How To Create Your Website
Creating your website is one of the most important things you can do for your business. Whether you are creating a brick and mortar store or an online business, it’s your virtual storefront, your online salesperson and the first interaction a potential customer might have with your company. You want it to be an accurate representation of you and your products or services. In our information age, without a website, your company basically does not exist in the mind of your customer.
In building your website, you will need to know the difference between a domain, web host and website.
• A domain is the name of your site. You rent the name from an accredited domain name registrar; BlueHost.com, Register.com, Networksolutions.com are a few. You will typically pay a yearly rental fee for your domain name with the option to renew year after year. A domain name is similar to an address - it is specific to you and shows others where to find you.
• A web host is the server where your information will live. Again, there is a rental fee you will pay to have someone host your site. Inmotion Hosting, BlueHost and Hostgator are a few hosting sites that won’t break the bank. Think of hosting as renting a storage unit and the address to your storage unit is your domain name.
• Your website is the information you provide to your readers. You can think of your website as the belongings you would store in your storage unit.
Anatomy of Your Site
After you’ve purchased your domain name and hosting site, and before you decide who will build your website, there are some things you will want to get together:
• Site Map
• Written Content
• Gathering Photos
Creating a site map will help you to logically lay out your website and keep you organized. Will you be having an information only site where customers can learn about your services? Will you be have an ecommerce site where customers can actually purchase products? Once you decide which type of site you want and how you want it laid out, you can start to develop the content.
Using a handmade jewelry business as an example, below is a sample site map. You can use a site map program, excel, word, or simply hand write your site map, but it is an important first step.
Before you get to writing, you will want to think a bit about your search engine optimization. SEO is described as the process of improving the volume or quality of traffic to a web site from search engines via un-paid or “organic” search results. Typically, the higher a site appears in the search results list, the more visitors it will receive from the search engine. There are many ways to improve your SEO so your site appears higher in the search results, but one way is to include certain keywords in your copy. Knowing what keywords Internet users are searching for will greatly enhance your SEO and knowing them before you start writing the content will give you a head start. Search engines such as Google, Yahoo and MSN use spiders to “crawl” through your site to determine the relevancy of your content in proportion to a users search. So the more quality content you have to offer utilizing specific keywords, the higher your rank might become.
Using a service like Google’s Keyword Tool you can find how often a certain keyword has been searched for by other Internet users. If we utilize this tool and put “handmade jewelry” in the search box, it will pull up a few hundred keyword suggestions. It shows that in one month “handmade jewelry” was searched for 368,000 times. But if we look further down the list, we discover that “jewelry necklaces” and “jewelry earrings” each solicited 1,830,000 searches. Based on these results, you may decide that “handmade jewelry” “handmade jewelry necklaces” and “handmade jewelry earrings” will be your keywords/phrases.
Keep these phrases in mind when writing your content and be very mindful of how often you use them. Overusing keyword phrases will tip off the major search engines and could result in your site being banned from their search results. Only use your keywords when relevant to your copy but try to get them in your content at least once per page. Remember, you are writing this content for your readers with a consideration for search engines, not the other way around. Your content should still be very unique, interesting and valuable to your readers.
Once you’ve written your content, be sure to ask your business partner, husband, boyfriend, best friend, neighbor, co-worker, or a professional copywriter to read through and give you their input. You want to ask them to look for these few things:
1. Typos and misspellings. Nothing says “unprofessional” like having a typo in your content. Be very mindful of your spelling and grammar.
2. Product or service descriptions that don’t make sense. When describing your products or services, try to make it simple and easy to understand. When describing products, use bullet points whenever possible to make it easy to read and digest for your customer.
3. Keywords. Do your keywords make sense and flow within the content? Did you over or under use your keywords?
Once all of your copy is written and proofread, you are ready to move on to photography.
You will need to start gathering photos that you want to include in your site. You may want to consider using a professional photographer to take photos of your product, especially if you only have an online store. Make sure you use photos that you have legal rights to. You cannot use just any photo that you find off the Internet, in books, etc.! If you take pictures of your customers in your store or using your product ALWAYS have them sign a photo release to keep in your files.
Pre-built Web Design vs. Web Design Firm
Now that your site map is created and content is written and proofed, you are ready to build your site. There are many programs that help you to build your own website. Godaddy.com, Register.com and Intuit.com supply you with templates to get you started and up and running in a few hours for very little money. However, if you are looking for a custom website that has more functionality or you don’t want to use the template look, you can hire a design firm to create a website just for you.
Be sure to put a lot of thought into which route you take with your site. If you are running an online business that does 80-100% of it’s daily transactions over the Internet, you may want to consider using a web design firm. If you are using the website to attract customers to your brick and mortar store or to sell your services, a template design might work just fine for you.
Some things to consider when making the decision between a pre-built web design template or going with a firm:
• If you are on a tight budget, pre-built sites are very affordable while a web design firm can quote a cost into the thousands.
• While pre-built sites offer technical support, you won’t get the handheld attention you will with a firm.
• If you use a web design firm, your site will be custom created and original. The functionality of your site can be determined by you, not by the template.
• Using a pre-built site, you run the risk of someone else using the same look and feel.
• Pre-built sites are very turnkey and quick. You can basically upload your material and be live within hours.
• You may be able to negotiate with a design firm to also include designing your business cards, letter head, envelopes, etc. in the package price.
Keep all of these things in mind when deciding on the route you take when building your website. If you decide to have a design firm create your site, always get three bids! You’ve already written your site map, so they should be able to give you a quote and some sample sites for you look over and make your choice. Always try to negotiate with them to get the best deal. If you’ve already compiled a list of sites you admire, the web design firm is able to gauge the design direction and functionality that you would like.