Your website is the core of your online presence. Regardless of how potential customers find you—whether searching on Google, noticing an ad you placed on Facebook, or browsing reviews on Yelp—today’s savvy online consumers will check out your site as part of their vetting process when seeking out products or services.
In today’s ultra-digital landscape, even offline marketing and advertising efforts drive prospects to business websites. For example, the last time you received a postcard for a teeth cleaning, I’ll bet you at least checked out the dentist’s website and online reviews before letting her start going to work in your mouth with shiny metal objects.
Yet most small business websites are uncompelling, seldom updated, text-filled “digital sales flyers” that fail to either reach and engage visitors or serve as effective tools for lead generation.
Most small business owners start the website creation process by paying a chunk of money to a web designer who was not screened with the right qualifying questions, giving them little guidance relating to the purpose and goals of the website. And those few business owners who do assume an active role in the design and functions of the site often focus way too much time and energy on aesthetics rather than on the broader strategy required for online success.
Let’s look at six simple steps that will get you to a live, basic yet effective website in nearly no time!
Now it’s time to select a domain name. This is a very important decision, as your domain name should and will become synonymous with your brand more and more as the Internet becomes an increasingly significant part of your business.
Selecting a great domain name is the first of many Search Engine Optimization activities we’ll be doing along our path to launching an awesome website. Although we’ll cover a series of lessons on SEO later, it’s imperative that you get a preview right now, and selecting a Google-friendly domain name is an important step toward online success.
Just as with other aspects of online marketing, it’s important to balance branding with SEO: choosing a domain that resonates with your audience—a memorable and user-friendly domain that people can easily type and remember—while factoring in the SEO benefits of keyword-rich domains. In the past Google’s algorithms placed great value on the inclusion of keywords in domain names, meaning that using your target search terms within your Web address would help your site rank higher on Google (this is why using the domain “ColumbusPizza.com” would help you rank for these keywords better than “LuigisPlace.com”). However, recently Google has turned down the signals on exact-match domains, as many low-quality websites were outranking more content-rich sites in search results.
Tips for Choosing a Great Domain Name
What to Do If All the Good Domain Names Are Taken
If you’ve already been searching for the perfect domain name, you’re probably feeling a bit pessimistic and frustrated, as most of the good, keyword-rich “.com” domains have been taken. This is normal—you can’t simply jump on to Godaddy, whip out your Amex, and throw down $12.00 to reserve “LosAngelesPizza.com.” However, there are several techniques you can employ to find a great domain name that still supports both SEO and branding goals:
Once you’ve clarified the ultimate domain name for your business, the next step is to register your domain with a reputable registrar. This is a pretty straightforward process: all you need to do is pay around $12.00 per year for domain registration. However, I do have a few tips for you to avoid potential headaches down the road:
WHAT ABOUT MY CURRENT DOMAIN NAME?
There are several reasons you may want to start using a new domain. The important thing when transferring domain names is that you’re able to start using your new website address while preserving the authority and online mojo of your former one—especially if you’ve had it live for 2 years or more and have invested time and money increasing the site’s Web presence via social media and/or SEO.
Don’t let the fear of starting over or of technical barriers prevent you from upgrading to a better domain name. All you need to do is create what’s called a “301 Redirect,” which is geek-speak for a permanent change of address. Most hosting providers and domain name registrars allow you to do this right from your “control panel” without the need to access or make changes to your code. The cool thing about doing a 301 Redirect is that nearly all—98 percent, according to Google—of the “online mojo” in the form of links to your site, trust, or other quality factors in the eyes of Google, gets passed on to the new website!
Contact your domain name registrar for further guidance or read this article.
Now that we know who your website is trying to reach and what we want them to do, there’s one more layer of groundwork to be laid: you must decide which foundation to build your site on.
Most small business websites are “Non-CMS” sites, designed using HTML, an acronym standing for “Hyper Text Markup Language” – Wikipedia. All this means is that such sites were designed using code, including HTML, CSS, and/or additional programming languages.
There are numerous downsides to such sites, the most significant being that whoever owns and manages these sites can’t easily access, manage, and update their own websites. In fact, many business owners actually pay monthly maintenance fees for a “Web master” to update and maintain their sites. If this is you, we’re about to change that.
A Content Management System (CMS) is a platform that allows for even the most non-technical folks to log in to their own websites and perform numerous functions, all without knowing a lick of geeky code. There are literally hundreds of CMS platforms available, each with a unique set of features, popularity, cost structure, and intended use.
Three of the most commonly used CMS systems are WordPress, Joomla, and Drupal. I recommend you build or re-build your site on WordPress. In fact, in my consulting business, we require that our clients move their non-WordPress sites over before we start working with them, for the same reason a SCUBA instructor requires professionally manufactured and calibrated regulator, mask, and fins: your success depends on it.
Advantages of Using WordPress to Build Your Website
WordPress is the largest, most powerful, and easiest CMS anywhere, period. According to Wikipedia, WordPress “manages 22 percent of all new websites. WordPress is currently the most popular CMS in use on the Internet” – Wikipedia.
