Most business owners end up spending thousands of dollars for their web design (or not set up a business website at all) due to one simple reason- fear!
Fear of technology.
Now, I don’t blame such business owners. At one point of time, I was scared of technology too. Everything seemed so unachievable.
But, as you get acquainted with the system, things become smoother. Technology is not a scary big monster anymore. It’s your friend and your business partner.
In this post, I am literally going to hand hold you and walk you through each step to set up a business website using mostly open source/free software available out there.
The best part is, it won’t cost you more than 100$ to get started!
I have made this guide as less technical as possible. However, there are some jargons you still need to know. Whenever possible, I have provided clear explanations for technical terms as well.
So, let’s get started!
The Step-by-Step Guide to Setting up Your Business Website
Step 1: Domain name for your business (10$)
I am assuming you have a name for your business; something like Sam’s donuts is good enough. If you have a registered name like Sam’s Inc, that’s fine as well.
Whatever your business name is, you need a domain name for your business. A domain name is something like conversionchamp.com, Google.com etc.
These are simple to remember names that points people to the correct IP address (unique addresses assigned to computers on the web to help them communicate with each other) of the server hosting your website (A server is a computer that stores your website and makes it accessible to people who choose to visit it).
Enough of tech talks; It’s time to choose a domain name.
Let’s assume you run a donut business called Sam’s donuts. You’ll need a domain name that closely matches your business name. You could go for domain names like samsdonut.com or samsdonutshop.com or just about any variation you like.
Remember not to confuse people by choosing names which does not match your business name or confuse it with some other popular brands.
You might have noticed something like .com, .org, .net towards the end of domain names. These are referred to as TLD’s or Top Level Domains. .com’s are the most popular and whenever possible go with a .com version unless your website is hyper targeted to a particular country (samsdonuts.co.uk if your donut business is in UK).
I register and host all my domain names with Namecheap. They are wonderful and have amazing customer support. I’d steer clear of GoDaddy if I were you. All you have to do is head over to Namecheap and enter the domain name you want. Check if it’s available. If so, follow the steps outlined and purchase your domain name.
If you do not want people to see your registration details, consider opting for whois privacy. First year privacy protection is usually free with Namecheap.
Step 2: Hosting your business website on the internet (80$)
Now that you have your domain name, you need a computer where you can save your website and make it available to the public. These computers are called servers and companies offering them are usually referred to as web hosts or web hosting companies.
The company I recommend is HostGator. I have used 15+ web hosting companies in the past and HostGator is one of the best shared hosting companies out there. Although you needn’t worry too much about the type of hosting out there when you are getting started, it’s good to know that during the beginning stages, you’d be using shared hosting.
Shared hosting means you share the computer with other website owners. Advanced versions of hosting come in various flavors such as VPS hosting, Dedicated hosting, Cloud hosting, grid hosting and so on. To keep things simple, let’s not get into all those.
HostGator is simple to sign up with and has a very helpful and knowledgeable support staff. All my queries have been answered within 12 hours. You don’t need to register domain again. You already have one registered during step 1.
I never recommend registering domain and hosting with the same provider. For security as well as fail-over reasons, always go for different providers.
Warning: Don’t be tempted to go with web hosts that charge you less. Even though getting a great deal is good, you wouldn’t want to sacrifice the availability of your site (If a customer comes to your site and it does not load, you lose a sale!). I have been tempted to go with cheap hosts and have paid the price for it.
Step 3: Installing the greatest content management system out there- WordPress (OK, I am biased somewhat)- Free
You need to install WordPress on your hosting account. I am assuming you are hosted with HostGator. So head over to the cPanel (You should have received your cPanel login when you bought the hosting).
Watch the video below for installing WordPress using HostGator.
If you don’t already have an existing website, make sure that you do not install it in any subfolder. Install WordPress inside your main folder. This way, the blog will be accessible directly at samdonuts.com and not on some subfolder like samsdonuts.com/wp/.
If you are new to WordPress, I suggest you start here: http://codex.wordpress.org/New_To_WordPress_-_Where_to_Start
I highly suggest getting yourself familiar with WordPress since you’d be using this platform a lot.
If you already have hosting and you do not have cPanel or other easy means of installing WordPress, you can download it from WordPress.org free of charge and install it on your own server. Here is how to do it: http://codex.wordpress.org/Installing_WordPress
Step 4: Secure your WordPress installation
You need to pay attention to security. You don’t want to get your business website hacked, would you?
