Developing a website is a great way to get your message across and reach your target customers. Here we’ll look at how you can create a website and get noticed online.

Where do I start?

Having a website means that your customers can find out about your business 24 hours a day; it’s your shop window to the world. There are three areas that you’ll need to consider to get your website up and running:

  • An Internet Service Provider (ISP).  They’re providing your connection to the internet so that you can view our website, access your own website and respond to email
  • A domain name. This is the name of your website.  It would usually end in ‘.co.uk’ but there are other options available such as ‘.ltd.uk’. You can read more on this below
  • A website host. You’ll need somewhere to put your website as you can’t run it from your own computer.  A hosting company allows you to buy space on their systems. We look at website hosting in a bit more detail below. 

There are lots of companies out there providing these services. Companies tend to offer website hosting and the option to purchase a domain name and some are an ISP as well.  We’d suggest that you chat with people you know who already have a website to find out who they use. Alternatively, a web search will present options. Whilst special offers are appealing, we’d suggest that you look at the ongoing annual costs as you don’t want to be moving your website around.

To get an idea of services available and costs take a look at the following websites. All offer domain names and hosting:

If you have internet access already it would be a good idead to chat your own internet service provider. A number of them offer domain names and web hosting services to businesses. Compare options as it may still be cheaper to buy web hosting and a domain name elsewhere particularly if you are asked to convert to a business package.

More on domain names and hosting

You need to come up with a name that isn’t already taken by someone else. Domain name companies will help you to search whether a name’s available, and if so, to register it.

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Domain names

You probably want your domain name to be the same as your business name. If you haven’t yet finalised a name for your business, you might want to hold off doing this until you’ve checked that your proposed name is available as a domain name. 

You need to register the extension – the letters that come after the dot in the domain name. The most common is ‘.com’ but to avoid getting confused with other businesses, you’ll probably want to register names with multiple extensions (e.g. ‘.co’, ‘.biz’, ‘.uk’ etc).

You’ll need to pay for each domain name, and also for annual renewals. Typically, a ‘.com’ costs about £10-15 a year. Others like ‘co.uk’ may be under a fiver a year, but one like ‘.london’ can set you back £25 or more per year.

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Domain name providers and web agencies will usually be able to arrange hosting for you, either on their own servers or on those of bigger specialist companies. Many DIY website builder packages come with hosting.

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Hosting

For a low traffic website, for about £5-10 per month you could house it on a shared server. If your site gets lots of traffic, you might need a dedicated server, at a cost of about £50 per month. If you have unpredictable requirements, cloud web hosting might suit you as you only pay for what you use.

It’s prudent to start with a cheaper package that’s upgradable. Beware long contract terms that tie you in and charge for ‘extras’. If you’re thinking of using the hosting provision that comes as part of a DIY website builder package, check you can transfer the site to another host in the future – this is often not possible. Make sure your provider has a good track-record for reliability and service, and ensure you have an adequate service level agreement (SLA).

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What are the pros and cons of using a DIY website builder package?

AdvantagesDisadvantages
Costs: Building it yourself will normally cost less than getting a specialist designer or agency to do it for youFixed options: By their very nature, DIY website builders have a constrained number of choices, both in terms of their visual design and how they function. It's like buying clothes off the peg and being limited as to what alterations you can make to get them to fit better. Websites created this way are never going to feel as individual as those created from scratch.
Choice: There are many DIY website builders to choose from such as Dudaone, Squarespace, Weebly and Wix.Inflexible: You may discover that different DIY website builders have features that when combined would fit your needs perfectly. Unfortunately, you can't mix and match - you're largely stuck with what your chosen DIY builder can do, unless it has the capacity to integrate external software, which can get quite complicated. 
Ease of use: Most DIY website builders provide templates and components that you put together to create web pages. Many have a simple 'drag-and-drop' process or 'what you see is what you get' (WYSIWYG), which lets you create a website in a similar way to making slides (such as MS PowerPoint) - you can see what it's looking like, step-by-step. Immovable: Many, but not all, DIY website builders are tied to specific hosting services. The problem is that if you decide at some stage to move your website to another host, you can't because it's been built using code that's customised to that builder and server. 
Features: DIY website builders offer you a selection of 'themes' e.g layouts, colours, fonts etc. Some offer stock photos and image editing facilities. They can also provide features and plugins such as video players, calendars, contact forms, blog post creators and even basic e-commerce functions. Some can provide statistics, such as how many visits you receive, how many pages are viewed and which ones are the most popular.  
Updatable: Because website builders put you in the driving seat, you can update and change content yourself, rather than having to page a website designer or agency to do this for you.  

 

What are the pros and cons of using a professional website designer?

