In this month’s guest blog, we’d like to welcome Penny Jones of Outerbridge Ltd. Outerbridge look after my website for me and I wrote about how that came about in another blog post: taking my own advice – outsourcing! All it took was that one call, and it was all taken off my hands. It was like a weight had lifted off my shoulders! Penny has been very kind as to share with us her top tips on what to consider when launching a new website for your business. I hope you find it helpful.
Some tips on what to consider
So you’ve finally decided that you need a website for your new business, or maybe even a new website for your existing business. But it can be really difficult to know where to start, right? By the time you’ve researched hosting, domain names, platforms, content management systems and possible developers, you can feel completely overwhelmed. To be honest, it can be downright confusing, and lots of developers aren’t very good at explaining how it all works.
There’s lots of jargon involved, but understanding the basics can really help. Here’s our guide to what’s involved, and how to go about it.
You need 3 separate components
To set up a website on the internet, there are 3 key things that you need:
1. The domain name
2. The hosting service
3. The website itself
1. The Domain Name
The “domain name” is the address of your website (for example joannemanville.co.uk). You will need to buy a domain name from a domain name seller (such as Outerbridge or Heart Internet). Domain names are usually available for one or two years at a time. When it’s time to renew, you get first refusal.
Which domain name should I choose?
It doesn’t matter what domain name you choose, as long as it’s not already owned by someone else. But there are some guidelines to bear in mind:
- Shorter domain names are easier for people to type into a web browser.
- A “.co.uk” or “.com” suffix is usually regarded as more reputable and it’s easy to remember. if your customers are predominantly uk-based, then “.co.uk” shows them instantly where you are.
- It’s obviously best to choose something that reflects your company name, or indicates what you do.
- You need a website address that people are going to remember easily.
2. The Hosting Service
For your website to appear on the internet, you will need to rent some space on a server somewhere. Hosting companies will rent you that space. Most hosting providers charge either a monthly or annual fee to host your website. It can be really tempting to go for the cheapest hosting you can find, but this is one area where you should be really careful who you entrust your website to. The quality of hosting services varies widely. Cheap hosting is nearly always a false economy and there are a few really important things to consider:
The last thing you want is a slow website. Customers will not wait around for your website to load, and search engines (like Google) consider page speed to be an important factor for ranking websites in search engine results. Simply put, the more “oomph” your server has got, the faster your website will be. A good hosting company will regularly spend time optimising your website to ensure continued good performance. It’s not unusual to see page speed improvements of 90% when moving from cheap hosting to quality hosting.
You must make sure that your site is regularly backed-up, in case it ‘falls over’, or gets ‘hacked’. You don’t want to lose all your hard work. Recreating a website from scratch is a difficult, time-consuming and very expensive mistake to make. If your hosting company does not backup your website for you, you will need to do it yourself.
It’s a very good idea to make sure that your hosting provider has a secondary server location. Ask them if they can switch your site over to another location if the first server is out of action for any reason. You need a website that is reliable, with minimal downtime and a very high degree of availability.
Ask whether your hosting provider monitors your website on an ongoing basis to make sure that it is always available to visitors. A really good hosting company will quickly sort out any problems with the site; often even before you know about them. A bad hosting company will leave you to it. You will have to monitor for any issues yourself, and fix them too.
It’s vitally important to ensure that the software used to run your site is regularly updated. This will ensure the smooth running of your site. It also really significantly reduces the likelihood of any security issues. Unless you are really confident in doing this yourself, look for a hosting company that will take care of the security aspects for you. Ideally, they should offer a hack-free guarantee which means that if your website is hacked, they will fix it for you.
Most people like to know how many visitors their site is getting each month, so ask your hosting provider whether they can provide these statistics for you.
Types of hosting
This is where the jargon can get really confusing, but essentially:
Managed hosting is where the website hosting company look after your website for you. In other words, they will provide a range of support and maintenance services (such as backups, monitoring, security and software updates). This means that you don’t have to worry about the technical aspects of running your website. Different hosting companies offer different services, so make sure you understand what’s included and what’s not.
Shared hosting is where multiple websites are run on one server. Which means you could be sharing your server with some very dodgy websites. If there’s a problem with any of them it could well affect your own site.
Note that managed hosting and shared hosting are not mutually exclusive. So it’s possible to have managed hosting on a shared server.
