If you’re a smaller, local business, maybe a single proprietor, who just needs an online presence to show that you’re a “real company,” then you probably don’t need all the bells and whistles of a top-of-the-line website. All you really need is four or five pages with the critical information visitors are looking for (e.g., about the company, products and services, contact information).
However, that doesn’t mean you should put up a poorly-designed or non-optimized website. I see too many business owners using free website-building products that allow very limited flexibility in terms of layout, content, and search engine optimization (SEO). The sites often look unprofessional and can be difficult to navigate. Plus, the URL of the “free website” usually includes the name of website-building company in it (e.g., www.mycompany.free-website.com) – a name that they can change at any time. Even worse, the name of that free product is all over the website, making it look like the company didn’t think that a website was important enough to invest in. It doesn’t make a good impression on visitors and chances are that the site is optimized to drive traffic to that free website company, not to you. Add to that the fact that you don’t own the website design or content (you can’t take it with you if you choose to change hosting providers), and it’s clear that you need to look for a different option.
So, if you have a limited budget and even more limited website building skills, what do you do??
Decide on a Domain Name
Usually, your domain name (the URL for your website) will be the name of your company (e.g., www.mycompany.com). Sometimes, you may choose to go with your brand instead, or your own name. The point is to use something that’s easy to remember, easy to type, and easy to say. For example, avoid the use of hyphens, numbers, or commonly misspelled words. Imagine trying to tell someone that your website address is www.scene4-good.com – “That’s scene as in a scene in a movie. No, not seen, but with a ‘c’ – yes, s-c-e-n-e. Followed by a four, no not spelled out, just the number 4. Then a dash – not an underscore, but a hyphen. And then the word ‘good’.”
If you’re a business, go with a .com domain. If you’re a not-for-profit, think about a .org. And if you can’t get the domain name you want as a .com, check on the availability of .net.
Register Your Domain Name for at Least Two Years
Don’t even think about using a “free website” domain for your business! New .com registrations are under twelve dollars. A good option for domain purchases is GoDaddy (strange name, but good service).
You’ll have the option of registering your domain for as little as one year but don’t be tempted to save money that way. For SEO purposes, a longer registration period is better (more on that in a later post) – plus you minimize the risk of losing your domain name to someone else when the registration expires. Believe me, you do NOT want to change your website address down the road!
Arrange for Hosting
There are many web hosting companies with very affordable plans – some under $10/month. Unless you’re getting thousands of visitors to your site each day, you’ll probably never need anything beyond the basic hosting plan.
But don’t be fooled into thinking that “basic” equals “cheap”. With the increase in phishing, hacking, malware, etc., you need to ensure that you’re hosted with a reputable company that provides top-notch security, reliability and performance. A good host will scan for “infections” and remove them, do daily website backups, and if you’re ever hacked, they’ll restore your site.
For WordPress websites, I highly recommend WP Engine (aff). It’s a managed WordPress hosting service that I use for myself and all of my clients.
Set yourself up with a 12-month hosting package – you’ll get a discounted rate and won’t have to worry about it for a year.
Build Your Website
You have only 1 or 2 seconds to make a good first impression on a website visitor – if they don’t like what they see, or don’t see what they want, then they’ll hit that ‘Back’ button faster than you can blink an eye.
You have several options for making a well-designed website –
- Hire a web designer. For a small website with only a few pages, you should be able to find a reputable designer who fits your budget. Your best bet is to ask other business owners who they worked with; you want to be sure it’s a reliable, capable, and responsive designer. And to help you make the right decision, here are 10 questions to ask your website designer.
- Build it yourself using simple HTML. It may seem intimidating, but there are some excellent tools (like Dreamweaver) to help you. If you like learning technical things and have the patience to work with code, this may be a good option for you. But keep it simple, or it can quickly get out of hand.
- Use WordPress. This is the option I usually recommend to small business owners who want to build their own site. Most website hosting companies have a free, “one-click install” of WordPress that you can then use to build a website. I recommend buying a premium theme, such as the Genesis framework (I use Genesis for all of my websites, including this one) and StudioPress themes. You can easily customize it to build a professional website, even without knowing any HTML, CSS, PHP, or other code.
You’ll notice that “use a free website building product” isn’t on the list above…
As you design your website, you’ll also need to think about what to put in each page. Here are the 8 essential things to include on a website.
Set up a Customized Email Address
Finally, you’ll want an email address that includes your domain name. Using email@example.com looks much more professional than firstname.lastname@example.org.
Your hosting plan should come with at least one free email address, along with instructions on how to set it up and access your email. That’s usually an ok option although many of my clients have had problems now and then with this kind of email. I recommend using Google Apps for Work to set up your professional email. It’s only $5/month and gives you all of the flexibility of a Gmail account.
With the five tips above, you should be able to quickly set up a professional website (and email) at a very reasonable cost. Of course, there’s more to a website than just the points above – I’ll talk about SEO, content, graphics, and more in future posts.
And now over to you – Do you have a business website? If not, what’s stopping you? Let me know in the comments below.