Using experiences I have gained working in digital marketing and in my time running websites over the last 5 years. I have decided to create a beginner’s guide to creating a website in africa and how to make it profitable.
In Africa we are told the solution to our problems is in empowering small to medium sized businesses. How can I support those businesses or people wanting to start a business? Simple. By writing an in-depth guide of my experience running websites in Africa over the last 5 years and how I have learnt to make them profitable.
A lot of this experience comes from trying to make Over Saturated profitable. You are currently using the platform that I try take advantage of these techniques on.
Without further ado here is the list of topics I will be covering.
- Website hosting in South Africa
- What is the best platform for creating a website in Africa?
- Digital marketing in Africa
- Free data tracking tools
- Website monetisation in Africa
- Resources for online businesses in Africa
Website hosting in South Africa
When I first started Over Saturated I had a budget of R0. What I did was chat to a colleague about my web hosting. He said he could do it for free and he did. I ran it with him for a year, during that time my website continued to crash every two months or so and it was starting to look bad. Not only for my readers but especially for my SEO.
I then started looking at other hosting options. In the past I have used xneelo (previously known as Hetzner). I had no issues with them. In fact I still own a domain through them.
xneelo has a few pricing options. Hosting varies from R99 to R439 per month.
Xneelo Hosting Plans
A while back though, a friend of mine, knowing I use WordPress, suggested that I look into Mshini.
Mshini has three plans a free one to a R799 plan, depending on your needs.
Mshini Hosting Plans
A huge benefit for me about Mshini is that they provide an easily accesible staging site. If you are unaware a staging environment is where you can create an exact replica of your website but keep it from showing up anywhere online. Developers use a staging environment to test any new features they want to add to the actual website.
I redeveloped Over Saturated recently, and while I was doing so, this meant that I could test things on the staging site before implementing them on the actual site. Once I knew what I was trying did not break anything, then I could implement it on my site.
If you are looking for web hosting, I would personally suggest Mshini. In my opinion they offer the best value for money. At the same time they provide excellent service if you need anything or if anything goes wrong.
I had good experiences with xneelo but it was never quite as good as Mshini.
That being said the best website hosting option for you also depends on what CMS or website platform you are going to use to create a website.
What is the best platform for creating a website in Africa?
For most Africans, that want to create a website, there are three main platforms Wix, Squarespace and WordPress. If you are looking to do E-commerce, a good option would be Shopify. There are tons of other options but the ones mentioned here are the most popular and the options you are probably looking at.
Instead of arguing for and against each platform, I am going to say this directly. WordPress is the best option.
Added note: A new local option has popped up called Savvy. I haven’t used it myself, however, a connection of mine sent me a demo, and it looks fantastic for new small businesses. Added bonus the price is around R100 a month.
I am a digital marketing specialist and will say this whole-heartedly. If you are serious about running a succesful online business don’t waste your time with Wix.
There are a few reasons for this but the main one is site speed. We’ll get into this a bit more later, but for now it’s important to know that Google has stated that site speed is one of the most important ranking factors for your website. I have worked on multiple Wix websites and I cannot figure out how to improve the site speed.
If I can’t improve site speed, it becomes incredibly difficult to improve site ranking. Don’t waste your time there. Another con from Wix is that you have to pay for almost every useful plugin.
Squarespace has similar issues. I will say this, squarespace makes it a lot easier to create beautiful websites than WordPress but do you want a beautiful website or do you want to make a sale? What is the point of a beautiful website that no one can find?
At the same time, WordPress does provide ways for you to make your website look really good while having the necessary tools to make it run effectively.
I haven’t mentioned Shopify. The reason for that is because I haven’t used it, but from what I have seen if you want to run an E-commerce store in Africa it is a good option. Alternatively, if you did want to stick with WordPress you can use Woocommerce.
It might sound like WordPress is paying me to write this – unfortunately, they’re not – they just have a good product.
Another benefit from WordPress is the great plugins they provide.
Helpful WordPress plugins
Here area few great plugins you can use on WordPress when creating a website in Africa:
Yoast is an SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) plugin. It can’t do your SEO for you but it helps put you in the right direction to give your website the best chance to rank on google.
MailChimp can help you create and manage a mailing list. If you listen to any digital marketing specialist they will tell you the importance of a mailing list. This plugin will set you up for one.
As I will continue to mention, if you want to run a succesful website you need to make it fast. Smush will help with that. It automatically optimises the images on your website and in so doing helps increase the overall speed of your site.
Autoptimize, simplifies optimising the code on your website to help increase your sitespeed. It can clash with other optimisation plugins but if used well it can work in conjunction with Smush.
As mentioned, if you want to run an E-commerce business through WordPress, Woocommerce is the plugin you need.
When running an online business, one has to be conscious of online security. With WordPress for example, plugins can result in security breaches if they are not protected.
