I recently saw a tweet from a small-business owner who had just purchased a domain name and a hosting plan from a website company.
“There are all these other products . . . which ones do I need?” she asked the Twitterverse.
Choosing a domain name and website-hosting plan can be daunting enough for a small-business owner, let alone wading through the myriad add-on products offered by website hosting companies.
Many probably give up without ever knowing that a few key products can make a big difference in how they present their brand and do business online.
I have a few tips to guide you through securing a domain name and choosing a hosting plan. Then I’ll follow up with the five best products for a small-business website.
1. There are more domain extensions available than .com. You may want to purchase several extensions with the same name to ensure protection for your online brand. For example, you can add .biz, .net and .org and have them all forward to the same website. In addition, a new option, .co, launching this spring, is available for pre-registration. General availability is $34.99 per year, with domains available on July 20. You can obtain more information here.
2. Decide the following:
- How many domains do you want to host? You may only need to start with one domain, but if you know you’ll need more than one website in the future, it’s better to purchase a hosting account that supports multiple domains. That way you won’t have to purchase separate hosting accounts in the future, and you’ll save money. Purchasing several domain extensions (.com, .net, etc.) for the same website still counts as just one domain.
- How much bandwidth and disk space do you need? The amount each business needs depends on the number of users who simultaneously access the site. For most new sites, the minimum amount of space–typically 300GB–is enough. However, if you anticipate thousands of simultaneous users, a 300GB plan won’t suffice, and your site will crash. This might be the case if your company posts something that goes viral and is shared rapidly by users all over the internet.
- How many e-mail accounts do you anticipate you’ll need? A company needs at least one e-mail account for every employee. If you plan to grow, consider getting more than you need in the short term. Most hosting plans include e-mail accounts as part of the cost.
Knowing the answers to these questions will allow you to better evaluate the hosting plans offered and choose the right one for you. You can also call your hosting company for expert advice on how these answers translate into the best hosting plan for your website.
Once you have your domain names and hosting plan purchased, it’s time to look at the other products that can help you build a strong web presence.
Every time you register a domain, your personal contact information is submitted to the publicly accessible WHOIS database. This gives spammers and hackers access to your personal information.
A private registration solves this problem. Before your registration information is submitted to the WHOIS database, the registrar replaces your personal info with its corporate address, etc.
This allows you to retain complete control and ownership of the domain without sacrificing your privacy or security.
Every business today needs e-mail. While many small businesses use a standard Gmail or Hotmail address to communicate with clients, you can easily increase your perceived professionalism by using a custom e-mail address at your own domain (e.g., [email protected]).
Consider upgrading to business e-mail. Business e-mail takes a basic e-mail account to the next level. It allows businesses to coordinate employee schedules, share files and assign tasks to multiple individuals, and receive e-mail updates and calendar entries instantly on mobile devices. Business e-mail is ideal for keeping multiple employees connected in real-time.
Business e-mail product options include Open-Xchange and Microsoft Exchange. Both offer the same services, but Open-Xchange's price point is designed with the small-business owner in mind. Microsoft Exchange is more appropriate for a company with 50 or more employees.
While the design of your website need not be complex, it should be professional.
A variety of available tools makes it easy for people with no prior web-design experience to create a simple yet professional website. Many are offered through hosting companies, along with templates and guides. These programs include WordPress, Joomla and Drupal.
If you need more advanced design work or you're just not sure how to get started, you may also consider having your site professionally designed. Many hosting companies also offer professional design services.
Any business that sells products and services online or collects personal information should secure its website with an SSL Certificate.
The SSL (secure sockets layer) protocol is the web standard for encrypting communications between you and your customers, providing protection of your customers' financial information and giving them the peace of mind they need to do business with you.
The price depends on the amount of traffic you anticipate, the number of products you expect to sell and the degree of security your business requires. Prices start at $89 a year for a GeoTrust QuickSSL Premium, and go up to $2,099 for a VeriSign Secure Site Pro with EV for the highest level of security.
Building your website is only the first step. Search engine optimization ensures that search engines correctly index your website, so that potential customers searching for your type of services can find you easily.
Research shows that 70 per cent of online users click on the 'organic' or 'natural' search results that appear below paid listings on sites such as Google.
By optimising your website for search engines, your site can appear higher in the organic listings, which will ultimately mean more traffic to your site.
Look for a web-hosting company that is focused on customer service. The company you choose should be able to help you build your web presence in the beginning and provide the technical support you need to maintain it.
Key things to look for include years of experience and 24/7 customer support.
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