One of the most important steps in launching a business is creating your company’s web presence. Prospective customers will often look for your company online before calling or visiting your business, so it is essential that your company’s online presence effectively demonstrate both your brand and your products and services.
Review our step-by-step guide to creating your web presence below:
1. Getting Started:
Choose and register a domain name from a Domain Name Service (DNS) provider
Before developing your company’s website, you will first need to register a domain name for your website so that prospective customers can find your website. A domain name is the “online name” of your company, formatted as www.domainname.com. This is a simple and inexpensive process; however, it can be challenging to find and purchase a domain name due to the proliferation of so many websites. As such, it is best to first develop a short list of desired domain names, and then check the availability of each. In the event that none of your desired domain names are available, you’ll need to get creative and come up with alternative options. You may have noticed that there are a variety of available domain name extensions as well. When purchasing a domain name, it is best to ensure that the most common / most popular extensions are available rather than only purchasing a less common alternative. You can purchase multiple domain names and/or multiple extensions if desired, and have them all point to your website. This will help to ensure that prospective customers find your site more easily.
The most common domain name extensions and a description of their applications are:
.com (.commercial) is the most common domain – if at all possible, if you have a for-profit business, purchase .com extension for your desired domain name.
.org (.organization) is the most common domain extension for non-profit organizations, including organizations that are charitable, religious, political organizations, educational and/or public sector.
.net (.network) is the third most popular domain, and is generic enough that many different kinds of businesses and organizations use it. This domain is often treated as a second .com.
.edu (.education) is an extension that is only available to educational institutions listed on the U.S. Department of Education's list of nationally recognized colleges and universities.
.gov (.government) is a domain used by government entities in the United States. The .gov domain is administered by the General Services Administration (GSA), an independent agency of the federal government.
.biz (business) is an alternative to the .com extension. To register a .biz domain, your company must be for “bona fide business or commercial use.” A generic top-level domain to be used by businesses. It should be noted that the .com extension is far more common and popular than the .biz extension, and as such, if you purchase only the .biz extension of your desired domain name, it is likely that prospective customers will have difficulty locating your website. As such, if you are interested in purchasing a .biz extension, you should ALSO purchase the associated .com extension.
.info (.information) is a generic domain that was developed to provide an alternative to the popular .com extension. The .info extension is not very popular at this time.
.mobi (also known informally as dotMobi) is a domain dedicated to delivering the Internet to mobile devices via the Mobile Web. Today’s businesses need to consider mobile users when developing their web presence to ensure that customers and prospective customers have a positive experience when using a cell phone or tablet to access your site. As such, when purchasing one or more domains for your business, you may want to consider adding a .mobi domain to your choices. Note that a .mobi extension should always be considered an “add-on option” to your domain choices rather than the only extension you purchase.
You can check the availability of domain names as well as purchase one or more domains with various extensions with a domain registrar service such as Network Solutions, GoDaddy, NameSecure, Domain Bank etc. There are numerous providers to choose from – these are just a few.
Note that when you pay for domain names, you have the option to purchase the name for 1 year only, or to purchase a few years registration up-front for a reduced cost. If you are launching your business for the first time, you might want to start by paying for just 1 year of registration, and then extending that registration for additional years later on. Note though that if you don’t pay to renew your registration later, the DNS provider will then make that domain name available for sale to the public. As such, it is critical that you not allow your domain name to expire.
Choose an Internet Service Provider (ISP) to host your new site
Once you have purchased your domain name(s), you then need to select a hosting provider to host your website. When creating a new website for a start-up venture, you can start with a standard hosting package. Later on, you can adjust your hosting package to expand to accommodate changing business needs.
- Free Web Hosting - There are numerous free hosting providers, many offer advanced services like CGI, shell access, PHP, SSI, etc. Be aware, however, that sites with no-cost hosting are typically supported by advertising which would then be visible on your website. For this reason, most businesses avoid no-cost web hosting.
- Paid Hosting - Paid hosting is the ideal option for most businesses, and most DNS providers offer web hosting as an add-on option, making it easy to have just one provider for both DNS and hosting. Costs can range from a minimal amount to several hundred per month depending on the package you select. When starting your hosting agreement, you can begin with a lower-cost hosting package, and then upgrade as your business grows.
- Colocation & Direct Internet Access - Larger businesses and/or established businesses that want to expand their online presence may want to consider colocation or direct internet access. Colocation is essentially using another, larger, businesses high-speed Internet connection. You can have managed or unmanaged versions – with managed colocation, it’s almost like having your own IT department. Direct Internet Access is for businesses that have large data centers or want to control every aspect of their web and Internet access. With this option, you host the site yourself and will need a web server computer and software and a very high-speed Internet connection with a dedicated IP address.
2. Creating an Initial Website:
For many small retail or service businesses, a good option for an initial website can be using a web-builder tool that is readily available from the DNS/hosting provider. Most of these tools even include options for establishing e-commerce if needed.
