Getting Your Business Online: Building a Basic Website
In my last post on the subject, I looked at some of the reasons why every Canadian business should have an online presence. Within that post, we met Celine, the owner of a little bakery on the main street of her mid-sized Canadian town.
Celine is now convinced that a website for her bakery will deliver all sorts of benefits. It will give her exposure beyond her store’s physical presence. It means Celine’s Bakery will be found as more and more Canadians use online search tools rather than printed directories. And a website will give her customers a 24-hour ability to find out the bakery’s hours of operation, whether it offers specific services such as baking customized birthday cakes, and much more.
Celine, like many of the 60 per cent of small businesses in Canada that do not yet have an online presence, wants to change that by developing a website, but she’s finding it a bit confusing and doesn’t know where to start. To help her with this problem, this post will take a look at how you build a basic website and get it ready for content.
Register a domain name
A domain name is your address on the Web, preferably something short and memorable that also references your business. This blog, for example, is part of Bell’s overall website that has the domain name “bell.ca.” Similarly, Celine could register the domain name “celinesbakery.ca.”
Commercial services called “registrars” manage the process of selecting and registering domain names. Service providers like Bell can help you research available names and then register the name or names that you want. If you’ve already registered a domain, you can transfer it from your current registrar to a service provider if you need a website hosted.
Select a hosting company
Your website needs to live somewhere. Some large companies host their websites on their own servers but most websites are hosted on third-party services and that’s probably the best bet for you, too. When you’re choosing a web host, there are a number of things you’ll need to consider:
- Does your host support the platform on which you intend to build your website? (I’m going to argue in the next section in favour of using WordPress as your website platform; if you choose WordPress, you will need to also choose a web hosting service that supports WordPress.)
- How big is your website going to be? Chances are, if you’re just starting out, it won’t be very big. But changing hosting services down the road is not a trivial undertaking so try to anticipate now what your future needs will be and choose accordingly to ensure your host can accommodate future growth.
- How much bandwidth will you need? That’s just a technical way of asking how much and what kind of traffic are you going to get. Do you anticipate a lot of visitors? Is your website going to have large media files like high-resolution photos or videos? Again, try to keep future requirements in mind as you answer this question.
- Will you want additional services like e-mail? Most hosting services will let you add email addresses featuring your own domain name. Celine, for example, could now have the email address, “email@example.com.”
Select a content management system
A content management system, or CMS, is a web application that lets you design, develop and manage your website. Even if you get professional help to initially design and build your website, you’re likely going to want to have a role in maintaining it. Fortunately, there are now several, easy-to-use CMS applications that make it very simple for you to log in your website and update its content without having to know HTML or any other programming.
I’m a huge fan of the WordPress CMS. Originally developed as a blogging platform, WordPress is an open-source CMS that has a massive community of supporters who have developed design templates and feature plug-ins to meet almost every conceivable need.
Design your website
Because it’s open source, using WordPress is free. So, too, are many of the design templates that have been developed for it, and you might well find one that works for you. Here is one place, though, where it probably makes sense to get some professional help. There’s nothing worse than a poorly designed website, and there are some technical issues that need to be well managed so you can easily maintain it down the road.
When you’re choosing a website design company, make sure it has extensive experience with whichever CMS you choose. Most critically, a good design firm will ask you what you want your website to be able to do from a business perspective, rather than simply ask do you want this or that technical capability.
The bottom line
It’s easy enough these days to create your own website. There are lots of simple templates available, and a CMS like WordPress is pretty easy to learn. If you want a unique look and feel, however, and you want to be more certain that what you build today will serve you well for a few years, then it is well worth the investment to get some professional help.
If you’re not yet on the web, what’s been keeping you? And if you are freshly online, what’s the biggest benefit you’ve realized so far? Please share your experiences in our comments section.