Building A Compelling Website For Your Meal Prep Business
When you run your own business, you have enough to worry about. By the time you get around to setting up a website, you’ve probably already done most of the legwork to get your business off the ground. You’ve decided on your niche, honed your business model, and probably served your first customers. The last thing you may want to do is learn the technical information necessary to set up a website.
However, a smoothly functioning website is critical to attracting new customers—and making sure you’re targeting the right customers. It’s always valuable to know what separates a good website from a bad one, because this skill set will help you for the entire lifetime of your business.
The basics listed in this article will help you understand what to do and where you might need to focus some extra attention. You don’t necessarily need to handle every one of these steps personally, particularly if you don’t have the time. If you’re looking to contract someone to build your website for you, look at this as a primer for what you should expect your contractor to do on your behalf.
How do you create a business website?
You want visitors to visit your website, so you’ll need to assemble a few components. Think of it like putting together one of your meals, except in the digital space. Just as you wouldn’t skimp on ingredients for a customer’s meal, you’ll want to create your company’s website using high-quality tools.
When you look at a website, you’ll notice the Universal Resource Locator (URL) in the navigation bar. It will be something like “https://mealtrack.com.” This is the human-readable version of your website’s address, which points to the specific place users can go to view it.
Behind the scenes, computers encode this address into a set of numbers separated by periods. If you’ve ever looked up your IP address, you’ll recognize the format. This set of numbers is similar to your home mailing address.
You’ll need to choose a domain name for your website before you can do anything else. Vendors such as GoDaddy or BlueHost, among others, allow you to search for domain names and choose a version that you like (and is still available!). Just be sure to purchase the rights to your domain name outright; you don’t want to allow your vendor to purchase it for you, because they often retain the rights by default.
However, if you’ve already purchased a domain name through a vendor, don’t worry. You can request that they transfer ownership of your domain name to your own personal account. It’s not a seamless process, but it’s an important one to complete. This is your business, so you don’t want someone else owning your domain name.
If a domain is like your house, with a home address, then the computer on which your site is hosted is like the plot of land where your house is built. This specially internet-specific computer—called a server—contains or “hosts” your website and allows visitors to view and interact with it from wherever they are in the world. Most of the time, however, it isn’t the server itself people are referring to when they use the term host; it’s the company that owns and operates the server.
GoDaddy and BlueHost, the vendors we mentioned earlier, are primarily hosts, with domain sales as a secondary service. There are a wide variety of companies that host sites, and it’s a good idea to research the best options before you decide. They will have different contract terms and service tiers, and some may be a better fit for your needs than others.
One important factor to plan for is a backup of your website. Good hosts provide complete website backups as part of their packages, and that’s great. But you should also create your own backups and store them somewhere secure, where you can access them as needed. Once again, this is your business website, so don’t trust a third-party company to keep your bases covered for you. The host might go out of business or close your account, and you would lose all access to their backups of your site.
By far the easiest way to set up a website is to use a platform like WordPress. Other platforms certainly exist and hold some appeal—Squarespace, for example, advertises its simplicity for beginning users—but few, if any, platforms compare to WordPress when it comes to functionality and customizability.
Roughly 60% of individuals and independent businesses use WordPress for site building, because it has so many plugins and templates that allow them to customize the appearance and function of their websites without needing to learn how to code custom tools. Using pre-made plugins and templates isn’t always the best end-game plan, especially for established businesses with the budget to develop custom code, but smaller businesses will enjoy the ease of use and quick “plug-and-play” style setup of WordPress features.
The one drawback for developing a site this way is that it essentially uses a variety of software tools to execute your design. The danger there is that it creates dependencies—Plugin A might rely on Plugin B to function correctly, so what happens if Plugin A’s developers push an update that interferes with the way Plugin B operates? It’s
manageable when your site is relatively small and easy to check, but if you have a larger website, keeping on top of which plugins are working properly can be a chore all on its own. Keep in mind that using fewer plugins when you build your site (or when you hire someone to do it for you) will make the ongoing maintenance simpler. Always check with your contractors about their maintenance policies to make sure you’re okay with the level of support they’ll provide; if they aren’t providing support, instead make sure they show you the tools they used to build your site so you can manage it yourself.