The least expensive way to create a business website is to use a web-based site building tool/template. Most web hosting providers offer a web-builder tool as an add-on option to their hosting package. This software is as simple as choosing the design you want and then adding your text, making it easy to create your web presence within just a few hours. Websites built with a web-builder tool are very inexpensive, ranging from $200 to $500 annually.
If you want to set-up a way to sell products on your site (e-commerce), check out options available through your hosting provider. Adding e-commerce to your site does involve an addtional cost, and you'll also need to pay fees to the credit card companies who process your payments.
For businesses that need a more robust web presence, it may be advantageous to work with a web design firm or freelance web designer to have a custom-designed site built. The cost of a custom site will vary based on the number of pages in your site as well as the overall scope and complexity of the project:
|Custom Website Costs||Typical Cost|
|Site built with a web-builder/template tool, standard features, adheres to parameters of the template. Can be customized somewhat, but not as flexible as a custom site.||$200 to $500 / year|
|Custom-designed site with up to 15 pages, standard features, developed in HTML with Cascading Site Sheets (CSS).||$5000 to $10,000|
|Custom-designed site with up to 50 pages, advanced features; typically includes CMS System to manage/edit content||$20,000 to $35,000|
|Custom-designed site with 50+ pages, includes CMS System to manage/edit content, as well as custom modules||$40,000 to $100,000+|
3. Creating a Facebook Page
Facebook offers a free, easy and readily available way to create an initial web presence, even while you are still working on your primary site
Facebook makes it simple to create a free “Facebook Page” for your business. A Facebook Page can help you interact with customers in a different way than a corporate website. Additionally, Facebook enables you to easily add features that are harder to implement on a regular site. You can build a custom page, run contests and promotions and even manage a small e-commerce shop. Some custom applications have a fee, but it still remains a great way to advertise for limited costs.
Before creating your Facebook page, you will need to create a personal Facebook profile, this will be the “creator” for the page. Your personal profile will be the administrator of the business page, but people coming to the page will not be able to see your personal profile.
Facebook will walk you through the creation process step-by-step and answer any questions you may have. For more information, click here.
Some micro businesses may find that having a Facebook Page for their company is sufficient, and that having a “primary” website is not needed, at least in the short-term, but if your business takes off, you’ll definitely want to have a primary website for your business as well. But once you do establish your primary web presence, it will still be important to update and maintain your Facebook Page, as well as to utilize other social media to market your business. To find out more, visit the Social Media & Marketing Tactics Page on the BOS website.
4. Drive Traffic to your New Website
Here are some simple ways to get more viewers to your site:
Register your site with search engines - There are services that will offer to do this for you for a fee; however, you can go to each search engine and register your site on your own at no cost. The most popular search engines are:
- AOL Search
While there are other search engines, if you register your site for just these 5 search engines, you will be well-covered.
SEO (Search Engine Optimization) - Being at the top of search lists is one of the best ways to drive traffic to your Website. Some tips to “organically optimize” your search engine ranking include:
Links: Search engines analyze how many other sites have your link on their sites, which increases your credibility, therefore increasing your ranking. The most common way to build links to your site is to comment on an article, blog post, or message board and include a link back to your website. It’s best not to merely post a link, but instead to make a relevant comment and then add a link to your site. Avoid “sales pitch” comments and instead make sure you respond in a way that is helpful and informative.
Meta Tags: Meta tags are information inserted in the “head” area of the HTML code used to build your website. If you are using a web-builder tool to create your site, you will likely be able to add meta tags through that tool rather than actually having to view the source code. When search engines crawl your site, these tags are viewed and logged along with other keyword-rich content and photos, and this data is then utilized by the search engines to help determine search engine ranking.
The above strategies are available to you at no cost. You may also want to consider other options, such as ads on search engines, LinkedIn or Facebook. These options are available for a fee.
Social Media - One of the best ways to drive traffic to your website is via social media. Below is a brief discussion about social media options.
- Facebook: With about 500 million users, there's really no better platform to drive traffic to your Website. Adding a “Like” button to pages of your site, allows visitors to tell their friends about your site. Once they click the like button, a link to your site appears in their Facebook feed, and depending on how many friends they have, it could mean thousands of hits to your Website.
- Twitter: Twitter has quickly become essential for many small businesses. It isn’t necessarily about trying to get followers, that's important, but more the quality of information in your tweets; this will have a more long-term impact on how much traffic will be driven to your site. The biggest Twitter resource for small business owners is the search.twitter.com function. You can search for what people are talking about in real time, and send specific information to those possible customers.
- Blogging: No matter what your product is or service you offer, a blog will help drive traffic to your Website. Blogs are especially useful to get traffic from returning customers. Blogging can make your relationship with your customers more intimate, and will help increase the amount of returning customers. When you blog, you define your areas of expertise, but you also attract the relevant customers to your company or brand. Readers will inevitably leave feedback in the form of comments and e-mails. It's a great way to understand who is reading your blog and what they're interested in.
To find out more, visit the Social Media & Marketing Tactics page on the BOS website.