In this digital age, almost every business should have a website. Whether you have a local corner shop or a tech start-up, we’ve put together a list of the essential features of a business website.

1. Choose the perfect domain name

In web-based businesses, one of the most important brand tools available to you is your domain name. It’s how customers will navigate to your site, and it’ll contain the name they’ll associate with you the next time they visit, so it’s vital that your domain name is concise and memorable.

Because .com has always been the ‘default’ domain extension, you’re less likely to find a short, snappy .com domain that is still available. That’s why more and more companies are choosing to move away towards more modern extensions like .co or .io. When you create a new business website, consider other extensions such as .blog and .shop, location-based extensions such as .scot or .paris, or even some more niche extensions such as .pizza or .ninja.

With all the extensions out there, it’s no longer essential to have a .com domain. However, looking at which .com domain names have already been bought can give you a good indicator of whether your business name is unique enough.

It’s also a good idea to register more than one domain name in order to secure your brand. Owning a few relevant domains with different extensions can prevent others from filling the gap with fraudulent sites – also known as typosquatting.

2. Get the right hosting

Imagine your website as a car. Your pages provide each of the different features – your navigation bar is the steering wheel, your domain is the number plate, and the UI is the dashboard. In this analogy, your hosting is the engine. To choose the right hosting, you need to think about what the demands of your business website will be, as well as what resources you have available to you.

If you have web design experience, or you know or are willing to pay someone who does, a shared hosting solution may be more suitable for you. This will give you a platform for you to upload website files to, and you get full control over the contents of your site.

You’re only limited by what you – or the web developer you’re working with – can build. You might find that a more complex project such as an ecommerce website requires more tailored development to get those advanced features.

On the other hand, your expertise might not lie in web design, and paying a web developer can get costly. In that case, a website builder may be more suited to your needs. You don’t need web design experience, and you can achieve most of the features required in a business website. Many website builders also include ecommerce tools, so while you get your business off the ground, you can create a professional website for only the cost of the subscription.

The other factor to consider for your website’s hosting is its security. When customers are trusting you to store their data, it’s vital to be able to trust your host in turn. Make sure you do your research, and know where your data is being stored.

3. Create effective content

You might have heard the phrase “content is king” being thrown around. In the age of digital marketing, content is a vital piece of the puzzle for curating new leads.

But what is ‘effective content’? Your content can appear in many forms, ranging from the text you use to describe a product, your business description on the about page, or pay-per-click ads that bring people to your site. If you ensure that each piece of content has been fully optimised, you can make these seemingly trivial pieces of information useful lead-generating tools.

To learn how to create good content, you’ll need to know the basics of search-engine optimisation (SEO). We’ve previously written some articles about how it works, but it’s an ever-changing industry. The aim is to tailor all parts of your website to satisfy algorithms from search engines such as Google, therefore pushing your content and web pages higher up the ranks of search results.

One of the best ways of fleshing out content on your business website is to add a blog. There are plenty of benefits of a blog to a business website, but giving you a platform to create lots of optimised content is one of the most beneficial. And it’s not as difficult as you might think to start your own blog – WordPress, for example, makes it easy to set up a blog in minutes, so you can start curating your tailored content quickly.

4. Make it responsive

Another key piece of the puzzle is making sure your business website design is responsive. A responsive website can be viewed on any device, be it desktop or mobile, and will automatically adjust its layout depending on how it’s being viewed.

Mobile browsing is ever-increasing, and now accounts for just over half of global internet traffic. Have you ever visited a site on your phone which is clearly not meant to be viewed on a small screen? You might find that some buttons don’t work or are too small to click on, or the text is too big and runs off the screen.

The obvious reason why this would be beneficial is that a non-responsive website drives customers away. If you end up on a website like this, chances are you wouldn’t stay for long unless you had to. If a customer does stay on a site that is not optimised for mobile, you wouldn’t be making a good impression and they would be less likely to return.

Search engines such as Google share these concerns, so it’s no surprise that responsive websites tend to rank more highly than sites which are only optimised for desktop.

Fortunately, creating a responsive website from scratch has never been easier – many website builders now provide a responsive design by default with the ability to switch between preview types, so you can see what your site looks like on each device before you publish it.

5. Use cutting-edge design

Making sure your website is responsive is one of the key elements of design – but it’s not the only one. A website can be perfectly responsive, but if its design is outdated, you might find it still drives away customers.

When building a business, you likely have a good idea of what kind of brand you’d like it to be. It usually depends on the type of product you’re selling, and who you’re selling it to. With your website being the face of your business in many cases, it’s important that it’s as easy to navigate and clear as possible.

If you have a physical shop, you wouldn’t install a maze your customers had to work through to find your products – most people would leave without trying. Similarly in a website – your products should be clearly defined, and easy for your customers to locate. Features like a search bar for specific products, and recommended product links can help your customers discover more of what you have to offer.

The look and feel of the page matters too – for example, if you’re trying to market a modern, premium product, your website design should avoid more rustic or old-fashioned aesthetic elements. Current design conventions lean towards clean, simple elements, with a clear colour scheme and plenty of white space. This makes them easier to view and navigate, and users don’t feel overwhelmed.

Website builders also have you covered in this aspect – and you don’t need to have design experience. They allow you to just choose a theme, and the colour scheme and design will be applied for you. You can tweak all aspects as you see fit, but the overall look doesn’t require you to be an expert in the field.

6. Speed up your page-load times

While you might want to show your products from every angle, uploading too many images to your website can cause it to slow down. This is another factor which affects your ranking on Google – as well as being frustrating for customers.

The evidence is in the numbers – a two-second delay in page-load time can double your website's bounce rate (the number of people that visit your site and leave without interacting with it). Page-load time is now a vital metric. Google’s given standard is that a site should load within 5 seconds on 3G internet, but only a fairly small percentage of websites can reliably meet that target. Those that do take precedence over the slower sites, and therefore rank higher.

There are many methods to speeding up page-load times. You can look again at your hosting – for instance a server equipped with SSDs will load its pages faster than one running on HDDs. But there’s plenty of things you can do to improve page-load times which cost nothing at all. Consider the size of the images on your site. Are they at a high resolution, but displayed in a small size? You could replace them with lower resolution versions, and there wouldn’t be any noticeable difference. Lower resolution leads to a smaller file size.

The way your site is coded might also contribute to a lower page-load time. If code is messy, or jumps around unnecessarily, the page will struggle to load in good time. It’s important to make your code as efficient and clean as possible. This also helps if the maintenance of the website ever passes to someone else – they’ll find it much easier to take over if it’s properly coded.

7. Branch out with a business email

Building a business can be all-encompassing. While it’s tempting to only consider the website itself, there are other aspects to think about to make your company successful online.

Communication with your customers is key when you’re in the early stages of cultivating an audience. Responding to comments left on your content, or replying to reviews can make customers feel valued, and shows potential customers that you have an active interest in what they have to say.

Once you have a domain, you can get a professional, personalised email address. Instead of mybusinessinfo@gmail.com, which can look amateurish and untrustworthy, your emails can use an address like info@mybusiness.com. Creating a professional email address that matches your domain will give your business legitimacy, and help boost your brand.

Of course, every single business website will include different things. Some sites would not be well-suited to a blog, for example. But this list should give you a solid foundation of factors to consider when you’re building yours, no matter what it might be.