If you’ve never seen Hypertext Markup Language (HTML), it might seem like gibberish at first glance. HTML, however, is a “tagging” language that tells the computer how to visually display text, images, and simple backgrounds on a website. For example:
- <b>Makes text bold</b>.
- <i>Turns text italic.</i>
- <h2>Creates a sub-headline.</h2>
And so on.
Cascading Style Sheets, or CSS, is another type of code that tells the browser how you’d like to visually display elements on your site. CSS is a great choice if you want a cohesive theme across your whole website (for example, you might want all your paragraph text in a certain size and font and all your images to have a thin pixel border behind them) without having to code each element individually.
Website code can go far beyond simple display languages, but if you’ve opted for pre-made WordPress plugins, this is basically all you need to build your site in terms of technology; the rest of this article is about what your site needs to keep someone’s attention. You’ll need more advanced coding languages—and some skills to use them—if you want to build custom functions.
You could have the most advanced, smoothly built website ever designed, but if your site doesn’t contain content relevant to your potential customers, they will pass right on by. Informative and useful content is the meat of a site; it’s the images, articles, blog posts, downloadable files, and other interactive components that keep readers interested.
Consider content that speaks to your market niche. Many MealTrack clients are serving customers with specific dietary needs, like vegans or people on paleo, gluten-free, or keto. Content that will interest them could range from blog articles that discuss the difficulties involved in maintaining a strict diet to videos that show the benefits of sticking to that diet, for example. The point is to build content that is interesting to your ideal customers to begin a relationship with them. The more people like what you have to say, the easier it is to convince them to become one of your customers.
For the nuts and bolts, you should make sure you can update the content yourself. If you’ve hired a developer to build some of your site for you, strive to at least learn the process of updating content. Every time you want to change a store listing, update a product description, or publish a new article, you should be able to manage it without asking your developer to do it for you. If you skip this crucial learning stage, the process of creating new content for your site will eventually feel so overwhelming that you’ll avoid doing it, or so expensive to accomplish through a developer that you will put it off. And that, in turn, means you’re missing out on potential business opportunities.
What do you do when you try to open a website on your computer or your phone and it lags or is hard to understand? If the images flicker, the text is overlaid with other text, the navigation bars are confusing, or you can’t find what you’re looking for in the first few seconds, chances are good you won’t stick around for very long on that website. Most people are quick to hit the back arrow and move to the next option.
The experience of your readers is critical to the success of your site. Though it may seem like nitpicking to choose the best menu arrangements and streamline navigation, going from a mediocre user experience to an excellent one will always pay off in the long term.
Additionally, it’s important to pay attention to the placement of items on your page. You might think it’s quirky and fun to be different but put yourself in the mindset of your visitors. You’ve just landed on this business’s page, and you want to learn as much about the available services as possible in the shortest amount of time. You’ll scan the top of the page for menu options, check the upper right corner for a search bar, and perhaps scroll through a few headings to see what it’s all about. You probably won’t go any further if you can’t intuit where content will be, even if the website does have a unique and “cool” feel at first.
People have certain expectations when it comes to website layouts. If you visit any of the top five thousand business websites, you’ll find that most of them have the same overall structure. “Log in” is always at the top right, for example, sticking it all the way on the bottom left is going to frustrate the people who are used to a more traditional layout. Don’t forget that you’re a business, not an art project, and try to make your website as simple to use as possible.
Study the most common top navigation choices and stick to them. For example, anyone thinking about hiring a company to perform a service will go first to the “About” page to see who is running the company and learn what they care about. “About” should always be a top-navigation item on your site. This definitely applies to people ordering food from you; they want to be able to trust that the people preparing that food and running that business know what they’re doing and they do it well.
As with most tech topics, building a business website for your meal prep business can be complicated, but it can also be fairly straightforward if you understand these basics and know how to stay out of the weeds.
Thankfully, you don’t have to obtain a computer science degree to get started.
Remember: you must own your domain, choose the best host, keep track of your own backups, and learn how to add new content. And don’t waste months trying to “boil the ocean.” You can always start with a barebones site and refine it from there.