On a cold, crisp autumn day last year, I was sitting in Union Station discussing a new project with a business owner. In business since 1989, his company had never had a web presence. He handed me a large three-ring binder with a nice, corporate-looking cover. Inside was his brand’s story, his company’s certifications, and descriptions of projects his company had completed.

Looking down at the binder, he said, “I’ve been in business for more than two decades, but when I meet with a potential client, they ask for my website. And because I don’t have one, it’s like my business doesn’t exist.”

How things have changed.

When I started a web design business in 2002, my biggest challenge was convincing business owners they needed an online presence. And back then, it took someone with a technical understanding of the Internet to launch even the most simple of websites.

Today, it doesn’t take much to get a website up and running. For many startups, online services like Weebly, Wix, or SquareSpace can provide an inexpensive (and relatively simple) on-ramp to a business website.

Getting your new business online may be easier than ever before, but there are still many critical elements to consider. These three tips are key topics I always address with my clients.

Cover the Basics

It’s important to understand that for most every website, there are three basic elements: domain name, hosting, and the content management system.

Domain Name: This is your web address (www.mywebsite.com) and once configured, it directs web traffic to the server hosting your website. There’s a reason this is the first item I address - it’s the most important piece to any website.

Buying a domain name is not too different from buying a house: most people only buy one or two in their lifetime. A common mistake I’ve encountered is the lack of attention paid to the domain name account. Business owners often relegate the upkeep of the domain to an assistant or a bookkeeper who, in many cases, files the information away and forgets where the login credentials are kept. Often, a domain fails to get renewed, making the website unavailable, and in extreme cases, ownership can be lost.

Hosting: Every website needs to be hosted on an Internet-connected server. While it is possible to host your website on a personal computer, it’s not a great idea. There’s typically a fee associated with hosting, but for many who use a website builder service (like Wix or Weebly), any hosting charges are typically included in the monthly fee.

Content Management System (CMS): Most websites today run on some type of a content management system. Think of this as the website platform. The most popular of these is WordPress. In fact, approximately twenty-four percent of all websites are powered by WordPress. The number of CMS options today is vast and costs run from free to hundreds of thousands of dollars.

When it comes to choosing a CMS, there are many considerations, but there are two very important elements:

First, the CMS should fit the business objective of the website. So, if your objective is to sell products online, use a CMS built for e-commerce — not a blogging CMS that’s been modified for e-commerce.

Second, the person who will be managing the site should have the requisite technical skills for the chosen CMS.

Make It Easy To Use

With the proliferation of devices that connect to the Internet, it’s more important than ever to take into consideration how end-users will view and use your website. This begins with a responsively-designed website that works as well (and looks as good) on an HD monitor as it does on a smartphone display - and everything in between.

The most effective websites begin with user-centered design, which includes:

  • clear objectives
  • simple, user-friendly navigation
  • concise, well-written copy
  • a plan of what content gets displayed based on screen size
  • incorporating unambiguous, strong calls to action throughout the site

While user-centered design is the norm for most web development firms today, it can be challenging (but not completely impossible), when using a do-it-yourself service.

Don’t Let It Gather Dust

For many businesses, the launch of a new website signals the completion of project — and that’s where it often ends. This is apparent by the number of sites whose first and only blog article reads, “Hello world! This is your first blog post.”

There are many factors that go into good search engine optimization (SEO) — too many to cover here. But one of the most important factors is relevant and timely content. In fact, many marketers believe that Google and other search engines now value quality and authoritative content over traditional SEO.

Content marketing can be one of the most effective (and inexpensive) ways to stay in front of your audience. Once published, blog articles, news articles, and videos can be distributed through social media channels, email marketing, and RSS (Really Simple syndication) to extend the reach of your website. I cannot stress enough the value of a good website content management plan.

What gets measured gets done. Measuring the effectiveness of a website should be an integral part of any governance plan. Sure, your testing may have gone smoothly before the launch. But now you need to know if everything is working as hoped in a real-world environment. While most CMS platforms have built-in analytics of some form, Google Analytics is where many web marketers turn to better understand and analyze how their website is performing.

Today, websites vary from the simple, one-page brochures to complex, cloud-based sites integrated with dissimilar software. And clearly, there are many more advanced factors for consideration within the web development process than noted in this article.

But, no matter what type of site your business requires, it’s likely to be the first interaction with prospects - and the first opportunity to distinguish your business from your competitors. Make sure you get these basics covered so it’s available and ready for all those first impressions.