Your website is going to be the front door to your business online – what do you need to think about before taking action?
Choosing the name of your business is a branding project that’s based on: your values, your promise to the market, your target market segment, and your value proposition. Getting a domain name that matches the name is very important. In fact, for many businesses today which depend on website visibility to be successful, the naming process involves naming that starts with the branding process, but the final name is contingent on the availability of a .com domain name. That means spending the time up front, and then using some domain name research sites to find what’s available.
When you’ve narrowed it down to 5-10 possible names, the last task is doing a search for trademarks and business names to make sure no one else has captured one of those choices. This isn’t so important for a business that will remain local, but very important for any that will scale.
Some additional key factors in your domain name choice that need to be rolled into the process: how clearly does the name say what you do? Are your keywords in the domain name? Does it make human sense? Is it short enough?
How to think of your website? An asset to leverage, not an expense to check off the list
A website is the centerpiece of being findable online – the asset you own. You don’t own any of your visibility on social media platforms – those are just your presence on another company’s website. Used effectively, your website is the hub of where you drive traffic and convert visitors into buyers when you bring them in from all the other spokes you have created: Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, LinkedIn, etc.
Thinking about your website as one of the few assets you actually own on the web may change how much time, effort, and money you invest in it. Your website will frequently be where the final action happens – something is purchased, an appointment is created, a phone call happens, and a decision is made. On other sites in the network of visibility you create, activity happens such as likes and posts, follows and retweets, connections, pins, etc. Those actions create and reinforce interest, visibility, connection, referral, and recommendation – all of which is often followed up by investigating more deeply about your business on your website. And then people are ready to take action. Leveraging that asset for a return may be a smarter move that focusing all your energy on someone else’s platform – use their platform to drive conversions on your website.
How do you get a website that’s easy to use and let’s you be in the driver’s seat in responding to your market?
Website development has changed radically in the last 5 years. Used to be that you needed a webmaster for everything: creating, updates, modifications, problem-solving, additions, expansions, and refreshing. While you still may need a developer for some activities, WordPress makes it easy to have a sophisticated website with a word processor-like interface so that you can quickly and easily respond to your market, the seasons, and unforeseen opportunities without paying through the teeth or being on someone else’s time schedule.
Think of this as your retail storefront: you wouldn’t want to have to call up a general contractor when you want to change your displays to go with the seasons? Or when you have new merchandise arrive? Or if you have a new promotion you want to offer? Why would you want to hire or have a web developer on retainer for all the weekly or monthly activities that are an integral part of your business? You want them for the exceptions, not the rule.
This is not to say that you have to be the one doing everything in your business. But you also don’t hire a general contractor to move a display case – you hire a slightly skilled laborer to do the work and you direct it. That makes you nimble, cost-effective, and smart.
If your website is going to be large store (ecommerce) or a platform for sharing, reviewing, or with forums, depending on the size, capability and traffic you may be better off with a more full-functioned platform instead of WordPress: something like drupal or joomla. Then you really need a website developer.
NOTE: When I refer to WordPress I mean WordPress as a content management system that’s open source, free, and easily available from your website hosting provider – see below. I’m not referring to the free blog you can get on WordPress.com – that would be an example of using another company’s website to do your business – you don’t want to do that.
How do you get a domain name and start your website?
The process of getting a website is actually 2 separate parts, although some websites would have you believe its all one because they make more money that way.
- Buy a domain name – this can be done at Verio.com, GKG.net, TuCowsInc.com Worldwide there were the first group of 34 registrars for names. You buy the name here and park it – don’t necessarily go on to the next step at the domain registrar to choose them as your host as well.
Domain names cost about $8-$12 per year. The more years you buy, the lower the annual price. Buying more years gives everyone, including Google, the impression you’re a stable business – so buy at least 3 years of registration if you can.
- Choose someone to host your domain: a website hosting provider. This will be a service that provides a computer on the internet for the code that makes up your website. You don’t want your website on your own computer – then everyone in the world can come and visit your computer! Instead, companies exist that have lots of computers (servers) specifically set up to store and run the code that is your website. You want one that is designed to host the kind of website you’ll have with the service you want. If you have a WordPress site then I recommend Bluehost.com because they keep their system code up to date and optimized for WordPress, they have very good service by phone, and they’re inexpensive. Hostgator.com is another good option for WordPress.
I don’t recommend GoDaddy – their service is ok, but their code is often not up to date for WordPress, and their performance isn’t great (meaning your website will be slow – kiss of death).
Another option is to have your web developer resell hosting to you. That’s when they have an agreement with a hosting provider to resell the hosting services, usually at a slight premium so they can make some money. Make sure you know whether this is what you’re getting if you’re going through a web developer. There’s nothing wrong with this, but transparency is a good foundation for a partnership.
Hosting costs about $3 to $12 per month depending on who and for how long you purchase it. You don’t need to buy hosting ahead of time like the registration – it’s all about what your cash flow is and what the provider you’ve chosen offers. I usually buy 2 years worth for a stable business. NOTE: You don’t want to accidentally let your hosting run out when you have a fully operating website – you could lose everything.
Are you going to build your own website or hire someone?
This may seem like an obvious choice – if your business is creating some product or service, then the best use of your time is to hire someone. The question is really how to keep costs low.
If you’re bootstrapping a startup, then you might just benefit from building your own site – wordpress has a learning curve, but it’s not coding; it’s about learning the parameters for saying where you want what and then having some simple graphics for a header image (that’s an image across the top of your website). If you use the default free WordPress setup then you pretty much will have a good looking, functional site. WordPress uses something called ‘themes’ that are the set of parameters and layout that form the background for the text on your site. The default setup is called the Twenty-Eleven Theme.
If you have anywhere from $750 to $5,000 you can hire someone for a website. At the low end you get a basic setup, maybe a very simple graphic header, and an orientation. At the high end you get some custom graphics, a blog, a custom layout, a nice font and good design.
Generally, creating the content (text and photos) is additional and needs your work or a professional writer. You are the subject matter expert and your website needs to very clearly communicate what your business is about and why it’s compelling.
You can also get, at the high end, some additional functionality inside your wordpress to measure traffic, offer intake forms, sell things, have membership capability, and all kinds of effects – these are added through code called plugins and most are free, but it takes some time, skill, and energy to set them up properly.
You can also spend a lot more than $5,000 to get custom code, databases, and all kinds of functionality.
I highly recommend NOT using a service that just takes your text and adds it to an instant site – although these seem like a low cost alternative, you are almost always giving up your ability to improve your search results. I have seen many clients waste a huge amount of money and time on these seemingly ‘affordable’ services that make their sites completely invisible to their potential customers.
NOTE: WordPress is for both blog posts and website pages. Every website MUST have a blog now – for search purposes and because people expect fresh content. The prices I’ve quoted should include blogging capability built in. Your blog is what’s going to help raise your search rank – don’t create a website and then have a free blog somewhere else.
Choosing your business name, securing the domain, picking a hosting provider, developing the website, and creating the content to put on the site all takes time. I’d estimate this is a 1-3 month process that needs your vision, focus, and contribution to have it fully reflect what’s special about your business.
See Key Elements for a Successful Home Page for information about how to make your content work for you.