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How to Build a Web Site
Many small businesses can benefit greatly from having a web site. If you sell products, you can increase your customer base by selling online. Some people sell their hand made goods at craft shows. Customers will stop by your table and ask if you have a web site where they can buy more of your products later. For service oriented businesses, a web site can help explain in detail to your customers how your service works. We have had many clients asking where to begin and how to start. In answer to that, we have put together some steps for building a web site for your small business. We have also highlighted some links below where you can obtain the appropriate products and services to get your web site up and running.
- Brainstorm on a few good potential domain names for your web site. A domain name is the address that your customer will type into their internet browser to view your web site. Examples of some popular (already taken) domain names are amazon.com, ebay.com, and google.com. The domain name that you select should be relatively short and easy to type and remember. It would be nice if it also matched your company name because it makes it easier for your customers to remember both your company and your web site address, or url.
- Register your domain name. A domain name must be registered in order to be able to use it and prevent other people from using it. You can usually register your domain in increments of 1 year. Once you register your selected domain name, you have the right to use it for the time frame that you registered it for. The domain will expire at the end of that time frame, and you will need to renew it for another year or more. When you go to register your domain name, you might find out that the domain has already been taken. This is why you need to come up with a few possible choices for a domain name. You may need to do a little more brainstorming if you find that the domain names you wanted are already taken. Click here to see if your potential domain name choices are available.
- Write your web site content. Once you have purchased your domain name, you need to start thinking about the type of content you will provide on your web site. Write up several pages of content that you will have on your web site such as a home page, about us, products or services, and contact us pages. It is a good idea to also have a privacy page to let your customers know if you will keep private their personal information that you might collect or if you will share it with third parties. Being as thorough and clear as possible on your web site content will help customers understand your products and services better as well as help your web site rank well in search engines (more on this later). Be sure to get a digital version of your logo in .gif or .jpg format so that you can post your logo on your web site along with all the content you are writing.
- Optimize your web site. This is a step that you will thank yourself for much later. In order for your web site, once it is complete, to show up on searches that people enter on the internet search engines like Google and Yahoo!, your web site needs to be optimized for search engines. Each of your pages need to have a title, description, keywords, and content that are all relevant to your products and/or services. As you begin to think about what your web site design will be like, keep in mind that the web pages need to be named relevently according to what the content on the page is about.
- Design your web site. When you have all your content written and prepared, you are ready to design your web site. You can either design it yourself using web design software, get web site templates, or you can hire us, or another web designer, to design it for you. Either way, make sure that your content is written and prepared so that you are ready to design the web site. Also, weigh the cost of having a professional web designer build your web site, because you may have to pay them each time you want your web site modified. And it is important to update your content frequently. Although a professional web designer would do a beautiful job, if you build it yourself, you can save on cost. It is very helpful to have photos of your products on the web site. Get digital photos taken of your products, or scan them into your computer so that you have photos ready to upload onto your web site. If you are going to have many photos, it might be helpful to get photo editing software. Some web hosting companies will also provide free use of their online web design tools when you purchase hosting from them (more on this below).
- Get web hosting. Web hosting is necessary to publish your web site files to the public on the internet. Without web hosting, your files will only be viewable by you and/or your web designer from your own personal computer. In order for the world to see your web site, you must upload your web site pages to a web hosting server. You pay the web hosting company a nominal fee on a monthly basis. You can sometimes also get a greater discount if you purchase the service for a whole year. In return, the web hosting company will allow you to use space on their servers' hard drives and keep their servers running with the latest technology, virus protection, etc. I usually get Windows hosting verses Unix hosting because I use ASP coding. Unless your web designer uses ASP or Access database, you may want to choose Unix hosting because it is often times the least expensive. A few web hosting companies also offer additional services such as web hits analysis, guest books, photo albums, form creation tools, and even web design tools and domain registration for free when you purchase their web hosting service. You can also purchase web hosting packages that include e-commerce so that you can sell your products online. Click here for our recommendation of a web hosting company that offers these services.
- Publish your web site. Now that you've got all your ducks in a row, you have your domain name, your web site is designed, and you have your web hosting, you are ready to publish, or upload, your web site and make it live. There are several ways to upload your web site depending on how you built it. If you used the free site building tools through the web hosting company, you can use that same tool to publish your web site. Your web host will give you instructions on how to use FTP to upload your web site. You can FTP your web site files using Windows Explorer or an FTP program like WS FTP.
- Submit to search engines. Your web site is live and you need to advertise it so that people can find you in the vast ocean of the internet. Hopefully you remembered to optimize your web site for search engines (see above). This will help greatly in the process of getting your web site noticed on the internet. You really want your web site to be found on Yahoo!, Live, and most of all, Google. Click here for a search engine submission service that I have had good luck with and continue to recommend to my clients who first start a web site.
- Keep your content fresh. Well, the hard part is done. Now, you just have to keep your web site updated, modifying content, especially on your home page, frequently. This keeps the content fresh so that people will come back to see what's new. You can even add a "what's new" section on your home page. Keeping your web site content updated also helps the search engines know that your web site is active and changing, so they will revisit you often as well.
- Email your customers. It's often helpful for your business to keep in contact with your customers. Keep your customers email addresses handy, and send them an email periodically letting them know about new product or service offerings, including a link to your new web site. We always like repeat customers, and keeping them in the loop via email is a great way to keep your business on their minds.
- Advertise your web site offline. Just because you are online now doesn't mean that you can't still advertise the old fashioned way. It's always good to hand out or send out fliers, brochures, post cards, letter head, and business cards with your web site URL printed on them. I even like to send out little magnetic calendars with my web site URL on them as a holiday gift to my customers. Some companies allow you to design your own business cards online, calendars, T-shirts, and more online. You can upload your company logo for a very professional look. Click here to get started designing your business cards.
Web Design Resources
Quick links to the products mentioned above.