Initially developed as a blogging platform, WordPress has since become the premier CMS for businesses of all sizes, functions, and categories. From the smallest of local businesses, all the way up to large entities such as eBay, Yahoo, Ford, and The Wall Street Journal, WordPress has become the de facto platform for building great-looking, stable, and well-performing sites.
Aside from the general benefits of any popular CMS, WordPress website owners enjoy several other powerful features and functions:
Whether you’re in the process of building your first site or considering an update or upgrade to your current one, we’ll cover a simple process for ensuring that your new site meets your online marketing goals.
KEY CONCEPT: Even if you’re planning to outsource maintenance of your site to someone else, you still need a CMS-based site like WordPress for site performance, security, support, and access to thousands of open-source plugins and add-ons. Using a well-established CMS such as WordPress allows for building better websites, with countless features and at a much lower cost than that of building a custom site.
The final benefit of working with WordPress is that it’s easy to launch and upload, with “one-click installs” and a basic theme that you or a designer can customize.
Once you’ve chosen the best content management system for your website and registered your domain name, the next step is to choose the type of hosting and hosting company that will be best suited for your website and business needs.
In a nutshell, Web hosting is defined as a hosting Internet service provider (ISP) that provides you with a Web server, a physical machine that stores the files that make up your website. “Hosting” your site on such a Web server makes your site available to visitors on the Internet.
Every website has an IP (Internet protocol) address, which is simply the specific location or “virtual address” of the server on which your Web files (site) reside. This is an important concept to understand, as hosting companies offer low-cost “shared” hosting plans that require customers to share a single IP address.
The main factors you should take into consideration are cost, size, the functions of your site, and which of the four types of hosting you need: free, shared, virtual-dedicated, or dedicated server (explained below). Since many hosting providers provide similar services, the key for me is service. Nothing is more frustrating than being stuck with your website down, unable to reach your provider’s technical support department for answers to simple questions. Along these lines, you want to host your site with a provider who offers extensive how-to tutorials (preferably videos) on their site as well.
Types of Website Hosting:
KEY CONCEPT: Get the Best of Both Hosting Worlds
Many hosting providers want you to purchase a dedicated IP address while using shared or virtual-dedicated hosting plans. This is a great option for hosting your website, as doing so provides both the lower cost of shared hosting and the increased trust and security of dedicated plans. Be sure and select a hosting provider that can offer a dedicated IP address and take advantage of this option. The additional cost is only around $30 per year.
WARNING: Don’t Move Your Site to a Bad Neighborhood
When it comes to Web hosting, it’s very true that you are the company you keep. Many low-cost hosting plans require you to share a server and IP address with dozens or even hundreds of sites. This can not only cause problems with performance (site speed and load times) but also with your online trust, as sharing an IP address with gambling or adult sites can reflect poorly on your site from the vantage point of search engine and spam filters. For this reason, spend the extra money on a dedicated or “virtual-dedicated” hosting service, as explained below.
Recommended Hosting Providers
There are tons of hosting providers out there. If you are using WordPress or a similar CMS-based platform, ensure that your provider has good reviews from members of the online community or people using the same platform. You should also look for a hosting provider who offers “one-click” installs for your CMS system.
Sound like a lot of research? No worries—here’s my short list of high-quality hosting providers who provide great service and work great with WordPress and other CMS platforms:
Each of these providers would be a great fit, depending on your personal preference and budget ($4.95 – $50 per month, depending on the level of service).
Since you have all the prerequisites in place—you’ve selected your CMS, registered a strong name, and signed up for hosting with a trusted provider—you’re about to see just how powerful and non-technical (and fun!) getting your virtual hands dirty can be.
You can register a domain and launch a basic website in five minutes or less with no technical knowledge. This won’t be your “final” website, with all the best practices in Web design, usability, lead generation, and SEO implementation (Reach, Engage, Convert), but the goal now is to get your domain live, which serves you in two significant ways:
Just follow these simple steps:
RESOURCE: “How to Build a Blog in Less than 4 Minutes (and Write Your First Blog Post)”
Pat Flynn of Smart Passive Income, a great blog which any small business owner would gain immense value from following, demonstrates the above process in the video, “How to Build a Blog in Less than 4 Minutes (and Write Your First Blog Post)”
Whether you have used the quick-step process we just covered to launch a “shell” or basic site, or you have an existing site that’s already built on WordPress with another CMS platform, the next step is to customize your site to reflect best practices in each of three phases of the online marketing funnel.
Customizing and even creating your own website can be a simple, non-technical, cheap, and fun process! These days you can use very high-quality, professional-looking themes that allow you to ad your own logo, branding (through colors and basic design elements), and content with virtually zero technical knowledge.
I am not suggesting that you spend the next year mastering Web development, programming, or graphic design, neglecting your business in the process. But by being more involved with the design of your site, gaining just enough knowledge in terms of reach, engage, and convert elements on your site, you’ll save yourself a lot of heartache, time, and money. In other words, you need to know the basics before you pay anyone to work on your site.
