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Gaining a Web Presence
Often times when consulting with small businesses, I’m asked “where do we get started with a website, and will we be able to afford this?”
First off, you can definitely afford to have a website (most web designers charge in the neighborhood of -100/page for fairly basic pages), and I’d argue you can’t afford NOT to have a website for your small business. Many potential customers today prefer to research companies and shop via the web, and the boundaries to the audience you can reach is limited only by your imagination. Let’s look at how you get started.
Initially, you’re going to want to reserve a unique domain name (as in www.yourdomainname.com). Try to think of a name or phrase that is easy to remember. If you can get one to match your company name, that’s best. If not, think of a search term someone might use to find the company. For my company, “consulting services” would be a popular search phrase so including the word “consulting” in the name was a key. Don’t over-think this—keep it simple, and don’t get too cute or fancy with the name.
There are several places you can search for an available domain name including:
• Go Daddy
Most domain registrars charge less than /year per site name, and their sites do a good job of stepping you through the process if you’re a beginner. If you come across a registrar wishing to charge you too much, shop around—there’s a lot of solid competition in this arena.
Ok. Now you have your domain name picked out and registered, but what good is it to have a web presence if nobody can find you? Immediately submit your domain name to the major search engines such as Yahoo!, Google, and MSN. The reason behind this is it takes several weeks to months for them to “crawl” (inventory) your site. That means you have a little time to get the content for your site developed. Most conventional wisdom suggests developing the content, then submitting to the search engines, but you’ll be ahead in the game if you submit to the engines right away.
To submit to the major engines, go to their websites and look for a link that says something along the lines of “suggest a site” or “suggest a link.” Then follow the links to submit a site for free. You’ll have to answer a few questions, but you’ll be well on your way to helping others find you which is the whole reason you’re wanting a web presence right?
Next, it’s time to develop some content. I’d highly recommend hiring a professional to create an appealing and functional site. Most beginning websites done by inexperienced developers tend to lack good navigation, institute poor layouts, and have unappealing aesthetics. Your site doesn’t have to be complicated to be appealing and functional. If you wish to develop the main content yourself, have a developer create some template pages complete with basic linking for you to obtain a consistent look and feel for your site. There’s nothing wrong with paying for a site shell and tweaking that shell over time. In fact, that’s how most sites are started. Don’t expect a web designer to write your website copy for you—you know the most about your company so you’ll want to drive the bus for that.
Once the content is developed and laid out to your liking, where are you going to put it? Most small businesses don’t have the resources to host and support a site internally so that means finding a web-hosting partner. There are tons of web hosting companies out there (do a Google search for web-hosting and select one that appeals to you), but you’re going to want to find one that is reliable, provides quality 24/7 customer service, and instructs you how to upload and update your content. The web-hosting company does not have to be local to serve your web pages. If you require internet e-mail addresses for your employees, it might benefit you to find a package that includes a certain number of e-mail addresses with the package. These are rather common. Some other whistles and bells you may want to have included: script handling, database integration, shopping carts, and visitor statistics. The latter is rather important to see how your site is doing and which pages your visitors seem to migrate to the most. You’d pay attention to your visitors if they physically came into your company or store so your website shouldn’t be any different.
Voila! You have the very basics of gaining a web presence. Now you’re ready to start tackling ways you can optimize your site content along with gaining new visitors and retaining them.
About the Author: Roger Bauer is Founder and CEO of SMB Consulting, Inc., a Louisville, Kentucky based small business consulting firm specializing in strategic planning, web presence, internet marketing, SEO, technology, and business analysis. To learn more, point your browser to http://smbconsultinginc.com