As a techie, when I need something — anything — I turn to the Web. I do a quick search to find a service provider, or before engaging with one, to check out their services online. Often, I do a quick check on a company website to find out where it is located, or what its operating hours are. I also check a website to get an idea of stock or service availability, or simply just to get a telephone number or directions.
While many technology companies have a reasonable online presence, often complete with a flashy responsive design, there are still too many companies that seem to have a Web presence that would put Geocities, the online Web builder and hosting service from the 1990s, to shame.
In fact, I often cross a business off my list if its Web presence is not up to scratch. It may sound a little dramatic, but I’m sure the smart, tech-savvy readers of this website have done it, too.
The Internet has become such a big part of daily life that, no matter the size of your business, having a website — and a well designed website at that — is no longer something reserved only for online businesses or technology firms.
The restaurant and entertainment industries fare particularly poorly, it seems. I’m not a fan of franchised restaurants, at least not the big chains, so whenever I am looking for a new place to go, or just looking for takeaways, I tend to hop online and find out what’s on the menu first.
More often than not, the menu and prices are outdated. There are even a few restaurants in Johannesburg that offer a superb dining experience but they have no Web presence at all, relying instead on third-party restuarant guides.
I am not saying every business needs to run a high-end Web server with e-commerce and all the bells and whistles. But there are a few basics that every business needs to get right.
First and foremost, get your own URL. No one will take your business seriously if you use @yahoo.com as your advertised e-mail address. Buying a domain is really easy and there are many really good hosting providers that will help you along the way. The cost for your own .co.za domain is around R80/year, while a .com costs R130/year. You’ll still need Web hosting over and above the domain, but if you shop around you’ll be able to get a reliable Web hosting company that will charge you between R20/month and R100/month for basic Web hosting, depending on your needs.
For around the same cost, you can also register your URL via a platform such as WordPress.com, Wix or Squarespace and you’ll be able to use their tools to build a website without having to hack HTML or CSS code. But even that is not for everyone.
The ideal solution is to get a Web developer to put a basic website together for your business. You don’t have to spend thousands of rands on a website if you’re a small business. It’s only when you require complex functionality or specialist design that you’ll need to start budgeting for a larger project.
South Africa has no shortage of Web developers. A quick Google search will uncover some of the more popular ones. After all, a good Web developer should have a great online presence, not so?
With a developer secured, you’ll want to start specifying what you’d like featured on your website. You should resist the urge to make your website flashy and stick to clean and simple design and layout.
It goes without saying that your updated company information, including what exactly it is that your business does, should be easily available on the main page. And so many companies fail to provide a contact telephone number. It’s essential. No one wants to be greeted with a Web form.
Setting up a website is not rocket science, but when it’s done poorly it reflects really badly on a business. Keep it simple, but make sure the information on it is up to date.
There are many other tricks, like search engine optimisation, that could help your website perform better on search rankings, but this does not have to be your priority. Just make sure your website is an accurate reflection of your business.
The final deal-breaker for me is when a business website lists only an e-mail address or provides only a Web form but fails to respond within a few hours. I don’t expect an immediate reply — although that would certainly be nice and endear me to the company — but don’t make me wait too long. There are plenty of other places I can spend my money. — © 2014 NewsCentral Media