19 Website Basics Every Site Needs (+ Free Website Checklist)
This article is part of a larger series on Small Business Websites.
To set your site up for success, we put together a checklist of website basics that are foundational for building an effective website. Download our free website checklist and use it to make sure you have all of the website basics covered, such as picking the best website platform and key lead generation tools for your business to planning for search engine optimization (SEO) and website security.
Follow along when planning your site by downloading our free website checklist, using the Google Docs or MS Word versions to create your own website basics planning checklist:
1. Content Management System (CMS)
First on the list of website basics needed to build a small business website is a content management system, or CMS. There are a number of options available. Which is going to be best for your business will depend on what matters most to you, including things like customization capabilities, functionality, built-in features, ease of use, and price.
For example, while WordPress is widely used, it’s also the most difficult and time-consuming. We recommend that small businesses use an all-in-one website builder, like Squarespace instead, which makes it far easier and more affordable. The best website builders offer all-in-one solutions, often inclusive of a domain, SSL certificate, security, and SEO―all of which are website basics we detail below.
Here are the five best content management systems for small businesses based on use case. Click on the links for each one to research how to build your website on any of these CMS platforms, taking note of how complex, how much time, and the typical financial investment each requires.
- Squarespace: Best if your small business needs a beautiful and functional website quickly and affordably, with all-inclusive plans starting at $12 per month
- Wix: Best all-in-one, beginner-friendly website builder for highly customized sites
- Weebly: Great platform for easily building an online store at an affordable price
- GoDaddy: Built-in online booking tools make it the best option for local service-based businesses
- WordPress: Best for businesses with complex website requirements and the budget to hire a web designer or developer
Small businesses are advised against using WordPress. It can be complicated, cumbersome, and the results often end up looking homemade and unprofessional. Plus, it typically leads to higher website costs. It’s also more difficult to safeguard and secure, leaving your site (and data) more susceptive to hackers and malware. Instead, check out the best WordPress alternatives.
2. Domain Name
Every website uses a domain name (e.g., www.yourbusiness.com). You can get a domain name from a domain name registrar, such as Domain.com or Google Domains, starting at under $10. Costs for domains vary by type (.com, .org, .store, and so on), and premium domain names can run into the thousands, as can domain names that have already been purchased and “parked” but not used by others.
However, you can get a free domain name with most web hosting plans, so it’s worth choosing a web host first (see the next step) if you’re building a site with WordPress. Some site builders also include a free domain with your plan. If not, purchase your domain directly from your preferred CMS in order to avoid the pain of having to connect it manually.
Here are a few of the most popular domain name registrars:
- Domain.com: Best for getting a domain name at a competitive price
- Bluehost: Best for getting a free domain name with a low-cost web hosting plan
- Squarespace: Best for those who want the easiest way to build a site and get a domain name
If you need some help deciding, check out our list of the best domain name registrars.
3. Web Hosting
In addition to a domain name and CMS, every site also requires web hosting in order to be available live on the web as a website basic. With all-in-one website builders like Squarespace and Weebly, it comes as part of your package, so there’s no need to buy hosting separately. However, if you’re using WordPress, you will need to purchase a web hosting plan, such as from IONOS, Bluehost, or DreamHost.
Here are the three best ways to get web hosting for small businesses:
- Bluehost: Best for WordPress users―its low-cost, feature-rich plans include everything you need to build a site, from a free domain to one-click WordPress installation, for as little as $2.95 per month.
- Squarespace: Best for most small businesses―easily build a professional website with everything included, including web hosting.
- Weebly: Best for ecommerce businesses―build an online store quickly and easily without the headache of WordPress and at an affordable, all-inclusive price.
For more help deciding which one to choose for your website checklist, get the complete comparison of the best web hosting companies.
4. SSL Certificates Are Now Website Basics
You may have noticed that some web URLs start with “http” or “https.” The https represents a more secure site that has an SSL certificate. SSL stands for Secure Sockets Layer protocol. It encrypts your data so that even should a data breach occur, the data can’t be easily deciphered.
Leading hosting providers, like Bluehost and DreamHost, come with a free SSL certificate, and they’re also typically included with all-in-one site builders. If it’s not included in your package, your CMS or hosting provider may offer it separately for an annual fee.
SSL data encryption is a requirement for any site that accepts online payments, but it’s now one of the website basics every site should have. It ensures site visitor and data security, makes your business look more legitimate, and is even a factor used by Google in rankings. Learn about some of the other ways you can help your site rank higher on Google.
