The Outset Podcast Ep5: What to think about before you build a website

Jane Hooper, Outset Cornwall

Creating a website is a bit like building a house. Do you build it yourself or blow the budget and hire a professional?

If you’re starting to think about building a new website for your business, there are lots of different elements you’ll need to think about.

How much should a new website cost?

What images should you use and where can you get them from?

What about text – should you write it yourself?

Jane Hooper is the Creative and Online Manager for Outset Cornwall and has extensive experience in designing and building websites for a range of businesses across many different industries. Jane chats to Rich about some of the main things you need to think about when starting to plan your new website project.

Listen online using the player below or search ‘Outset Podcast’ in your favourite podcast app.

We hope you enjoy this episode. Get in touch for more information on how we can support your business start-up journey.

The Outset Cornwall programme is funded by the European Regional Development Fund, HM Government and the Outset Foundation, supporting people to become self-employed or start their own business.

Read the full transcript here

Announcer (00:01):

Welcome to The Outset Podcast, the business startup podcast from Outset Cornwall for support and inspiration to start, run and grow your business. Here’s your host, Rich Gunton.

Rich Gunton (00:16):

So we are talking all things website today with Jane Hooper. Hello, Jane. So websites then it’s your thing. You are Ms. Queen website. Usually a lot of people start off with lots of excitement and lots of ideas to start and build their website; very often it’s maybe the first window to their business, but maybe we run before we walk, or maybe we don’t necessarily really think about what the website’s for. Over to you. Where do we start?

Jane Hooper (00:46):

I think actually people underestimate how much work there is putting a website together. And I think even if you’re a really techie person and can build your own website, it’s still a massive amount of work. There’s lots of things you’ve got to think about. Yeah. You’ve got to think about your content and images, but budget’s a really big one. When you’re first starting up your own business, you’ve only got a certain amount of money and really, I liken it to Grand Designs. If I could have my own house, I would have one of those beautiful Grand Designs homes overlooking the sea in a beautiful location with windows everywhere, but I don’t have pots of money. And so I live in a nice three bedroom terraced house, which does its main purpose, which is to keep me warm and dry. So that’s good. And that’s a little bit like your website.

Jane Hooper (01:34):

When you start off your business, you can’t do everything in one go. So it’s better to, to just have a website that’s out there and have some words and some images and some pages, and just to get a website there, your presence on Google, and then you can build on that later on. Because yeah, wouldn’t it be fantastic if you had a massive amount of money and you could have a bespoke website designed exactly as you want built for you by a great web designer. I mean, that would be fantastic, but realistically, you’re not going to have that. So just start small.

Rich Gunton (02:12):

So, potentially starting off with what you can afford. And the budget will be the kind of main driver for a lot of us thinking about creating a website, but having a presence, as you say, sort of thinking about that presence on Google. So going back to the first point in terms of budget, what do you think is a reasonable budget? You know, there’s free templates that I’m aware of. There’s paid for templates, and obviously you can get web designers in place to do it for you. Where do we even start when we start to think about maybe the budgeting side of the website build?

Jane Hooper (02:43):

So if you want to have a go at doing yourself, you’ve got some of the easiest website builders out there, which I would say are Wix and Squarespace, and you can have a really good starter website with them. They will look after all the maintenance for you, and that will cost between about £60 to £80, just for a nice basic website to get going. You will still have to think about your images. There’s a lot of work that you’re still going to have to think about, but certainly it would get you a rung on the ladder. Yes, you can go to a local company and some people will help you to set up a website using WordPress. And they may just create a couple of pages, costing about £500, just to get you started and then hand it over to you.

Rich Gunton (03:30):

Okay. So that’s great. So we could have ourselves, we could get something started on, on Wix and Squarespace if we want to do it ourselves from anything for about £60 to £80. And as you say, maybe more around a sort of £500 mark in terms of getting someone else to design and build and hand over the website to us, although there’s still going to be sort of a templated approach. You mentioned before about images that you might want to use on your website. And I guess that’s the overall look and feel of the website. What do you think is important from a branding point of view in terms of your website?

