Guide to Starting a Website
Getting the basics right is an essential part of building any website or online business. If you are hoping to make money from your website, getting these things wrong could be setting yourself up for failure. The first thing you need to realise is that a website on its own is not enough to earn money; it requires lots of hard work, dedication and continuous maintenance. This guide has been created to help you build your online venture on solid foundations and point you in the right direction to grow your online business.
First things first: Do Your Research
Before you do anything, do your research. You may think you have the best idea in the world for a website, but if it’s been done to death or the market is just not there, you will be chucking money away just setting it up. Always start by answering the following questions:
- What are your customers looking for and what is the size of your market?
- How much competition do you have and how long have the competition been in business? It is also worth running a credit check on your main competitors online to see what their accounts look like. Ensure they are doing sufficient volume of business and accounts look healthy. A good place to run a check on a company is: http://www.companysearchesmadesimple.com/ – A standard check is sufficient which costs £3.95
- What makes you stand out from your competitors, why is your offering unique?
- Can your business offer better value than what is available already?
- Get some quotes for the website design or software development you will require. You can get a free no obligation quote from us if you like.
- Get some advice about online marketing, advertising and SEO services (search engine optimization). Formulate a marketing plan in preparation of your website going live and set your marketing budget. We can help you with this if required, contact us
- Establish what your ongoing running costs and expenses will be.
- What are your estimated projections for the next 2 years
- What needs to happen to break-even and are your projections realistic?
Plan Of Action
Assuming you can positively answer all of the above you can start to create your plan of action. Workout how much time you have available and get a timescale estimate for the web development work. Read the guide below thoroughly and pick out items that you can work on in advance to hit the ground running when the website is live. Create a project plan, set timescales for each item and monitor progress.
Here is a pre built project plan template that we use internally, feel free to adapt it and use it as you wish:
Download: Project Plan Template
Domain Name Research & Registering
When choosing a domain name for your business it is best to look for something that is fairly unique so not to be confused with other existing businesses. It is also important to make sure your domain name is not too long winded.
Keywords play a part in your domain name choice so you should also ensure that the words in your domain name do not get mistaken for other words. For example
A domain named: expertsexchange.com might be relevant to experts exchanging something, but it could also be read as “expert sex change” and you really don’t want to be found for that! Or maybe you do, I don’t know…I’ll get my coat.
You get my point though, right? You can use hyphens if necessary to separate the words.
You may hear stories about Google penalising exact match domains or EMD’s as they are more commonly known. This is where a domain is purchased which contains the main keywords you would like to rank highly in search results. This did work quite well previously but not so much anymore, to be honest I say don’t worry about it. If your business name happens to include your search terms, buy the domain. You only need to worry if you are trying to falsely influence search results.
Once you have decided on a domain name you should do a background check on the domain. This is important just in case the domain has been used previously and was involved in spammy or illicit activity. It is easy enough to do, first off check if anything is indexed for the domain in Google search, type site:yourdomainname.com (changing the domain name as appropriate) and hit search. The next thing to check is the whois history for anything dodgy, head over to Whois and run a check. Finally go to archive.org and run a check there, this is like an online archive of web content, good for checking out a domains previous usage.
When actually buying the domain, it doesn’t really matter who you go with, registrars are all strictly regulated. There is not much in it, just to try to find the cheapest supplier with a user friendly administration panel. Personally we use TSOHOST they are the cheapest in the UK, are easy to use and provide cheap top notch UK hosting so we can sort everything out in one place
Choosing a Website Hosting Provider
- The servers are located in the country or as close as possible to where the majority of your website visitors are coming from (your target audience). This is because you want the site to function as quickly as possible. Don’t be tempted to buy cheap hosting on the other side of the world, this always leads to a poorer experience for your customers and ultimately your business will suffer.
- The hosting package contains everything you need for your web development aspirations.
- Server resources, traffic and data allowances are sufficient.
- System monitoring, disaster recovery and backup strategy are robust.
- Security protocols all present and correct.
- Support availability and response times.
- Cost of the package and options available for future growth if required.
