You have put together your business plan, your competitor and customer research and written your marketing plan. Hands up who thought about the simple matter of a domain name or a website?
“It doesn’t matter,” some of you will say, because you aren’t going to be selling anything online, but where do you think more than 90 per cent of the UK population now looks for information on a business? The days of flicking through Yellow Pages for a local plumber are long gone. Nowadays, people use their PCs or their smartphones to see who is local – and what other people have been saying about them. Would you buy anything from Ebay if the seller had 100 per cent negative feedback? Exactly. The same is true of any business today. People will want to know who you are and the first place they will go to find out is online.
So, setting up a website is complicated, time consuming and expensive right? Not at all. Anyone can build a website now, thanks to simple tools available freely online.
Every business should have a website, even if it’s a simple one-pager saying who you are, what you do and how people can contact you, it’s a start. Your website is your most vital employee, one that can work for you 24/7, 365 days a year, across the globe. It’s your virtual shop, one where you can communicate to your potential clients and they can communicate back with you.
So where do you start? Well, getting a domain name is your most important step. A simple domain name check will give you the answers to what is available. And for as little as £4.99 per annum you can take the first step in protecting your burgeoning brand online.
Remember, domain names are unique, which means once you have it, no one else can. So immediately you have a competitive advantage and you can start thinking about how you will take over the world. Well, maybe just your town or city for starters…
Stuart Fuller is the Business Manager for Nordic Region & Online Markets (UK & Denmark) at Easily.co.uk. He is an expert on websites and Internet services.
There are millions of online shops, and whether they’re selling clothes, books, tools, gifts, homeware or camping equipment they all had to take the first steps towards getting their store online.
Setting up an e-commerce shop might seem daunting, but by reading these tips and following them up you can make the process smooth and hassle free.
It should be memorable and not too long. You can buy domains at Go Daddy, 1 & 1 Internet and Easyspace plus hundreds of other sites. Make a note of your username and password – this is essential as your web developer will need these details.
You could also look into buying domains that are related to the products you're selling and then point them towards your primary domain.
This is crucial as it will help you focus on what you actually need at the moment and what would be nice to implement in the future. It will also help you choose who will build it (see point 5). Be realistic and remember that the more you invest in your new website at this stage, the less time and money you'll have to spend in the future developing the site.
This will enable you to give a clear brief to your potential design agencies. It’ll also save time in the long run if you have a clear picture in your mind of what you’re aiming for.
Look at e-commerce websites that you like and find out who built them or search online for agencies that can help. If you can look at testimonials from their customers or even speak to people who’ve used their services, you’ll be able to make a decision on who you feel most comfortable with.
You’ll probably find that this takes most of your time. Your web designers will give you advice on what they need from you, but if you want to get a head start you can create the product list on an Excel spreadsheet. The column headings would be along these lines (depending on what you will be retailing):
PLEASE don’t snap away with that disposable camera you stole from a wedding two years ago! There’s nothing worse than seeing a well-designed website with poor, fuzzy pictures. You may already have professional photographs from the manufacturer or you may need to book a photographer. The crucial point here is that your images must be crisp and clear.
Label them well and file them in an organised way so they will be easy to find and sift through as and when needed. Your web design provider may need to crop, cut out or alter the images for your new website and the better the quality of the photographs, the easier and more effective this will be.
Any tweaks to colours, layout, typefaces, etc should be requested now as it would be very difficult (and expensive) to change these further down the line.
You would be wise to steer clear of anything that's too "of the moment" and fashionable when it comes to design and colour - this will date very quickly. Neutral tones will ensure your website remains a contemporary classic and it will need little future investment when it comes to design.
The faster you can come back with the answers, the sooner your website will be ready to launch.
You’ll also need to test, test, test. Think of every possible scenario, try out the payment system and ask your friends to do the same. Their comments will be invaluable as you don’t want your customers to come across too many glitches in the system. There are bound to be a few teething problems and the aim here is to reduce them as much as possible before you launch to the general public.
Tell as many people as possible about your new website. If you already have a customer database, send them an email to let them know that their shopping experience is about to improve beyond measure.
Check that your web design providers have submitted your site to Google, and register with as many relevant online directories as possible such as FreeIndex and let the universe know about your new site. Make sure your web address is on all your stationery and business cards, and make good use of them.
One of my clients is in a frustrating situation that my business, Manage My Website, is trying to sort out.
They’re a small business with four divisions, eight domain names and four websites. Their problem? Each website has been designed by a different agency or freelancer and each is hosted separately. My client is desperately trying to get hold of the vital information my business needs to help them gain control of the whole lot.
The lesson here is that it’s crucial to ask your web designer to give you all of the contact details, URLs, usernames and passwords for all of your websites, content management systems, email accounts and hosting services. That way, if anything goes wrong, you can get it fixed quickly and with minimum fuss. You don’t need to do anything with this information other than keep it somewhere safe (preferably in a few places) and make sure you can access it if need be.
Imagine if one day you decide to change a few images on your homepage or add a page to your website. You try to contact your web designer, only to find they’ve emigrated to Australia without leaving a forwarding address. You’re stuck.
Even worse, imagine if you’ve bought an existing business along with its website(s), which you urgently need to update. You need to make sure you know who designed and built your sites and how you can contact them if you need to.
You must also find out whether you own your domain name (you should) and when it’s up for renewal.
If you need to make backups or update or develop your website, do you know how to access your website files? Does your web hosting company offer automatic daily backup services and is this included in your contract? When does your web-hosting contract expire? How much disk space is included in your web-hosting package and how much of it remains?
