Let’s imagine a professional person who wants a website, because these days we need a website, but who also wants the website to pay for itself – not only to recover the paltry fees for domain name and hosting charges – but also by becoming a useful part of their business.
What should go onto the professional’s website and how should they construct it?
Listed below are 7 considerations, none of which are specific to any one content management system (CMS) or framework though all consistent with Drupal, which is the framework that I am using a lot of these days.
#1 Domain name or url
Your domain name will be something like www.jojordan.org.
- You will see there that I have used the name that I expect people would use if they were searching for me. You might also use the name of your business. The principles here are
- List the names that people might use to search for you and rather go bigger than go smaller. That is, try to include the smallest possible name in a bigger phrase than abbreviate a larger phrase into something meaningless. Your goal is to have the “phrase” that you wish to be associated with you in your domain name in “black and white” so to speak. Why? Because people want to find you; and because computers are rather stupid. They are looking for the phrase that people put into the search bar.
- Also, note that I used .org as my extension. What is the best extension to use?
- Convention is extremely important in naming. The top level domain (TLD) begins with extensions such as .com, .org, .edu, .gov, .net These extension are the default for organizations based in the USA but are also to signify a global business.
- .com suggest business or core. .net suggests community. .org is something in between and is less popular than .com. I used .com simply because jojordan.com was already taken and I didn’t want to buy it. So I settled for second best and .org seemed ok to me for what is really a “CV” or “resume” site – that is, for information and not for trading.
- For my company, I really wanted a .com extension so I expanded the name of the site from Rooi to rooiventures.com
- Many businesses want to be identified with a particular country. They will then prefer to use a country signifier such as .co.uk
- New TLDs are coming out now and it is possible to book for a name such as www.outof.africa
- To find out if a domain name is taken, try looking it up on a service like Domainr
- You will also see that my name is preceded by the well-known www, though I am going to be asked later whether I want http://jojordan.org to resolve to http://www.jojordan.orgor the reverse. The principles here are
- To make sure that your website is set up to resolve to both versions
- To make sure that one resolves to the other – I believe Google frowns on both being valid as that duplicates content and makes a headache for their spiders (if this is true, they will exact revenge by dropping you down their page rankings – or put another way, punish people who try to scam the rankings by publishing the same thing twice)
- Simply make a choice and remember to check that your website is set up correctly. In practice, you will not see the difference but the ranking spiders will
- Find out where to buy your Domain name. Domainr will probably tell you but if you live in an out-of-the-way place, you might need to visit an office rather than simply make the purchase on line (oh yes, been there and done that).
- Names are rented rather than bought and must be paid for annually or biannually – put the next payment in your diary! And keep the receipts – they are business costs and at least you don’t pay tax on them
#2 Set up a holding page
While you get your website sorted out, you can make that domain name work for you and start to acquire some experience in website management.
Set up a simple one page website using a contact form so that people can email you.
These are the issues you will be thinking about now.
- Where will you host your site? You want the hosting service to be cheap because nothing much is happening right now and you don’t want to be locked in to a long-term contract.
- Your hosting site can be anywhere in the world but check that their server is in the same timezone as most of your customers. I have had a hosting service take my site down in the middle of the UK working day “for maintenance”.
- Check that you can log into their cPanel and use phpAdmin to manage your site.
- Initially, pick a host who offers one-click installs of WordPress or Drupal.
- Make a MySQL database that will hold your website (I know there is not much in it right now but you are getting practice into the whole process)
- Install WordPress or Drupal into it (takes 5 minutes)
- Get some anti-spam set up (Akismet for WordPress and Mollam for Drupal)
- Theme your site a little (download a free theme)
- Add some basic information about who you are and a message saying “coming soon”
- Set up a contact form and make sure the anti-spam is operating
- For practice, set the backups so that you can import the content of your database (just about nothing right now) into a clean database, anytime, anywhere
- Also zip and copy all the WordPress or Drupal files and have them emailed to you regularly so you can simply unzip them next to a refreshed database, point them to the database and have your site back running in minutes
- Pick up the DNS server numbers from your host and go to the computer where you bought your domain name. Insert the numbers against your domain name so the domain name server (the place you buy names) points to the host (where your website sits physically)
- For sack of clarity, you are gathering usernames and passwords at an alarming rate. This is what should be in your notebook
- Domain name, place you buy it, annual fee and renewal data
- Your user name and password at the place you buy your domain name and the email address that you gave them
- Your hosting service, their url, your package, its cost and when you pay
- Your username and password to log into their website to pay your account and the email address that you gave them (they should email you when they need a payment)
- You may use these names and passwords to get to their cPanel where you do things like set up your database but you might be given another set too!
- Your username and password for your MySQL database and the name you gave to the database
- Your username and password and name of the website that you set up – these will be the no 1 account for your website with admin rights. You can use these to log on to your website online and do set up tasks that are done from inside the website – like setting up the contact page
- Your username and password at the spam service (and email address). They will give you a number to insert into your website to connect the two.
