Chapter 12: How to make a website
A powerful website lets the world know you’re in business. It showcases your products and services, and gives you a great platform to attract customers and sell.
Just setting up a site won’t drive clients to your door. You need a strong name, a professional-looking design, great content and a marketing program to attract quality visitors and turn them into buyers.
How to choose a domain name
First priority – get a name that catches attention and says what you do. Ideally it also matches your business name. Here are some helpful tips:
- Make it short and memorable – you want people to remember the name so it’s easy to tell a friend and type into your web browser.
- If possible, use a .com (or equivalent for your country) domain extension – it’s the most widely used business domain and you could miss traffic if you use a different extension.
- Choose a name that’s easy to spell – people often make mistakes writing down names.
- Don’t use dashes in the name – people often mistype them.
- Include your location in the name if that’s important to your business. E.g. if your business is called Tom’s Bakery and you’re located in New York City then your domain could be www.TomsBakeryNYC.com
Choosing a great name isn’t easy and it’s getting tougher. Most .com domain names with obvious combinations of real words have already been taken.
Popular names are usually very expensive to buy, so if you want a catchy phrase, it’s time to get creative. Try including a call-to-action, location (as mentioned) or other keywords in your domain name in order to make it a bit different. Here are some other examples for Tom’s Bakery: GetTomsBread.com, TomTheBaker.com, TomsBakeryNewYorkCity.com, TomsBakeryOnline.com etc.
You can also choose an alternative extension to the standard .com, such as .net, .org, .us, .biz, .ly, or .io. There are literally hundreds of extensions to choose from now. If you’re totally stumped, use one of the many free domain name generator tools such as NameMesh.com. However we strongly recommend doing everything possible to stick to a .com option.
If your business will depend heavily on the Internet then you may want to find an appropriate domain name before you incorporate your business. E.g. in the above example, Tom may decide to name his business, Tom The Baker instead of Tom’s Bakery simply because TomTheBaker.com is available whereas TomsBakery.com is not.
Register your domain name
Before you announce your great name, make sure it’s available and register it.
Most hosting providers offer free domain names as part of their hosting package. But, watch out if they are very aggressively trying to up sell you with all kinds of unnecessary packages.
Buy a hosting package
Web hosting companies provide space on their servers for your website content. When visitors click on your address, the hosting company ‘serves’ the pages.
- Some website platforms such as Weebly offer free web hosting, others such as Squarespace include free design templates and hosting as part of their affordable, monthly package.
- If you’re going to do a custom site or a WordPress site you’ll need a host like iPage or WPEngine.
- Check the list of features available with each package.
- Choose one that provides the functions you need at the best price.
Provided by DepositPhotos.com
Consider the design suited to your marketplace
Choose your design style
What will your site look like – professional, creative, friendly, upmarket? The look and feel of your site creates an immediate impression with visitors.
How do you identify the design that’s right for your business?
- Browse other websites you like, particularly those in your niche. Do some searches like, “best restaurant website examples” to find more sites of appeal.
- What do their colors, layout and graphics say to you?
- How easily can you find information on the site?
- What key functionality do they use? Do they have a blog, shop, forum etc.?
- Talk to knowledgeable young people you may know about sites they like. They’re usually in touch with the latest trends.
- Contact a local web design company for a consultation – they’ll often give you an hour for free in the hopes of winning your business. Remember though there are excellent free designs available if you do not need a more extensive, custom design.
Check out website templates or themes
A template is a pre-designed, fully functional website that can be easily modified for your needs. The template will come with standard pages like home, about, services, contact and blog. The templates have text, graphics and images in position and you can quickly and easily customize them with your own content.
- Templates offer a massive range of designs.
- They work properly and are usually SEO-friendly.
- They are also very affordable from free with a hosting package up to $50 or so.
- You can get a good-looking site up and running in less than a day.
Any disadvantages? Templates are easy and simple, but they only offer standard designs, so it will be more difficult for your website to stand out, although if you have great photos this can help significantly.
Did you know?