Jane Hooper (04:03):

It really depends on your business itself and how able you are in lots of different respects to be able to get some images. Now, obviously it’s better if you can have your own images, but sometimes depending on what you do. So perhaps if you’re a jeweler just starting out or ironmongery things like that, yes, you can take your own images. And in fact, phones are really good. Nowadays, you can get a good photograph from a phone. You know, if you’re offering support, then especially if people are involved, that could be a little bit more difficult to get the right images. And so therefore you might look at a stock library and you’ve got some free stock libraries, or you’ve got a paid for stock library. So it’s not really that expensive, but just be aware of copyright. You need to make sure that you downsize your images, so that’s the great thing about a phone nowadays; it will take such a high resolution photograph, but you don’t need it that high resolution on your website page. So then that just means that it’s going to take longer for your page to load. So you really want to sort that out beforehand and that in a way is one of the things that takes the time, because what size do you want? Well, actually it depends on what your website looks like. It depends where it’s going to look on your page. So one of the things that I always recommend to people is that they resize a couple of their images to varying different sizes, trying to get them as small as they can, upload them onto a dummy page, see what they look like and see if they look okay across various different devices. Then you think, okay, and that way you can gauge the optimum size, because I could say, yeah, a thousand pixels is a good width for an image on a website, but it could be on some websites, even that’s too big. You could get away with 600 pixels. And so therefore your page is going to load quicker with smaller image sizes. It’s not that easy to get your images ready. So you’ve sort of got to gather the right images and then you’ve got to resize them all.

Rich Gunton (06:04):

When you say resize; because I was with you at the beginning and then I realized what you meant is that we’re not talking about making them necessarily physically visually bigger or smaller. It’s the actual content size of the file in terms of the upload speed; that’s what you mean isn’t it?

Jane Hooper (06:19):

It is what I mean and it’s actually quite difficult to get that over because a lot of people will not think in terms of pixels. So this is something I’m familiar with and that language, but every screen size has got a particular pixel width. For example, you might get a small tablet, might be say 800 pixels wide and a mobile phone might be about 300 pixels wide. It all depends really on the different devices. And then of course you know, it’s quite different on a desktop machine. Do you know what it’s really hard to try and describe this on a podcast; I would recommend that actually if you’re not sure about it, then I’m sure there’s brilliant YouTube videos that you can go and have a look at that will explain it visually, much better than I’m able to do while talking.

Rich Gunton (07:07):

We’ve got it Jane, we’ve got it. Size does matter. We’ve got our budget then, we think about how much we can spend on it. We’ve got the main purpose, the presence on Google. And we’re looking at the images and the overall branding. Going back to the main purpose, you know, what’s the point of us having a website? What are some of the common reasons why people come to you and say, I need a website?

Jane Hooper (07:28):

I think the first question you should ask yourself when you’re creating a website is why is somebody coming to my website and for different businesses, it’s going to be lots of different reasons. So it could be perhaps just to phone you up. So they might just be wanting to find your phone number and call you up. So therefore that’s your top priority. So therefore I recommend that that’s really going to steer your website; at the top of the page, you’ll want your phone number nice and clearly on every single page near the top so that people can see it quite easily. If you want them to visit you, perhaps you might have premises. If you want someone to be able to visit you, then you might want a Google map to go on with it. I mean, obviously there are other devices apart from Google, but you know, include your maps so that they can quickly find the directions to get to you.

Jane Hooper (08:20):

If you’re wanting to sell something, now it might be that you’ve got your own product and you might be selling it. Now to start off with, you might be selling through a third party. You might be selling through Etsy. You might be selling through Facebook or whatever, something like that, but you would still, on your website, want to make sure that on every single page you had you know, “buy now” or “go to my shop” or some words like that. So that you’re making it really, really easy for people to be able to do what they want. If for example, you’re offering a service for somebody, then you want to make sure that you’ve got lots of pages that talk about the range of services that you offer. Ideally, you would want a different page for the different kinds of services that you’re offering. Just say, you’re offering a payroll service.

Jane Hooper (09:08):

You might be an accountant and you might be offering different accounting services, but you would just have a page for payroll. And perhaps within that page, talk about the payroll services that you’re doing. If for example, you might be offering end of year accounts, then you’d have a different page for year end that talks about the kind of service that you do for that. So basically anybody that’s interested in using you, perhaps your payroll services, they would go to that page, they would find out exactly how it’s handled and really you want to give as much information as you can so that you’re answering questions. People have got a question, you want to make sure they can find the answer when they come to your website.

Rich Gunton (09:47):

Absolutely. And you know, like frequently asked questions is something that you’ll see on, on number of websites. You know, you’re kind of answering the question before someone has potentially even thought about it. So, so, okay then. So why are they coming to your websites to a clear call to action, I suppose whether they’re going to give you a call or whether they’re going to fill out a web form or whether they’re going to drop you an email or visit your, your shop or store or offices, and then depending on again, what the sell is, is it a product or is it a service perhaps it’s a mixture of the two. And if we’ve got a product, obviously the photos and the imaging of that is going to be absolutely crucial. If it’s a service based business then different pages for each slightly different category of service is really important as you say. And I do also wonder if things like testimonials or previous user experiences and those sorts of things, they’ve got a space on a website I guess, haven’t they?