- You can also set up Google Analytics now. This involves
- setting up an account with Google Analytics using another set of username, password but not email if you logged in with a gmail account.
- Getting a code
- Going back to your website (which still has one page only), logging in, and inserting the code.
- Adding an EU cookie alert if you are in Europe or expect to do much business here
- Why should you set up Google Alerts now? More practice, but to remind you to start developing name recognition. Use your url on your name badge at conferences; add it to your emails; add it your business cards; add it when you leave a comment on other people’s blogs. Then you watch your traffic at Google Alerts – not much at first but often very weird indeed.
#3 Consider the tone of your website
Initially, we tend to design our websites through touch-and-feel. We google the web for designs and themes and choose on the basis of I like this or a I don’t like that.
To think more about what you are doing, consider the relationship that you will have with your users.
- Are you going to be a chatty host being pleasant and nice and encouraging people to linger and leave comments to which you will reply?
- Are you the organiser which draws people into a set of activities designed to move them from noobe to recognised expert in a specific community?
- Are you a mentor recognising a community brought together by common values and interests?
Your relationship with your users will set your tone; your content will determine your design (colours and layout); and the activities on your site will inform the activity on your site and it’s underlying structure.
At this stage, you might rethink your “coming soon” page? Now you are no longer befuddled by the internet plumbing, you can think about whether the tone of the page reflects your relationship; whether the look reflects your users; and whether the sign-up reflects your purpose.
For example, a more commercial site might allow send users a voucher to redeem in store; an organising site might send out emails in response to repeated logins to gain some kind of “level” while you get set up; and a community site might request your users to send you notices of events in their areas, or links to articles they have written, which you could share by email to all your users.
From the outside, your website is part of the relationship you have users and as you meet users in real life, you invite and involve them in this community.
#4 Basic services on your website
As you start to build your website, you will initially add some very basic services.
- Add a privacy statement.
- I have put the privacy statement here because Google cares. Decide how you will look after the names and addresses, and for that matter, information about what people read and look at, and write a clear policy. Put the policy in a “page”. Later you will probably add a link in footer to this page.
- Note that you might also be obliged by the law where you live to add something like an EU cookie pop up and to register with Data Protection.
- Think it out now – these are your customers and you want to look after them from outset.
- Add some basic information about your commercial operation
- On another page, add the official name of your business, its registered address, its trading address, its company number if it has one, its VAT number if it has one
- Your customers need to know whom they are trading with and what codes of conduct you have signed up to (Companies Act, Tax, etc). You can assume your customers are knowledgeable and know what to look for but in brief – how do they contact you about formal matters?
- How do your customers reach you to buy?
- If you are a restaurant, where are you? Where can people park? When are you open? What are your opening hours? What do your customers want to know?
- If your customers come to you, add a Google map. You can add a printable version but don’t put in a bad map when Google can supply something better than they can use to check directions and transport.
- Put some markers in for where your entrance is and where the parking is?
- How do disabled people get to your front door?
- How can people telephone you?
- And even what can people email you about? What do you promise to reply to?
- Career advice
- Do you employ people? And if so, who might want to work for you?
- Do you work with people?
- What is your advice for people getting started?
- What would you like people to buy from you?
- In some businesses , this is an easy question to answer – in others less easy
- Start at the end of the sale chain and think about what the final “order” will look like. You may not be able to put that online, but looking at it and imaging it like a restaurant booking or a book purchase on Amazon will help you see how to structure your site.
- For example, let’s imagine that you offer language tuition. You don’t have many students, but you imagine that some people sit at home and contemplate whether or not to buy your service.
- You could put a list of times (and seasons, e.g., school holidays) when you do and do not offer language services
- You could put a list of “modules” e.g., travelling to X for the first time, going to a formal dinner, greeting your hosts
- You don’t necessarily have to put up prices right now – just get started
- If the purchasing of your services is very complicated, then you might like to start to educate your customers
- For example, I learn Chinese and it would be helpful to put up some goals such as Level 1: Learn to speak 50 words in simple phrases like Hello and Goodbye, learn to recognise the phrases in Chinese characters and pin yin, and learn to write the characters. Be able to show Chinese speaker you are willing to learn and be prepared to continue to Level 2 when you are ready
- I am “showing” what the customer needs to think about to make their decision and when they are ready, they will come back.
#5 Putting together a fuller site
By now, you will have decided on a theme and you are probably using a free theme for WordPress or Drupal. At this stage you are probably thinking about colour and fonts, mostly.
You will also have these pages ready –
- A formal business information page
- The how to get to you which might be married with your contact form
- Some basic pages about your services
You might also have some email traffic already and be checking Google Alerts and storing away your backups.
You can install your theme and add pages very easily. Remember to keep your spam filter active!
You might also find your About page very easy to write now. It does not need to be much but it should state clearly who you are. People don’t like dealing with Anonymous people on the internet. Something brief and to the point much as you would say over the telephone if you telephoned a potential customer out-of-the-blue
#6 Social Media
You have probably heard the phrase social media or Web 2.0. Web 2.0 is the web that “answers back”. So far, we have been using Web 1.0. People can talk to you but they have to switch to email, or to the post, or the phone or Voice-over-internet like Skype.
