Launching a Web site is one of the most important and powerful things a business can do. A Web site connects your business to the world and is a communication vehicle to your local community and customers. Without question, businesses of all industries can benefit from having an online presence. Here’s how to get started.
Choosing a Name
There are two parts to selecting your domain name (www.yourcompany.com). First, you must choose a name and then you must register it. Choosing a name seems easy, but can become extremely difficult if find your business name is already taken by someone else in cyberspace. The easiest way to find out if a domain is available is to punch it into your browser and see if anything comes up. When in doubt, use a domain checker to test the availability — most domain registration Web sites such as GoDaddy, Register.com, and Network Solutions, to name a few, allow you to check domain availability.
When selecting a name, it’s best to mimic your business name or close variation. So if your business name is Joe’s Pizza, you want to search for JoesPizza.com, PizzaJoe.com, and so on. If these names are already taken, try adding your location, e.g. NYJoesPizza.com. The key is to make sure your domain name is memorable. If the name is too long or complicated consider some other alternatives. Try adjectives that describe your business, e.g. PepperoniKing.com. However, there are some things you want to avoid:
- Made up names that people won’t search for
- Words that are difficult to say
- Odd spelling of words.
Once you’ve decided on your domain name, it’s time to make it official by registering it. Registering a domain name gives you ownership of that name and in many cases can be handled by the same company that is hosting your Web site (see below). If you’re purchasing an available and original name, it should cost no more than a few dollars. Some hosting companies will even offer free domain registration when bundled with their hosting services. The actual registration process is as easy as typing in your desired name and following the onscreen instructions of the registration company. The entire process should take no more than a few minutes.
You’ll notice that registration companies offer numerous extensions beyond “.com,” however, with the exception of “.org” for nonprofit organizations, .com is still the dominant extension used. That said, it’s smart to register the other extensions to protect your brand. Some extensions growing in popularity are .net, .mobi, and .tv. Read “Domain Name Basics” for more information.
Owning a name and actually having something appear when you type it into a browser requires the name to be hosted. Unless you’re a company with an enormous Web presence driving a tremendous amount of traffic, it’s smart to let someone else host your Web site for you. You won’t have to purchase your own server and will avoid setup, storage, and maintenance costs.
Getting your site hosted by a third party is also relatively cheap. For very basic Web sites, hosting options start at just a few dollars per month. Some of the more popular hosting companies are the same registration companies mention earlier, along with iPower, Rackspace, and Bluehost. As your site grows, most hosting companies are able to grow with you. When deciding on what hosting company to use, pay particular attention to:
- Storage capacity, how much data you can put on their server
- Data bandwidth, the amount of information allowed to flow to — and from –your site
- Number of e-mail accounts, the number of individual e-mail addresses you can have
- FTP utilities, a secure method of uploading and downloading files
- Database options, an add-on feature that lets you store structured data for later retrieval
- Statistics, basic analytics showing traffic numbers to your site
- Plug-ins, extra options such as blogging software and scripts
Be smart: Don’t get consumed by all the bells and whistles (see below: Deciding Your Site’s Purpose). For example, don’t pay extra for a host with e-commerce software if you never intend to sell anything on your Web site. Most important, investigate the track record of the hosting company. If a company doesn’t have an uptime of nearly 100 percent, it’s best to look elsewhere. After all, if your Web site doesn’t stay up, what’s the point?
Check out testimonials. Don’t count on the hosting company for testimonials, however. Seek recommendation from other business owners and friends. Scour message boards and forums. Remember that most people are quicker to complain online than praise, so don’t get too caught up in hate banter, but don’t ignore it either. For more tips on picking a host, read “Choosing a Web Host for Your Business Web Site”.
Deciding Your Site’s Purpose
You must clearly understand your site’s purpose before choosing a hosting company. If you’re going to sell items on your Web site, find a hosting company that offers e-commerce tools. If your site is only going to post basic contact information and company specs without regular updates, then you probably won’t need a large storage capacity. And if your company will be updating regularly, you’ll want to make sure you have some sort of content management system (CMS) solution or blogging plug-in.
When putting together your plan be sure to seek outside opinions and browse your competition; this might spark new ideas of what you can do with your site. Ask your Web-savvy friends about trends they’re seeing and consider how these trends can be implemented into your site. For example, video has really taken off and adding a simple video introduction of your services can add tremendous value to your visitors.
When you’ve got your name, host and have a general idea of your site’s purpose, it’s time to move on to planning your site and designing it.