Many people we meet who are after a 'simple' website are often surprised how quickly it becomes complex.
Truth is, there are many elements to a website: the part you see in your browser is only the tip of an iceberg that comprises project management, graphic design, IT and marketing skills.
Many people freak out once they learn of these complexities involved and, subsequently, their web site is never built and sometimes their dream business is never realised. Sure, there are more issues to deal with in setting up a website than you may think, but ultimately it's all just a process to be worked through.
So don't freak out. Here's the checklist we run through with new clients to help them understand what a website is all about and that helps us keep on track.
Your domain is more-or-less the first thing you need. This is your site-to-be's 'address' and typically looks like sasocreative.com.au or bibliobuddy.com or charliem.com.au.
You must use an approved registrar to register and secure your domain. There are hundreds of registrars out there, and in terms of simply registering a domain, there's not much between them. auDA is the official authority and regulatory body for domain resellers in Australia: a list of their approved registrars can be found here.
Your domain has to be unique. There's a good chance that your ideal domain name has already been registered by someone else. There's not much you can do about it. Have alternatives in mind. Unfortunately a small industry has sprung up in the purchasing of domains that are subsequently offered for re-sale at a vastly inflated price. Don't give these sharks the satisfaction. There's usually a suitable -- sometimes better -- alternative.
Of course, it costs money. What doesn't? A regular domain such as one ending in .com or .com.au should run you about $15/year or less (typically .com.au registrations require a two-year minimum). Look around: often some of the big hosts and registrars offer free domains or very cheap domain registrations as part of a bundled price or as an introductory offer.
Be aware that there are specific restrictions pertaining to the registering of .com.au domains. In order to protect the interests of genuine businesses, organisations and individuals, the government, through auDA, has mandated that a .com.au domain must be an exact match for, or a significant match to, or be an accepted abbreviation of the business or individual that wishes to register it. In other words, your business or trading name must pretty closely resemble the domain name you are trying to register. While the onus is now on the individual to truthfully claim that this is the case (usually it's just a checkbox), there can be legal consequences for falsely claiming a right to a given domain. Further, if someone were to have a legitimate business name that matched the domain that you have registered, then they would have legal right to that domain, even if you've had it registered for years: essentially, you'd have to hand it over. Beware.
Update, June 2015
The regulatory body for the registration of websites in Australia has significantly relaxed their policy regarding .com.au domains. In short, it is no longer a requirement that your business name and domain more-or-less match. So long as you have an Australian Business Number (ABN), you can pretty much register whatever you like. The requirement of having a valid ABN is also being reviewed.
As much as a website can be described as a physical 'thing' then it needs a physical place to 'live'. Typically, that's a web host.
In the simplest terms, a webhost is a company that owns (or leases) a large number of computer servers in a datacentre somewhere; they then lease space on those servers to you and its that space that hosts your website.
There's nothing too mystical about it: it's really just a folder on a hard drive with some special software and extremely fast internet connections. Cloud computing and cloud hosting has — ahem — clouded this simplistic explanation, but the gist is the same: your website needs a webhost.
There are several flavours of webhost offerings, with large differences in pricing. For the most part you get what you pay for, and for a small business just starting out, you should be able to get yourself a good webhosting package for between $10 and $30 per month.
What to look for:
Uptime guarantee: You don't want your website inactive for frequent or extended periods because your webhost has problems. Check their uptime guarantee, the fine print accompanying that uptime guarantee, and do some research on forums such as whirlpool.net. Bear in mind that no webhost gets it right all the time, and small grievances on forums can get blown out of proportion.
Physical location: Where does your webhost's servers (the datacentre) actually live? Many local-looking webhosts actually lease datacentres in the USA; your website will perform slower if that's the case. It might be minimal at first, but it will become more noticeable as your site gets busier. That said, we're talking milliseconds here, so it may be something you're prepared to live with.
Easy admin: Now that you're a website owner (or about to be) you need to strap on your propellor hat. Sorry, there's no way around it. So it's crucial that your host have easy admin tools that even a novice can understand. 'cPanel' and 'Plesk' are the most popular.
