If you're confused by the mysterious inner workings of cyberspace, you'll be amazed by how easy it is to set up your own business website. Just follow our simple guide and you too will be up and racing on the information superhighway.
Why set up a website?
These days, most customers find what they want by performing online searches using Google or Bing search engines. Yellow pages, word-of-mouth, and newspaper ads all have a place too, but it's online where business is really buzzing. It makes it easy for customers to find you; they just jump on their computer, iPad or web-enabled mobile phone.
The many benefits of having a website:
An easily accessed, eye-catching window for displaying and describing your products and services to the world
Low-cost, especially if you set it up yourself
Can include text, photos, illustrations, diagrams, videos, endorsements from happy customers, contact details, order forms, and much more
Can stay up as long as you need it; and be rebuilt, added to, or removed at any time.
Your website doesn't have to be a miracle of modern science. It can be as simple as just one or more pages, with your business name, product information, a location map, and your contact details.
Or you can make a real splash, with cool graphics and animations, product demonstrations, a product catalogue, plus facilities for online ordering and payment processing.
Our beginner's guide to setting up a website
To set up your website, you'll need to do these two things:
Choose a domain name (i.e. something.com or something.co.za) and then sign up for website hosting, which takes about 10 minutes.
Create your website using a web page editor or WordPress, or you could get a professional to do this for you.
What is a domain name?
It's the Internet address of your website. For example, is our domain name. A domain name costs anywhere between R200 and R300 a year (depending on the domain) and some web hosts will even give you a free one when you buy web hosting from them.
Your business’s domain name should be simple, obvious, and as short as possible. What would people guess your domain name to be? Your business name is always good, e.g. janesflowers.com or janesflowers.co.za
Buy a .com or a co.za domain name, even though it’s harder to get a good one (i.e. not already being used by someone else.) Cheap names like .biz, .ws and .info are usually markers of low quality.
Don’t use numbers or dashes.
Try to have your site name match its domain name. If you can, name your site to match its domain name, not the other way around.
What is web hosting?
Web hosting is where your website actually sits, on a massive computer, in a building somewhere in South Africa or another part of the world. You need to buy web hosting for your site to live on.
Web hosting is the only thing you have to pay for when setting up a website yourself. The cost will vary depending on how big your website is, but prices are extremely competitive so you won't be breaking the bank.
There are vast numbers of web hosts, and the quality and cost varies hugely! Ask your friends, family and colleagues to recommend a good web host. Remember, some web hosts offer you a free domain name.
Once you have chosen a web host, go to their website to sign up and pay online. This should take about 10 minutes.
Creating a website
There are two ways to create a website:
Use a CMS (Content Management System), for example WordPress, Drupel or Joomla
Use a web page editor, for example Microsoft Front Page or Dreamweaver
The benefit of using a CMS is that you don't need to know anything about HTML and changing the website content is usually as easy as using a word processing programme. However, if you are not afraid to learn to code basic HTML then a web editor allows you more flexibility and freedom to customise the design of your page.
WordPress is a hugely popular CMS as it lets you build a fabulous, professional-looking website without any technical know-how. It's perfect for those who know nothing about building websites. You do it all online following simple instructions. There's a “Control Panel” page on your website that enables you to create pages and make changes.
The benefits of WordPress:
Handles the entire technical side of the site for you
You can choose from a fantastic range of layout designs
All you need to do is type in the text, add pictures (optional), and choose colours
WordPress creates the pages, applies your site’s layout to them, and adds links to the menu bar. Easy!
A web page editor is a computer programme you use to design and then upload your website. Adobe Dreamweaver is the most popular web page editor. You can buy it online or through a computer store. It requires a lot more learning and technical ability than WordPress. One of the main benefits of using Dreamweaver is that it gives you complete control over your website, allowing you to design, redesign or change the site in any way you like. You can search online for a free trial to see if Dreamweaver is for you. Alternatively, there are many open source programmes such as Aptana available for free online.
A more costly option is to employ a designer/ developer to create your site for you, using a web page editor. This could be a good option down the track when your business is more developed and your website requires more functionality.
Things to consider when creating your website
SEO: Search Engine Optimisation
This is a big subject, but in essence it means using certain tactics that will help the online search engines identify your website and rank it according to its relevance when people search for your product or service. For example, if your small business sells wedding flowers in Cullinan, it would be great to rank number one in Google when someone types “wedding flowers in Cullinan”.
Try to keep the keywords you'd like to rank for in mind when you write content for your website. Mention them naturally throughout the text and include them in your metadata (you can input this via your CMS or web editor). If you work with anyone in a related field ask if they'll link to your website. Of course, to be polite, you should also offer a link in return. These are very basic tactics, but if you want to take your SEO strategy further there are many agencies who offer this service.
Imagine you're a prospective customer to your site. What would you want to see and read first? Where to next? When creating your site, always keep in mind your customer's experience. Write for your customers and take them down information pathways that make sense to them. Get friends to trial your efforts and give you feedback.
These are useful extra features you can add to your website. There are some really good ones and they're easy to install from the WordPress Control Panel. For example, Grunion Contact Form plugin adds a contact form so people can contact you and Slimstat plugin provides detailed statistics and graphs on who's visiting your site.