Make sure you also check reviews and other people’s experiences of the companies you are looking at, compare all of the items listed above before making your choice.
If you would like our opinion, we have used many different hosts over the years and I can tell you, hand on heart, the best hosting in the UK right now is tsohost.com
GET YOUR FREE BONUS!
Use coupon code NIKALSYSTEMS when purchasing hosting with tsohost.com and you will get 10% OFF
All our sites, including this one are hosted with tsohost, go browse a few, fast right? Also their reliability has been awesome and when you do need them you can pick up the phone and speak to a knowledgeable person in the UK within seconds, seriously.
Building Company Branding & Trust
Quality, unique and consistent company branding is an essential part of starting an online business. Being a recognisable and trusted brand on the internet allows your customers to feel secure in any business transactions that take place.
With the volume of internet scams circulating the web these days, your potential customers are naturally very wary of giving out personal details and financial information.
There are a number of steps you should take as outlined below to portray the right kind of trustworthy image for your business:
- Clean, crisp and easily identifiable logo used on all company material eg. On all website pages and off site profiles, offline advertising and company stationary. We can help you with this if required, feel free to contact us.
- Well designed and consistently web page layouts with relevant and quality information. We can also help with your web design if you need us.
- Contact details, customers need to feel that they can contact you at any point if there is a problem. Ensure a telephone number displayed in a prominent position on your website. You should provide a dedicated contact page with the telephone number and business mobile number if appropriate. A business address preferably with a Google map, email address, a website contact form and links to your social media profiles.
- A friendly yet authoritative About Us page. Include your company history, where you are today and what your aspirations are for the future. If you feel comfortable with it, add pictures of yourself, company employees and add a bit of info about each person. If you have a local business this really can enhance your business, remember people like to deal with people not a faceless organisations.
- Active and regularly updated social media profiles. It is a good idea to place a link to these in a sidebar or footer of your website
- Clearly display awards, memberships of regulatory organisations and any qualifications and link these up to any websites to back up the information given.
- Put details of your company registration number and VAT registration number (if applicable) in the footer of your website and link these up with the statutory bodies (your registration details on companies house for example)
- Validate your website at W3C Validator, fix any issues and display the appropriate logos in the footer of your website. This is optional but helps to show that your website is built on solid coding standards.
- It is not essential but you can put a flag of you country on your website with something like “100% British company” or equivalent. Whilst it may not be appropriate if you are targeting a global audience, some people are passionate about doing business on home soil, under the regulatory umbrella of their own country.
- Verify ownership of your domain in Google webmaster tools – a straight forward process of placing a file on the webserver and confirming it. If you are using a web development company, they will usually do this for you anyway, if not ask for it.
Download our policy documents:
Please note: Make sure these policies are fit for your business purposes as I offer no guarantees and accept no responsibility whatsoever for the use of any of these policies or any legal action as a result of using them.
- For ecommerce sites, display the logos of any payment methods you accept in the footer of your website along with any secure merchant payment gateways you may use.
Here is a FREE collection of payment method footer logos we have collected over the years, feel free to download and use them if you want to:
Payment Method Icons download:
- Security certificates: If you are taking personal or financial information through your website you must install a security certificate, also known as SSL certificates. Typically these can be purchased from your website hosting company for around £50-100 per year. This will secure your customers personal data entered your site. You will notice on the page in question, the address starts https:// (s=secure). This is a clear indication of trust to your visitors making them feel secure when entering this information. We offer website hosting from £30 per year on our dedicated tsohost server and our security certificates cost £50 per year.
- Rich Snippets: Ever wondered about those pictures or review stars that appear in search results as shown in the picture below. They are called rich snippets, not only do they make your site stand out from the crowd but they also further enhance your company branding and trust perception with your website visitors. You can read how to implement them here: http://support.google.com/webmasters/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=99170
Rich Snippets Overview:
Alternatively we can help you implement this on your website, contact us for further details
You may have the most fancy, all singing all dancing website in the world, but if no one visits it, then what’s the point of making it?
Don’t get me wrong, good web design and functionality are very important, but you must constantly focus on how you will get traffic. To be honest, once you launch your website, it’s all you think about, it keeps you awake at night!