There are three basic models for getting a great site designed:
As you’ve likely guessed, I strongly recommend the third method. The reason for this is that the hybrid approach to launching or re-launching a website provides the best of both worlds: You can gain way more control of the process and save a ton of time and money compared to either outsourcing the whole enchilada or applying the do-it yourself method. The hybrid method lets you do the easy stuff, picking up valuable knowledge and skills in the process, while letting skilled pros handle the technical side on a much cheaper, pay-as-you-go basis.
Regardless of which path you choose, you’ll find the following steps and resources extremely valuable.
Where to Find a Great WordPress Theme
WordPress has become so popular among small business website owners, bloggers, and Internet marketers that an entire marketplace has been spawned from companies who create and sell ready-made “Themes,” which are essentially highly customizable and affordable templates that can be used with any WordPress site with little more than a click of a mouse. Think of these themes as “shells,” or foundations, upon which we’ll be expanding over the next several chapters to meet the specific needs of your business.
WordPress themes range from free to $300. Several popular theme companies also offer “theme clubs,” allowing you to pay one flat fee or monthly subscription for access to all available themes. This option may be useful if you have or plan to have several websites, or if you intend to test multiple themes over time.
Tips on Choosing a Theme:
Popular WordPress Theme Companies:
Whichever theme you decide on, you’ll need to upload and activate it on your site in order for the theme to display on your new site.
How to Add a WordPress Theme to Your Site
Once you purchase a new theme, you’ll usually be able to immediately download it right to your computer. Since a theme is essentially a folder containing files, it’s pretty simple to activate a new theme using one of two methods:
If you’ve come this far, the next step is to seek the services of an expert who can help you customize the site and implement the Reach, Engage, and Convert elements covered in the next three chapters. Although many business owners will be able to meet their Web design goals using the “off the shelf,” non-technical customization options offered by most themes, others will want a more personalized design that will require the skills of a WordPress designer. If you fall into this latter category, it’s important to use a skilled, well-vetted contractor rather than learning advanced Web design skills yourself.
How to Hire a Great Website Developer for a Fraction of the Cost
As an entrepreneur and business owner, you probably already have a website that falls into one of the following two categories:
Either way, it’s time to find and hire a great designer/developer who can complete the customizations you’ll need, quickly and at a reasonable price, by using a reputable outsourcing site.
Outsourcing sites are simply online marketplaces which focus on matching customers (business owners like you) with qualified contractors who have agreed to perform specific skills for a fixed or hourly price. These sites make money by charging clients (“hirers”) a small percentage of the fees paid to each contractor, usually around 10 percent—a small price to pay for the stability, trust, and ease of use provided.
Top Outsourcing Sites
How to Pick the Best Contractor to Work on Your Website
A common and costly mistake made by outsourcing newbies is to jump the gun when hiring a contractor. Nothing is more frustrating than going through the exciting process of hiring someone to work on your website or marketing campaign, only to be met with severe disappointment soon afterward.
Because each outsourcing site may have hundreds or even thousands of contractors specializing in the skills you’re looking for, it’s critical that you have a quick process for sifting, sorting, and screening potential service providers:
WARNING: Be Aware of Potential Security Risks Associated with Outsourcing
By definition, outsourcing is temporary in nature. As such, certain security measures must be taken. In cyberspace, trust must be earned. It’s important to limit access to sensitive data including website hosting and domain registrar logins and financial information. If you must grant rights to outsourced contractors, do so on a controlled and temporary basis. If you’re unlucky enough to encounter fraud or illegal activity resulting from actions taken by a freelancer you’ve hired, recourse may be difficult or even impossible, particularly if the freelancer is overseas.
RESOURCE: For Longer-Term Outsourcing Needs, Check Out Virtual Staff Finder
If you’re a more experienced or savvy online marketer, you may have identified a need for outsourced skills and bandwidth on a regular basis. You may want ongoing help with your SEO, Pay-per-click (PPC), Content Development, or Analytics, or even a virtual assistant to help you stay organized and free up your time to work on more profitable activities. If so, take a look at Virtual Staff Finder (VSF), a reputable agency based in the Philippines whose sole focus is sourcing and screening long-term contractors. I have used VSF in hiring several full-time team members for our organization and have had great success with them. VSF charges a flat fee for their services and they guarantee their results.
VSF breaks down contractors into four main categories:
They don’t recommend you assume any overlap, meaning you shouldn’t expect a WordPress programmer to check your email.
So there you have it—you’ve picked a client-grabbing, Google-friendly domain name that’s sure to go to work for you for many years to come, possibly even leading your competitors to reconsider their chosen profession in the process! You have launched a basic site on your domain, using a cost-effective and solid hosting provider. You’ve also created the perfect springboard to customize this newly sprouted site and help it grow.
Everyone knows Google dominates the search engine market, with 70 percent market share, but can you guess who occupies the number-two spot? The second largest search engine in the world is, in fact, YouTube. YouTube gets over 660 million searches each month—eclipsing Bing! and Yahoo by an increasing margin. This means that your business must utilize video to reach and engage potential clients online.
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