The digitalisation of businesses is perhaps one of the most significant shifts that has ever been seen in the world of enterprise. With the emergence and subsequent normalisation of the internet over the past few decades, forward thinking innovators and entrepreneurs have been quick to exploit the technology’s growth potential. Now the digital economy has grown so significantly that it has become one of the central pillars of modern civilization.
‘Calm down with the hyperbole Startacus’ I hear you cry! Indeed, we are being rather dramatic, but it's perfectly justified considering the world changing impact that the growth of the digital space has had on all aspects of our lives.
Whether it’s business or personal, creating a website is surely one of the most daunting tasks of the digital era. However, as is the case with most things, if you break the process down into bite-sized manageable chunks the whole thing will be much easier to eat…or complete efficiently - whichever you prefer.
***Caveat Alert*** This is a basic guide, not a comprehensive one. All websites are complex and unique and therefore pose a unique set of challenges; at the very least though, this step-by-step guide should get you well on your way!
Step One - Decide the purpose of your website
It’s important to identify that the range of features it is possible have within a website today is much greater than you might expect. For those who do not work directly within the IT or technology sector, it can be difficult to make the assessment of what is and isn’t possible.
Nevertheless the first thing which you should do is to figure out what you would like your website to do for your business - this can become your ‘wish list’. Don’t worry if you feel as though you are leaving something out, because this can be remedied at a later date; for the time being, all you need is a basic, bare-bones idea of what you would like your website to be.
Some of the reasons for having a business website might range in complexity from informing customers of the most basic information including opening times, prices, menus, contact details, and so forth, right through to allowing them to select and pay for your goods and services.
Of course there are many other functionalities that you might like to include as well, such as the ability for visitors to actively engage with the business, through discussion and the like; whatever you would like, note it down now, and worry about the feasibility later.
It's worth bearing in mind that if the sole purpose of your website is to sell your products online, then you do not necessarily need a dedicated website. There are a number of other options available to you, which we have discussed in our recent post on digitising your business.
At this stage it can be useful to do a little bit of investigative research, with particular emphasis on what your competitors have on their websites. We’ve previously written a little guide on how to research your competitors, which should give you some handy tips.
Step Two - Decide how you will create the website
Now that you know some of the most fundamental functions that you would like your business website to have, you can begin to think about how to create it. This is the moment when many people feel the temptation to flee swiftly in the opposite direction, like some crazed spider monkey.
But there really is no need for anxiety, since you won’t have to do much of anything technologically challenging at all if you don’t want to.
As we see it, you have two main options to choose from at this stage in proceedings A) You hire a web designer to create a bespoke (and potentially costly) website, or B) You create your website using one of the popular and trusted content management systems.
It’s worth pointing out at this stage, that if you have a small, or medium sized business and are hoping to only dip your toe in the online world as a way of supplementing your trade, then option B is more than likely the best (and cheapest) option for you.
Step Two and a Half - Choose a content management software
If you’ve heeded our advice on the ‘banes of bespoke’, then you should start to think about which of the many content management systems you are going to use to create, and subsequently manage your website.
We aren't going to name individual systems here, because that would be unfair, but there are a number of factors that should become very important in informing your decision. Primarily, the expectations that you have of your website will have a pretty big impact on the options that are open to you.
For example, if your website needs to have ecommerce capabilities, then there are many content management systems that are well adapted to provide this. On the other hand, perhaps you are going to publish a lot of written content; in this case you will want to select a provider that is well known for blog publication.
The best piece of advice that we can give to you at this stage is to shop around; there are lots of systems out there, all offering their own set of benefits and limitations, as well as individual pricing structures. Beware of hidden costs though such as those needed to add extra functionality to your website, or else, what seemed like a good deal to begin with, could end up being very costly indeed.
Step Three - Decide on basic aesthetics layout and plugins
Once you have decided upon a specific management system, one of the next things you need to do is consider some of the aesthetics and functionalities that you want your website to have. These systems usually have a wide range of templates, themes, and layouts for you to choose from; you need to find one which is well suited to the needs that you have. The template that you use provides the basic skeleton of you site; it is the frame onto which you will build your content and therefore is a rather important decision to make. (Don’t panic though, as if in future you need to switch to a different template, this can usually be done without too much fuss)!
Now is also the time to start thinking about what plugins you would like to use on the site. A plug-in is simply some software code that enables your website to do something that it wouldn’t otherwise be able to. For example, a plug-in might enable you to display suggested content to visitors of your site, let them comment on your content, or make purchases. The list of plugins available is very extensive, but the system and template that you use will usually have an impact on what is and isn't available to you.
It’s also worth bearing in mind that whilst many plug-ins are free of charge, some do have a price tag.
Step Four - Choose a web host and hosting package
When creating a website, one of the most daunting prospects that you will be faced with is the jargon, and ‘web hosting' is a perfect example of this. Web hosting is in fact a very simple term, which we explained rather well a few months ago in our beginners guide to web hosting .Your website is no different to an MS Word document - once it is created, it isn't simply suspended in the infinity of space but instead needs to be stored somewhere so that it can be accessed by people on the internet.
Because most PCs and laptops are nowhere near powerful enough to facilitate a large number of people trying to access the pages of your website at the same time, people do not normally store the files of their website on their own computer, but on a specially designed, high power computer known as a web server. The facilitation of this process of storing your website and allowing it to be accessed by folks on the internet is called web hosting”.
There are four main things that you need to take into consideration when choosing the web hosting package that is right for you namely; the specifications, the potential, the support available, and the price.
The specifications - The major considerations which you need to make with regards to specifications are the 'bandwidth' and 'web space'. Both of these terms are explained in detail in our introduction to web hosting but suffice to say the level of each will depend to the greatest extent on the type of content that you will have on your site, and the number of visitors you expect to have. The amount of money that you will have to pay for the hosting of your website will normally be calculated in relation to these two factors.
The potential - You need to find out what the potential for growth in traffic is without penalisation within a certain package. If you are predicting that your website will experience very significant growth within a short space of time, then you would be wise to select a hosting package which will allow this to happen, without significant fees being applied to your account. Many hosting packages operate on a model that is very similar to that of a mobile phone provider, whereby you pay a fixed monthly fee, onto which extra charges are added should you exceed the limit of your tariff. In the case of web hosting, exceeding bandwidth and web space are usually charged for.
The Support available - Quite simply the level of technical support which will be available to you should you experience any issues with the hosting of your website. The amount of support available can vary quite significantly, so it's important to choose a package which will give you some peace of mind.
The Price - Be sure to shop around for the package which gives you the best balance between your needs and the price. It is not always the case that the most expensive package is the one that is best suited to your needs, and nor is the opposite necessarily true either.
If you are a tech startup you may qualify for the Rackspace startup programme which offers selected startups 1 years free cloud hosting. We work closely with Rackspace on this startup programme, so click the link to find out how to apply!
That's enough work for you to be getting on with for this week, so we'll let you get on with that.
We shall return next week for the exciting conclusion of 'How to build your Business Website'