5. High-quality Template or Theme
No matter which CMS you choose, selecting a high-quality template or theme that comes with the design and functionality you want your site to have is part of your website checklist. It’s a much better starting point for your website, so you’ll be able to build your website in less time. Where you get your template or theme from depends on which CMS you choose to use.
Here are the best sources for high-quality themes and templates:
- ThemeForest by Envato: Best for finding premium themes for WordPress
- Squarespace: Best for small businesses that want sleek, award-winning templates that can be customized in an easy-to-use platform for a variety of industries
- Wix: Best for businesses that want highly customizable templates they can easily update with a drag-and-drop editor
In addition to a great theme, WordPress users are also advised to find a theme that is compatible with a leading page builder plugin, such as Elementor. It makes customizing your theme far easier than trying to edit it in the WordPress interface. Learn more about the best drag-and-drop website builder plugins.
6. Brand Assets: Logo, Fav Icon, Color Scheme
Business website basics extend to key assets that give your site its brand identity. Gather assets such as your logo, a favicon image (or site icon), color scheme, fonts, and the slogan or tagline you want to use on your site.
If you don’t already have them, you can get a logo and other brand identity assets very affordably or even free, using online platforms like Canva for do-it-yourself (DIY) logo design. Alternatively, sites like 99designs enable you to hire a logo designer or hold a contest to generate multiple logo designs to choose from. On Fiverr, professional logo design and branding services start as low as $5.
Not sure where to start? Get all the information you need to get a great business logo design.
7. Graphics & Images
Quality images and videos make a difference—so much so that poor quality graphics are one of the fastest ways to make your site look unprofessional. However, professional photography can be expensive. Resist the temptation to use low-quality photos or graphics, and use professional stock photos and graphics instead.
Sites like Pixabay, Pexels, and Canva even give you a free way of getting professional photos and graphics. But keep in mind that while some sites offer free images and graphics, you may have to sift through a lot of amateur offerings to find quality images for your website.
It might be better to purchase professional stock or premium images for use on your site and in other collateral. Or, if you will have an ongoing need for quality images, subscribing to a site like Envato Elements gives you unlimited access to a wide range of photos, graphics, templates, videos, and music files. If you plan to engage in content marketing or be active on social media, this could be the best option.
Here are the best sites to get professional-quality images, videos, and graphics:
- Envato Elements
- Canva (for graphic design)
Pro tip: Your images and graphics will stand out even more when you add effects like parallax scrolling and hover animations. Most small business website builders make it easy for you to addd these effects through simple settings.
8. Data Reports & Analytics Tracking
To make informed decisions on your website, you need access to site traffic data, reports, and analytics. Get started with our list of the best free and easy ways to check your website’s traffic.
Tools like Google Analytics, SimilarWeb, and Monster Insights give you insight into how many people visit your site, which pages they visit, how long they spend on your site, how they found your site, and more. This shows how effective your marketing campaigns are, what keywords your site ranks for, and provides ways to strategically optimize and promote your site.
9. SEO Tools & Plugins
It’s no easy feat to get found in engines, including Google. If you use WordPress, one way to improve your site’s ability to rank higher in search is by using an SEO plugin. With the help of a plugin like Yoast SEO, you can edit your page and post snippets, add meta tags, get SEO suggestions for improvements (e.g., using your keywords in your content or permalinks, or adding alt-tags to images), and see your page’s SEO rating.
Get more insights into how you can help improve your site’s ability to rank in search with SEO and search engine marketing.
10. Contact Information
You might not know this, but website statistics show that nearly half of all site visitors will exit a site if it doesn’t display the company’s contact information. In other words, missing website basics like failing to display your information is a fast way to make your business appear untrustworthy. At the least, display your business’ name and address and give site visitors a way to contact you, such as via email or phone.
As part of your website checklist, you may want to include some or all of this information:
- Business name and mailing address
- Physical address (especially if customers visit your location)
- A toll-free, vanity, or local phone number
- Hours of operation
- Contact email address or web form, e.g., “Contact us by email”
Pro tip: There are smart ways to safeguard your information while still displaying it on your site. For example, you can get a virtual address, a virtual phone number, and you can use email forwarding to create a business email address.
11. Generic Business Email Address
You know your business and staff will need email, but you might be wondering why you need a generic professional email address as part of your website checklist. The answer is simple: to display as part of your site’s contact information.
