Everyone dreams of having a killer website for their business. It looks great, is a customer magnet and acts as your virtual salesman 24 hours a day. While this can be achieved, the reality is that the road to creating a great website is usually filled with potholes….and sometimes land mines.
Whether you decide to DIY-it or hire a web designer and developer to help build your website, there are a few things you should watch out for when you get started. The below 5 items are some of the common traps I see new business owners make when they set out to build the website of their dreams.
Not Owning Your Own Domain
This is more common than you may think. Whoever owns the domain name, owns and controls everything. All settings and changes originate from the Domain Name Service (DNS), which is controlled by the person who owns the domain.
Whether it's good or ill intentions, sometimes a web designer or developer may tell the novice business owner, “don't worry, just pick the domain you want and I'll take care of it for you”. What this usually means is that they have purchased the domain under their own account and thus own the domain. I recently witnessed an ugly dispute arise when a client of mine fired her web developer, only to discover that he actually owned her domain which has been in existence for over 5 years and had a lot of value attached to it. Ouch.
What you can do
Using a Free Website Hosting Provider
Using a free hosting solution like Tumblr or WordPress.com (don't get it confused with WordPress.org, which is the self-hosted version and highly recommended) may seem like a great way to save a few bucks when you're first starting out, and these are great solutions…..but not for a business.
A free hosting solution will usually offer you a free sub-domain on their site, eg: “Mywebsite.wordpress.com” with the option of adding your own domain “mywebsite.com” for a fee. Number one, you should never create a business site as a sub-domain off of one of these sites, it screams the fact that you're cheap, not-committed to your business and may not be around next month. The other problem is that you have no control over your server, meaning if it slows to a crawl or your site goes down completely, good luck finding customer service to fix it.
While I love the free model for many things online, it always reminds me of a quote I read somewhere but can't remember who said it (leave in comments if you know). “When you use a free service, you are not the customer, you are the product.” So true.
What you can do
Purchase your own hosting like Hostgator or BlueHost, which offer plans that start at less than $5 bucks a month. From there you can use a CMS such as WordPress.org to build your website which you will host on your own server. Alternatively, there are some good website builders that offer hosting also for one monthly fee, Squarespace.com has a good reputations if you're looking for a simpler solution than self hosting your website.
Not Using a Mainstream Content Management System (CMS)
If a web developer tells you they have their own “proprietary” CMS solution that they want you to use, please start running for the hills. Popular open source Content Management Systems such as WordPress, Drupal and Magento (ecommerce) just to name a few, will work just fine for your needs. There is no need or reason to use a “custom” CMS or a static HTML website. These platforms have been tested and improved upon over the years and have huge communities of developers and enthusiasts who continue to add value to those platforms.
So why would a developer want you to use their own CMS? The short answer is that it's a “lock in” feature, meaning that once you start down the road with them, it is very difficult for you to leave, save for scrapping your site entirely and starting over if you ever want to leave them. While there are some companies that legitimately promote their own CMS platforms, I have yet to find one that can come close to what a seasoned CMS like WordPress has to offer.
What you can do
Insist on using an open source CMS like WordPress for a traditional site or Magento for ecommerce. If you ever need to leave your current developer, there are thousands of developers at your fingertips that can easily take over that project for you.
Creating a Blog Separate From Your Main Website
This is a fairly common problem I find with business owners. They create their main site, often a static HTML site (please read above about using a CMS) and then go off and create a blog on a free platform like Blogger or Tumblr for their blogging. The reason they usually do this is that their main website is either an HTML site or some complicated CMS, where they have no clue how to use it and blogging platforms like Blogger and Tumblr are simple to set up and use.
The problems here are many…
1- You now have to manage two separate websites
2- They look, feel and act differently from each other, a big branding mistake
3- From a Search Engine Optimization (SEO) perspective, it's a terrible option and your authority is spread out over two different websites
What you can do about it
Make your blog part of your main website. If you use a CMS like WordPress, it's simply to add a blog as it comes installed already. Even if you have a static HTML site, you can still add a CMS like WordPress as part of your website. What you do is install it on a sub-folder on your server, like “blog” and anything after that folder is part of your blog. In simple terms, it will look like this:
By adding the blog as part of your main website, you can use it to help build the domain authority and rankings for your entire website.
Letting Your Web Designer or Developer Write The Copy On Your Site
It's amazing how many people spend a bucket load of time and money building a website for their business, then blow it by treating the actual copy as an afterthought. The words on your website is what actually sells! I repeat, the copy you craft (or don't) on your website will largely determine if people contact you or not. This should be one of the most important steps in the entire process, yet most people spend way too little time on it or abdicate the responsibility to a designer or developer, who will do a mediocre job at best.
Your designer or developer may tell you they can create the copy for you for an additional charge, unless their have an experienced writer on their team, this is a really poor choice. It's an easy upsell for them, poor results for you.
If you want to understand what good copy-writing is for the web, sign up for the free course over at Copyblogger.
What you can do about it
Once you have your website layout completed and you know what pages will be created, you need to get yourself someone who can write. There is a big difference between a writer and a copywriter, a copywriter writes with the intent to persuade and sell, which is what you want for a business website. Even if you have a small budget, you can find quality copywriters either locally via meetup groups or online at sites like Elance.com. With a small budget, I recommend to start with your homepage and main product/service page(s).
Get it right from the start
Avoiding some of these mistakes can help you avoid headaches later on down the line. My best advice is to seek multiple opinions and do your research before spending your time and money. Have questions about creating a website for your business? Feel free to contact me here.
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