Jane Hooper (10:40):

Testimonials definitely have a place on your website and it might be that you’ll have a full testimonial page, but it might be actually, you know, on your home page because I always think your home page actually should just be almost like a notice board for what’s going on within the rest of your website. So it’s just pinpointing to different areas. So it could be that actually to have a testimonial so that every time you loaded up the page, you had a different testimonial. That’s quite a good option to do. Anything like that. I think people are always reassured if, if they read that somebody else has used your services or whatever, and been happy, but of course, make sure that they are real.

Rich Gunton (11:20):

Absolutely, absolutely. And the thing is, is if you’re starting out and you’ve not got any testimonials, I think that’s totally fine. But just to have that in the forefront of your mind and sort of speaking from experience there, is that as you start to have those first early customers, you know, make sure you treat them well and use them. You know, most people are happy to give back aren’t they?

Jane Hooper (11:39):

Definitely. And in fact that’s actually sort of given me another point Rich, where I was thinking, it’s like, it’s, it’s actually quite good if you plan your website to plan how it’s going to be in the future so that you might start small, you might only have a few pages, but if you’ve those goals in mind, then you’re aware of them as you go along. And, as you say, treat those first customers well, so that, you know, yeah, this is great. I’m getting some good testimonials. I’ll be able to put them on the website soon. So it’s ticking off that action box, isn’t it?

Rich Gunton (12:08):

Absolutely. And, and I, I guess like all sorts of strands of business and enterprise, it’s that communicating with the customer and your website users and perhaps initially in the early days is how did you find us? And, and what do you think of our website? Was it easy to navigate around because you know, we’ve done it ourselves and we’ve put so much effort and energy into it. We can’t necessarily see some of the glaringly obvious tweaks that could work well for the user experience, which I guess is what it’s all about isn’t it? It’s engaging that user experience to stay and connect and follow your call to action, I suppose, so that they integrate with your business.

Jane Hooper (12:41):

So I think you do get too close to it and you forget to look at it from your buyer’s point of view, if you like, and this is why sometimes a website, it shouldn’t be too personal. It should be personal to your business, but not necessarily for you because it needs to reflect what your business is. And so definitely go out and get people’s opinions and sometimes people can be quite reluctant to give constructive feedback. And actually the worst thing somebody can do is to say to you, oh yeah, your website is looking brilliant. Actually, it’d be really helpful if they said, oh no, I really like that. But you know what? That was a bit confusing. That’s actually really good. And I think it’s good if people can just be honest in a nice way.

Rich Gunton (13:27):

I think crucial as well. And, and I think also being honest with yourself, you know, if you’ve got the skills and the experience and you want to give it a go, that’s brilliant. And like you say, you’ve got Wix and Squarespace and various other free or very affordable template websites that you can use and do yourself. But I always think as well having a really good look around the internet and websites, at maybe your competition or businesses that you’ve used and interacted with before in the past and what you love and don’t love about their websites. And I think that’s a great way to start to understand what the experience is going to be for your potential customers visiting your website, isn’t it?

Jane Hooper (14:03):

100%. The first thing you should do is research. If you’ve sort of got a few ideas what you think people might be searching for to find you, Google them and see what’s out there. And it might actually give you an idea that perhaps your keywords aren’t quite right, but definitely Google. See what comes up. Have a look at your competition and definitely review them, see what you like about them. What do you not like about them? But it doesn’t have to just be local; go and see what the big boys do. Just because they’ve got a much bigger website does not mean to say that you can’t look at something and think do you know, that’s really good. I really like that idea. I really like what they’re doing. You’re not taking their content away. It’s just getting inspiration from them. I mean, it’s like years and years ago, I don’t think many shopping sites had reviews on there, and Google started doing it. And of course they did so well and now virtually every shopping website you go on, they have reviews, but it didn’t used to be like that. But when you see a competitor do well, you think, oh, that’s a good idea. I should adopt that principle. So yeah, definitely, definitely go and have a look at lots of different sites and think what you like and what you don’t like. I couldn’t do a website without doing my research first.

Rich Gunton (15:17):

We’re talking to Jane Hooper, all things website, we’ve talked about budgeting. We’ve talked about what the main purpose is, the user experience, going it alone, how to get the right appropriate images and photos, having a clear call to action and really a portfolio of your services or your products as well. Having them all very clear to sort of navigate around the website and potentially using testimonials as they, as they come along. So I suppose the other thing Jane is once we’ve got our website looking lovely and it’s working well, and we’ve got perhaps, you know, maybe four or five basic pages, I think it’s, as you said before there, really important to have a contact us page. Maybe even if you don’t want to put your home address on there you could, for a fairly nominal fee each month, you could have a virtual office so at least it looks really well and it looks quite smart and professional and Google can find you as well. That kind of perhaps lends itself a bit more to credibility for your website. How do we start to think about getting listed on Google and making sure that each of those website pages, the words that are on there are going to help us and start to come up in search engines. Search engine optimization, is that right?

