Answers to common questions.
No matter whether you already have an online presence or would like to create one, some aspects of marketing your business can be daunting. Let me help you avoid the most common mistakes I have come across.
The bare necessities
About domain names ...
A domain is the Internet address connected to your Website. Without a domain, people won't be able to access it. A domain is also needed if you want a professional email address. Depending where you register it, a domain should be about $25 per year.
Choosing a proper domain name for your business is really important for a number of reasons, including:
- Easy to spell.
- No special characters.
- Short so it can easily be displayed on business cards and signs.
- Including "Keywords" will help with Search Engine rankings.
- If your business is done in Canada, a '.ca' may be a good option but ensure the '.com' does not belong to your competition. Selection of '.ca' will be greater since '.com' can be registered by anyone. I always recommend purchasing ' '.ca' and '.com' is both are available.
- Search for a domain name and find out if it is available.
(Just because a domain is not connected to a Website does not mean it is available.)
A domain can be registered pretty much anywhere these days. Here are a few tips:
- You should always register the domain yourself.
Too many times I have come across businesses who had their Website designer register a domain under their own identity, creating delays when making changes, and potentially unpleasant situations when finding out they have been replaced.
- Choose a reputable registrar who will be easily accessible if you require support.
- Aside from an optional privacy feature that keeps the identity of the owner hidden, do not add any extras because most are covered my hosting services.
- If you want more than one domain, register them under the same account so they can be managed more easily.
- When registering, you are asked for a contact email address. Ensure this address belongs to you because renewal notifications will be sent to it. A Gmail address is a good choice because it is free and will not change in case you switch Internet Service Providers.
- Unless you only plan to have a Website for a short period of time, register it for as long as possible.
- Do not ask your Internet Service Provider to register a domain on your behalf because there are too many drawbacks to list.
About hosting ...
Think of a Website as a house. Hosting is the land the house sits on and the land is directly connected to roads that are the Internet. Without hosting, a Website can never be found. The domain name is your civic address.
Choosing a quality and reliable hosting provider is critical.
- Your Website and email accounts (if they contain the domain name) are directly affected. If the hosting server is experiencing problems so will your site and email.
- Features and compatibility. Not all hosting providers are the same and may not support certain functionality. Similar to an operating system for your personal computer, hosting servers can offer different platforms (think of PC vs. MAC). The platform needs to be compatible with the Website.
- Email accounts. Typically a hosting service will provide you with a limited number of email accounts, allowing you to create professional email accounts such as email@example.com. You should look for a host who enables you to forward your email to another email address, provides an auto-responder in case out are out of the office and Spam filtering services.
- Technical support is less important with established and reputable providers where "uptime" is close to 100% (there are enough backup systems in place to prevent any service interruption) but should still be a consideration to ensure issues get resolved quickly.
- Data transfer speed and limits determine how quickly the files (especially images) can be viewed. Limits are important if a lot of information is accessed and your Website has a lot of visitors.
- Disk space is not really an issue anymore since it is so cheap that most reputable providers offer more space than you would ever need.
Before contacting a designer, ask yourself ...
You need to know your perfect client to help determine the Website's focus. Without it, the site won't accomplish its objective. Consider the following:
- Age. Younger people will have different expectations compared to a more mature audience. Colour schemes and readability also come into play.
- Geographics. Where are they located?
- Education. 'Speak' on their level so the text content will appeal to them.
Keep in mind a Website is all about your clients. Give them what THEY seek instead of 'pushing' information YOU think they want to know. Too often the business owner makes assumptions about what the consumer already knows, the reason I always play Devil's Advocate, challenging the client's perspective.
The product or service marketed on a Website needs to fill a need or solve a problem. Figure out the reasons why someone should be interested in what you offer and explain it in a way people can relate to it.
This is by far the biggest challenge for most of my clients and it and usually takes considerable time and effort. However, if you miss this important ingredient your Website is guaranteed to fail.
Considerations for choosing someone to work with ...
I cannot overstate the importance of marketing skills. It may seem like such a simple concept but it will either make or break your efforts, no matter how much time or money you invested. A designer with marketing skills is hard to come by because designers are, by training, focused on all the cool things they can do and how awesome they can make it look. A marketer will consider whether the design and content will appeal to the people considering your products or services. Having to deal with 2 different people who may have different approaches, personalities and objectives may be challenging.
Another consideration is communication. Over the years I have heard about horror stories of people who have dealt with a marketing person who 'closed the deal' and then assigned to a designer who did not understand the client's business.
Here are a few points that should help you find the right person/company for you:
- Do they show a genuine interest in getting to know you and your business?
- Do you feel they listen to your questions or concerns?
- Are they passionate about what they do?
- Have they been 'around the block' long enough to understand their own business?
- Do they offer ideas and suggestions that intrigue you?
- Do their values match yours? If you are most concerned about helping people and they are more interested in just adding another project to their to-do list, there is a definite disconnect.
- Do you have compatible personalities? Creating a Website will take time so you should make sure you feel comfortable working together as a team.
- Cashflow is tight for all of us. Are they willing to offer payment plans?
- Device compatibility. A Website needs to work well on all devices and screen sizes.
- Easy and intuitive updating without a steep learning curve. Why use a complicated CMS 'back-end' when you can make changes directly inside the Website? How about 'phone-ready' photo galleries you can quickly update and add descriptions.
Contact me for a demonstration.
- Content Management Systems, similar to your computer's operating system, require updating to address security loopholes. So do plugins, small programs responsible for certain functionality. Updates can have very undesirable results.
- Intuitive structure and functionality. Attention span of Internet users is limited so all the information needs to be where they expect it to be and easily accessible.
- Quality of content. What problems can you solve and how?
- What sets you apart from the competition?
- Amount of content. Give visitors just enough information to help them decide whether they want to contact you.
- What do you want visitors to do? Be sure to include 'Calls for Action'.
- Readability. Consider text size, colours and limitations of smaller devices.