There are few things you can do to protect your website from potential breaches.
- Choose secure hosting.
- Keep your website and it’s plugins updated.
- Install a security plugin.
Digital marketing in Africa
If you’re running an online business your website is your storefront. If you have a store, what do you look for? A location that gets a lot of foot traffic.
Digital Marketing is what you do put your shop in front of people online. I.e. get your business in front of foot traffic. There are a few techniques to help put your shop in front of as many people as possible.
Just posting on Social Media, for example, is not the best way to go about it. You need to prioritise time on the element of digital marketing that will give the best value for money. It’s great if you have 10k followers on Instagram but it’s not useful if they don’t visit your website or buy your product. That is what we call a vanity metric; It does not help your business earn money. It would be the equivalent of a busy day during December at the Waterfront or Gateway where 1000s of people walk past your store and take a quick look inside, then move on. What you actually want is them to pick up a product and walk over to the till.
Digital marketing is all about streamlining the process of getting your product in front of people and getting them to buy into your product.
With that said let’s get into the key elements of digital marketing.
SEO (Search Engine Optimisation)
SEO or Search Engine Optimisation is essentially working to get your website as high up on the first page of Google as possible. There are a lot of elements within SEO. However, I am going to break it down into a simple equation:
A good website + good content + domain authority = ranking.
What is a good website?
Simple, a website that is quick and does not have any major health issues. This element usually falls under technical SEO. Health issues are when something with your website is inconsistent or broken. There are some amazing tools that can tell you when this is a problem, what issues to fix and how to fix them. My favourite tool for this is Ahrefs and their site audit function.
What is good content?
When it comes to creating a website this doesn’t exactly mean, well-written content. In truth it does and it doesn’t. The article you are reading right now is me attempting to write extremely high quality SEO content. Good content for SEO is essentially in-depth, high-value, relevant and well formatted.
In this article I have gone in-depth on most topics you’ll have to look at when running an online business in Africa. I am trying to offer high-value to anyone reading this, because I learnt all of this over a period of 5 years and hopefully that experience can help you. It is relevant to creating a website in Africa. It is well formatted with headings breaking up different sections and following the best practes for formatting headings. Also, it is unbelievably long. Longer content usually offers higher-value, lean on the side of writing longer content. Here is a more in-depth guide on SEO-friendly content.
What is domain authority?
It refers to how many high quality websites refer to your website. I.e. link to your website. Essentially, the more high quality websites that link to you the higher your domain authority will be. There are complexities to this, like the more relevant the websites that links to your website the better. In a nutshell though, get references to your website from high quality websites. How do you check this? Again, Ahrefs is an amazing tool for this but if you don’t have budget (like me) you can create a free profile on Moz and check Domain Authority there.
I referred to Google here, there are of course other search engines like Yahoo, Bing and my favourite DuckDuckGo. The same equation applies to these though. For example, using the above equation, I managed to get the Over Saturated homepage onto the first page of DuckDuckGo for a bit – it is now at the top of the second page. Considering that over saturated is an actual term, I’m quite proud of that.
A final word on SEO, the best way to learn it, with little budget, is to read blogs. There are plethora of fantastic blogs to stay up-to-date but my favourite is Search Engine Journal.
The reality with social media that we need to ask is this; does it help grow my businesses profit? And, which platform will grow my businesses profit best?
Most of our traffic comes through Facebook. Most of our readers are between the ages of 18-34. Millenials and Gen Zs, who anecdotally don’t use Facebook anymore. However, according to our data they do. According to research done by World Wide Worx in the South African market, Facebook is still leading the way as a social media platform. Naturally, Tik Tok saw massive growth. What this shows is that, when you are deciding on a platform, let data guide you.
As a small online business in Africa you are stretched out thin. Social media requires a lot of work, with videos and photos needing to be created for every platform, for posts, stories and fleets. It’s a lot. Use data to figure where your focus should be. Then focus on the platform that fits your business the best, have profiles on the other platforms but make sure your focus is on the platform that brings you the most business.
To make social media growth profitable, grow your profiles on platforms with people that will go to your website and buy into your product.
The most common platform for PPC is Google Ads. If you don’t know what PPC is, in short it is having adverts posted online that you only pay for when people click on them.
If you have the budget and you want to reach your target audience this is a fantastic marketing tool. Google Ads allows you to target specific demographics and keywords.
Google Ads help with getting people to your website and your brand name. If you are going to use it make sure to optimise your Ads.
Google My Business
If you are a location based business Google My Business is your best hack. You can get ranking on the first page of Google and show up on Google Maps with very little effort. Simply create a listing and fill out all of your business information.
Google my business is really helpful with everything when it comes to digital marketing. It provides you with quick online visibility, helps your SEO ranking, improves trust signals and provides a space for customers to review you. Reviews are gold nowadays aren’t they?
