Step 1: Buy a domain or use a free service?
The first things to consider is what you would like to accomplish and what you are willing to spend on a website. If you just want a spot to blog or pass along information, you can sign up for a free service likes Google blogger and get up and running instantly. The downside is you have very little control over your site, and if you’re using the site for a business it’s much more professional to have www.yoursite.com then it is to have www.yourdomain.blogspot.com. If you’re using it for a business, you’re better off buying the domain.
Tip: Domains are cheap to buy. They usually run about $10 a year for .com and another $10 a year to make it “private” which means that while you own the website, it’s registered in their name instead of yours. This is $10 well spent as it will cut down on quite a bit of junk mail. If you decide to purchase a domain, use GoDaddy.com
Tip: There are a lot of mistakes that are easy to recover from, but buying your domain from a cut rate company is not one of them.
If you buy a bad logo, you can just have another made. If your hosting service goes down, you can sign up for another service and point your site to that host. If, however, you buy your domain from an small-time firm that goes under, you are then battling for control of your own site. Not only is this an incredibly painful process, but best case your site is offline while you struggle to get it back, worst case inappropriate content is placed on your site and you get blacklisted from Google. $20 is a small price to pay for a year of a domain and avoiding all of that hassle.
All that said, around $20 is all you have to spend. For small companies, the domain itself and private registration are likely all you need. The extra add-ons are probably not necessary for you, or can be acquired elsewhere cheaper or for free. Pick it out a domain name you like, go to GoDaddy.com to see if it’s available, if it is, grab it.
Step 2: Hosting
Once you have your domain, you need to acquire a web hosting service to host your site on the internet. There are countless hosts on the net, but I highly recommend hostgator.com . They have been around since 2002 and they host over four million domains. In addition to being one of the best, they are also one of the cheapest name brand sites. Their plans for hosting one site range from $5 a month.
Tip: Hostgator is also very good about offering items for free (like email accounts) that other hosts charge for.
Step 3: The Site Itself
This is where it gets far more personal. At this point, you really need to determine what you want your site to accomplish.
1. Are you trying to build a web presence or brand or sell items? If you’re selling items, are you selling them locally in person, or over the internet with shipping?
2. Do you envision your site to be fairly static (gives basic information, locations, hours etc.) or dynamic (with updated content you create and/or user feedback).
These are important questions to answer, but here are a few tips.
Tip: Simple is usually better.
You want an attractive site. You want your site to have a nice layout, be easy to navigate and possibly have an attractive logo. What you probably don’t want on your site is a lot of flashy animation. In addition to slowing your site down and limiting compatibility with mobile device browsers, it also makes it much harder for search engines to analyze and therefore rank your site.
If you use words and links to build your site, Google and other search engines will have a much easier time cataloging your site then if it’s comprised of animations and pictures. There are things a skilled web developer can do to help fancy websites be handled appropriately, but this can be difficult, time consuming and costly.
Tip: You may want to seriously consider using wordpress.
WordPress is a framework used used by millions of websites to make the job of updating the content on websites much easier. Once the site is created, and the look and fell desired is achieved, someone can log onto the site and add new content about as easily as one sends an email.
Using wordpress has some serious advantages:
It’s very highly used. This means it receives a frequent amount of security updates and has a large community which will help provide support or advice for the developer.
It’s extremely modular. There is a huge community of developers who create “plugins” for wordpress, most of which are free for use. These plugins add increased capabilities to your site such as social media content or automated backups.
You can customize the appearance. There are tens of thousands of “themes” you can choose to change the appearance of your site. Or you can create your own design if you’re so inclined.
WordPress is fairly easy to maintain, but you still want to make sure you’re backing up regularly and that you or someone else is applying the security updates.
Step 4: Getting the word out
Now that we covered acquiring a domain, a host and one popular option for building the site, now it’s a matter of what you would like to do with it and how aggressive you want to market it.
No matter if you have a small 5 page site with static information, or a large site with dynamic content, if you want people to be able to find you in search engines like Google, it is going to take lots of time and or money.
There are a few search engines (Google, Bing, Yahoo) that handle an overwhelming majority of all web searches. If you want your site to be found by people, you need to be in the first two pages of search results for these sites for key words that your potential visitors/customers would be searching for. It doesn’t matter how great your site is, if it’s on page 30 of Google, nobody will ever find it.
TIP: There are two ways to attempt to acquire search engine traffic. Organic SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and Pay Per Click (PPC).
SEO is a time consuming process. It involves research to figure out which key words to optimize your site for, optimizing your site for those key words (both in content as well as the underlying website code) and submitting your site to search engines such as Google and Bing.
The other big part of SEO is backlinks. A major part of the algorithm Google uses to pick which sites to display at the top of its search results are how many quality sites link to your site. Links from small, low traffic sites count a little bit, but a link from a website Google views as high quality and relevant to your industry counts for quite a bit more.
The first half of SEO requires a lot of research but is not too bad. The backlink part is extremely time consuming. You can skip the backlink part on the assumption that – if your site is high quality – it will eventually get the links. It very well might, but it will take a longer period of time versus a site which aggressively pursues its SEO.
The other option for acquiring search engine traffic is to pay for it. Search engines such as Google usually display a few “sponsored” links at the top of their search results. These are sites which have set up accounts with the search engines (Google calls it “Adwords”) and pay on a pay per click (PPC) basis.
That means a business picked its key terms, picked how much it was willing to spend per click, set a daily budget, gave Google their credit card information and told google to have it. If you bid $1 for the keyword phrase “Tucson RVs” (and that was the highest bid Google had), then every time someone Googled “Tucson RVs” your site would appear on the first page of the results at the top or side. They don’t charge for each time the ads are displayed (these are called “impressions”). But every time someone clicked on that link and was taken to your site, Google charges you $1. This occurs as often as people search and click until your daily budget is reached.
How difficult will it be to get your site appearing high in search engine results? It depends. If you’re going after keywords and phrases that are competitive at a national level, you’re likely going head to head with large companies and are in for a rough time without spending a fortune. If however you’re going for local terms (Optimizing your page for “Boise hardware stores” instead of “hardware stores”) or terms with lower search volume (“Computer motherboard repair” instead of “computers”) then you can be effective. These are smaller demographics to go after, but much easier to obtain, and hopefully more relevant.
If you do the technical work yourself or are lucky enough to have a friend do it for you, you can get a website up and running with a year’s worth of hosting for under $200 (plus whatever you bribe your friend with). It’s worth asking around to see if anybody has a connection who can help you out. If not, your options are going with a professional service (costly) or using someone off of a site likes craigslist (costly and varying degrees of quality). If you’re paying for a service, be sure to ask what they do to help your sites search engine rankings, and be sure to shop around and compare.
Don’t let the process scare you out of acquiring a website. One of the factors Google uses in site rankings is how long the site has been online. You’re far better off getting a site up and running now and promoting it next year than you are waiting until next year to get it off the ground.
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