The ideal scenario (for peace of mind) is to have managed hosting on a dedicated server. However, this is a very expensive way of doing things.
For most people, a virtual private server (VPS) is the answer. A VPS gives you your own server environment. Each physical server can still host multiple websites, but not as many as with shared hosting, and each VPS will be allocated its own share of key resources for their use alone. It’s a perfect compromise between cost and features.
3. The website
The final component is the website itself. You will probably need a web developer to build the site for you. If it is a very simple site you might want to have a go yourself, but bear in mind that it always takes a lot longer than you think and you’ll probably end up hiring a developer anyway! Things to consider include:
Skills of the developer
Ask to see examples of their work. Do you like their style, and can they deliver what you are looking for? Look for reviews from existing customers to see what they think of the developer, and speak to them directly if you can. Talk to several different developers to find out what they offer. Consider whether they communicate well, and whether you think you will enjoy working with them. Check out reviews online; most good web development companies have customer reviews on Google.
Prices vary widely, and so do results. Check that you are happy with the developer you have chosen by asking them the questions in this article. Be sure to get a written quote from them that details exactly what you can expect to receive. Ask for an explanation of all the costs involved; not just for the website itself, but also the ongoing costs for the domain name, hosting and ongoing maintenance.
Consider whether you have a good rapport with the developer. Your gut feel can be a good indicator. Do they offer a comprehensive package, or a ‘bare bones’ service which could cause you headaches in future? Remember that once the website is built, that’s not the end of it. You need a website that will be easy to maintain and doesn’t demand constant attention from you.
Ask how long will it take to build your website. This can vary enormously between developers, but it’s normally at least 2 weeks and could be much longer for a complex website. Make sure you know what to expect and that you are happy with what the process will entail. Find out what you will be expected to do, and when.
Developers should want to know why they are building a website for you, so that they can make sure that it truly supports your business goals and objectives.
Consider what you would like the website to achieve. For example, this could be lots of visitors, online purchases, enquiries or newsletter sign-ups. Browse other sites on the internet, and note down any that you love (or hate), so that your web developer can begin to understand your taste in websites.
Before you talk to any web developers, consider:
- What pages you would like to have on your website.
- What content would you like to include and in what format.
- Any additional items you would like to include (e.g. logos, images, social media buttons, blogs, videos, sound, calendars, contact forms etc).
- What colours and fonts you might like.
Make sure you understand what the process of having your website designed and built will entail. It usually works best if you can work collaboratively with the developer. Ask when you can see an early draft of the site – it’s much easier to sort out any changes when the site is partially built than once it is finished. They should ask for your input throughout the process.
Ability to make changes
You will need a website that you can easily update yourself. Your website will be much more useful to you and much more interesting to visitors if you are able to make regular content changes. Adding new content and pictures, showing details of special offers and posting the latest news about you or your company keeps visitors engaged and gives them a reason to return to your website. Some web developers prefer to make updates themselves, so that they can charge you each time you want something doing. Look for a web developer that provides a content management system (CMS) which will give you a dashboard area so that you can update your own site if necessary.
Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)
There’s no point in having a superb website if no-one can find it! Your website must appear in search engine results like Google’s. Check that your web developer will build your site with SEO in mind, and do some initial optimisation, so that search engines will be able to find it easily and index it.
Always look for a developer who will include training on how to use and update your site and how to get the most out of it. A good developer will also be able to give you some basic training in SEO.
This might all seem like a lot of information, but hopefully it will set you up for success with your website project
Remember to focus on the fact that there are 3 key components. A really good tip is to think of your website as a house, and the other components as follows:
- The domain name – the address of the house
- The hosting – the land the house stands on
Still need a website? What next?
Don’t be afraid to ask questions. A good web developer will be more than happy to talk you through what’s involved, and will be patient and helpful. Some developers can slip into using technical language without realising it, so if you don’t understand anything, don’t be afraid to ask for clarification.
Penny is a WordPress expert at Outerbridge Ltd; a Devon-based web development company. Outerbridge provide domain names, hosting and website design/development, as well as complete website support packages which include everything you need to look after your website. We are always happy to discuss options with you and we explain things in simple language.
You can find out more about Outerbridge via their website outerbridge.co.uk