Nearly every business has a website today. It’s unlikely you will find a successful business without one. It’s surprising that nearly 30% of small businesses do not have a website. It’s practically a requirement for doing business. But not all websites are created equal. In order to make your website stand out from the rest and be effective in helping you achieve your business goals, you need to put some thought into it and design it with purpose. In this chapter we’re going to discuss the critical elements of getting up and running with a website.
Before you get started, go make a new dedicated business email address with Google, Microsoft, or any email provider you trust. This email address will be used as your backup email for logging into critical accounts that make up your business. Use a password 15-20 characters long that is different than any password you have used. As you make new accounts, make sure each password is different from each account. I’ll talk about security in more detail below.
1 – Picking a Domain
When it comes to picking a domain for your website, you want to choose something that is short, memorable, and easy to spell. You also want to make sure that the domain is available so you can purchase it. The best way to check availability is to use a domain name checker. There are many of these online, such as the one at GoDaddy.com.
2 – Register Your Domain
Once you have chosen a domain name, you will need to register it so that no one else can use it. You can do this through a domain registrar such as GoDaddy.com or Namecheap.com. Most registrars will offer you additional services like website hosting, privacy protection, and an e-mail inbox. It is highly recommended that you purchase privacy protection for your domain so you don’t get a ton of spam. Once you have registered your domain, you will need to decide what kind of website you want.
3 – Choose a Content Management System
A Content Management System (CMS) is a software application that allows you to create and manage your website content without needing to know how to code. Some popular CMS options include WordPress, Joomla, and Drupal. WordPress is one of the most popular options and is used by over 60 million websites. As such, you are going to have access to more tools, resources, and products that support your website if you get a WordPress website. Since WordPress is so popular, this book will reference this CMS application exclusively. Keep in mind the concepts can be applied to any application so the intent is to keep it simple.
Depending on your business model, you may need special features like an online shopping application. If that’s the case, you will need to find a WordPress theme or plugin that meets your requirements. WooCommerce is a popular plugin that allows you to turn your WordPress website into an online store. There are other applications other than WordPress like Shopify that can also meet your needs. In the end, it depends on your budget. Shopify is a great solution, but it has a higher barrier to entry in terms of initial investment compared to WordPress.
4 – Finding a Website Host
Your web host is where your website files will be stored. When someone types in your domain name, they will be directed to your website files that are stored on your web host’s servers. There are many different web hosting providers to choose from. Some of the more popular ones are GoDaddy.com, Bluehost.com, and HostGator.com. You will likely find better hosting solutions than the company you registered your domain so it is recommended that you shop around. Digital.com provides a fantastic breakdown of the different kind of website hosts you can choose from. Check out their detailed article on website hosts!
One thing to keep in mind is that entry level website services are hosted on a server that shares resources. Depending on the service you choose, you may find your website performance is affected by this architecture. This is why you need to shop around. As of this writing, hostinger.com offers great services at a great price.
Most hosts will give you a free SSL certificate when you sign up. Keep in mind that a secure website is very important for your business so you want to make sure your website comes with an SSL certificate. These certificates are not expensive, but if you’re on a tight budget all of these extras add up. I’ll talk about a way to get around paying for SSL certificates soon.
5 – Finding an Email Provider
There are many email hosting services that can provide you with an inbox for your domain name. This will allow you to have an email address that uses your domain name, such as [email protected]. This looks much more professional than using a free email service like Gmail or Yahoo! Mail. Some popular email hosting providers are Google Apps for Business, Microsoft Office 365, and Zoho Mail.
When picking an email host, consider the cost of scaling up your inboxes as your business grows. You don’t want to be stuck with an email provider that charges you per mailbox for a long time. Getting a professional email is great because it will allow you to segment your personal accounts from your business accounts. This also helps with your digital marketing efforts because if someone wants to contact you, your business email builds more trust with potential and current customers.
6 – Configuring Your Domain
Once you have identified your website host and email host, you will need to set up your domain name server (DNS) zone settings. This will tell the internet where to find your website and email files. If you registered your domain with a company like GoDaddy or Namecheap, you can usually find your DNS zone settings in your account. If you setup hosting with your registrar, their system will typically automatically update your zone settings so you will not have to worry about it.
If you are using a web hosting provider that is different from your domain registrar, you will need to set up what is called an A record. This points your domain name to your web hosting provider’s servers. You will also need to set up a CNAME record, which is used to point your domain name to your email hosting provider’s servers.
Most domain registrars will help you make any changes to your DNS zone settings. If you are having trouble, you can usually find instructions by doing a quick Google search. It is recommended that you use Cloudflare as your name server for your domain instead of the default one. As of this writing, Cloudflare is free and each domain you host gets a free lifetime SSL certificate that will usually satisfy your needs.
Once you get your domain settings set up, you will not have to think about it until you make changes to who is hosting your website and email server. It’s worth getting familiar on how to edit these settings yourself until you can afford to pay someone to do it for you. At the very least you will at least know what something is if you have to add new features to your business later.
7 – Security Practices
At this point you’ve likely spent a lot of time getting everything set up and finding information online. You are probably wondering why I recommend using Cloudflare and recommend shopping around to pick different companies to host your website and e-mail services. An all-in-one solution is great and very convenient after all. Account segmentation protects your business from hackers. Considering the damage hackers can have on a business, especially one that hosts personal information on their servers, it’s well worth building with security in mind.
Unfortunately, it’s more work to build with security in mind. Ideally, you have a dedicated backup e-mail address that you forward all of your emails to. The email address that you use to login to your accounts should not be the email address you publicly share. This means you can use free email accounts like Gmail or Hotmail to get your initial business accounts setup because you won’t have a business email until you’re setup. Luckily, most platforms will let you change your email address after you’ve created the account.
The best way to secure all of your business accounts is to use a different password for each account you have and ensure that the password is at least 15 characters long, ideally 20 characters long. It is NOT necessary to change your password every 90-120 days like some companies do when you have long passwords that are different for each account you have. In addition, you should activate 2-Factor Authentication (2FA) when available. This is especially important for critical accounts that can halt your business operations if compromised like your domain registrar account and website administration panel.
Cloudflare helps secure your website further by providing you an SSL certificate and protecting your website from distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks which can cripple your website by overloading your website with more requests than it can handle. Cloudflare also offers many security services that you add later as your business grows. When it comes to digital marketing, you need to understand that people need to trust you before doing business with you. Google will also be less likely to recommend your website to potential customers if you don’t have an SSL certificate, and many browsers will inform visitors their connection is not secure.
This chapter provides an overview of building the foundation required to ensure your digital marketing strategies work. Business owners can use this to get started or to review their current foundation before proceeding with their renewed digital marketing efforts. Review your business practices and make sure they align with the tips provided in this chapter and don’t skip security. If you already have a lot of business accounts and you are wondering if you need to go update your primary e-mail addresses and passwords, you should stop reading and take care of this now.