One of the frequently asked questions we get from small business owners is “How can I setup a website for our business?” While it seems that every single business — small or large – has a website, there is a huge number of businesses, new and small businesses in particular, that are not quite sure if they should have a website. And even if they do want to setup one, they are not sure where and how to start. In this article we will explain some of the basics and provide some tips to answer these questions.
Setting up a website is a fairly straightforward process. There are certain necessary steps that one needs to take. However, the level of complexity and effort needed for a successful, professional website heavily depends on the nature of the site. It’s easiest for the businesses that simply want to use their website for informational purposes. But for businesses that would like to have other features and user-interaction, the site will require extra effort and resources. We will talk about those pluses a little later in this article.
Step 1: Domain name
In most cases you would want to start the process of setting up your business website by first registering a suitable domain name. There are a number of registrars and services that you can use to register your domain name(s). First you should decide on the name that you would like to use as your domain name. Name of your business would be ideal for this purpose. We recommend that you make a list of names that you might consider for your website as the name of your business or your first choice may not be available. (Most, if not all, English language words are already registered. Thousands of combinations of words are also unavailable.) But this should not discourage you from registering a good name. Be creative. Think of names that are easy to remember and spell. Names that reflect the kind of your business will also make a good domain name. A combination of words might work for you.
There are number of services where you can find out if the domain names of your liking are available. Here are a few…
- Network Solutions: http://www.netsol.com
- directNIC: http://www.directnic.com/search/
- Whois.Net: http://www.whois.net/
Although we have not verified it, some people have noted that if you come up with a good name, check its availability and don not register it (if it’s available), some registrars might register it themselves and try to sell it to you or others at a higher price. So it would be safe to register the domain names when you find it available rather than waiting.
Step 2: Site design/development
Now that you have secured a domain name for your business, it’s a good time to work on your site design and backend development. A lot of thought should be given here to put together a design that truly reflects your business. You should also make a list of features and functionality you want your website to have. Also write down the goals and objectives you want to accomplish through your website. Hiring a good design company will be an invaluable investment. Some people who have some technical knowledge of the web or know a friend who does, start the web site themselves or with the help of friends. In most cases it backfires as it’s hard for one person to have good skills in all aspects of a successful website (e.g., design, development, hosting, networking, search engine optimization, social media integration, site maintenance, security, etc.) By hiring a reputable company to do your website will ensure that you don’t miss out on any of the aspects that are important for your online success.
These days, many small businesses use open source Content Management Systems (CMS) to manage day-to-day content and to keep it current. WordPress, Drupal, Joomla are some of the more commonly used CMS. While this approach is relatively inexpensive it may not be suitable or a smart choice for all kinds of websites. You still have to customize the layout and user interface (unless you use an existing theme available for that CMS). Security can also be an issue if you care about the safety of your sensitive data. We will discuss these CMS in detail in a different article but hope this gives you some idea about the open source CMS.
If your website is going to be mostly informative, CMS like WordPress may be a good choice. However, for websites that will be dealing with lots of sensitive data or deal with ecommerce or plan to have custom tools and features, it is advisable to invest in a custom CMS. Often times open source CMS have a large but unnecessary overhead that takes up server resources and can make sites run slow. With a good custom CMS, you can get exactly what you are looking for and cut down on the overhead.
Step 3: Hosting your site
Unless you are a large company and willing to have your own servers (with qualified staff to run and maintain it) you would want to host your site with a reputable and reliable web hosting company. There are LOTS of web hosting companies out there — some of which are flat out sub-standard and unprofessional. Therefore, it is critical that you find a good host.
Word of advice: Do not heavily rely on review sites whose only purpose is to publish reviews and ratings of web hosts. Many of those sites are in fact owned by web hosting companies. Do your research. Check how long they have been in business. Find out what level of customer support they offer. If they are too cheap and claim to offer too much, there is most likely a catch somewhere.
Step 4: Launch and maintenance
Once your site is ready, perform a DETAILED test on it before going live. It is much better to launch your site a week or two late than launching in a hurry but with errors. You should be absolutely sure that your site is error free and does what it is supposed t do before giving it a go. We have seen many agencies that would deliver you sites with errors so that they can invoice you ASAP or because they did not do proper testing themselves. Be aware of design companies and agencies that do not stand behind their work and do not provide any assurances to take care of problems for free (at least for a couple of months after launch) that may arise due to their failure in site coding.
Once launched, keep the content fresh, updated and accurate. Search engines love relevant, fresh content. And so will your audience.