How to design a great website on a budget

Decide on your domain name
Selecting your website’s domain name is your first task and it might seem like a no-brainer. You want it to reflect your business, so the simplest solution is a yourbusinessname.com or a whatyouoffer.com domain (the latter will also help your search engine ranking).
But what if the name you want isn’t available? Even if it is, there are still other factors to consider before making your choice…
Domain name length
A shorter name is usually catchier and easier to remember (ebay.com). For smaller businesses though, opting for a name that is slightly longer, but more descriptive of what you do, might make your site more memorable (webuyanycar.com). 
Domain extension
Consider your domain’s extension too. The .com extension is most people’s number one choice because of its global appeal. And it’s what visitors are most likely to guess at if they don’t know your full address. However, the .com version of your desired domain might be taken, so let’s look at the other options…
Suitable alternatives include a .net, .info or .org address (the latter is common among non-profit organisations). But, if you only trade in one country, your potential customers might be equally, if not more, inclined to buy from a national business. In this case, a .co.uk extension would not only work well, but improve your search engine ranking too.
If you do secure a .com address, make sure you don’t sacrifice the quality of your domain name to get it. A first-choice domain name with a second-choice extension is better (and often cheaper) than attaching .com to a mediocre domain name.
Where to buy
Once you have decided on a domain name, check to see if it is available by using the search function on the website of any company that sells them. 
You might get yours included with web design software like WebPlus X5 or as part of a promotional offer, or you might have to pay much more. It will vary from company to company, but bear in mind that you’ll have to renew every year or two, so it pays to shop around. 
Similarly, the company you buy your domain name from might offer hosting too, which can be convenient if you’re not highly technical, but don’t take it up for convenience alone.
Choose the right hosting for you
When it comes to web hosting, it’s easy to opt for the free or cheapest option, but try to consider these other important factors too…
Web space
If you’ve created a substantial website, consider the web space allowed by your hosting. Even if your site is only 5MB in size, if you create new pages or add images and videos with large file sizes, your allocated web space can decrease dramatically. 
Your hosting might impose a limit, but this isn’t a major problem – you can always upgrade if you need to. It’s best to start with a package that gives you what you need and keeps costs down, and then upgrade your hosting if and when you need to. 
Bandwidth
Bandwidth is the amount of information transferred from your site to all your visitors’ computers and is another very important feature of your potential hosting. 
For example, let’s say your hosting equips you with 50GB of bandwidth each month and the sum of all the pages in your site is 100MB (0.1GB). This allows 500 people to view your website in a month (assuming they each look at every page). If you get more viewers or your site increases in size, it could be disabled – costing you potential sales.
As with your web space, try to keep cost in mind and start only with what you need, rather than over-compensating – it’s easy to upgrade if you need to.
Support and reliability
Technical support and reliability are also paramount. Without much experience of getting websites online, you may come to depend on support from a hosting company, i.e. speaking to someone when a problem arises and resolving the matter as soon as possible. 
And you’ll want reliability no matter how web-savvy you are. If your site goes down for example, you’ll want to know why and when it will be online again. 
For reassurance, try to see what other people are already saying about your potential hosting company. Read reviews and find out about the quality of service, uptime etc. before you commit.
Advertising
Some packages will often be free or cheaper than others because they require you to display adverts promoting other companies or the hosting company itself. 
This might seem like a good compromise, but the disadvantage is that adverts (in the form of popups, banners or advertising frames) can disrupt the design of, and also take attention away from, your site, so shop around for an ad-free package.
Location and type of servers
Securing hosting with a company that has servers in your country can be beneficial, principally for your search engine ranking. 
But cloud hosting also offers advantages – your site is hosted on servers around the world, making it faster for local visitors to access your site. Another advantage of this hosting is that if one server encounters a problem, another will pick up the slack. This almost guarantees your site is never down.
Create a professional site
Designing a website as a small business is easy to do, but hard to do well. Free software and templates online mean you can create your website for little or no cost – great for your budget. But make sure you’ve got your customers in mind when you design.
Talk about benefits, not features
In order to connect with, and sell to, your customer, you need to think like your customer. Visitors to your site need to see more than merely what your products do – they need to read about or see the benefits that your products provide, i.e. how they can make their lives better.
For example, if you’re selling cars, informing visitors that a car has the best fuel consumption in its class probably won’t sell it to them. You need to tell them that they won’t have to make as many trips to the petrol station and they will save money, which they can spend on the more important things in life.
 
In other words, you’re not selling a car – you’re selling the idea of extra cash at the end of every month for the customer to do with what they please. Don’t just describe a product or service, explain a solution to the customer’s problem.
Keep your design uncluttered
You want your website to be inexpensive, but attractive and professional; the best way to achieve this is by using a template that is relatively low in cost or sometimes even free. A clean and uncluttered template design will be easier for you to work with than a busy and unstructured one. Not to mention much friendlier on the eye and better for the site’s loading time.
Avoid using lots of different fonts – one or two sans serif fonts are best for on-screen readability, especially if pages are text-heavy. Similarly, only use images and other media (quick and easy to add into templates) if they are relevant to the content – otherwise they’ll just slow your page loading time and eat up bandwidth.

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Also, the colour scheme across your website should be recognisable and memorable. You should use your existing brand colours (colours that you already use in other marketing materials) and a strong contrast between text and background.
There are more design elements to consider, but the goal is a professional and easy-to-navigate website. Enable a customer to go from product search to purchase in the quickest and easiest way possible, i.e. make prices and calls to action obvious and drive customers to make a move.
Optimise your site
Advertising your site online is expensive, so save money and design your site with another audience in mind – search engines. 
Where your site ranks in search engine listings can have a big effect on your traffic because some visitors, if not most, will arrive at your site via a search engine. And rather than employing an expert, you can optimise your site for search engines yourself.
Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) applies to the whole of your site – from the domain name and the page title to the headings, body text, image names and metatags. And it’s important to strike a balance between optimising your site for your customers and for search engines.
The visitor’s experience will deteriorate if you cram your site full of keywords (words that relate to your field and are likely to be used in searches), so try to find a good blend. 
Keywords should also be relevant to their particular page – this increases your chances of not only being found, but being found by the people who are looking for the specific product or service on that page. Assign each page a descriptive URL too, separated with hyphens – search engines recognise individual words in URLs this way.
Regularly updating your site’s content is also beneficial. Search engines are always looking for new content and keeping your site fresh won’t just benefit the search engines, it’ll impress your visitors too.
You can design a great site without spending a fortune
No matter what your budget, creating an effective website that works for your customers and delivers for your business can be a challenge. These tips will make it a lot easier though, and you won’t have to spend a fortune to get your site up and running.
Dale Cook is Product Marketing Manager at Serif, the award-winning design, publishing and creative software developer. For more information, visit www.serif.com.