If you have not heard about the following three letters before, you soon will do…SEO (Search Engine Optimisation). It basically means giving search engines like Google what they need to know about your website, i.e. what is it about, what you specialise in and how popular it is. This is absolutely fundamental to any online business.
The following tips and advice will show you how to optimise your website and increase search engine rankings.
Keywords and Key Phrases
Online users will search for what they want and normally never go beyond the first page of results. Your goal is to get on the first page, stay there and try to reach the number 1 position for your chosen keywords. Be under no illusions, this takes a ton of hard work, dedication and patience. Bear in mind that your competitors are also constantly trying to achieve this goal.
The first thing you need to do is find out which keywords you should target. Think about your business, products and services and what you would imagine your customers will type into the search engines to find them. For example, someone searching for a web designer in North Wales might type:
“North Wales web design”
Make a list of all the keywords you can think of and then head over to the link below to find out what the search volume and competition is. This tool is great because it also shows you other suggestions you may not have thought of.
Simply type your keywords at the top, you can also use the advanced options to target specific country results and click the search button at the bottom.
You will get a list of results to check. To start with you should be looking to find keywords with the most volume of monthly searches with the least amount of competition (quick wins). Over time you can target the more competitive high search volume keywords.
Now continue going through your list until you come up with your chosen
Good work! You now have a keyword list.
There are two types of SEO:
On Page: Stuff you do on your website. I wrote an on page SEO guide a while back, go check it out.
Off-Page: Stuff you and other people do on other websites to send inbound links to your website.
Building inbound links is one of, if not the most important thing that will influence where your keywords appear in search results. – It involves getting other websites to link back to you. This is referred to as “link juice”. The idea is that the greater number of quality and relevant inbound links you have, the more popular and relevant your website is and the higher your keywords will rank.
Imagine you’re selling handbags on your website and a very influential fashion blog decides to heap praise on your products. They might place a contextual link to your website highlighting the words “cool handbags”. Not only are you more likely to get a lot more traffic to your website but search engines see these type of highly relevant, popular contextual back links as a vote of confidence in your company. You will be rewarded by your website moving higher up in search results and your website will attract a higher page rank. You can read more about page rank here
The fact is, when you launch a website, no one knows about it. You need to tell people about it, you need to promote it and spread the word online, building links to your website as you go. Link building is fairly easy but can be very boring repetitive work.
These link building tips should give you food for thought:
- Submit your website to online business directories: Check out our Ultimate UK business directory list
- Create quality content: The quality of your content is really important, if people like it, they will naturally link to it. Make your content something that people want to read and share. Read our guide to writing articles
- Write guest posts for other blogs related to your business or products: If you write some quality content, offer it to other websites in exchange for an inbound link.
- Write a press release about your new business. Read our guide about How to Write a Press Release and submit it to press release sites. Here is Our Ultimate Press Release Site List.
- Start an offsite blog that is related to your business and get blogging, if you are passionate about your business and know a lot about it share your knowledge with others, and throw in the odd link here are there to your website. Some good places to create free offsite blogs:
- Set up some Web 2.0 profiles for your business. Here is a list of Web 2.0 sites
- Social signals are extremely important these days. Once the website is up and running, start telling your friends and family about it on social networks, ask them to start sharing your message and spreading the word. Start making new contacts and friends and engage with them, as a minimum you should have active social profiles linked to your website on the following:
One important thing to note is that you shouldn’t just focus on promoting your business; nobody wants to read that stuff over and over again. Share something interesting, engaging or something of value.
- Introductory offers. Come up with a great introductory offer for your new customers and promote it like crazy. Through social networks, press releases and daily deal sites.
- Create some offline promotional material such as leaflets, flyers, newspaper and magazine adverts and get distributing.
- Attend local business events, conferences and seminars and get networking. Give out some promo material too.
- Pay for advertising on other popular websites in your target market.
- Make contact with some websites that are closely related to yours and ask them if they would like to exchange links with you.
- Write an article about something relating to your business and submit it to article directories.