AdvantagesDisadvantages
Expertise: Website designers and agencies are specialists in coding, design, content writing, user experience and optimisation and so can produce very professional results. Cost: individual website professionals are likely to charge at least £250 per day, and agencies could be at least double that. You’re going to need to spend at least £500 for a basic website, and in most cases you won’t see much change out of £1,000 for a decent all-round site. More specialised sites can cost much more.
Experience: You may know what you want from your website but experienced website developers will be able to explore different options with you, helping assess the pros and cons of each one, and devise the best solution within your given budget. Reliance: Depending on what’s required for your website and the way it’s built, you may need to go back to the designer or agency to make changes and updates, resulting in on-going costs.
Understanding: Good website professionals will seek a thorough understanding of your business and customers. They'll be able to put themselves in your customers' shoes and ensure that the design meet their needs.Selection: There are lots of web design professional and agencies out there – finding the one that’s best suited for you can be a challenge. Have a look at websites you like, and try to find out who deigned them. Make a shortlist of designers or agencies you can interview. No matter how talented they may be, make sure that you’re happy they’re careful listeners and that you’re likely to be able to build a good working relationship with them.
Tailor-made: Rather than being restricted to using predetermined templates, professional website creators can tailor the site to your precise requirements, both in respext of how it looks, and how it functions.Limitations: Individual web professionals might lean more towards the technical aspects as opposed to the creative ones, or vice versa. Agencies usually have the advantage of bringing a team of people who are experts in both creative and technical disciplines, but typically the more people who are involved, the more they charge you. 
Time-saving: If you use a DIY website builder to create the site yourself, there may be a fair amount of trial and error to achieve the desired results. Professional website producers should have the knowledge to short-cut such experimentation and can get good results faster.  

 

What tips do you have for working with a web designer or agency?

Here are some tips for working with the designer or agency you commission to create your website.

  • Draw up a written contract that specifies precisely what they’re going to charge you and what you’ll get in return for this, e.g the number of web pages, the number of different types of pages, the types of functions, etc. Is the contract just for the creation of the site, or will it also include, hosting, and if so for how long?
  • Ensure that the contract specifies that all the intellectual property associated with the site will be owned by you unless otherwise agreed
  • Work out who’s going to do what, e.g will they write the copy from existing material you provide to them, or will they need you to write first drafts?
  • Supply them with a detailed brief (see above section for the sorts of things to put into this) and discuss this in detail
  • Ensure that you have the necessary permissions for any content you give to them, such as copyright of photos, images, videos, etc 
  • Agree what inputs they need from you and when, e.g to review different stages of the design.

What is search engine optimisation?

Search engine optimisation (SEO) is about trying to get your website high up in the search results returned by engines like Google and Bing. Typically, the higher up in the search results you appear, the more visits (‘traffic’) you’ll get. One way of doing this is by paying, for example using Google’s AdWords. But there’s also a lot you can do to help your rankings in free searches – or as they’re also known, organic searches.

Search engines use software called ‘spiders’ or ‘crawlers’, which travel all over the web in a systematic way, looking for words and phrases that are relevant to what someone’s typed into the search box.

Make sure that your website has keywords and phrases that are likely to be used by your customers. So, if you’re a personal trainer, you’re likely to want to include words and phrases such as ‘fit’, ‘fitness’, ‘get fit’, ’health’, ‘healthy’, ‘wellbeing’, ‘performance’, etc.

Google AdWords is a useful tool for identifying relevant keywords. Its real purpose is to help find keywords if you’re advertising on Google, but it can also help you when writing website content. Having worked out what keywords and phrases to use, include them in the content of your website. But make sure that you do this in a sensible way  – don’t cram your copy so full of keywords that it affects the readability. Your keywords should also be included in the metadata of your website – the unseen data that lies behind the web pages. You can either learn how to do this yourself or get a web designer to do it for you.

Another factor that affects your sites ranking in search lists, is how well your site displays on different types of devices. If you’re getting an agency to create your website, tell them you want it to have a responsive design – this means that the website will display well on computers, tablets and mobiles. If you’re planning on using a DIY website builder, check that it has this capability.

The freshness of your content also affects your listing position. This shouldn’t be a problem if you’re regularly updating information about your products or services. But if you’re not, try to think of other ways you can refresh your site, for example by posting a monthly blog or updating it with links to other websites that would be of interest to your customers.

Search engine rankings are also affected by how many links a website has from and to other trustworthy sites – the more your site has, the higher it’s ranking, and the better chance it has of appearing high in a search listing.

Avoid the temptation to stuff your site full of irrelevant links, or to use so called ‘link farms’ – Google frowns on this. Instead, try to get links to your site on trade and other professional bodies’ websites. Ensure you link to your site from your own social media pages, such as on Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn. And list your site on reputable directories such as Trust a Trader.

To find out more about search engine optimisation (SEO):

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