Whether you are a freelance photographer, own a hardware store, have another type of business, or have a church or ministry a great website is essential for success. As a webmaster who has worked on building or marketing several websites, I know what it takes to create great and engaging website.
If you are looking to build a new startup website or make your current site more effective, here are some key steps to getting started and helping your website compete effectively in the online arena.
1. Obtain a good domain name
Your domain name, also known as your website address, is often the entry point to your site. It is important that it makes a good impression for usability purposes, as well as for search engine optimization (SEO).
Here are some tips for coming up with an optimal domain name:
- Make it easy to spell. Try not to use slang, made up, or extremely esoteric words.
- Keep it as short as possible. The shorter it is, the easier it is to remember and type correctly.
- Use the proper domain extension. Try to always make it a .com domain name (as opposed to .net, .co, etc.) unless it is more appropriate to use another extension, such as .gov, .edu, or .org.
- Avoid numbers and hyphens. They are hard to remember and less elegant and memorable than word-only domain names, and may be misunderstood when vocalizing the domain name.
- Make the address broad to facilitate future growth. For example, Amazon.com is a much broader website address than BooksOnline.com and allows Amazon to sell pretty much every type of consumer good instead of books only, as was its original purpose.
- Ensure it is memorable. With so many websites on the internet, it is important that your website name is catchy so people will remember how to access it in the future.
- Research the domain name. Google it to see if a similar website address already exists online, and search on USPTO.gov to make sure it does not contain any registered trademarks.
- Check if the price is right. Determine if you can purchase your desired website address at a reasonable price since most good domain names are taken and will need to be bought from the current owner.
- Avoid nonsensical names. Choose a name that conveys a meaning so that users will know immediately what your business is. Bing and Google are catchy names, but they were very expensive to brand, and your small business may not have the same budget.
- Create an SEO-friendly URL. When appropriate, try to come up with an SEO-friendly website address that includes keywords and geo-location; for example, “www.LasVegasElectrician.com.”
2. Purchase secure, scalable website hosting with good tech support
A website host (or sometimes referred to as a website hosting provider) is a company that offers the technology and services necessary for a website to be viewed on the internet. You connect your domain name to your hosting provider so that when users visit your website address, they are shown your website that you store on your hosting account.
Hosting services can cost anywhere between $2 to $100+ per month, depending on the kind of technology and support you choose. You can usually get a discount if you purchase a yearly plan as opposed to a monthly plan.
Here are some guidelines for choosing a good website hosting plan:
- “Shared Hosting” Shared hosting means you are sharing a server and its resources with other customers. The cost can range from $2 to $25 per month but keep in mind that you get what you pay for. When using this type of hosting ensure that the provider takes the security steps to protect your site.
- “Dedicated Hosting” This type of hosting plan is the most expensive option—cost can range from around $500 to $2,000 per month—but it would make your website perform the most optimally. Having a dedicated server plan means that the physical server machine is entirely dedicated to your site; therefore, all the resources are yours and it is more secure than a shared hosting plan, as long as the technology is optimal. However, it is much more expensive than what most small businesses usually are willing to pay. Once you have a very high-performing site, this may be what you need, but it is overkill for most early stage of a website.
- “Virtual Private Server” (VPS) hosting plan which offers the best of both worlds. The cost ranges from around $30 to $100 per month, which is affordable for the hosting services you will receive. A VPS is one machine that is partitioned to act as multiple machines, which gives it a similar affordability to shared hosting, with similar security and performance potential as a dedicated server hosting plan.
- Make sure your hosting company has phone and/or chat support so you can be helped quickly if you have a problem. Email support can often take too long and become frustrating when a problem needs to be resolved immediately. Phone support is best, but chatting works well, too.
- There needs to be an easy to use server interface to access your server. You do not want to have to use terminal commands to view your server contents and make changes, unless you can afford to hire a professional server administrator to help you.
- Check to see what kind of server security is in place on the server you are considering. You will want to be able to access your server via Secure File Transfer Protocol (SFTP). There should be daily backups being made of your server contents. There should also be an easy, one or two-click method to install Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) certificates. Make sure the hosting company performs regular security maintenance. Ideally your hosting company has a published security protocol you can review so you know how they keep their servers safe.
3. Prominently display a clear description of your website
It is important to let people know who you are and what you do right away so they don’t feel confused when they visit your website. Make sure your main homepage banner (also known as a “hero image”) and subsequent banners are visual representations of your services, and also that you have an introductory text blurb near the top of the page that describes who you are and what you do.
Additionally, make sure both your main and footer navigation menus have “About Us” page links easily accessible so people can click them and read more about you in depth.
4. Implement the best content management system
A content management system (CMS) is a software program or application that is used to create and manage digital content. A good CMS will help you maintain your site, and you don’t need much technical knowledge to use it. You should choose a CMS that is designed for your unique needs; different systems are used for different reasons, such as user-friendliness, extensibility, and budget.
WordPress is the world’s most popular CMS. It has a vast, active support community and many useful plugins to extend the functionality of your site. (And if you cannot find a plugin that does what you want, it is easy to find a WordPress developer who can make one for you!) WordPress is also free and relatively simple to install. Most website developers are familiar with it so it is not hard to find an individual or agency that can work on your site. I normally recommend that people use WordPress to create their websites, due to its flexibility and extensibility.
Drupal is another popular CMS. It offers many of the same benefits as WordPress, including flexibility, ease of use, and a large support community. However, it doesn’t have as many plugin or theme options, which makes it less extensible. For many years, the White House website (Whitehouse.gov) was run with Drupal, but has since switched to WordPress, which it still uses today.
Joomla! is another popular CMS, it has better SEO, security, and multilingual capabilities than WordPress; however, with the help of a few plugins, WordPress surpasses Joomla!’s capabilities.