- Register on some forums relating to your business and start engaging with others, put a link in your profile and on the footer of your posts if possible. However don’t just talk about your business, keep it friendly, offer advice and get involved in conversations.
- Answer questions associated with your business on question sites such as yahoo answers, add a link to your site if appropriate.
- Blog commenting. Go to Google and type something connected to your business and add the words, “leave a comment”or “leave a reply” etc, for example “graphic design leave a comment”. You will now have a list of highly relevant places where you can potentially add a link to your website. Just make sure you take the time to read the blog post and write something relevant to the topic along with your link.
- Social bookmarking. Create some links to you website through social bookmarks. Here is a list of social bookmarking sites.
- Create some video content related to your business and add it to youtube.
- Get some reviews. Search out the most popular blogs that are closely connected to your business, products or services and give them some free stuff to review. You can even contact them beforehand to ask if they would be interested in writing a review.
- Submit your website to the DMOZ directory
There are a lot more things you can do to build links. Just remember the golden rule: However you create links, keep the content quality and relevant.
If you do not have the time to invest in SEO it’s a good idea to outsource this work. Prices vary wildly, do some research and try to find someone Trustworthy with a proven track record.
An alternative option is to go down the pay per click route such as Google Adwords. In a nutshell, you will pay for your keywords to appear at the top of Google search results and pay a fee each time someone clicks on your website. You will get great results but be prepared to pay for it.
We also offer quality and trusted SEO services….ahem : – )
Website Design & Functionality
OK, so people are now visiting your site, the next most important thing is to keep them on the site long enough to get your message across. Statistics show you have around 3-5 seconds to show a customer what they are looking for, otherwise they’ll leave, never to be seen again.
Worrying, right? So what can we do to keep our audience engaged. Let’s see…
First impressions are everything. Why do you like websites more than others? What makes a good website? Remember our company branding and trust guidelines earlier in this document. Implementing those steps pays dividends here.
Studies show that a website’s credibility is heavily influenced by design, it’s even considered more important than any awards and qualifications.
Start looking at what your competition and other successful sites have in common. Make a list and try to work these elements into your site.
Follow our design advice below:
Typography: Make sure website is clear and easy to read, use fonts, font sizes and colours that are easy on the eye. Don’t over think colour combinations, there is nothing wrong with plain old black text on white background.
Layout: Make sure your layout is well structured and information is arranged neatly and consistently rather than scattered around the page. Don’t bunch things together too much, space is your friend. Also, consider the keywords you are targeting, be sure to display content relating to those keywords in a prominent position on your landing page.
Colour: Colour is a really important part of your website. Use it to highlight to the most important things on the website. Be careful though, don’t attempt to make everything stand out, the end effect will result in nothing standing out. Focus on the colours of your company logo and company branding if possible and use these. A mix match of colours can make your potential customers feel your business is indecisive and not consistent.
It’s also really important to make sure your important content doesn’t get lost in design. Style over substance so to speak.
Try to maintain consistency between the different pages of your website. It must flow easily from page to page. Keep the page navigation in the same place throughout the site.
Test your website thoroughly; pretend to be a customer, keep asking yourself, is it easy to use? Can I get to where I need to within just a few clicks?
A powerful image will do more for you site than words ever will. Use stock images if you must, but where possible always use real images. Marketing studies have shown that real images relating to your business outperform stock images by 95%
It is important therefore to be sure that the images on your website have purpose. Keep them relevant and high quality.
You should also include navigation in your website’s footer so users don’t have to scroll back up to the top of the website after reading a page.
Keep your page structure shallow. In general your navigation shouldn’t need more than three levels as this just complicates things.
Provide a Search box for users to search the entire website. Especially if you have an ecommerce site so customers can find the product they are looking for quickly.
If you need help with your web design we’ll be glad to help.
XML Sitemaps are basically a structured list of your website’s contents that search engine crawlers use to locate your pages more effectively.
If you are not sure how to create one, just Google “xml sitemap generators” there are loads. Alternatively if you have a WordPress site you can install a plugin to do the same job for you, just search the WordPress plugin directory
When you have your XML sitemap, simply place it to the root directory of your website. e.g. www.yourdomain.com/sitemap.xml.
