This lesson has a lot of information – think of it as Websites 101. I am writing this from the assumption that you need to learn the basics of owning and running a website, so I go into a lot of detail. However, if you always have a good understanding of some of these topics, please feel free to skip straight to section buying a domain name and buying a hosting package.
In this lesson I’ll review the following:
1. Why do you need both a website and a blog?
2. How to buy a domain name
3. How to buy a hosting package
4. What website platform I recommend
5. DIY vs. Web Designer – or both
Why do you need both a website and a blog?
Every business needs an online presence. In fact, if your business doesn’t have a website, you’ll lose potential customers who don’t think you’re a legitimate business because you’re not online. People don’t use phone books anymore, they use Google as their modern-day Yellow Pages. But it’s not enough to just have a static (unchanging) website. Search engines don’t like static sites and won’t give you the same high ranking in search results as a site that is dynamic and constantly has a new flow of content. That’s where blogging comes in.
“Blog” is a word created by combining two words – web and log – and refers to a section of a website where you write articles and share information with your readers. When blogging first began it was mostly personal journals where bored people rambled on about their boring lives. Okay, maybe that’s not fair because there were lots of interesting people with compelling stories to tell, but the vast majority of blogs in the early days were personal ramblings.
But blogging has changed a lot these days and it is now commonplace for a successful business to have a blog that showcases their knowledge in a specific field so their clients look to them as experts. This is your opportunity to connect with your target audience, your readers, on a personal and human level. A common marketing mantra is this: “People buy from businesses they know, like and trust.” What better way to capture that trust from your potential clients than to connect with them on a personal level on your website while you teach them about your business and what your expertise can do for them.
Notice earlier I said that a blog is a section on your website – it’s not the whole website. Your site needs to also include detailed information about what services you offer; a portfolio of your past achievements, customer testimonials or case studies; and a way for your potential customer to contact you with questions or service requests. Writing content for your website is something we’ll talk more about soon!
Now that you’re convinced you need both a website and a blog … you need to get the structure in place before you jump in with both feet.
Owning a website involves two separate pieces, your domain and your host.
- The domain name (or URL) is the address people use to get to your site. For example, Tremble Design and Creative Services LLC’s domain name is trembledesign.com. You can register a domain with any number of registrars or providers – basically you pay an annual fee to use that particular web address. If you stop paying, someone else can use the domain instead.
- Website hosting is the service that actually stores your website’s files. If you have a free blog through Blogger or WordPress.com, then your host is Google or WordPress, respectively. Self-hosted websites rent server space from a company that agrees to store your files.
If you think of a website as your house – your street address would be your domain name and the actual structure of your house is the hosting company where your website files are stored safely inside. Basically, you put your website’s files on your host’s servers, then tell your domain to point to those files when someone puts in your URL.
Domain Purchase and Hosting from two different companies
Web design best practices dictate that you should purchase your domain name(s) from one company and your hosting from another company. A domain registrar specializes in registering domain names for a low price. A hosting company specializes in file storage and website up-times and making sure your data is secure – they can also act as registrar for your domain name, but they don’t do it at a bargain price. For instance, a hosting company would typically charge about $12 to $20 for one year of domain name ownership, whereas a domain registrar site would charge around $6 for the same thing.
Andrea at Nuts and Bolts Media offers three arguments for why you want to keep these two services separate:
- Keep your domain in one place. If you ever get mad at your web host and decide to move your site, you’ll also probably want to transfer your domain if it’s registered with the old host. Domain transfers can be annoying, time-consuming, and confusing. But if you’ve registered the domain elsewhere, you don’t have to do anything except update your DNS settings to point to the new host.
- Register all your domains together. You might be thinking, But I only have one website! That may be true, but for many of us, websites are addicting. For example, I own 45 domains right now. If I need to manage them, like when I transferred all my files to my new servers, I can just go to my registrar and mass update the DNS settings.
- Added security. A few years ago, my dad’s website got hacked. Not only did the hackers destroy his site, but they also transferred his domain away from his web host and took it over. It took ages for him to prove ownership and get everything back. When your domains are separate, even if someone gets access to your files, your domains are safe (assuming you aren’t using the same login and password).
Your web designer can help you with the technical side of pointing your domain name to your web host’s DNS nameservers. Then once that’s done you can also get a custom email address for you and your employees.
Buy a domain name
I recommend NameCheap for domain name registration (affiliate link). Here are a few things to keep in mind when buying your domain.
- K.I.S.S. – Keep It Simple Stupid – you want a domain name that’s easy to remember, easy to spell and easy to tell to others. DO NOT use dashes or underscores; letters instead of numbers; words spelled incorrectly (even if you’re trying to be cute) or overly long business names. This is not the time to be clever or funny – be straightforward and plain spoken with your domain name.
- Understand TLDs and decide which domain name extension is right for you. (see below)
- Is your business name long? You might want to consider a shorted version of your business name to use as your domain name. For instance, my full business name is registered at Tremble Design and Creative Services LLC – but my domain name is simply trembledesign.com.