We have also set up “pages”, that is, static content that does not change very much from one month to the next. Moreover, when the content on the page does change, you take the page down the way you would rip off an old notice on a noticeboard and replace it with another.
Even on a page though, you can set “comments” as “on”. I wouldn’t, as these pages are for information. I would add a link and encourage people to email you.
But people like to comment for three reasons. They have got used to commenting liberally on Facebook and Twitter. They want their comment to be public for whatever reason (you may not appreciate the reason but that is another matter). And they leave the name of their own website – not only that others can see it but that Google can see it. Google moves sites up the ranking if they have lots of links to other websites. So, many of the comments will but outright spam, and Google will penalize you if you don’t clean them up, but the links to real websites will boost your rankings. Both commentator and host win.
Rather than use your ‘pages’ to move to Web 2.0, it is now time to activate a blog. Your blog might look like a “page” but it is actually a pile of “posts”, ordered by date with the most recent on top. It is here that you add information for your readers – remembering the relationship with them that you thought about in Step #3.
Look here at the lovely curation by Ilkut Terzioglu who does not write on about all the technical things he deals with daily. Here he adds visual and graphic things that he values and that will be interesting to his readers who also appreciate the visual and the graphic and the socially interesting.
In a sense, a blog is a newsletter but in nature of a feature column in newspaper. It becomes a resource for readers.
Web2.0 comes in because the top post of your blog changes often. The others remain on your site but the top one changes. Google likes to see this. Blogs almost always have their comments “open”.
And the blog should have an RSS feed set up (Really Simple Syndication). Basically, you should see an RSS button in your browser when you look at your url, or somewhere on your page. Your readers should be able to pick up the url for your RSS feed and put it into a feed reader. Why do we have this? If we log on to our feed reader, it pulls the latest blogs from all the places we visit into one place and we don’t have to visit all these other places. Actually, feed readers are going out of fashion (Google is shutting their service) and you encourage your readers to sign up for a copy of your blog by email but be careful to add an unsubscribe button so they can tell you to stop sending copies programmatically.
You can also use RSS to pipe your blog to other websites, like Linkedin, if you wish – don’t overdo it though.
As a last Web 2.0 measure, consider where you want your material to be advertised. Do you want links to Facebook , Linkedin andTwitter? Do you want people to email your copy to others? Do you want people to print easily?
Think through what your readers want to use your material for and make life easy for them?
And then think through the content of your blog. What do you work on a daily or weekly basis that is useful to them? If you are running a consumer type service, what information is helpful to them? If you are helping people level up, what is most interesting to them? If you are mentoring a shared community, are expert articles – written by yourself or others – what they want? Ilkut’s visual blog is that – material shared with people who have the same values. The key words here are “share” and “value”.
#7 Commercialise your site
Finally, we get to the nub of the matter. Is this website part of your business or just a giant drain on your resources.
I hope that so far you see the value – your customers can find you, they can find out essential information such as your address, and the uninitiated can start to learn the basics – when are you open? What do they start to think about when they use a service such as yours? You should be recouping your costs with these activities alone.
Commercialising your site is the big step up and to bring your website into your business as a significant player, I suggest that you think this process out.
Imagine a completely naïve customer – they have not hired you or bought from you, or anyone like you, ever. What is going through their minds? What confusion and muddle are they experiencing and what basic signposts can you provide to help them understand what is available to them? What are the basics to understanding your world?
And then think about the end of the process, which I encourage you to think about in Step #4. If we call the the initial muddle of a complete novice is Stage #1 (for the customer) and signing the final purchase order/contract as Stage #7, then can we work out the intervening five stages that a customer goes through as they gain sufficient experience and understanding to buy from us.
This is the kind of exercise that we want to do practically rather than theoretically, and also the kind of exercise that we don’t want to jump into as you might try if you came to this paragraph first. Though you don’t need to go through all the website set up that I have listed, working through step-by-step brings us gently to place where we can understand what a customer goes through when they buy a complicated service – as they transition from a newcomer to an expert consumer.
This is the bulk of the work to bringing your website into your business as a major player. From that point, you can make your website much more interesting. You will also start to use Google Analytics with more verve, too. GA will tell you where people are landing on your site. If rank newbies are hitting content intended for people around Stage 5, you can expect them to bounce off your site. And you might adjust your site but adding a clear path from 1 to 7 that appears on every single page.
It is here that you provide a very significant pre-sales service where customers learn what is available to them in this world to make their lives better; and how to set about learning more and becoming more involved.
Once you have got this far, then you will become more demanding of the CMS that you are using, be it WordPress or Drupal, and the whole business of running your Website will become much more interesting and rewarding – both task by task and sale by sale.
I hope this helps and that these 7 steps help you understand what is involved in running a website. I hope you feel confident to set about developing a website and copying with the internet plumbing.
And above all, I hope you are able to develop fantastic websites that help people discover your world and to benefit from it in ways that benefit them and bring them economic advantage.