In the past few years, we’ve seen a dramatic rise in the number of companies who have a presence online. Almost every major retailer now offers the service to purchase their products online, while consumers are more likely to look up local businesses online rather than reach for a bulky telephone directory.
For small businesses or companies who previously have little experience with web design and site building, the process of building a website for their business can be an intimidating and often expensive venture. Beside the initial cost and time taken to create the site, there are considerations for updating, hosting and general site maintenance.
For those choosing to use Blogger as a means of building and maintaining a business website, such concerns about maintenance, hosting and updating the site are vastly reduced. As I’ve explained in previous articles, it is easily possible to maintain a professional blog for as little as $10 a year (and possibly even less). Hosting with Blogger is free, no matter how many pages you publish or how many visitors you receive: realistically, the only payment required is the cost of purchasing a domain name.
Blogger’s simple yet powerful interface ensures we can adapt a regular blog into a fully functional and professional online presence . In this two part mini-series, I will offer an overview of how this may be achieved.
What are the requirements for a small business website?
For a business building an online presence for the first time, the requirements may be rather simple:
- A landing page/home page which explains a little about the business
- An about page, which goes into more detail about the business and what it offers
- Contact details (ie: location, telephone numbers, email address/contact form
- Business “branding” in the form of consistent design, an appropriate domain name and more.
It may also be useful to add pages for particular products and newsworthy content of interest to potential customers and clients.
How we can adapt a Blogger blog to meet these requirements
Blogs feature certain characteristics which can be adapted to function as a business website rather than appear to be an online journal:
- Blogs have a home page, which usually feature a selection of recent posts. By adding content which is only displayed on the home page, we can create a “landing page” with information about the small business, and recent newsworthy items beneath.
- Creating blog posts adds new pages to our blog. We can utilize these posts to function as “About”, “Contact” and “Product” pages, which we can then make accessible through additional navigation in the blog design.
- The huge selection of free/premium templates available ensures we can find a theme suitable for consistent business branding. Furthermore, a business logo can be added to the header section while images of products can be inserted into blog posts (pages) to provide more information for potential customers and clients.
To make a Blogger blog appear even more like a regular website, we can disable comments; remove “post author” details and add useful design features to enhance the overall impression of our business.
Let’s get into the details for effective business website building with Blogger.
First impressions are crucial! Finding the right template for your business blog.
In my opinion, the most crucial step in building an effective business presence with Blogger is choosing the right blog template.
While there is a huge selection of free templates available for Blogger, not all templates are created equal. My advice to business owners creating a site with Blogger is to find a template which appears more like a business site than a chronological journal from the start: this ensures less editing of the template is required, making it easier to get a head start when creating an online presence.
There are several particular templates which I recommend to those building an online presence for their business. These templates offer a layout and functions which are more appropriate for business sites and meet the expectations of potential customers in ways which regular blog templates do not.
While the overall color scheme and imagery may not resonate with the branding of your online business, be aware that these visual aspects may be changed much more easily than the overall layout and functions of the blog!
Here are five free Blogger templates which are an excellent starting point for small business site:
1. The Daily Inspired by Antonio Lupetti
This template offers a section which only appears on the home page, plus titles only for posts which appear beneath it, making this an ideal basis for a business site.
You could add details about your business in the home page section and utilize the “What’s New” section for important updates and news of interest to your site visitors.
2. Transparency by Falcon Hive
Here is another template featuring a home page only section above the regular blog posts. The YouTube video space in the sidebar could be used used to add media relevant to the business.
3. WP Polaroid by eBlog Templates
WP Polaroid proved one of the most popular Blogger templates of 2008. This features a significant section in the header for business information and the “Polaroid” image could easily be adapted to feature a company logo.
4. Zinmag Primus by Falcon Hive
Zinmag Primus is an excellent template for a product-based business due to the slideshow feature above the main posts section. This area could be used to great effect for showcasing both the business and featured products, while the text beside images offers visitors useful information about the site and company motives.
5. Alpha Minimalist template
While this template by Falcon Hive may seem minimalist in design, the beauty of this is that design adaptations to reflect a business brand are very easily made. Again we have a featured section below the header for company information, but the addition of links to the right of this section is particularly useful as links to important pages can be highlighted for ease of navigation.