Understand TLD – Top Level Domain is what comes after the “dot” in your domain name (.com, .org, .edu). These extensions are managed worldwide by one organization, the IANA. A few years ago, when it was clear that we were running out of possible names in the .com TLD world, the internet gods decided to start allowing new extensions to be created. Here’s a list of all the available names http://www.iana.org/domains/root/db
You’ve done your research about your business name to make sure you could legally use it. If someone else is using your business name as their domain name, DO NOT simply buy the same name with a different extension unless you are absolutely, positively, 200 percent, sure that your audience will go to your site every single time and not that other company’s site. Most non-tech-savvy people will not understand websites that don’t end in .com, so you can’t expect to train them to do otherwise unless you have a very large marketing budget.
There are a lot of reasons why you should – and should NOT – use one of these new TLD extensions. There are thousands to choose from including things like .biz, .coach, .dad, .how and .xyz – and more. But the average consumer doesn’t really understand these yet and you might be putting your business at risk if you’re too early of an adaptor. To better understand the pros and cons, check out this story on Forbes Magazine for details. http://www.forbes.com/sites/rogerkay/2014/01/30/seven-things-to-think-about-before-you-register-that-new-domain/
Choose a Hosting Company
I have used Bluehost to host all my personal and business websites for the past several years and I’ve always had excellent customer service. In fact, when I’ve had to call for help, I always get a live person (not a recorded menu of choices) and I’m usually speaking to someone in their home office in Utah, USA.
Use my affiliate link to Bluehost for half off the normal monthly price for an annual hosting package. I recommend you choose the PLUS package if you’re just starting out – you can always upgrade to the Business Pro account as your website traffic and content grows.
There are many other hosting companies that come with excellent reviews and recommendations. You’re not required to use Bluehost, of course. If you want to do some research on your own, you might want to start with companies with good reputations like Site Ground or A Small Orange
I Recommend WordPress
Current web design trends show that about 25% of worldwide websites rely on WordPress as their website platform including such corporate websites like The New Yorker, BestBuy and BBC America. WordPress has become so popular because it is easy for the non-web designer to use so they can update their own website content with a bit of training.
Additionally, WordPress is an open source software program, which means people from all over the world are making the software better by contributing their expertise to its development. This includes thousands of professionally developed themes (templates) that you can purchase and use as the framework for your new website. Rather than building a website from scratch using HTML and PHP, these professional website templates are customizable and will meet the needs of your business.
WordPress has two different hosting options.
WordPress.org is where you can grab your own copy of the WordPress Content Management System (CMS) software for free. With the software comes the responsibility of finding your own hosting company to house your WordPress site along with your own domain name to point visitors to it. You’ll also have full control over the WordPress software and your site.
WordPress.com is a commercial site where you can host your own site for free, but with some many limitations. You can purchase upgrades to the free account but … If you want a fully-featured site with your own domain name, unlimited storage for your videos and images, and no advertising, WordPress.com can become quite expensive.
Need to know more about why WordPress is so awesome? Check out this article on WP Beginner.
DIY vs Web Designer
I don’t want to make it sounds like it’s as easy as point-and-click web design though. It’s best to hire a professional to help you set up your website and make sure you have the proper security and backup protection in place and to make sure your website is developed in such a way that it is easily found by search engines like Google and Bing. And let’s not forget about making sure your website is visible on all types of devices – desktop computer, tablets, and smart phones. A professional will also know how to integrate your brand with a pre-built template so the template no longer looks like a cookie-cutter website, but is branded properly.
Once your website is build, you can learn how to make minor updates and changes to the site yourself. You’ll also need to learn how to create visually compelling blog posts, how to upload media files (photos, worksheets, video) and embed them into your blog posts. Even though you can handle these minor day-to-day updates, it’s always a good idea to have a web designer on retainer to help with more major updates, updates to WordPress, theme files and plugins, and to oversee security for your site.
WordPress Themes – free vs paid
There are thousands (hundreds of thousands) of WordPress themes to choose from. A lot of good ones. A lot more bad ones.
Warning: Do not grab a free WordPress theme that you find by doing a search in Google for “free WordPress themes” – you’re just asking for trouble. There are too many malicious hackers who plant viruses and malware in so-called “free” themes so they can get access to your personal information. Also, there are a lot of people who are just learning how to make WordPress themes – novice developers or students learning to code – who put their first projects online for free. But you run the risk of poorly coded themes and bare bones functionality that will limit your website from the very beginning.
It’s better to just pay for a premium WordPress theme build by an experienced developer who has a reputation for quality functionality and security. Premium themes are a small investment to make for the peace of mind. High quality themes cost around $50 to $80 and come with everything you need to build your website.
If you truly cannot afford to purchase a premium theme right now, it’s OK. WordPress comes with a free theme that you can use and customize. Right now the current free theme is called Twenty Sixteen and it’ll be inside your WordPress dashboard for you already.
In early 2014 I discovered Elegant Themes and a theme called Divi. Since then I’ve converted all my personal and business websites to Divi and recommend it to all my clients. Divi consistently ranks among the top 10 most used themes on the Internet, and for good reason. It is highly customizable, user friendly and simple to make it look completely different than every other Divi website out there. You pay an annual membership fee to Elegant Themes and gain access to all their themes, plugins and advanced feature (or you can buy a lifetime membership if you prefer).
If you have me build your website for you, I’ll probably recommend you use Divi. However, we’ll first look closely at your business and online needs and decide what functionality is essential and choose the theme that best meets those needs. I would be thrilled to meet with you and get your website project started. Contact me anytime about my services.