Email accounts: How many does your hosting package allow for. One? Five? Ten? Unlimited? There's no point paying for more than you need, but having the flexibility to set up different email accounts for different purposes such as firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com and so on can be handy.
Popular web applications (aka PHP scripts): If you're looking to run a popular application like WordPress, Drupal, Magento or Pretashop, you need to make sure your proposed host can and will install it.
Disk space: Like your home PC or laptop, one of the specs related to webhosting is how much physical disk space your website will be allocated. It won't seem much compared to your PC, with most basic plans running 5 Gb (gigabytes) to 20 Gb, with a price-per-Gb should you need more. Unless you're running an image-heavy or video-heavy site, 5–20 Gb should be ample. (If you are running an image- or video-heavy site, a separate hosted solution like Vimeo will give you better performance.)
Shared hosting: Most starter packages will be on 'shared' hosting — that is, the actual, physical computer from which your website runs will also play host to other websites. Given that each website on a given webserver competes for resources (CPU, memory, bandwidth), you want to know how many other sites your hosting computer will be shared amongst. Webhosts can be a bit cagey about this, but it's worth persevering as it's directly related to performance.
What you don't need:
Exchange server (aka Hosted Exchange): This usually comes with an extra per-mailbox pricetag and if anyone can explain to me why you'd want to pay extra for something that your webhosting package covers anyway, I'm all ears.
This isn't essential, but it's damn handy. When we set up a client site and hosting for them, we usually set up a Gmail account, too. Typically it's not for the purposes of business email (as your domain-based email takes care of this), but it's a quick, easy way to further setup Facebook, MailChimp, Twitter accounts, as well as Google's Webmaster Tools and Google Analytics. Take our word for it. Just do it.
Structure and content
Sounds obvious, but you're gonna need content. This is where a lot — a lot — of websites stall, sometimes forever. Imagine a book whose pages had no printing on them. What's the point, right? Well, same goes for your website if it has no content.
There's dozens or reasons why you need to prioritize content:
Without it, your site doesn't really have a purpose. You might argue that it's an eCommerce site and it's all about the products and thus you don't need any further content. Hope you're not overly sensitive, 'cause that's horseshit.
Google likes content. If your site is business-focused, than you'll want it up near the top of Google's page ranking.
Good content helps you get there. Google recommends 300 words per page. Minimum. Statistically, the most-read pages web-wide are typically 1500 words or more. More is better. And keep it coming. Google likes to see fresh content, regularly updated. A blog is ideal.
Your customers or customers-to-be like content. Fresh, interesting, relevant content builds a bond between your site and your customers or prospects. Good content attracts their interest, and keeps them coming back.
Images give your pages visual interest but, unless you're a photographer, that's all they do. You still need to write. Like a good book, the key to a good website is still the written word.
Watch your page load speed. Despite the leaps in internet speeds, page load time is still an issue. People won't hang around if your page takes too long to load, and Google can penalise your site in its page rankings for poor performance speeds. Use images and other bandwidth-hungry media wisely, and make sure they're as compressed as much as possible. Alternatively, consider using a hosted solution such as Vimeo for video, or a content delivery network (CDN) service.
Ideally your site should be a mix of landing pages (what's going to attract people's interest in Google, and get them to visit your site); information pages; and a blog page.
Sell yourself. This is, after all, what your site is about. This is what the information revolution is all about. You — lil' ol' you — has access to a publishing medium whose scope rivals big-business broadcasting. Shake your sales feathers.
If you're running an eCommerce site, then you have a number of other things that need attention. Mostly these have to do with how customers will purchase your product or service, how you will deliver it, and how you will get paid.
Onsite or offsite payments
You need to decide whether a given customer can make payment there and then, on your site; or whether they are taken to a different site to make payment and then returned to your site. The latter is a lot easier to implement; the former allows for better branding and is less likely to result in a WTF moment when your customer is spirited away to your payment gateway.
If you are going to host your own payments, then you will need an SSL certificate installed on your server. This is a security measure between your site and your customer's financial details, such as their credit card number. The certificate must be issued and named for your domain. There are many SSL issuers, such as GeoTrust, VeriSign and Thawte, among others. There are also quite a number of rogue operators. Depending on the level of security you require and the warranty you need, you should be able to get a certificate from a recognised issuer from $50–150 year, but it can run to many thousands of dollars for top-of-the-line.