Simply knowing the answers to these key questions can help to ensure your website continues to run like clockwork.
Alex Astell, Manage My Website
OK, so you’ve thought about a fantastic name for your company and it’s time to purchase your website domain. Before you hit the purchase button, it’s always a good idea to run your decisions past someone else.
Why? Because, by shortening two words or more by simply removing the spaces in your business name, your domain name could attract an unwanted audience.
All of the businesses below didn’t spend quite enough time considering how their URLs might appear – or be misread…
The serious point is, always check your domain spelling and the way it reads. It saves on embarrassing marketing issues or red faces in front of clients later on.
The growth in the use of the Internet in recent years has led to a huge shift in marketing activities to the online space. This article explains some of the key things for you to focus on to help you market effectively online. Secure that domain name early. The natural starting point is the creation of a website. Once you start your business it is important to secure the domain name in the markets you intend to compete in. We at Palo Alto Software, Inc and Palo Alto Software Ltd have lots of domain names ranging from PaloAlto.com (global), PaloAlto.co.uk (U.K.), and PaloAlto.ie (Ireland). These help ensure that prospective customers can find us easily by typing our name directly into a Web browser.
There are numerous ways you can build a website, from doing it yourself using available software tools, to hiring website specialists. Regardless of the method chosen you need to be completely clear on the main purpose of the website. Is it to sell products or to generate leads? Once the primary purpose is clear, you can then decide on the layout, alongside the look and feel.
Ensure your website is optimised
Given the hundreds of thousands of websites out there, it is worth reviewing a number to get a feel for the type of design and user interface you would like. Finally, when it comes to a website it needs to be ‘search-engine friendly’. This means that searches initiated from the likes of Google (using repetitive software, called ‘bots’) can find your site, scan it and identify the keywords associated with the website. Many firms offer Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) services which are designed to help you achieve high rankings on the search engines, such as Yahoo! and Google. Most of the techniques they employ are widely known so you could choose to do it yourself. However, be aware: anyone promising top place listings on Google should be treated with caution. There are techniques (so-called black hat techniques) which can be used to game the system – however, Google has been known to punish sites known to be using such techniques, as BMW® found, to its cost, when Google delisted them in 2006.
As it takes time for a new website to get indexed by the search engines, it is likely that traffic will be low at the start. New sites tend not to feature in organic search returns for some time, but there are ways to drive traffic to your site using some of the methods described below.
Use Web analytics to improve your site
Once you have set up the domain name and site, you will want to understand how many users you are attracting, where they are coming from and how they are behaving on your site. Google Analytics is the most popular tool to manage this. It is available free from Google, easy to implement and even easier to use. If you want to see where people are going on your site, tools such as Crazy Egg® will help you improve the design of your site by showing you where people are clicking and where they are not.
Once the basics are in place it is now a case of creating awareness of the existence of your site and generating traffic to the site.
Get traffic to your site on day one
The quickest way to get traffic to a website is signing up for Google AdWords’ Pay-per-click (PPC) service. In the U.K. the vast majority of Web searches are via Google so this is the best one to focus on. This service lets you create adverts that appear when people search for certain keywords. You then pay according to each click you receive (hence the name ‘Pay-per click’). The main attraction with this option is that it is a highly targeted form of advertising, and you only pay when the prospect clicks on your advert and lands on your website.
Create unique landing pages
You need to decide where you want to bring the prospect when they click. Dropping users onto a homepage can be confusing, so you need to create a number of landing pages that are highly relevant to both the search term and the AdWord copy. For example, if a user searches for ‘marketing plan’ and the advertising copy is for Marketing Plan Pro® then the landing page needs to feature Marketing Plan Pro prominently. The beauty of running Analytics in the background is that you can measure conversions so you can identify which combinations of advert copy and landing pages are the most successful. After that it’s a case of testing, testing and more testing. A/B testing is a popular method where 50% of the audience is randomly assigned to see page A, and 50% to see page B. Whichever page results in the most conversions ‘wins’ and that then becomes the new default page.
Get websites to link to you
One well-known component of the Google algorithm that decides on the attractiveness of your website (which then correlates to a higher search ranking) is the number of back links to your site. The more sites that link to your website, the better, particularly if the linking site is an academic or government-owned site. Each link is considered a ‘vote’ and votes from impartial sites such as academic ones are deemed to carry more weight.
Seek a presence on high-traffic sites
It may be possible for you to feature on larger portal sites by offering to support them with either new or fresh content or special offers. Steer clear of anyone offering you a tenancy agreement, e.g. you pay £1,000 per month to feature on a third-party website. These offers mean you bear all the risk and they rarely, if ever, deliver any meaningful traffic. Similarly, spending money on banners and buttons is not in vogue like it used to be – for good reason. PPC marketing is where your budget should be going – not on risky placements on websites.
Blogging is not all it’s cut out to be
A number of companies set up blogs to enable them to communicate with interested parties and customers on a more informal basis. Blogs are simply basic websites which contain a list of posts or news stories by an author, typically about a specialist topic. While they are easy to set up and maintain, they do place a demand on the blog owner or blogger to constantly update them. If you do not think you have the time to post news stories daily it is probably best to avoid the temptation of creating a blog. Other, less demanding forms of social media include placing comments on forums and participating in news groups.
The above activities should give you a flavour of some of the types of marketing activities you can undertake online. Others, such as issuing online press releases and creating newsletters, can also help you drive traffic to your websites. From there it’s a case of ensuring the design and offer are compelling enough to entice the user to buy from you, assuming that is the primary purpose of your website.