Many people jump in and think “A website will solve all my problems…”, without giving much thought to what is actually required. Before setting up a website, there are a number of different things that you need to consider. Some of these include:
- Domain name and registration
- Website hosting
- Structure & layout
- Security and backups
- Ongoing website maintenance
Domain Name and Registration
The domain name is your internet address that your current and new customers will need to use in order to locate your website. The domain name should be unique, easy to understand and spell. For example, if your business name is Salty’s Mexican Restaurant the domain name you choose should be similar to your business name. eg. SaltysRestaurant.com would be a sensible choice. For businesses operating solely in Australia you will need an ABN (Australia Business Number) or ACN (Australia Company Number) in order to register a .com.au domain name. A .net.au is also a good choice for Australian businesses.
Many Domain Name Registrar companies exist, and it is usually as easy as setting up an account, choosing your domain name, and then registering it for a certain amount of time (eg, 1 or 2 years). You can also elect to set up privacy so that your personal details are not publically accessible (although this option is not available on .com.au domains).
The next part of the website puzzle is hosting. This is a fancy way of describing the ‘space’ online where you will have your website parked (where your website files will be stored).
It is common for many Domain Name Registrar companies to also provide hosting, but you may decide to keep your Registrar and hosting separate. If you do keep them separate, then you will have to go into your Registrar account and point your Name servers to your hosting account.
There are some free hosting options available, but quite often you will only have the option to use a sub-domain of the hosting site. An example of this would be if your website was hosted by (for example) free-hosting.com and you used their free hosting service, your website address might be www.free-hosting.com/SaltysRestaurant. It may still work for your business, but you would never own the sub domain, and it is not a very professional image for your business. Plus, if you ever decided to move hosting providers (eg. If the hosting company closed its doors), then you would have to update all your branding with your new URL.
This is why it may be best to own your domain name, and as long as you pay your annual renewal fee, you can keep it as long as you want (you can even move it between Registrars if you need to).
Website hosting plans come in a variety of sizes, but for many small businesses, the smaller to mid-sized plans are suitable.
Once you have chosen a web hosting site you will need to decide what platform or programming system you will want to use in the construction of your website. There are many different options to choose from… some of the more common choices are WordPress, Joomla or an HTML site, with each having specific benefits.
If you are going to build and maintain the website yourself you may want to use WordPress. It is relatively easy to use, but (possibly more importantly) it is open source, with many free and paid options that gives you the flexibility you need to customize the site to your needs.
Structure & Layout
Before you build your site, you should be clear on the layout of the site. You might want to ask yourself questions like:
- Why do I want a website?
- What is the main purpose of the website, and every page?
- What do I want people to do when they come to my site?
If the website is for your small business, then you may want people to call you, so you would make the phone number easy to find. If you are selling products, then you may want to display your specials on the front page, and have an easy way to purchase products online.
You may want to include calls-to-action so that you direct people around your site to where you want them to go.
Make it easy for people to find the information they are after, because if they can’t find it, they will probably move onto the next site in the list, and take their business elsewhere.
The website you build will require a number of content pages.There are a few ‘standard’ pages you should have as part of your website. At a minimum, this could include:
- Home – this is the first page anyone sees and has an overview of everything else on your website
- Services – this is where you highlight any and all special services your business provides
- About – this page explains who you or your business are, including some background information
- Contact – this should have all the information anyone would need to reach you for your services. It can include phone/fax numbers, street address, cell number, e-mail and any other connecting site where your customers can find you.
There are additional pages to consider including in your website and they will depend on your specific service. These can include:
- FAQ (frequently asked questions)
- Blog – where you can post articles and invite comments from customers & visitors
- Site map
- and just about anything else that is relevant to your business that may be of interest to your client base.
Ongoing Website Maintenance
Security and Backups
Security and backups is critical to any website, but is something that is often overlooked. Maintaining the integrity of your website should be taken seriously, as it is far easier to prevent issues rather than attempt to fix something afterwards.
There are many free and paid security and backup plugin options available, so there is really no excuse for not implementing systems to take care of this for you.
Also other things like using strong passwords, restricting back-end access to your site, not using public wi-fi hotspots, etc should be considered.
WordPress Core, Theme & Plugin Updates
In addition to keeping a close eye on security and backups, it is important to update your software when required (eg. For WordPress, keeping your WordPress core, themes and plugins updated). Many security vulnerabilities arise from having old and out-dated plugins and themes installed. Use themes and plugins only from well-respected developers, and make sure you update them when updates are available.
Making Updates and Changes
In addition to the updates that have to be carried out on a regular basis above, there are other maintenance tasks that need to be considered.
If you receive a number of questions or requests coming through your Contact Us page, you will require time to respond to them in a timely manner in order to keep the connection with existing or new customers. You will probably receive spam emails as well, so it is important to keep these monitored and cleaned out so that genuine emails are not missed.
You will also need to continue to update the content on your website, such as adding new blog posts, updating business hours, staffing information, changes to product pricing and much more in order to keep online customers coming back. There is nothing worse than going to websites that have old out-of-date information. This can be a quick turn-off for visitors.
Then you will need to factor in time and effort in the actual promotion of your website (eg. Facebook & Twitter posts, blog posts, etc).
This all takes time, so being prepared from the start is an important step to getting the most out of your site.
Getting help to run your website
As you can see, just tossing together a quick little webpage and leaving it unattended will very likely not produce a lot of new traffic to your business. This is why you may need the assistance of a website designer, developer and SEO expert to set up your website and maintain it.
Once your site is up and running, the ongoing maintenance part can be a big job for any small business owner as it takes time and energy away from the day-to-day running of the business. So instead of doing it all yourself, you may wish to consider using the services of experts to help. This can be a more cost effective option, as you can leave the experts to do what they are good at, while you concentrate on what interests you and you are passionate about.