In 1999, the founders of Google actually tried to sell their website to Excite for $1 million. Excite turned them down. Google’s market capitalization now stands at $167 billion.
You can customize the content, images and color of templates. But, if you want a fully customized design with specific functionality for your needs, talk to a web design company.
- A local designer is often best so you can meet and discuss your ideas.
- You’ll need a good platform and hosting company to match.
- WordPress is the best and most popular platform for both custom and template sites.
- If you choose to go with WordPress and want a high quality hosting provider we highly recommend WPEngine (it’s what we use).
Templates vs. Custom sites
Very affordable packages
Customize images, text content, color etc.
DIY set up
1000’s of designs to choose from
Set up and go live in a day (or two)
Minimal support requirement
Functionality limited to package features
Design won’t be fully unique
Functionality to suit needs
Expensive development fees
Professional design support needed
Weeks of design and development
Specialist hosting needed
Technical support essential
Although the idea of a custom site can be attractive, you’re probably better to wait until you know more about your website’s needs and its role in the business. Otherwise you could outlay $5,000 to $10,000 and more, only to discover that you need many changes.
Stock photos or custom images
Photographs, infographics and other images add interest to your website pages and illustrate important ideas that may be difficult to communicate in words. Should you use stock images or create your own?
- Pro: affordable and easy to acquire professional quality photos and graphics from image libraries such as ShutterStock.com
- Con: limited supply and similar images will appear on other websites.
Fair use considerations:
- Check license requirements and don’t plagiarize.
- Certain types of Creative Commons licenses offer free use of images, as long as you give proper attribution to the photographer.
- Flickr is a great source of images that are free to use with attribution.
If you want custom images to give that unique, professional look then you’ll need to hire a photographer. This can be essential for photos of your staff, products and offices etc. The beauty of going custom is that no one else will have the same photos and if you get a good photographer the images can really wow prospective customers. The downside is that a good photographer can be quite pricey. If you do decide to go this route, be sure to have a detailed shot list before engaging the photographer.
Provided by DepositPhotos.com
Adding ecommerce to your site
Your website is a great place to sell products. You’re no longer limited to local customers. Your store is open 24/7 and you can potentially sell to anyone, anywhere in the world.
Setting up and operating an ecommerce website is complex to say the least. It pays to get expert advice before you start. Here are some of the things you’ll need to do:
- Choose which platform you want to use for your web shop. A fully managed platform that can be great is Shopify. A more customizable platform that integrates with WordPress is WooCommerce. Do your research and find which one is best for you.
- Set up and update a database of products, prices and stock levels using the platform you choose to run your ecommerce site with.
- Put a secure payment system in place, such as PayPal or Authorize.net, so customers can pay online.
- Set up links to your accounting and inventory systems. This is really easy to do with Shopify because it’s all built in. They even offer an integrated point of sale system for your in-store transactions.
Shopify starts at a reasonable price of $29/ month but they may not offer all the e-commerce functionality you need. If you decide to build a custom site with commerce capability, allocate a budget of at least $10-15,000 and beyond.
Tip from an Expert
Build a solid web presence. This includes having a professionally designed website with a blog (WordPress is a great platform option), plus social media integration. You don’t need to leverage ALL of the social media sites, but most businesses can benefit from a presence on two or more (LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook are the top three for most).
–Stephanie Chandler, Author of Own Your Niche
Secure your website
Security is always an absolute priority. Even more so if you run an ecommerce site that collects credit card details.
Your website is the front door to your business; don’t make it an open door to your data.
- Viruses or hackers can bring down your site, making it impossible to do business online.
- Hackers could steal customer data (such as credit card details) or other sensitive commercial information.
- You could lose customer confidence; face fines for losing data or even be sued for negligence.
Good security practice
- Consider only using strong passwords for everything you do online.
- Make sure your web host has a strong firewall to monitor incoming traffic and detect any malicious content.
- Download updates regularly for any software on your website or local computers.
- Change your important passwords regularly.
Protecting internal passwords
A strong administrative password is essential. Include at least 15 random characters – capital letters, symbols and numbers.