This blog post is in response to a Wall Street Journal article from Monday, August 11, 2008

For those of you with a small business and no website, reading this WSJ article needs to go on the weekend “To Do” list. Even if you choose to have a company build and maintain your website, the article covers the basics that all business owners must understand in order to avoid additional fees and misc services many providers pitch. The article is informative, covers a range of topics from registering a domain name, to search engine marketing, and is a complete crash course in 7 easy steps.    WSJ Article image

This blog post offers a perspective from experts who have worked with websites and online marketing strategies for nearly 10 years.  We recommend reading the WSJ article first if website elements are totally new to you.  

1. BUY A WEB ADDRESS
Web addresses are typically business names followed by a .com, .net or .org extension.  Your first priority is to secure a .com web address, but also consider buying any similiar addresses. For example, if you’re a plastic surgeon in Dallas, Texas, and dallasplasticSURGERY.com is available, also be sure to check for dallasplasticSURGEON.com.  If your 1st choice domain is unavailable you can get creative by adding “My”, “Your”,  or purchasing its plural equivalent.  You can also contact the current owner and offer to buy the domian name, but chances are it won’t be cheap.  Remember that a .com extension is your first priority, but if you have exhausted your search, select a .net or .org.  You may also contact us at no charge for ideas and assistance in choosing a domain name.

GoDaddy.com, Tucows.com and Register.com were suggested registrars (organizations where your domain name can be purchased/registered), but we recommended NameCheap.com. Cheap prices, checkout is quick, and customer service is acceptable.  Be advised when it comes to customer service for Registrars, it can be quite abysmal. 

2. FIND A HOME (HOSTING SERVICE)
Hosting is important!  Poor hosting services lead to down (offline) websites, and the customer service will be just as awesomely disappointing.  If you are creating a website for your candle making hobby, or fly fishing stories, then any hosting service may do.  However, if this website will represent your business, don’t go cheap. If the website goes down, you may know before the hosting company does.  It’s important that you can reach a human being, even if you have to sit on hold for 5 minutes.  Tip: Be calm, be patient, getting upset at the customer service reps will not make the process faster.

Hosting “product” is essentially your allotted bandwidth.  Bandwidth is the amount of server activity the hosting company will provide in order to allow users to view your website and click from page to page, or view pictures and video.  If you plan to have large images or run video off your website, you need to select a company and hosting plan that will support this.  Free hosting and budget hosts typically will not provide enough bandwidth for video, so be mindful of this.

If the website is used for your business, having ads on the site will only distract your viewers.  Or worse, take them off to the advertisers website rather than stay on yours.

At Obu Interactive, hosting is not just important, it’s a total priority.  For this reason we use a boutique hosting company that is necessary for the services we provide.  To most small businesses this is more than needed.  Here is an independent list of Top 10 Web Hosts of companies we are familiar with.

Bottom line:
Budget $10 a month for hosting if your are building a website for your business, and carefully consider putting ads on it, but we do not recommend them.  See Step 5 for more information about advertisements.

3. BUILD YOUR SITE
The WSJ’s article on building a web page was spot on!  You can build and create a website through many of the free services, however, it’s still a free site meaning it may not be the hippest looking one around.  This is going to have to be a judgment call by the business owner on using  a generic site, or hiring a web designer.  For the mom ‘n pop restaurant that serves burgers and likes to post pictures of its patrons, something generic will work marvelously.  However, if you are in professional services your business will be judged by its online image.

We praise companies who take advantage of how they can dress up their image by creating an aesthetically pleasing website.  Chick-Fil-A doesn’t necessarily need to do this, but they take advantage of using a professional company, offering fresh ideas and another way to connect with their customers.

Then you have a jet charter service with a multi-million dollar fleet.  Here is the cheap website by SelectJet, charging $2300 an hour for aircraft charter; and here is Avjet.com. Private aircraft maintenance you can be sure is important to its customers, and SelectJet’s image and business could be suffering from those viewing its website.  Besides, if you can afford to fly privately, you’re not out bargain hunting.

4. GET PAID
Again, this area was well done in the original WSJ article.  For those interested in processing payments & setting up shopping carts, there are many options available online.  PayPal is a great place to start, and the easiest merchant account to set up quickly.

Be ready to follow through with each purchase that is made.  The system will process the payment, but consider how your business may have to change to keep up with orders and field customer service calls – and potential problems.

A confusing check out process will reduce the number of conversions (buyers) on your website. Ask a few friends to search for a particular product on your site and follow ALL THE WAY through with buying it.  Be sure its the kind of product they would want to buy, and use test subjects that fit your customer’s age and/or internet experience.  In other words, don’t ask your 15 year old neighbor how to search and find a compact fire extinguisher for a Winnebago.

5. GET SPONSORS
We touched on this topic back at hosting as far as having ads on your website.  In the WSJ article, an example of a yoga studio was used.  This may be a perfect example of a business that should have ads on their site!  The yoga site has an “About Us” page, a “Schedule/Classes” page, and a “Contact Us” page, and does not sell products.  However, to have advertisements to related yoga products like mats, clothing, and other holistic doo dads is an excellent idea.  Simply a click of the ad will send the viewer to the seller’s website, and your account is credited with a some extra cash. You don’t need to worry about having a shopping cart, the money simply arrives by check every month.

AdSense Check

To set up Google AdSense, go here.  Total set up should only take about an hour, but you may need some help from a web designer, or professional who understands code.  If you have a kid with an overblown MySpace page, check with them too!

But now let’s say you are an attorney, accountant, or real estate broker.  The absolute LAST thing you want is a person to leave your webpage by following an advertisement.  Your goal is to have each and every person that comes to your website essentially contact you.  In this case, keep advertisement and unrelated clutter off your website.

6. GET KNOWN
The WSJ article went to one of the most credible names in search marketing, Bruce Clay Inc.  Clay has been involved in the internet since 1996, and Obu Interactive staff come across a website at least once a week that borrows elements from Clay’s design agency.

If you are a local, small time business then we recommend the WSJ article again, as the author wonderfully explained how to incorporate basic search marketing techniques.

If your business is a bit larger, or you would prefer to leave the marketing job to professionals, we don’t blame you as it is an ongoing and competitive process.  The following is what we recommend:

Step 1– Refer to SEMPO (Search Engine Marketing Professional Organization).  While this does not guarantee the company you select will be the most qualified, it is a good place to start shopping.

Step 2 – Select as many companies as you would like to contact by sending an email, or you may call.  It is important to weigh how quickly the company responds to you.  This is a sign of their customer service. And since internet marketing can be done from anywhere in the world, its important to ask the person where they are based.

Step 3 – Select the company name and Google search for it.  E.g. “Obu Interactive.”  “Obu Interactive problems” and so on.  Search beyond the first page to look for dirt. (We’re pretty sure you won’t find anything on us!!)

Step 4 – Take the traditional method and see if the company is part of the Better Business Bureau.

7. TRACK YOUR TRAFFIC
Absolutely!!!!

Go to Google Webmaster tools to learn more about tracking, promoting, and other functions that could help your site become successful.

The internet is the ONLY advertising medium that allows a business owner to track EVERY bit of internet traffic to the website.  Radio, television and other traditional media options are typically projections and guess-timates.

Commentary:
When it comes to business and representing your company, ask yourself if you like the free lunch.  As with anything free, particularly offered from a business, there is always a trade off somewhere.  You have three choices in all services and products:  Good, Fast, Cheap; pick two…

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