Here are some tips to secure your WordPress installation
- Never use admin as the user name. Use random names like johnsmith38 as your username. You could also use your name, business name with additional characters so that hackers cannot easily guess your username
- Use a secure alphanumeric password. Don’t use the same password you use for other websites/services
- Don’t install Plugins/themes which you do not trust
- Update WordPress and other plugins/themes regularly
- Delete unnecessary files such as unused plugins, themes, media files and so on
For more tips on securing WordPress, read this article.
Step 5: Make your website more usable
I don’t like to call WordPress a blog platform. Although it’s mainly a blog platform, it can be so much more. With the vast number of paid and free plugins available, you can turn WordPress sites into a site with almost any functionality you want.
Make sure you give my article on website usability a read.
Although WordPress is highly usable right out of the box, you can make it even more useful by doing a few minor tweaks and additions.
First thing I’d recommend you to do is to get a good optimized theme framework like Genesis installed on your blog. I am using the Genesis framework and the Generate theme from StudioPress on my blog conversionchamp.com. You can choose from a variety of turnkey designs to use on your site.
I’d suggest installing the following plugins as well to make your site more awesome!
If you are new to installing plugins on WordPress, follow this guide: http://codex.wordpress.org/Managing_Plugins
- Gravity Forms (Paid) – The best contact form plugin out there. You need to have a contact form on your site to let users get in touch with you. The plugin also works with a host of other services and let’s integrate them seamlessly with your website
- Optimizepress (Paid)- This is a great plugin (also available as a theme) that can help you build stunning and high converting sales pages, lead capture pages, webinar invite pages, and more.
- Wp Super Cache (Free)- Caching plugin to help speed up your website
- Aksimet (Free) – Spam prevention plugin (Come pre-installed with WordPress). You need to activate it separately
- WordPress SEO (Free) – If you do not use a framework like Genesis, you’d need this plugin for SEO purposes
- Digg Digg (Free) – Enable sharing of your posts on social media (See the floating sidebar on the left on this page? That’s the thing!)
You should also set up Google analytics on your website for tracking your visitors. If you are using genesis framework, it’s very easy. It has a built in option to add analytics tracking code (Find this option Genesis >> Theme settings >> Header and Footer Scripts. Just enter the analytics code in the header section). If you are using a generic theme, use this plugin.
Step 6: Set up lead generation system
You should capture and nurture leads on your website. No matter how many people visit your site each day, you should begin lead capture as soon as possible (ideally from day 1).
Lead capture refers to getting people to sign up for your newsletter. The software I use and highly recommend is MailChimp. If you are an affiliate marketer, you should avoid Mailchimp and use Aweber instead.
Both are easy-to-use software and can provide a very robust and affordable email marketing solution. They both offer lead capture forms that you can create on their platform and easily embed on your site.
If you followed my recommendation and got Gravity Forms, then it’s even easier to integrate it with your WordPress installation.
If you are a small business, I’d recommend going with MailChimp. They have a forever free account which lets you store up to 2000 contacts.
Step 7: Set up ways to get paid
Your business needs cash flow to survive. So ensure that whatever product or service you are selling, can be bought easily from your website.
The easiest way to collect money from your site is to use Paypal. It’s free and easy to get started. However, if you want to be more professional and maintain more control over your payments, use credit card payment gateways. Read my article on yahoo about setting up credit card payment for your online business.
If you are into service business, I recommend using BillBooks as your online invoice software (I use them and highly recommend them).
Step 8: Start creating high-value, high-impact content
What’s your site without great content?
So, it’s time to come up with a content marketing roadmap and create content that sells as well as provides value. You can also download my free e-book on content marketing to get a detailed overview of content creation, engaging users, and promoting your content.
Ensure that you have the basic pages up and running as soon as possible (about the company, contact page, product/service page, order page and so on).
Step 9: Ensure proper search engine optimization
Although creating content for your users should be your primary goal, you should also try and optimize your content for search engines. Read my keyword research guide and my on page optimization guide for better understanding of the topic.
Step 10: Market your business website
You have set up your business website. Now it’s time to let the world know that you exist. Read my guide on small business internet marketing to get an overview.
Does it end there?
No, it certainly does not.
Marketing your business should be an on-going process. You should keep tracking your important metrics and ensure that your site is optimized for conversions.
Over to You:
What are the challenges you are facing as a small business owner in setting up your business website? Let me know in the comment section.