When displaying your email address on your website, it’s best to create a generic email address such as “[email protected]” and set it up to automatically forward to an individual or department in your organization. This keeps individual email addresses protected from spam and enables continuity as it can easily be forwarded if the person responsible leaves your company.
If you purchased a domain through your CMS, you may also be able to get business email addresses through them. Web domain registrars and WordPress-friendly web hosting companies like IONOS even include basic business email addresses for free with some plans. Even if you use a different business email provider, free addresses that come with your hosting package could be ideal for generic or forwarding emails.
Want more insights into how to register a professional email address? Get the complete guide to getting business email.
12. Online Appointment Bookings (Optional)
Local service providers, from chiropractors to photographers, hairdressers, and yoga studios, should add an online appointment booking system to their website checklist. It turns a website into a 24/7 marketing and sales tool, able to accept bookings and reservations at any time with no need to have someone available to answer a call.
Luckily, booking tools are now website basics that can easily be integrated with most site builders as well as through plugins with WordPress. If you don’t already have a website and want to accept online bookings, the easiest way is to use the GoDaddy website builder, which comes with a built-in appointment booking software. Find out how to build a website with GoDaddy in just a few steps.
13. Performance & Security Plugins (for WordPress)
Performance refers to site and page load time, which is a ranking factor with Google. It’s affected by a number of factors, some of which you can’t control directly. Addressing those which can be improved, such as sizing images appropriately for use on the internet and caching, reduces the amount of information that must be included for returning site visitors can help with performance.
This not only improves your ability to rank on Google, but it also improves the site visitor experience, especially on mobile. For example, the ideal load time for mobile pages is just one to two seconds, and 53% of site visitors will abandon their attempt if your page takes longer than three seconds to load.
Hackers are abundant and pose a serious risk, especially to business websites that accept and process sensitive information such as customers’ personal details or payment information. To help safeguard your website, most site builders have built-in security tools. WordPress users will need to use a performance and security plugin, such as Jetpack, Sucuri, or Wordfence.
If you have an online store or any website that accepts online payments, maintaining your site’s security is crucial. Learn more about how to secure an ecommerce website.
14. Lead Generation Magnet
Lead magnets are simply an offer or incentive for site visitors to convert and become leads or customers. It’s a website basic for any business that wants its site to serve as a marketing tool. To create a lead magnet, think about your target audience and your unique selling proposition (USP). Identify an offer that is valuable to them, such as one that solves a problem they have or gives them something your competition can’t.
Here are a few examples of lead magnets:
- Downloadables (e.g., e-book or checklist)
- Free trial, sample, or demo
- Free consultation
- Feature-limited free version, such as for software
- Instant discounts (e.g., sign up for our newsletter to get 30% off your order)
Lead magnets are just one way to leverage digital marketing to fill your sales pipeline. Learn more in our comprehensive guide to lead generation.
15. Built-in Email Marketing
Ideally you’re already planning to capture the contact information of site visitors, including email addresses, for future marketing and sales initiatives. Instead of having to collect leads from your site and then import them to your email marketing platform, choose a platform that can be connected directly to your website through embedded web forms, plugins, or other integrations.
This way your leads will automatically be imported and emails will automatically be sent to new subscribers for future campaigns. One of the most common lead magnets is the email newsletter sign-up, but many different kinds of web forms can sync contact information to your email marketing software, such as account creation forms, applications, and general contact forms.
Here are a few of the top automated email marketing platforms:
- Mailchimp: Best overall for solopreneurs, startups, and small teams as it offers a free plan and affordable plans that scale with more features as you grow
- Constant Contact: Best email marketing software for ecommerce businesses
- Squarespace Campaigns: Best for easily building automated email campaigns with leads generated from Squarespace websites
- HubSpot CRM: Best free customer relationship management (CRM) for small businesses wanting software with integrated email marketing tools
Pro tip: Once you begin building email contact lists, you can save time and improve results through email marketing automation, list segmentation, and email personalization. If you’re not sure how, learn everything you need to know about email marketing.
16. Live Chat
The next item on our website checklist is to add live chat functionality. This gives your site visitors direct access and immediate answers and enables you to engage with hot prospects in real time. It’s especially beneficial for sales-forward businesses or those that provide a high level of customer support.
