So you're ready to set up a website for your business or nonprofit, and it seems like every time you turn around there's a whole new vocabulary to learn.
- Assess your online presence:
- Before you start with the technical aspects, start with a good plan for what your business or nonprofit needs:
- If you have an existing site, does it meet your objectives? How does it fall short?
- What are your competitors doing online? Do you need to follow their lead? Or can you improve on what they've done?
- Identify your audience. Do you need to serve several audiences at once? A university's site needs to serve students, faculty, staff, parents, alumni, donors. Each one of those groups as its own unique interests and needs.
- What functionality do you need from your site? Will a brochure site do the trick or do you need ecommerce functionality?
- Set goals
- If your website were a new employee, what would its job description look like? Why do you want or need a website?
- What's in a Domain Name?
- A unique address that points the browser to a particular web site. In your Internet browser (Explorer or Firefox or Safari), you'll see a little window up at the top that lists the URL (Uniform Resource Locator) for the page you're browsing. It'll look like this:
"cnn.com" is the domain name.
- Choosing your domain name:
- Avoid using hyphens if you can.
- Easy-to-spell and easy-to-type are a high priority.
- Know the industry buzzwords – what keywords do your competitors use? Is it a "crock-pot" or a "slow cooker"?
- Know the suffixes:
- .com: for commercial sites
- .net: for when somebody's already got the .com address registered
- .org: for nonprofit ventures
- .edu: for educational institutions
- Register Your Domain Name:
- Retain your domain name by registering it – even if you don't have a site to post yet. Registration typically costs between $15-$25 - if the registrar you've found costs vastly less, then be sure to read the fine print: what happens if you let the domain lapse? If it costs quite a bit more, find out what extra services you're paying for.
- Starting out, your best bet is probably PayPal. It's flexible, allowing users to pay in a variety of ways: direct debit of their bank account, credit cards, debit cards. It's trusted and familiar. As the official payment method for E-Bay, the Internet savvy have probably already used it. Users do not need to register with PayPal in order to make a purchase. PayPal makes it easy to add a PayPal button to a site, and PayPal takes care of the credit card security issues. Fees tend to be low: they charge a small transaction fee plus a percentage of the sale. Signing up as a business is free and simple to do. Once the site takes off, you can always add a merchant account (an account with a bank that handles the credit card transactions).
- A web host maintains a great big hard drive storing the graphics and pages that make up your site. The DNS (domain name servers) send anyone who's looking for your domain to that particular server drive that hosts your pages. Shared hosting – meaning your site shares a hard drive with other sites – costs about $10/month, depending on company, plan, etc. Your hosting agreement should provide as many e-mail addresses as you need, so you can be firstname.lastname@example.org instead of email@example.com. Another plus to look for is a cpanel (control panel) where you can control the settings for your particular site – and check out its statistics: how many visits, what are users looking at, and the like. Avoid plans that have page-number limitations: like limiting your site to 5 or 10 pages. This tends to make the pages longer than they semantically demand; long pages lose readers.
- For your updated web look, you may want to invest in professional photography, either by hiring a photographer to put your business in its best light or by purchasing stock photography.
- Design and implementation:
- A professional web designer can walk you through the process of designing and posting your pages. Some web hosts provide templates that you alter yourself; like any template, it's likely to be hard to nudge its boundaries if it doesn't comply to your unique needs.
- Business cards and other paper marketing tools:
- Even a cyber-business needs paper marketing tools. In designing a brochure or business card, try to create some design continuity between paper marketing and digital presence. Folks who type your URL in from your business card should be reassured that they're in the right place.
- Website maintenance
Most things that we want to hold their value – cars, houses, even houseplants – need a certain amount of regular care and feeding. At the very least, plan to schedule an annual "performance review" for your website. Make sure the information is up to date. Do the print marketing materials still mesh with the site? Users who visit your site after viewing your print materials need to be confident that they're in the right place.
Know at the outset that a website that pulls its weight isn't a "fix it and forget it" project. It will need periodic updates to keep information current and to keep pace with your growing and changing needs. If your business changes focus – like from outdoor construction towards carpentry – then your site's focus should reflect that.
How often do you anticipate making changes? A monthly newsletter, an annual update of tuition, a daily blog. How do you want to implement changes to your site?
Better to start planning for "care and feeding" at the design phase than have to go back and rework what's already done. Think of it as the "measure twice, cut once" of the online world.
Ready to get started? Contact me.
Tools That Bring The Awesome Sauce
Links to some tools I find particularly handy.