Every business needs to have a website—even if it’s not offering e-commerce. Customers visit websites as part of their buying process, vetting a company’s credibility and quickly accessing reliable information, such as location and hours of operation.
Creating a good-looking, smooth-running website is easier than ever as web hosting companies offer more services to help both large and small companies publish their online presence.
Choose your host
Just like there’s an engine under the hood of your car that makes it run, the engine behind every website is courtesy of web hosting—a service that provides the infrastructure to allow a website to be accessible on the internet. A web hosting service charges a recurring fee for a domain name, storage for web pages, and a server that allows access.
There are several types of hosting services, including shared, VPS, and dedicated hosting. Each provides a package that fulfills different criteria, so choosing the best option for your business will require you to evaluate the type of site you need, your background technical knowledge, and, most importantly, your budget. Shared servers are the most inexpensive, but these plans typically are rather restrictive—both in performance and options. VPS (or virtual private server) is the next step up. VPS can be a good choice for personal or small and midsize business websites because it offers better performance and features at a reasonable cost—a middle ground between a shared server and a dedicated server. Dedicated servers are rented by the users and are maintained by a hosting, cloud, or managed service provider. They’re usually best for websites with a high volume of traffic or extensive security needs and require more technical expertise to manage.
Hosting services can cost anywhere between $2 and $100 per month, but you can receive a discount on these prices by purchasing a yearly plan, as opposed to a monthly plan.
TIP: Approach unlimited offers with caution. Some providers offer plans featuring “unlimited” storage and bandwidth for what appears to be a deal. But, if you’re paying low dollar amounts for hosting, take a second look at the agreement’s terms. There’s likely fine print that allows the provider to slow down your site’s performance or shut it down after it surpasses a certain usage level.
Questions to answer
Begin by reviewing the following:
• How much support do I need?
• How much traffic do I expect each month?
• What is my hosting budget?
• What additional services do I want?
The answers to these questions will help you narrow down the best host from a long list of providers.
A couple other crucial “housekeeping” items: Ensure the host will provide an email address for your domain, e.g., email@example.com. Make sure you understand and can navigate the control panel in the back end, which will cut down on the number of times you’ll need to reach out to support and make the overall management of your site simpler. Keep a close eye on analytics because this data can help you tweak and improve your site in the future. If you’re planning on adding e-commerce, make sure your plan supports that—and determine if you want or need an SSL (secure socket layer) certificate.
TIP: Providers can give insight into what type of hosting is best for your needs. Make sure to reach out and ask questions!
Dress it up
Once you’re set up with hosting and your business email and domain name, it’s time to get started building your site. Many hosts offer professional templates that are a great jumping-off point to create a slick design—no web design experience needed. The design you choose should mesh with your brand so that customers can easily recognize your footprint and feel confident purchasing—or visiting your brick-and-mortar location. Select a palette of colors and fonts that will be used consistently on the homepage and each subsequent page. It can be tempting to flex your burgeoning design skills with new and different fonts and colors on every page, but the end result can often look disjointed and unprofessional.
Customers should be able to easily find a description of your business and services without having to dig too deeply. It’s a good idea to either survey or research your target audience or look at competitors in your niche to narrow down what kind of imagery and information your customers will respond to.
Standard pages include the following:
• Products or services
• Site map
• Who we are/management team
Creating a great business presence online isn’t simple but today’s tools put it well within reach. Start with a detailed plan, know what you want to achieve, and remember to continue to make updates and tweaks after your site is up and running so content stays fresh.