People come to your site to learn more about your business. Since your site can’t possibly answer every possible question a visitor might have, live chat is a quick way to give visitors the information they want without writing an email or picking up a phone. Thanks to live chat plugins, it’s easier than ever to install and use live chat on your website.
Here are a few of the best ways to get have live chat on your website:
- Freshchat: Best live chat plugin for WordPress websites
- LiveChat: Best live chat that integrates with Squarespace and Wix
- Tidio: Best plugin for those with a website built on Shopify
There are even live chatbots powered by artificial intelligence (AI) that can interact with site visitors and answer common questions when live agents aren’t available. Just as with appointment booking software, this provides assistance to your site visitors 24/7 and can be integrated with your CRM for lead generation or help desk ticketing.
In addition to live chat plugins and integrations, a number of third-party live chat platforms, such as Olark and Zendesk, offer live chat functionality and other features like support and lead capture. Learn more about Olark vs Zendesk.
A sitemap is a directory of the web pages your site consists of. Search engines scan sitemaps to determine what content is on a site and whether it’s a good search result for specific search queries. This is another website basic included with most site builders. However, there are a number of plugins that can scan your site and generate sitemaps for you automatically.
Providing a sitemap can help your website rank higher on Google and other search engines, especially in conjunction with solid optimization strategies. For example, once you have a sitemap, you need to submit it to the Google Search Console to help your site get found online more quickly.
Here are the top sitemap plugins for WordPress:
Want help creating and submitting your sitemap to the Google Search Console? Get surprisingly affordable help from a web developer for as little as $5 on Fiverr.
18. An Optimization Strategy
Your website checklist should include optimizing your small business website both initially and on an ongoing basis. One of the first ways to optimize it, as mentioned above, is to submit your sitemap through the Google Search Console. Google will periodically recrawl your site and sitemap to determine if there is new content and whether older content is being updated.
Plus, as time passes, you acquire more data you can use to make insightful optimization decisions and continuously improve your site. Site optimization is a website basic must to ensure your site has the best chance at ranking in Google and getting found online.
If you’re not sure where to begin, reach out to a digital marketing agency like Hibu, which offers a free SEO audit. It is a great, no-cost way to see how your site is performing and ways to improve it. Alternatively, you can learn more about site optimization in HubSpot’s vast library of free resources in the HubSpot Academy or get tips for optimization on their free website grader.
For those who need in-depth site optimization tools, we recommend SEMRush. You can discover where your site currently ranks, find SEO keywords to improve your content, set up projects to track your site’s content, and check for things like spammy backlinks or broken internal links. You can even see what your competitors rank for and identify content gaps.
19. A Plan to Market Your Website
Last, but definitely not least on this checklist of website basics, you also need a plan to promote your website. While websites can get found online without any marketing, you can improve your site’s online visibility by employing some very simple, yet effective marketing strategies to make your website stand out.
Examples include listing your business in the best online directories, creating a Google My Business account or Facebook Business Page (all of which are free), and adding your website to business cards and other marketing materials. For those planning to use content as a lead magnet, having a content marketing plan and publishing calendar in place is essential.
For tips, check out the best website marketing strategies to help get more people to your site and more business through your doors.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Do I need to be a web designer to create a website?
Anyone can build a professional-quality website. Whether you use ultra-easy, all-in-one site builders like Squarespace or Wix, or want the customization that comes with WordPress, it’s possible to build a site with no prior experience. Thanks to site builder plugins, you can even build a WordPress site using a drag-and-drop site editor through Bluehost or GoDaddy.
What’s the quickest way to get my new site found in Google?
It generally takes around three to six months for a new website to rank in Google―if the site is well-optimized for search. If you want your new website to get found in Google search immediately, use pay-per-click (PPC) ads. This helps your site land at the top of search results for your chosen keywords, in your chosen locations. To get started, learn how to advertise on Google.
How do I get my business into Google’s local rankings?
For your business to appear in Google’s local search rankings, you first need to have a Google My Business (GMB) account. It’s free to create and requires you to have a physical address, which you will need to confirm in order to be approved. Once you’ve done this, work on getting positive reviews to help push your business higher in the local rankings. Get the step-by-step instructions on how to create your Google My Business account.
While it might seem like a dizzying number of website basics are needed to build a great business website, it can actually be accomplished quickly and affordably. The easiest route is to use one of the best website builders, such as Squarespace, which comes with everything you need in one place for one fixed monthly price of $12. See how easy it is to build a professional website with Squarespace with a free 14-day trial (no credit card required).