live. People rarely take the time to leave feedback, and you will be left with a dud website and little idea of where it has gone wrong.
Test it yourself and let others test it.
People interact with websites in really different ways. You won’t be able to catch everything yourself.
And there you have it. A manifesto for expanding your business online in 2021. The opportunities available in the digital space are huge.
As we move further into the future, the decision to go online is becoming less of a choice and more of a requirement.
In the last year, demand for web designers and developers has gone through the roof.
Every day, more and more businesses are making the change and it is never too late to do so yourself.
The past year has shown that without an online presence, the rug can be pulled from underneath your feet at a moment’s notice and you are left high and dry.
There are so many good websites out there that you might think you will never compete, but that’s simply not true. Starting small and starting somewhere is better than not having an online presence to fall back on.
I hope this inspires some people to consider getting themselves online.
Once you’re set up and settled in your corner of the digital marketplace, you can always get in touch with us here for an SEO audit and we can assess the potential for an SEO campaign.
SEO is how you can take on the big players, and win.