Now submit your sitemaps to search engines, for example:
XML sitemaps also hold details about when the pages were last updated so if are not using an automated solution, you should update your sitemaps as often as your website content.
And, if people appreciate your content you are likely to generate a lot more business.
Try to think how your content can benefit others and how your content can differ from your competitors yet still provide awesome reading.
Follow these tips:
• Keep it unique – Exactly what search engines want. Try to give your readers something thought provoking and educational. If your readers learn something, they are more likely to return in the future.
• Keep your writing style natural, fun and friendly. Write to your audience, not what you think search engines want to see.
• Keep your content up to date and relevant. A fantastic source of inspiration is magazines closely related to your business. The editors of these magazines spend vast amounts of cash researching what’s hot right now. Stay up to date and write about that stuff too, just keep it unique ie: not copied directly from a magazine.
Think quality, quality, quality, yes its hard work but its worth investing the time and getting it right.
If you really don’t have the time you can outsource content work reasonably cheaply. Odesk or iwriter are good places for this.
A well written, regularly updated blog can send lots of traffic and potential business to your website. It also does wonders for your SEO efforts. We highly recommend using WordPress for blogging.
Statistics show websites with blogs get 55% more visitors than websites without.
Make sure you add functionality to your blog so that visitors can leave comments and reviews etc. Also, if someone takes the time to make a comment (that’s not spam) engage with them, thank them and treat them as your customers. These people are much more likely to like you on facebook, follow you on twitter, subscribe to your blog or share your content. What better way to get those natural inbound links?
Blogging also provides your business with credibility and authority. Build up your blog to be a truly valuable source of information and entertainment and people will return time and time again.
It can be difficult taking that first step into blogging. Read our Building Quality Content Guide hopefully it will help you.
Again, if you don’t have the time you can outsource it. You can always rewrite parts of outsourced work to fit with your style of writing
Whatever you do, make all your content sociable and shareable. Any exposure via social media is awesome. Just think about all those people on someone’s friends list in facebook or followers on twitter. If someone feels strongly enough to share your content, there is a really good chance others will appreciate it too. Guess what, more potential customers on your website, brilliant!
You want it as simple as possible for people to share and discuss your content.
Install a sharing widget or plugin on your website. This allows visitors to share your pages using all of the major social networks. If you are using WordPress install the WordPress jetpack plugin, it provides a ton of useful features one of which adds sharing functionality to posts and pages. Alternatively head over to Code Canyon they have a great selection of cool plugins and code snippets you can add to your website at minimal cost.
If possible make sure your website has a simple form for customers to provide their feedback on purchases. Genuine feedback is a great sales tool. Ensure it is in a prominent position on your site, where possible place relevant feedback on pages where your products or services are being sold. Reviews should be as authentic as possible. Ideally that means real names and a picture of the buyer alongside their comment.
Getting reviews offsite is also vitally important, look back to your business directory advertisements. Check for websites where you can add reviews.
We need to talk about calls to action.
Calls to action funnel visitors to where you want them to go. CTAs should be appealing in nature and provide a shortcut to product pages, contact pages or places where the user’s next action will result in a purchase or enquiry. CTAs should be clearly visible, examples being links or buttons, if using links, make sure it looks like a link. They should be enticing and make your users want to click on them. For example you might add a button with the text “Request your FREE quote now” You can pick up some great deals on high quality CTA graphics on graphic river
Do some research on other websites, come up with a list of what you think works well. Now see how you can incorporate similar things, play with different colours and fonts etc. Don’t be scared to mix it up a bit either, as time goes on try different things from one month to the next. Experiment, monitor results and stick with what works.
The Sales page
So the user has clicked the call to action and is now on your sales page. Ensure your sales page matches the CTA, if not you run the risk that your customers will think they are in the wrong place.
Sales pages are usually product pages or pages with forms for capturing vital sales information
All good sales pages should include the following:
Write a succinct, enticing description of the product or services being offered but keep it simple. If possible come up with a killer headline that may be closely associated with your keywords. If you have good customer reviews, include them along with any details of qualifications and company registrations etc. Try to add some high quality images, maybe even a video.