Merchant (payment) gateway
This allows merchants to securely pass credit card information between the customer and the merchant and also between merchant and the payment processor. The payment gateway is the middleman between the merchant and their sponsoring bank. At the big end of town, these may be worthwhile, but for small business on a budget, don't bother. What you need is ...
Stripe, Paypal, Google Checkout/Wallet, Amazon Payments (US), Paymate (Aus and NZ), Braintree, AuthorizeNet, eWay
As a small business, what you really want is to be able to accept credit cards. At the moment, anyway, that's the name of the game. The above services (and there's a lot more) enable you to do this, some in slightly different ways, and at slightly different charges. PayPal is the 800-pound gorilla, and has a variety of products to suit most needs and budgets. Stripe takes a bit more setting up, but is more elegant in the long run.
SEO and Google
SEO stands for 'search engine optimisation', and it's a means of ensuring your website is seen by the right search engines for the right reasons, and that it is ranked accurately and appropriately on search engines' search results pages.
There are good and bad SEO practices, many attempts to try to trick the page rankings (which ultimately all fail), good rewards for doing things right and penalties for doing things wrong.
The best SEO is organic, and mostly stems from good, relevant content, updated regularly. Sound familiar? If someone tries to push 'instant SEO' on you, be assured that it's bad juju. (See this article.)
Security on the web is something you need to take seriously. While most security breaches could loosely be described as malicious mischief, it still constitutes a pain in the backside when it happens to you.
Ask yourself this question: how much is my website worth? Add up the initial build investment, the loyalty and goodwill you built with customers through your excellent blog, the time and effort it has taken to write that blog ... now imagine it all gone, irretrievably, in an instant, and there's nothing you can do about it.
And the best security measure of all is a regular backup. There are dozens of good backup plugins out there, some free, most less than $50. All it takes is a little of your time (like, maybe, 30 minutes to configure) and you can rest easy that if the worst happens, you can always restore your site from a backup.
Maintenance and updates
Remember Tamagotchis? My spell check here doesn't recognise it, so maybe I am showing my age. For those who don't recall them, a Tamagotchi was a handheld digital 'pet' that required ongoing attention to ensure its needs were met -- feeding, exercise, toilet etc. Sounds naff now I know, but the Tamagotchi craze was huge for, oh, about three weeks. Anyway ...
Your website needs regular attention. Without attention it will die. It can die in a couple of different ways:
There hasn't yet been a web platform invented that can keep a website going, untended, indefinitely. Platforms, such as WordPress, and webhosts are updated regularly to keep up-to-date with new systems and technologies, and to keep ahead of hackers. You need to keep your platform up to date. If it's neglected and left to languish, it will get more and more out of date and eventually will simply cease to function. If it comes to this, it's possibly so out of date that it is essentially unrecoverable.
Your website needs to be regularly fed with fresh content. Fresh content lets Google know your website is alive and active and cared for; conversely, if Google doesn't see evidence of activity it assumes, sometimes prematurely, that your website is no longer. Your Google page ranking will slip, slowly at first, and then quicker and quicker until it is so far down the page rank that no one will ever find it.
The fight against good and evil:
You may not see them, but every hour of every day, hackers are trying to get into your website. Most people who install a security plugin are amazed at how many attempts are made to hack their website, every day. How many do you think a lot? A dozen? Fifty? A hundred. What about 180,000. Per second. Yikes.
If you're not regularly monitoring your site, the bad guys will win. Your best protection is simply to make sure that your website is kept up to date, and any plugins are the latest versions. And install a security plugin. And have a backup plan running.
How ya feeling? Lot more to it than you thought? Don’t freak out: remember, there’s no magic here, it’s just a process to work through. Follow the above checklist, do a bit of research, stay skeptical (skeptical is good), work through it.
Better yet …
If the above seems too much, let us un-freak you out. We can help you out with most of the above; in fact, we include a good deal of the foregoing in our standard web setup phase.
If content is a problem, we also offer a competitive and effective copywriting service. Your content will be interesting, snappy, and most importantly, done.
Call us today to discuss your website-to-be on (02) 6658 7666.