Jane Hooper (16:21):

It is a big one and it’s a slow process. And really what Google say is if you have good content and you focus on one key word or key phrase per page, then that will start to build it up. So then you’ve got to try and get natural traction to your website. So it might well be that, I mean, you could sort of link to it from Facebook, get more people interested. The more visits you get to your website, then the more important Google will start to feature you. It’s really hard to start to get featured on Google. And it will really depend on how much competition you’ve got. So it might be you consider something like Google AdWords so that you start to build up that interest on your page. It might be that you need to get a search engine optimization expert to help you out, certainly to get started. Another good way to regularly update your website would be to have a blog post, because it means that you’re providing additional information to the visitor to your website, so you can give them that kind of information, but actually you’re able to then use additional keywords. You might say, oh, that’s a good keyword. I’ll, I’ll try that. So it’s just a different subject matter that you can post on, but then also you’re giving more information to whoever’s going to visit your website, so it’s building up your credibility. Realistically, it’s a slow process. And if you get somebody that phones you, if they guarantee to get you number one in no time at all, well, then don’t go anywhere near them because you cannot guarantee to be number one on Google. You can get a company that will do their best for you to get there, but you can’t guarantee it because there’s so many other factors that are totally out of your control that you can never control.

Rich Gunton (18:09):

And, and also, I mean, as I understand it, Google have, certainly in recent years, changed the way that search engine optimization works to make sure that those large companies that were charging awful lots of money to people, actually don’t succeed anymore. And it’s actually down to the website, the content on the website and the relevance to the search that the person is obviously searching for. And I think that’s really, really key to think about. And as you mentioned before there about Google AdWords, those sponsored posts, you only pay for them when someone clicks on them. I do remember before talking to people and they go, oh no, I never click on the ones at the top or along the side. Well, some people do because if they didn’t, Google wouldn’t be making the billions and billions of dollars that it does. It does work. And like you say, it kind of gives you a bit of a, a kickstart because again, as I understand it, it takes at least six months probably longer now to start to come up in those search engines in an organic way. And, you know, putting, I don’t know, putting £25 a week into it as Google AdWords. So you only pay as someone clicks on, maybe 25p, or 30p, they click through to your website. And then obviously it’s about making sure that we followed everything we’ve spoken about. So keep them engaged. And so that they actually take action and contact you. On some of the DIY templates in terms of privacy policies and cookie policies and those sorts of things. I guess they’re all there in the template for us to be able to adapt, to use for our sort of user experience, you know, much about that at all?

Jane Hooper (19:35):

I want to say it almost comes as a dummy page ready to go, and it’s up to you to adapt it and publish it. And certainly you definitely need a privacy policy on your page. And then you just have to be aware of the cookies that you add on. So, for example, if you want to add on Google Analytics and Google Analytics is really good because it’ll give you an idea of who’s visiting what page, how long they’re staying on your website, but with that will come extra cookies, which you need to tell people about. For example, Facebook feeds and things like that, that’ll come with a considerable amount of cookies. So if you’re not sure then tread carefully and just look into it a little bit more to find out. I mean, certainly for some of the website builders, like Wix and Squarespace, they’ve definitely got lots of help from tutorials that will give you a steer on that, but it is a bit of a mine field, really making sure that you actually do comply with it mainly because the rules within GDPR have changed. And with now the cookie policy, I mean, I’m sure you see it, you know, most websites you click on every time it comes up, you know, do you want to accept cookies and what have you and every time you visit, sometimes you would just go to another page on a website and it comes up again, which can get a little bit annoying. You need to have that there to be legal.

Rich Gunton (20:55):

No, definitely. I suppose it’s thinking about the user experiences as you said before. And again, if we’re using a template or we’re using a web designer is that inclusive approach to people that maybe need a slightly larger text or they maybe would like it in a different language, or maybe some of the text can be read out from an audio point of view. So there’s perhaps as you develop and grow your website, there’s loads of different things to think about in that user experience isn’t there?

