If you’re thinking about creating a website for your business and you’re not sure where to start, you’re not alone. There’s a lot of information online, which can lead to decision fatigue or frustration when the articles you find are about how to start a free cooking blog, not a professional website.
Luckily, creating a website in 2020 is easier than ever, especially if you follow these five simple steps:
1. Choose a Domain Name
Your domain is the most important part of your website. Not everyone agrees, which is why you’ll see plenty of other guides listing this step last, or somewhere in the middle. But choosing the right domain name can make or break your business website’s success.
Your domain should be short, simple, and specific. If your business name (without dashes or descriptors like “LTD”) paired with a .com extension is available, look no further. The majority of business domains are set up exactly the same way. There’s a reason for this uniformity: your business website will be easy to search for, easily recognizable, and easy to remember.
If YourBusinessName.com isn’t available, or it’s a bit too boring to fit your brand, there are plenty of other options available. Consider using another domain extension (TLD) like .net, .org, or even something unique like .business or .salon. You can search domain names and domain extensions to find something available that fits.
Another option for business domains is country-code domain extensions, or ccTLDs. These are special, 2-letter domain extensions that each correspond to a specific country and can instantly let your customers know where your business is based and what areas it services. Consider .us for the United States, .fr for France, .in for India, .vn for Vietnam, and even collectives like .eu for the European Union.
Whatever you choose, make sure you’re happy with it. Once you register a domain name, you’re intrinsically linking it to your business and your website, so changing it later is ill-advised (and think of all the business cards you’d have to reprint…)
2. Choose a Website Host
You want to choose the best website hosting for your business, which means there are a lot of factors you need to consider. Here are some of the main ones:
SHARED vs VPS HOSTING: The large majority of small to medium businesses, freelancers, and organizations are a great fit for shared web hosting, where you share a server and that server’s resources with other individuals and businesses hosting their own websites. Most websites will never need more resources or features than are available with any reliable shared hosting plan, and shared hosting is cheap, so this makes it a good fit for many businesses. If you’re looking for hosting capable of supporting larger websites and projects, with greater control over server setup and resource management, then you’ll want to look for reliable VPS Hosting for businesses. Virtual Private Servers usually offer more comprehensive security features and encryption, can handle massive and frequent email campaigns for marketing agencies, and include more advanced back-end options that you can customize to fit your needs.
SECURITY: How much security do you need on your website? If you’re trying to be HIPAA compliant, you’ll want to look into at least a VPS, but there are varying levels of security that depend on your business structure. If you’re setting up an online store or selling anything online, you should look for a website host that offers SSL Certificates from a trusted provider. WordPress users and websites with many moving parts should consider hosting companies with malware protection services. If you’re planning on building a small, static website in HTML for a restaurant, landscaping company, or similar business, then the standard shared hosting plan should include more than enough security for your needs.
SITE BUILDERS: If you’ve hired a developer or have an in-house development team, you can likely skip this section, but many small businesses and freelancers will be using a website builder or CMS to design and edit the website. There are dozens of site builders available, spanning price ranges and hosting company support, but perhaps the most popular and well-known is WordPress. If you’re planning to build a WordPress website, you should look for hosts that support WordPress. Many hosting companies include WordPress on all their plans, but there are also hosting plans optimized for WordPress which can provide a set of features chosen specifically to support WordPress. Businesses that aren’t committed to using WordPress can look into other builders and hosting plans to see if there’s a better fit, like the drag-n-drop website builder Weebly.
COST: Properly budgeting and allocating your funds is essential for a successful business, and your website hosting needs to fit within that budget. While there is free hosting available, it’s notoriously unreliable, offers little to no features, has poor security, and might even be a scam. Most legitimate hosting companies advertise low and competitive “introductory rates” that they only offer to new customers, but don’t advertise their renewal rates — i.e., the price you’ll pay to keep your website when you’re no longer considered a “new” signup. This can be double or triple the amount you paid when you signed up, which can throw a wrench in your careful budget planning. When choosing a host, you’ll want to include both their introductory and renewal rates in your decision-making process. If cost is one of your primary concerns, find cheap and reliable web hosting with low renewal rates that you can easily fit into your long-term budget.
3. Sign Up and Organize Team Permissions
Once you’ve got everything picked out, it’s time to finalize it. Most people opt to register their domain name with their hosting company for convenience, since most hosting companies offer domain registration. You’ll also want to see if your hosting plan comes with free domain registration for one year, a very common offer with most shared hosting plans. This also keeps the billing and management of both these services in the same place, and can make it easier to receive technical support, since the support agents will be able to access both your domain and your hosting to make adjustments.
You should also think about account access, permission levels, and billing vs. development. Many small business owners will ask their developer to sign up and purchase the services, only to run into major problems when the developer suddenly leaves town or goes incommunicado. For this reason, it’s recommended that the account be created in the owner’s name, or by another verified company employee. Developers can be granted access to the website back-end without needing to be included on the billing account, or with some hosts, can be granted sub-account permissions set by the primary account holder.
After purchasing your new hosting and domain, you should be prepared to wait at least a little while, since it can take time to set up a new hosting account to your specifications, and all domain names go through something called “propagation”, or a period of time during which the domain name’s DNS info, which allows your website to work, is synced across the internet.
4. Design your Website and Add Content
The best part about web hosting in 2020 is that you no longer need a web developer to make small, simple websites. (Developers are still incredibly useful and can do much more than the free tools, though, so don’t go firing anyone you’ve already got.) There are dozens of website builders and frameworks that make building a mobile-friendly website much easier, and many of them have a free option.
The most popular CMS (Content Management System) is WordPress, by a very large margin. 35% of websites use WordPress, surpassed only by HTML-based websites (no CMS) at 42%. WordPress offers thousands of themes catered to businesses and ecommerce, many of which are free and completely mobile-ready right out of the box. It gives business owners and designers a simple, easy-to-use platform for creating pages, adding content, organizing information, and managing your website. If a feature isn’t offered natively, chances are you can find a free plugin that does what you need. WordPress can be a bit slower due to the resources needed, but this can be easily offset by finding a website host with WordPress Hosting, plans that are optimized to work with WordPress sites.
If WordPress isn’t quite your speed, there are plenty of smaller website builders and CMS platforms that make it just as easy to design a professional, mobile-ready website with no coding skills required. One popular WordPress alternative is the drag-n-drop site builder Weebly. With hundreds of free mobile-ready themes, baked-in eCommerce shops, and a WYSIWYG-style builder, Weebly is ideal for getting a site build and hosted in no time. When backed by a reliable hosting plan with email, your site will be open for business in short order.
5. Publish and Promote your New Business Website
Once your website is set and ready just the way you want it, it’s time to launch! Publish your website, check that everything is in order, make sure your emails are working, and try it out! Try to approach your newly-launched website like a client would for the best results: click around, read what sounds interesting, try out whatever strikes your fancy, and make sure there’s a clear and easy path for your website visitors to follow, especially if that path ends with a sale.
But any good business owner knows the work isn’t over yet — a great business website doesn’t do anyone any good if no one knows it exists. It’s time to advertise it. Publish links to your site on your social media, print our the URL on mailers, in newsletters, on business cards and signs. Get the word out through your regular channels that you’ve got a shiny new website, and work on building traffic.
If you’ve got room in your budget, you might want to look into running some search engine ads or hiring a team to do SEO work — it’s a proven method of bringing quality traffic to your website. You should already have a pretty firm grip on the kinds of people you want viewing your business on the web, so target them with some of today’s best digital advertising tools, and watch your business website grow into success.