Thursday, January 16, 2014

Taking Your First Steps Online

Many businesses are a little behind when it comes to doing business online, particularly small businesses. Their reluctance is often due to high cost and the fact that they cannot see a huge return on investment. This is not helped by some companies charging exorbitant fees or not being clear about what people are actually getting for their money.
Setting up online can be a potential minefield, particularly for small business owners who often take the DIY approach. Many are being pushed into it because conventional wisdom tells them that it’s the place to be. This can be fairly daunting though, and soon they’re pulling hair out trying to get to grips with e-commerce, blogging, social media, content management systems, SEO etc.
There are a number of things to keep in mind when making the move online. Not all are essential and perhaps only some are relevant to your business. It is important not to get caught up in the hype and focus on what will help you to achieve your objectives. Below are some of the things you will need to consider:
  1. Domain name & hosting
  2. Website design & development
  3. Blogging
  4. Social Media

Domain Name & Hosting

The first thing you’ll have to do is register a domain name and arrange your hosting. You could save money by sourcing the cheapest service and for each and paying separately but it’s far more convenient to do both with the one company.

What Company?

Blacknight and Register365 are 2 quality Irish companies. Although there are cheaper options I generally recommend these 2 as they provide a higher level of support than their overseas counterparts. A dotie domain costs about €20 per year and dotcom is about €5-6.

Domain Types

It is advisable to buy up a number of domain types for your chosen name because if you don’t others will. What you use as your main domain depends on where your target market is based. If you are focusing on the Irish market then a .ie is the way to go, if your audience is  international then choose a .com.

Hosting

A middle of the range of shared hosting package is suitable for most businesses. Only much larger organisations should ever require their own dedicated server. Medium sized shared hosting casts between €5 and €11 per month depending on the package.

Design & Development

The process of developing your first site can be stressful. There are so many options available that it’s easy to get confused.  Here are some key points to consider before you begin:

What are your objectives?

It is important to be clear of your objectives when setting up a site. You may just want a basic web presence with a few paragraphs about what you do and your contact details, or you may want a much larger website with a content management system and online store. Either way your website should be built around these objectives.

Do you need a  content management system?

Chances are that you’ll want to include a content management system as part of your website. This will potentially save you money on development costs as you will not have to pay a developer any time you want to add a page or change a paragraph.
All web development companies offer some kind of content management system. Sometimes it is their own custom built software, sometimes a commercial ready made solution or sometimes it is an open source option. The option you choose largely depends on how much control you want over your content and your budget.

Should you use open source software?

Open Source Software is essentially software that is available to download and to use for free. Software that falls into this category is produced by a community of designers and developers who are part of the project. WordPress and Joomla are two examples of open source content management systems. Most development companies will offer an option to develop a site using either of these software. This means that you can save money on development costs because the bones of your site are already there.

Do you need a custom design?

There are many existing web design themes and templates available for cheap so a custom design isn’t always the way to go. Using an existing template can be the way to go if you are on a tight budget.

Search Engine Optimisation

There’s not much point in having a website if no one can find it. Chances are you’ll have to do some kind of optimisation on your site to get it to rank for key search terms.  A common misconception is that there is some kind of magic formula to getting your site to rank. This is not the case however and SEO takes time.
There are two key parts to any SEO campaign; on-page optimisation and off-page optimisation.

On-page Optimisation

On-page optimisation is the changes you make to the actual web pages. On-page optimisation is vital to ensure a good foundation on which to build from. You should consider SEO right from the beginning of the web development process and make sure your developer thinking along these lines too.  Ideally you should hire and SEO to work with the development company to advise on process from start to finish.

Off-page Optimisation

Off-page optimisation counts for more as far as Google and other search engines are concerned and primarily involves building up links to your site. This is absolutely vital because links are like votes from other websites. There are a number of different ways to build up links to your site including directory submissions, article submissions, guest blogging, reciprocal linking and link baiting. Your aim should be to build up a good number of quality links over a period of time and not try to do it overnight.

Business Blogging

Blogging is important for a number of reasons:
  1. Bringing in new traffic to your site -
  2. Encouraging visitors to return to your site
  3. Adding new content to your site
  4. Engaging with your customers
  5. Proving your expertise and authority in your sector
When you are setting up your website you should consider including a blog. Most content management systems will offer this functionality and WordPress and Joomla certainly do.

Where to host?

It is probably best to have the blog as part of the website itself or perhaps hosted in a sub directory of the main domain. This way you will get the maximum benefit in terms of SEO for your website.

Content

Content can include company news, special offers, new products, industry news or opinion and advice articles. Many find it difficult to find the time or resources  to write articles for their blog. Luckily it is fairly simple to recruit guest bloggers or pay for articles.

Social Media

Social Media can be an effictive way to promote your business and for customer service. Sometimes however it isn’t used properly and is completely ineffective. If you are thinking about setting up a Twitter profile or Facebook Page only do so if you have the time and resources to manage and update them.

Do it right or don’t do it at all

If you set up a profile, take the time to add all your information including a picture. Research your market and approach relevant people to like or follow you. It is important to post content regularly (even if it only once or twice a week) and reply to fans and followers promptly.

Content

Syndicate your blog to your social networks so each new post is added as a tweet or a wall post. Tweet about new products and services, special offers, industry news etc. Engage with your followers by retweeting relevant articles/tweets and replying to their tweets. Thank people for following you and follow them back too.
On Facebook upload photos of products, completed work, events, staff members etc. Promote special offers and perhaps run competitions.
If you are taking your first steps into seriously doing businees online it can be a little daunting. Despite this if you keep your head, keep your key business objectives in mind, and take the time to do it right the rewards can be great. Over the coming months I’ll cover each of the topics above in more detail, in the meantime I hope you got something out of the article and thanks for reading!

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