Jane Hooper (21:23):

With most of the most popular website builders that should happen automatically, so they should be able to respond, enlarge it etc. And so therefore the website is what we call responsive so that you can make it larger and smaller. And all the magic code that happens in the background will have been written already for you. And that’s sort of partly what you’re paying for. And most screen readers will automatically read the text out for you. But in actual fact, that brings me up to another point that I probably should have mentioned with regard to images. So when you upload an image, you should always add in what we call alternative text. And that basically is a description of the image. So if you’ve got a screen reader, for example, that will describe what that image might be. I mean, it might be two horses in a field or ladies having coffee or somebody doing a payroll, but it’s describing the image out to them. And in fact, every image you upload should have an alt tag or alternative text. Then if you don’t, Google doesn’t like that, so it gives you a tick down and certainly most websites will get marked on their accessibility. But I think that is one of the joys really, of the website builders that are, are out there, the most popular ones, they look after you with that. And all of those things happen probably without you realizing it.

Rich Gunton (22:45):

Absolutely. Okay. Great. Well, I think we’ve covered off all of the basics when it comes to using a website, thinking about your budget, your main purpose, the user experience, whether you’re going to go it alone and DIY, or whether you’re going to use a web designer, thinking about the images that we use, the call to action and what basically we’re going to try to sell on there, the products and the services, and we how display them. Well, thanks ever so much, Jane, anything else that we need to be thinking about?

Jane Hooper (23:13):

Words!

Rich Gunton (23:15):

Words?

Jane Hooper (23:15):

Yeah. We talked about having the images on the page, but of course it’s the words on the page, isn’t it?

Rich Gunton (23:20):

Okay. Yeah. So let’s talk words.

Jane Hooper (23:23):

I think words are really hard and I think some people can write easily and some people struggle. And if you struggle, using the services of a copywriter may be a fantastic return on investment, especially if they really know how to get in that call to action and, and everything else. And then also check your spelling. And if you’re lucky enough to have somebody who is, who can spot a mistake, a mile away, then you really want to use them because I’m useless. I, I really, I just see what I think it should be. I had somebody who was really good at checking stuff like that. So I’d always say, oh, please can you check my website. When they came back with lots of mistakes, it was like, yeah, lovely, thank you very much. Because that’s the benefit of a website is that you can update your text, get it out there, get it looking correct. Which is a little bit different than if you’ve just had 500 or a thousand leaflets printed and then you spot the mistake afterwards.

Rich Gunton (24:23):

Absolutely. Yeah. And I think, I think we can all relate to as well as, no matter what you’re writing, if it’s something for a website or a document and a bit like the design, you know, the more you do it, you’re so involved in it. The more you read it because it came from you, it’s very difficult to see anything wrong with it. So having a second pair of eyes and, or even a third and a fourth is certainly always worthwhile, isn’t it? You know, perhaps even just circulating it around family and friends for their sort of overview as well.

Jane Hooper (24:52):

Yeah. I mean, I sometimes think family and friends are too positive. I think they just try and say oh yeah it’s great, it’s great.

Rich Gunton (25:00):

That’s great. And they didn’t even read it!

Jane Hooper (25:05):

Definitely more eyes is very good. And yeah, the right tone of voice, and you can write in your own tone of voice because usually with a small business, it’s about you, so write about you. And there’s another, another pearl I’ve just thought of Rich; if you can have a photograph of yourself on the website, whilst everybody probably hates it, it just gets that connection. It gets people to connect with you, or they may not connect with you. I used to figure, do you know what, if they look at my photograph and decide they don’t want to work with a gray haired lady, perhaps they weren’t the right customer for me in the first place.

Rich Gunton (25:44):

Absolutely. Absolutely. And I, I think that’s, I think that’s really, really crucial. As you say we are the business, you are the business, and it’s just a one person business. Then having that photo on there is, is crucial. And the same as even if you’ve got a slightly larger team. But I also think we’re going to go almost all the way back to how we started out talking about images and photos is having a really, really good one. You know, having, having, having,uspending a little bit of money on a professional photo, if you can, shouldn’t cost you the earth and you’ll be able to use it for the years to come. Because you’ll never want to update it!

Jane Hooper (26:15):

Yeah, no, exactly. Yeah. See, I think that I’m very much like that. I had one taken a few years ago. I’m still using it because I like it!

Rich Gunton (26:25):

It’s timeless. It’s a timeless classic.

Rich Gunton (26:30):

Yeah. Well, thanks Rich. It was good to have a chat today. And hopefully we’ve come up with some pearls of wisdom that you can share with your listeners.

Announcer (26:38):

Thanks for listening to The Outset Podcast brought to you by the Outset Cornwall Programme, which is funded by the European Regional Development Fund, H M Government and The Outset Foundation, supporting people to become self-employed and start their own business. For more information, visit dev.outset.org/cornwall.