If you are collecting information via a sales form, make sure you only ask for information you absolutely need. Remember, the less information you ask for the higher the conversion rate will be. Long winded forms are off-putting to a user. Where possible do not ask for sensitive information, you won’t get it. Avoid using the word “submit” on buttons, use words like “Get your FREE quote” or something appropriate to your offer.
Following a form submission, provide a thank you message and follow it up with an email. This reinforces the customer’s commitment.
Ecommerce product exposure
If you have an ecommerce site selling products you’re going to need exposure to achieve the maximum volume of sales possible.
You should treat each product page as a webpage in its own right. That means top quality content and media, on page SEO factors, social sharing, backlinks, customer reviews and maybe links to external authority sites or blog articles that have reviewed your products.
This takes a long time, but trust me, it’s worth it. Don’t worry if you don’t get this done in time for website go live, you can continue to work on this. In fact, doing it that way shows search engines that you are committed to producing quality and regularly updated content.
The next thing to do is submit your product catalog to price comparison websites. Most of these types of site have their own rules and formatting for uploading product content. It is best to visit them one by one and follow their guidelines. Here are some good price comparison sites to submit your products to:
If you are serious about selling online, you need to spread your bets. What I mean is you should consider listing your products on external websites. Ok, so you are going to pay additional fees/ commissions but you can work that into your prices if required. The fact is, you need to get your name/ brand and products out there to make money. Listing your products on external websites can also increase your repeat sales and up-sell opportunities. For example, you sell a product on ebay, you dispatch the product with promotional material for your other products and a note informing the buyer that they can buy the product for X amount cheaper next time from your website.
Good places to sell your products externally are:
Another good way to gain exposure for your products is to run promotions. A great way to do this involves implementing a promo/voucher code system into the checkout area of your ecommerce website. The promo code applies a time limited discount to the products as you define. Once in place, you can begin the task of spreading the word about your promotion. Think social networks, press releases, offline marketing material, forums, email newsletters etc.
If someone has made a purchase or enquired about your business or services, there is a good chance you already have their email address. Make sure you offer these people a subscription to your newsletter. Stay in contact with your customers, it might drive extra sales.
In fact, building a list of highly engaged subscribers is the holy grail of internet marketing. I’m not talking spam here; I am talking about customers that have accepted to receive newsletters from you. Look to collect prospective customers to your email list at every opportunity. This can be both online and offline. One excellent way to collect new subscribers is to offer something valuable in return for an email subscription. For example, if you were selling beauty products, you might give way a quality guide on how to professionally apply makeup and which products work best for certain things etc.
The key principle here is the guide can be downloaded or emailed to the customer after an email address has been entered. My personal favourite provider to handle the task of email automation is icontact they give you all the tools to embed into your website and handle the automation of sending the content to the customer.
They also allow you to import lists of subscribers that are gathered offline, this can help tremendously if many of your subscribers are gathered at product exhibitions for example. You will find that a lot of other email auto-responder suppliers do not allow this.
You pay a low monthly fee for their services, but the potential sales for your business far outweighs the cost.
It’s a good idea to schedule follow up emails following subscriptions to your list, keep potential customers engaged. Just remember only send quality free stuff, special offers and helpful advice. Your customers should feel pleased to receive your emails, this is very important.
You should also always offer an unsubscribe link in the emails, not everyone will want to receive your mails, respect that. If you start getting a lot of people coming off your list, take notice, you’re doing something wrong!
If you have made this far and followed all the steps above, you’re in really good shape. The final and probably the most important step of all is to monitor user interaction on your website. Thankfully, there is a fantastic free tool called Google analytics, it’s awesome. There is tons of great stuff in there but you will need to familiarise yourself with it. This video below gives a good overview:
We hope this guide has provided you with a good insight into how to build the right kind of foundations for your website and some ideas how to go about expanding it going forward.
We are happy to support you with any of the topics discussed in this document. You kind find all our contact details here
+44 (0) 845 862 3102