Congratulations for taking the big step to create your own professional business website. Advances in technology have made it simple, easy and affordable. Now you won’t have any reason to have an out-of-date website!
But how do you decide which system to go with? Read on and learn which questions to ask and figure out what is important to you before you sign on any dotted line.
For the purposes of this article, we’ll focus on site-building systems from three kinds of vendors:
o Registrar companies (like GoDaddy.com, Register.com)
o Technology generalists like Microsoft.com
o Software meant specifically for your industry
As you weigh your choices, here are some critical issues to consider:
o Does your provider specialize in your kind of business?
The tools provided by a generalist or a registrar are going to be require a fair amount of customization on your part. When you work with someone who understands your business, it will come ready for you to get started.
o Who registers and owns your domain name?
You should always own and control your domain name. No matter who builds your site. Write down the account registration information and password, you will need it.
o Is email included in your package?
You should use professional email at your main domain. One vendor should be able to manage hosting of both your site and your email. And you should be able to have multiple email addresses set up with no additional charge.
o How much flexibility do you have in design? Are there limits to how big your site can be?
These website builders are usually templated systems. (If you are hiring a low-cost designer, remember you still won’t have control of your site). Understand what the limitations of their designs are. Some sites limit the number of pages you can have or don’t allow you to use your own logo and banner.
o Where do I get the content?
There are two ends of this spectrum: the registrars and generalists offer NO guidance, you are completely on your own. Some of the specialist sites offer off-the-shelf content, you just change the name/photo and you are ready to go. Other industry-specific firms (like those meant for coaches or therapists or attorneys) give guidance and assistance, but the words, pages and images are selected by you.
o How technical do I need to be?
o How will I be charged?
Some systems have startup fees, some charge on a monthly basis. Understand what Year One and subsequent years will cost you. Also what extras you may be charged for.
o Is the site optimized for search? Do they charge extra for that?
Your templated system should allow you to pick your own metatags and keywords, without extra charge. Many systems will try to force you into a paid search campaign without making it clear that this should be totally optional (and may not be at all necessary for your business!)
o Can you track statistics and activity on your website?
Ask your provider how you can see what happens on your site. Find out if you can easily integrate Google Analytics, a free tracking program. If you put up a site, you want to know what happens!
o Is there a built-in contact form so you don’t need to publish your email address?
You want to make it as easy as possible for people to get in touch with you without posting your email address (which will open you up to spam). Many systems have this functionality built in.
o Can you integrate third party applications (like payments) easily?
It should be easy to add elements that can enhance your site, like online stores and credit card processing, online newsletter signup, event registration, blog software, YouTube video, Audio Acrobat audio files, etc. Even if you don’t want to launch your site with them, you might want to add them at some time in the future.
o Can you offer downloadable forms and documents?
If you ask clients to complete forms (intake forms, insurance forms, etc) or want articles to be available, you should be able to offer easy one-click downloads from your site.
o What kind of support and advice is offered?
You’ll want to be sure that you can get help when you need it. And maybe you’ll want more than technical advice but also want best practices and insight into how to best use your site as a marketing tool. Is there a written manual? Phone support? A Help Desk? Know what you are getting.
ASK LOTS OF QUESTIONS AND TRY OUT THE FREE TRIAL IF THEY OFFER ONE. Once you invest a lot of time and energy into building your site, you won’t want to move it again soon.