Adapting Blogger Templates to create Business Websites
If you have downloaded a new Blogger template as the basis for your small business website, chances are you will need to edit some aspects of the template in order to add your company details. Chances are you will find details for customizing your template from the author’s website and since each template differs in the manner of customization required, I will not detail these particular aspects here.
However, even after you have made these changes to your template, there will still be aspects of your design which require more attention.
Don’t forget that most Blogger templates are created under the premise of acting as a blog. Visitors to business sites have different expectations of how the site will function. So to meet these expectations, we need to tweak some aspects of the template even further.
Which widgets to use in your business blog design
When considering widgets to add to your Blogger layout, you should remember only to add widgets which are truly relevant to your business! If there are many irrelevant widgets in your design, these will detract attention away from the more important aspects of your site: your actual business, products and branding. Remember, we are building a site to act as an online presence for your business, not a blog (unless of course, your business is your blog!).
Aspects of the design which bloggers recognize as important are not particularly relevant for business sites. Your Blogger profile, subscriber count or the number of followers to your blog are not often relevant for visitors wanting to learn about your business. Therefore widgets such as these do not have a place in a business-orientated template: they make it appear more like a blog than the business website we are aiming for.
Instead, you should focus on adding product and company information, testimonials and other relevant information to your sidebar (and other widgetized areas) to ensure the focus of visitors remains on your business at all times. Videos are also useful if they demonstrate something useful to potential customers, as are any photos of your store-front or products which your business offers for sale.
Upload your company logo to the header
If your business uses a logo for branding purposes, be sure to add this logo to the header section of your blog.
To do this, go to the Page Elements tab of your Blogger dashboard and click on the “Edit” tab for the header section. Here you will be given the option to upload a header image to your blog’s header section.
Be sure to read any instructions offered by the designer of the template you are using in case there is an optimum size mentioned for your header image. If no header widget is available for your particular design (such as “The Daily Inspired”), you should find alternative instructions are offered from the download page.
Disable comments and backlinks from your blog
Most sites for small businesses do not allow visitors to add comments, nor do they offer details of other sites which link to each particular page. Of course, it it is important to you or your business to have such features in place, then leave these aspects alone.
If you would prefer to disable comments and backlinks from your template, here is how to achieve this:
- In your Blogger dashboard, click on the Settings tab and then on the Comments link in the menu.
- On this page you will be offered the option to “Show” or “Hide” both comments (right at the top of the page) and backlinks (about halfway down this page). Ensure you have checked “Hide” for both of these options, then save these settings using the link at the bottom of the page.
- Next, go to the Layout>Page Elements page of your dashboard.
- Click the Edit link for your Blog Posts widget.
- On the pop-up page, you will see options for what can be included in your post footer section:
- Ensure you have unchecked both of these boxes (to prevent anything appearing about comments or backlinks in your template) and finally save these changes.
These steps ensure there should be no confusing text mentioning either comments or backlinks in your overall business blog design.
Ensure there is a search function available for your blog
Search boxes have proved an extremely useful function for both blogs and websites in general. This is because searching makes it very easy for visitors to find the information they require.
The templates I have described above all include integrated search functions in the template. If you are using a different design which does not include a search function, I would advise you to add one to your design as this will enable visitors to search through your site with ease.
The simplest way to add search functionality is simply to add a Search Box widget to your sidebar through the Page Elements section of your Blogger dashboard. This relatively new widget uses Google Custom Search to locate information to your blog posts and can be applied in just a few clicks:
You can customize this search box by checking or unchecking the options on the pop-up page. I personally would advise you to only leave the “This Blog” option checked for a business site in order to keep visitors interested in your company (and not somebody elses!).
An overview so far…
In this installment of “Building a Small Business Website with Blogger” I have explained how Blogger blogs and templates can be easily adapted to perform the functions of a regular business website.
Rather than spend lots of cash or time in building an HTML based site from scratch, we can utilize Blogger templates and simple publishing utilities to present a professional site which appears as a regular website (rather than a blog) by using templates with particular styles of layout and making a few additional tweaks to the template code.
In the next installment of this mini-series, I’ll explain how to add business-related pages to your site using blog posts; how to link to and configure these pages, and how to present “news” to your visitors on the home page with ease so visitors feel they are visiting a dynamic and professional business site rather than a free, Blogger hosted blog!
I hope you have enjoyed reading this series so far. Please feel free to leave your comments and opinions by leaving your message below.