Six Things To Do Before Building Your Website

A key component of a successful venture is having an online presence. Whether you're running a brick and mortar or online business, your website can go a long way to helping you increase sales and build awareness.

If you're just starting out, creating a website can feel a bit overwhelming. I'm breaking down website basics in this three-part series that covers everything you need to get started from the technical parts and web design basics, to search engine optimization (SEO).

In part one we are looking at the technical components you need to have in place before you can begin designing your site.

Begin at the Beginning

Do your homework before your website build to save a lot of time and trouble down the road. Use the following questions to get inspired and gain clarity:

  • What is your business name? Will you use your name or create a brand name to use as your business identity?
  • What product or service do you sell?
  • Who do you serve?
  • Who competes with you?

Once you have this information, do some research to understand your competition's  online presence and study their websites. What type of content do they offer? Do they have downloads or videos on their site? Are they making sales directly from a storefront on their page? And what pages are featured on their site (about, contact, shopping, etc.). Notice what you like and don’t like about the layout, functionality and visual look of their sites.

Know Your Site's Purpose

What do you want your site to accomplish for you? Is the goal to share information, like a brick & mortar location and hours of operation, or will you use it as a platform to sell a product or service?

As you think through your website's purpose, consider the following to gain insight into the functions your site will serve.

  • Online Selling (E-commerce): You need a storefront, a secure checkout page and a way to process payments.
  • Blogger/Writer: You need a content management system to organize and publish your posts.
  • PDFs and Downloads: Your content management system needs to handle multiple media types and support landing pages with embedded download capability.
  • Audio or Video Content: Seek a content management system that allows you to embed media content into your website and that allows you to store large size files on the platform.
  • Future Growth: How do you see your website evolving over the next 1 – 3 years? What additional content and offers do you want to add as you grow? It’s a frustrating experience to put in the time and effort to build your site, only to discover months later, that your content has outgrown your current content management system.
  • Budget: While initial costs for your website platform can run anywhere from $15 and up a month, you also need to consider hosting costs and the additional cost of any plug-ins or extra functionality you will build into your site. At a minimum, expect to pay anywhere from $100 - $250 to get your website started, and anywhere from $25 - $100 or more per month for ongoing hosting and maintenance. If you are hiring a web designer, price can vary depending on the extent of work you hire for and can run in excess of $10,000.


The Technical Bits

Domain Name: Your domain name is essentially your business address on the internet. The best choice is a .com domain name that mirrors your business name. You can search the availability of your domain and purchase it from sites like Go Daddy, Bluehost, Host Gator, or DreamHost. Many content management system providers also offer this as part of their service.

If you’re using popular terminology as part of your business name, you might find your .com domain name is already taken. If that happens, try the following:

  • If you want to keep the name, opt for a .biz, .net, .org or .info instead of .com for your domain
  • Add a descriptor of what you do to your business name (i.e. networking, online, fashion)
  • Use your name (or a pseudonym) instead
  • Buy the name from the current owner
  • Add your region or country to your domain name
  • Use an abbreviation instead of spelling out your business name

Pro Tip: If you discover your domain name is taken, do a Google search to see if it’s a live web address. If it belongs to a direct competitor, consider changing up your business name to avoid confusion in the marketplace and to head off any potential trademark issues in the future.

Email Address that is uses your .com (or other suffix) domain name. Stay away from Gmail and other free email services, as they don't make a professional impression in your communications.

Web Hosting: Web hosting is what makes it possible for your website to be visible to anyone searching for you on the internet. The web host provides a service by storing your website on one of their computers called a server. Before you sign up for web hosting services, you will need to purchase your domain name. Some popular hosting services include:

  • DreamHost
  • In Motion
  • Bluehost
  • Host Gator

Website Platform (Content Management System): There are plenty of options when it comes to choosing your content management system. The functionality you need for your site will help you choose a platform that best fits your needs. Most of the content management systems out there make it super easy to build a site yourself with a little trial and error. Some currently popular CMS/site builders include:

  • Wordpress
  • Wix
  • Squarespace
  • Weebly
  • Kajabi

SSL Certificate: SSL stands for Secure Sockets Layer, and an SSL certificate is a certificate that validates your website’s identity and lets users know they are viewing a secure, authenticated website. SSL essentially creates an encrypted link between your website server and the browser (think Chrome or Firefox) from where your audience views your website.

While not having an SSL Certificate won't harm your website’s functionality, not having it may leave your website vulnerable to malware and hackers. Another downside: Google will give your website lower priority in search, while also warning users that your site is not secure. This can make it difficult for people to find you and for you to build your business online.

Pro Tip: As you conduct your online research, you’ll notice that most websites begin with https:// which tells you the site is secure. Websites without SSL will display only http:// in the search bar. If you are visiting a site that is not secure, you will also get a warning in the search bar. Avoid submitting any critical information like your credit card number on a site that is not secure.

Payment Processor: If you're going to make sales from your website and plan to accept credit or debit cards for payment, you will need the services of a payment processor. A payment processor will securely manage your customer payments in a way that protects both your business and your purchasers. Payment processors serve as the intermediary between your customer’s bank account and your bank account, ensuring money flows seamlessly from your customers to you.

Two common payment processors used by online businesses are Stripe and Square. Another alternative is to use your business bank’s merchant services which will help manage the payment process for you. PayPal is another way to securely accept payments for services, and can be used stand alone or as a complementary payment option along side a payment processor.

Pro Tip: When researching payment processors, be sure you understand the fees associated with each transaction. Some processors take a bigger cut of your profit than others and you need to consider convenience, ease of use and fees when choosing your processor.

That sums up the basics needed to build and launch your website. Join us for the next installment in our 3-part series where we look at website design and function.

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