These days it’s hard to think of a business that doesn’t have a web presence. From online listings to a full-blown website, getting your business online brings obvious benefits. The Internet can drive new clients your way, while helping you build better relationships with existing customers.
In this two-part article we’ll talk you through building an online presence. Let’s start by concentrating on the foundations: choosing your domain name, and finding the best host for you. If you’ve already got these in place, jump to our guide to building your site.
Choose your domain name
This is what people will type into their browser to find you online, so you need to keep the name short and snappy. You want your customers to remember it, so avoid hyphens, underscores or hard to spell words.
There are two main options, depending on how you expect to attract people to your site. If you’re hoping for word of mouth, then go for the simplest possible domain, ideally your business name. You can check if the .co.uk domain for it is still available by using the Nominet website.
Check to see if your desired domain name is available
If you’re hoping to attract new business from search engines like Google, then you could go for a keyword-filled domain. Say you run a barbershop called Scissors in Bristol. The names Scissors.co.uk or Scissors.com may have already gone, so think about how people search for websites. More than likely they’re searching for Bristol barbers, so why not bristolbarbers.com?
You can find out what kind of words people are using to find your business by using the free Google AdWords tool. Type in words relating to your business and you’ll be related with the most popular phrases people are using to find companies like yours.
When you’ve chosen your domain name, there are a number of companies ready – and willing – to sell it to you, such as www.123-reg.co.uk or www.1and1.co.uk. As with all purchases, shop around to find the best deal.
It’s also worth noting that you don’t have to opt for the .com domain suffix. Google.co.uk dominates the UK search engine market and actively favours UK-specific sites. Of course, if you find a domain name that works perfectly, and you can afford to buy both .co.uk and .com, then it could be worth it in the long term, if only to stop a competitor nabbing it.
Google UK is optimised for .co.uk domains, so get one of these to make your business more visible
Get a web host
A web host is a computer that stores all the files that make up your site. Of course, a good host does a lot more than simply provide server space. It makes sure your data is available to be seen, stores essential information, handles your email and keeps your online presence safe from hackers.
There are three main types of hosting:
• Dedicated hosting means that you don’t share a server with any other sites. Instead, your site is stored on its own dedicated server. This is the safest option for a business. Dedicated servers offer better security and reduce the chance of computer viruses being passed on from other sites. As you’re not sharing server space, you’ll also usually be guaranteed faster load times and there’s less chance of your website not coping with a high amount of traffic.
However, all this comes at a cost. Depending on the account, dedicated servers can cost anything up to £5,000 per year. You will also be completely responsible for maintaining and operating the server. If something goes wrong with the server’s operation, it’s up to you to put it right. Some hosts do offer managed dedicated hosting, but at an extra cost.
• Shared hosting is at the other end of the scale. Here, a number of websites are hosted on one server. It’s a good choice for smaller business – prices start from as little as £5 a month – but you’ll be hampered by storage, bandwidth and, potentially, performance limitations.
• Virtual hosting is a halfway house between dedicated and shared hosting. It’s also a better option for small businesses. Once again, you’re sharing a single server, but it’s split into a number of independent virtual servers. Each is capable of running different operating systems, which means greater flexibility. Many Virtual Hosting deals are also more scalable, so you have more opportunities to grow your hosting plan as your needs develop. Thankfully, the price is much closer to that of shared hosting – typically around £15-20 per month. Again, it’s worth shopping around for the best price.
Virtual servers offer a cost-effective hosting solution for your online business
Make it count
Whatever hosting solution you choose, remember that you need your site to be reliable. You don’t want your potential customers trying to access a website that won’t load. If you’re new to websites go for a large provider with a good track record. Read their reviews and get recommendations before taking the plunge.