So, you’ve decided that your concept will work well as an online business. Now you just need to set up your “virtual showroom”, the hub from which you will conduct your operations. The good news is that establishing an online presence in the form of a website is relatively simple, and new tools are constantly popping up to make the job simpler. What would have required a skilled website designer (at a hefty price tag), is now achievable with a basic understanding of the internet, some creative thinking and a minimal cash investment.
Step 1: Secure your domain name and hosting
The very first step is to register a domain name for your website. Your domain name should ideally reflect your business name, but this is not always possible due to the high demand of domain names and cyber-squatting (people who buy domain names simply to sell them for a bundle down the line). For local businesses, a .co.za address is ideal, whilst international businesses should try to secure a .com address to ensure the broadest possible appeal. Aim to keep your domain name as short as possible to avoid typos, and make sure it’s easy to remember.
Domain registration and renewal should cost between $15 and $30 per annum (note that some providers roll this into a monthly fee instead). To find potential domain registrars, your best bet is simply to visit Google.com and search for “domain registration”.
The next step is to secure hosting for your website.
Hosting is the actual space that your site occupies, whilst the domain is the address. In simpler terms, the domain can be seen as the residential address, whilst the hosting can be seen as the property itself (a rented property in this case, as you never actually own your hosting).
There are many options when it comes to hosting, but I always suggest going with the smallest option first, and then upgrading if necessary. Importantly, make sure that your hosting is Linux based (as opposed to Windows based) as – if you follow our guidelines – you will install a CMS (content management system) in step 2 that requires this.
Hosting packages are priced from as little as R20 per month, and can be upgraded at any time, so there’s no need to “go big” from the start. Unless you are expecting tens of thousands of visitors per month, you’ll be safe with a small hosting package.
Note that many providers offer domain registration and hosting as a combo deal, so be sure to do your homework and compare apples with apples. As with so many things these days, providers tend to mix up their offerings making it difficult to compare one against the other. So make sure that you understand exactly what they’re offering. Many times you won’t require half the “extras”
they try so hard to sell to you.
Step 2: Choose a content management system
A CMS allows you to easily make changes and additions to your site without needing a degree in HTML and coding. The core benefits of CMS systems are:
– They are easy to use (compared to designing in raw HTML)
– They are generally free (compared to pricey design software)
– They offer great support through community forums and FAQ/Help tutorials
– They offer plug-ins (discussed in step three)
WordPress, Joomla and Drupal are amongst the most popular CMS systems available. I generally recommend the WordPress CMS system for new site owners. While some professional web designers may consider WordPress a little too basic (which it is for them), it is perfect for beginners and intermediates alike. The WordPress system is 100% free and is usually offered as a “1-Click Install” by hosting providers. Once installed, you can choose your theme (there are thousands of excellent free themes available, or you can purchase a premium theme for a few dollars), edit your content and create pages with ease. There is also a very comprehensive instruction manual and Q&A community available online should you get stuck. For more information on the WordPress system, visit http://www.wordpress.org.
Step 3: Select your plug-ins
While all CMS systems offer plug-ins, I will focus on the most popular plug-ins for WordPress. Plug-ins are essentially free add-ons to the standard system that allow your website to do more, without you having to employ the services of a developer to create something from scratch.
The essential plug-ins that I recommend for WordPress are:
All-In-One SEO – This plug-in provides you with all the tools you need to ensure that your website is optimized for Google (search engine optimization). It is essential for anyone looking to benefit from the rapidly growing search market.
Contact Form 7 – This plug-in provides you with a simple and easy to use contact form for visitors to your site. A contact form is an essential element of any website as it allows users to submit a message/request to you without having to open their email client (Outlook, etc.).
Convenience and ease of use are essential online, and this plugin does just that.
Sexy Bookmarks – As edgy as the name might sound, this is an essential plug-in for any serious marketer. What Sexy Bookmarks does is allow users to share your site on various social media portals (such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and more) at the click of a button. The easier you make it for visitors to share your site, the more likely they are to do so.
Ultimate Google Analytics – Statistics about your website, your visitors and your traffic sources are the most valuable information you have when marketing online. This plug-in links your site to Google Analytics (you will need to register a free account for this) and automatically ensures that all traffic data is captured. No need for tricky codes and scripts…
Google XML Sitemaps – For fear of getting too technical, I’ll try keep this one simple. Essentially, what this plug-in does is create a map of your site (i.e. all the pages, images, etc.) and submits it to Google, thus maximizing the chance of your pages getting listed in Google. Once again, you will need to register an account with Google (which is quick, easy and free) to gain this functionality.
Step 4:Load your content
The final step is to populate your site with content. A typical website should include the following:
– About Us Page – This includes information about your company, history, people etc. Keep it short and informative.
– Contact Us Page – Include all your contact details (numbers, postal address, physical address, etc., even if you are operating as an online business) as well as the contact form (using the above plug-in). I also suggest displaying your basic contact details (i.e. phone number) on every page.
– Products/Services Page – These pages should contain as much information as possible about your products and services. Visitors to your website want to get as much information as possible without having to phone or email you (once again, the convenience factor). In addition, the more info you provide on your site, the more likely it is that the resultant enquiry will be a hot prospect, as they are further into the buying cycle when contacting you.
– Testimonials Page – This should contain honest testimonials and/or reviews from previous client of yours. I also suggest displaying snippets of testimonials throughout your site so as to inspire buyer confidence.
Following these four steps, you can easily establish an online presence for your business with minimal capital outlay. Of course every business is different, and the above steps are simply meant as an introduction. They should, however, provide a strong foundation for your online success.
By Derek Jansen – The Founder Of Nitch Marketing, an internet marketing company based in Johannesburg, South Africa, that specializes in SEO training and implementation. For more information, visit http://www.nitch.co.za.