a blog about things that I've been thinking hard about

The Really Basic Business WebSite

19 April, 2008
the most basic website for your business

It's owned by you.

It's controlled by you.

It says whatever you need to tell the world about your business.

It can be found when someone searches on Google for the name of your business.


The Problem: I look for the Fred Bloggs Sausage Company website, but I can't find it

We live in a world where people expect to find the answers to many of their questions on the web, usually by searching on Google.

Let's suppose I'm planning a party, and I need some good sausages for the barbecue. I'm talking to a friend about this and he suggests getting some sausages from the Fred Bloggs Sausage company, because he got some from there once and they were really good.

Now I might ask my friend to write down details like address and phone number of Fred Bloggs Sausages, but my friend probably doesn't even remember the exact details, and it's a hassle trying to find pen and paper when we're at a party, and, anyway, it doesn't matter, because as long as I remember "Fred Bloggs" and "sausages", I can look it up somewhere.

So later on, I'm on the Internet, and I do a Google search for Fred Bloggs sausage, and one of several things happens:

  1. I reach the website for Fred Bloggs Sausage Company. This website has all the information I need to know: what kinds of sausages they sell, where they are, phone number, opening hours.
  2. I reach an entry in someone else's website which refers to the Fred Bloggs Sausage company. For example, it is a directory website which gives a phone number and an address. It doesn't have any links to a company website. I don't know for sure if the details in the directory are up-to-date.
  3. I find no mention of Fred Bloggs Sausage company in any of the search results.

Result 1 is the ideal result, but all too often I get results 2 or 3 when I search for a small business on Google. With results 2 and 3, my search failed to find the Fred Bloggs Sausage company website, for one of two reasons:

Unambitious Goal: Non-Competitive Search Engine Optimization

Most discussion about "Search Engine Optimization" (SEO) on the web is about optimization for "competitive" keywords. For example, the search term sausage, by itself, would be a very competitive search term. If the Fred Bloggs Sausage Company could somehow hit the number one spot for the search term sausage, that might result in a lot of business. But achieving this in practice would require a lot of work, with no guarantee of success, because you would be competing with all the other sausage company web-developers trying to do the same thing.

What the Fred Bloggs Sausage Company needs to achieve is not SEO for the term sausage, but SEO for their own name, i.e. Fred Bloggs sausage company, or Fred Bloggs sausage. The search phrase Fred Bloggs Sausage is non-competitive, because the only important thing in the world called "Fred Bloggs Sausage" is the Fred Bloggs Sausage Company.

Succeeding with non-competitive SEO is not so hard: all the Fred Bloggs Sausage Company has to do is construct a very basic website, and not make any basic mistakes in how they construct it.

Technical Details of Basic Business WebSite construction

Let us assume that the Fred Bloggs Sausage Company is actually run by Mr Fred Bloggs who makes the sausages himself and sells them in his own sausage shop. Mr Fred Bloggs thinks he needs a basic business website. He's not too good with computers himself, and he doesn't want to pay the hundreds of dollars that professional web designers charge even for simple websites. Luckily he has a nephew Joe who knows a bit about computers.

There's nothing wrong with Joe doing the website, because the aim of the website is just to be there, and to be better than having no website at all – Fred doesn't want to spend big money on a website which is not going to be a major source of new business.

However, there might be some things which Joe is tempted to do when constructing the website, which he shouldn't do, or which he does because he doesn't know any better, which could cause the following problems:

So if you are a person about to construct a basic business website, then the following instructions should be followed, unless you know enough about what you are doing to understand that it might be safe to deviate from them. And if you are the business owner getting someone else to construct your basic business website, hand them the following list:

Branches of Larger Businesses

Sometimes I fail to find a business website when I search for a business which is part of some larger business. If your business is part of some larger business, then you may not have control over the website provided by the larger business which you are a part of. But you should still expect and demand the same level of web presence and searchability which I have described in this article for a small business.

For example, if Fred Bloggs Sausage Company is a national chain, and you operate a branch of this company in the suburb of NewishTown, then you should expect your customers to find a website or a web page describing your branch when they search for Fred Bloggs Sausage NewishTown. (And it's not good enough for the Fred Bloggs Sausage Company website to have its own internal navigation and search for branches. Every branch must have a web presence that can be found directly via Google.)

Other Search Engines

I used "Google" in this article when talking about web search. Google is the most popular search engine, but it isn't the only one. So after you've set up your basic business website, and checked that it can be found in Google, then you should check to see if it appears in other search engines such as Yahoo and MSN.

Text Editors

A simple website doesn't have to be created using a text editor. There are various website-creating tools that promise to make things easier. However, no such tool is without its downside.

In the first instance, if the person designing a simple website is not comfortable doing it with a text editor, then they may not be knowledgeable enough to get all the technical details right (as listed above).

Secondly, the amount of HTML and CSS code required for a basic business website is not that much, so the benefits from using a tool (in terms of reducing how much you have to type) are limited.

Thirdly, if someone else takes over maintenance of the website, and they don't want to use the tool, or they don't have a valid license for the tool, or the tool is from a company that has gone defunct, then that someone has to deal with whatever sort of HTML and CSS the tool has created, which is typically messier and less organized than what someone familiar with HTML and CSS would have created themselves in a text editor.

So, you don't have to use a text editor, but it is likely to be less trouble in the long run for a small website.

p.s. "use a text editor" doesn't mean "use Notepad". In this day and age of internet and open source software, there are superior alternatives readily available for free, such as Notepad++.

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