UX is a term you’ll hear a lot in digital marketing circles. It is a method of working on how someone experiences your website/online platform. I.e. user-experience.
The goal of UX is to get people to end up at the part of the website that makes you money. So if you sell a product you want them to get to the checkout page. If you have a sign-up platform you want them to end up signing-up.
This doesn’t necessarily mean making it as easy as possible but rather as enjoyable as possible. There are complexities, for example, making sure that your website is setup for the right target market. At the end of day though, the goal of UX is to make a website as User-friendly as possible.
Helpful free digital marketing tools
Free data tracking tools
If you run a website in Africa and want to manage your digital marketing you need be able to measure successs. The best way to do that is to track your website or platform’s data. Here are my favourite free tools to do that with.
Google Analytics is how you track all the traffic to your website.
There are a lot of more complexities as to how to do that but you can learn those skills for free. Google has an Academy with free courses on how to use Google Analytics.
Google Search Console
With Google Search Console you can assess how your website is performing on Google itself. Looking at how it is ranking for various keywords and what pages are ranking.
Over and above that you can check your website’s health, site speed and what needs to be improved to achieve better ranking.
Bing Web Master Tools
Bing is Microsoft’s search engine. It is, as you know, a lesser known search engine but you’ll be surprised by the amount of traffic you can get through it. Monitoring that traffic and improving your website’s performance can be done through Bing Webmaster Tools.
It is a free service that allows you to add your website to the Bing index crawler. You can see your site’s performance through clicks, impressions and a few other factors.
Website monetisation in Africa
We can now, finally, get onto how to make your website profitable in Africa. Here, I’ll look at some of the tool and tricks you can use to earn money from the website you have created.
The first trick is a mailing list. A mailing list works well for a few reasons. It is essentially a list of your websites biggest fans. They are the first people you should be looking to sell to. They will also help promote your product if they like it enough.
At Over Saturated we use our mailing list to send weekly updates about new articles and when we have updates on developments on the platform. If we launch anything new, they are the first to hear about it.
It helps you be in contact with potential clients while building a community for your platform.
We currently use MailChimp to manage our mailing list.
A key tool for you to make money on your website is Google AdSense. When you visit a website and Ads popup that is typically setup through AdSense.
How it works is that the advertiser is charged per click on the advert and you earn a certain amount per click on said advert.
An interesting fact about this; Ad clicks from South Africa typically earn less than an Ad click from the USA. I believe the reason for this is because the cost per click in America for certain Ads is far higher. If you are looking to make money through AdSense on a website in Africa, that is something to be aware of.
There a few other platforms similar to AdSense. A platform we attempted to use was Media.Net. Our platform was rejected though because it does not get most of it’s traffic from the US, Canada or Europe. Whether the advertising platform you want to use provides for websites in Africa is something to be conscious of.
AdSense is probably the lowest earning form of advertising that you can have on your website, but it does have the lowest barrier to entry. There are a variety of other advertising techniques you should consider. Here are a few of them.
Sell Ad Space
If your website gets enough traffic, you can design spaces on to the website for Adverts. You can then sell this space to interested companies.
Affiliate marketing is an advertising model in which a company compensates third-party publishers to generate traffic or leads to the company’s products and services. As a third-party publisher you would be the affiliate, and the commission fee incentivises you to find ways to promote the company.
Let’s say Over Saturated was apart of Amazon’s affliate program, if someone went to Amazon through the platform we would then be compensated by Amazon for referring that person.
Sell sponsored posts
A lot of companies look for blogs that fit with their product. If you have a blog and a high amount of traffic, companies would love to have a sponsored post written on your website. You can charge them, get more traffic and earn money.
We take donations. The reason for that is because we are still a new platform, and we want to provide a space for people to support our growth and to be a part of that growth. We, also, have a bunch of people on our Author program and we have created a space for people to support those authors.
The most straight forward way to make money through your website is to sell products. Now is definitely the time to get into E-commerce. If you have the capital and products to sell, creating an effective E-commerce platform in Africa can make you a solid amount of money.
To make this platform successful you will need a solid mailing list. When creating the platform I would suggest you should use WooCommerce or Shopify.
Extra resources for online businesses in Africa
- The Companies and Intellectual Properties Commission
- SME Toolkit South Africa
- SME South Africa
- Business Africa Online
- Brad Brown
Join our website in Africa
I hope this article has been helpful in showing you what you might need to create and run a website in Africa.
If you are an African content creator or an African business person that wants to share your knowledge with others, please consider joining our platform. We want to create a community that helps uplift and empower African’s to tell the stories they want to tell how they want to tell them.
Please let me know if you have any other tips that I might have missed. You can do so by joining the platform and commenting below.
Written by: Tyrone Fisher
Founder of Over Saturated. A platform for African Content Creators.