A large part of my business is building websites for customers.  What was once only available to large businesses, websites are now being used by small businesses and individuals to establish their presence on the web.

These days there are numerous ways for a small business to advertise online.   Social Media such as Facebook, Twitter etc, are a great way to connect with your customers.   But if you want a professional, easily accessible source of information for your customers, a website is the way to go.

So, what’s involved in building a website?

I’ve had a few customers start with sites such as WIX.com which provide pre-built website templates that you can customise for your business.   However, they soon out-grow these cookie-cutter sites and need something a little more flexible.   The longer you stick with a service like WIX, the harder it is to move all of your content to another platform.

The service I always recommend is WordPress.   WordPress now hosts nearly a third of all websites!  But what is WordPress?   It’s what’s called a Content Management System (or CMS).   A CMS makes it easy for you to update and add to the content on your website.   You don’t need to know how to code HTML/CSS etc.  Instead it gives you a drag and drop interface to design the pages on your site.

WordPress was originally released in 2003 and since then has grown in popularity and support.   There are now over 46,000 plugins available to extend and enhance the site.   Plugins can be everything from an online shopping cart to a weather forecast widget, making it very easy to add new functionality to your site, often for free!

Now there are two types of WordPress sites, WordPress.com and WordPress.org.   WordPress.com is a service that hosts WordPress sites for you, whereas WordPress.org is where you can download and host a WordPress site yourself.

But what is hosting you ask?   Well, when you have a website on the Internet, it needs to sit on a server somewhere that everyone has access to.  Think of it as renting office space for your business, in this scenario, you’re renting space on a server somewhere.   I always recommend Canadian based servers for Canadian businesses as this has two advantages – 1) it brings the site closer to your customers, making it faster, and 2) it gives Google a hint about the type of site it is and who’ll be looking for it.

In addition to hosting, you’ll also need a domain name.  For example, I own the domain name “scotiasystems.com”.   This means I can call my website www.scotiasystems.com.   In fact, I can use anything I want – I actually use design.scotiasystems.com for the website side of my business and support.scotiasystems.com for the tech support part.    Domain name registration is a yearly cost – and you want to make sure it doesn’t expire!  If it does expire, anyone else can buy it and replace your website with their own.   I offer domain registration for my customers and always ensure that it’s set to automatically renew each year.

OK, so you have your domain registration and hosting – so what now?  If I was developing a website for you I’d now install WordPress on the server and get to work developing the template (how the site looks) along with the content.

One thing I’d recommend before going live is a free service from Google, called Google Analytics.   This is a small piece of code which you can add to your site via a plugin.   What it does is silently track all of the visitors who come to your site.  It’ll give you a wealth of information about how they found your site, what they were looking for and how they used your site.  You can then use this data to improve your site, making it easier to find and optimising it for your visitors.  You’ll also want to register the site with both Google and Bing, making it available to anyone searching online.

Making a website for yourself or your business doesn’t need to be a challenge, instead it can be a fun and rewarding project.   I’ve worked with businesses small and large around the world to develop a website that they can use to promote their brand online.  If you’re interested in seeing some of the sites I’ve worked on recently, take a look at design.scotiasystems.com.

If you’d like to develop your own website, or would just like some pointers on where to start, please get in touch: [email protected]