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Creating an Online Presence – Getting Started

Have you ever wanted to create or expand your online exposure but don’t know much about the digital world and don’t have a lot of money to spend? 

I attend a lot of networking events and other Meetups. I often encounter people that are just starting out in their journey and do not have an online presence yet. Oftentimes it is a stay at home mom starting a work from home business or someone that is working full time at a day job while starting a new side venture. When a person is just starting out and they don’t have a big enough budget to hire someone like me, they still need to create their presence online to attract customers and instill confidence.

The following are what I would recommend to a new business owner just starting out on setting up their online presence. Not all of it applies to everyone. I will make my recommendations and give you other options when available.

Note: Several links in this post are affiliate links. If you make a purchase using our links, we may receive an affiliate fee. Our fee does not affect the price you receive and it helps us to continue providing quality content.

Starting with a website

We believe that your web presence starts with a website but some people may start with social media because they feel it is easier. While we believe that having a social media presence is vital to most businesses, we believe that social media should be directing traffic to your website where you have more control of what visitors see and they won’t get distracted by other posts. 

Choose and buy a domain name

A domain name is a web address that will be used to direct people to your website on promotional materials such as business cards, flyers, commercials, and in general communications. You can also set up emails using your domain name. An ideal domain name is short, memorable, and suitable for your business. I recommend using Google Domains to buy your domain name. Some web hosting companies and proprietary content management systems offer a free domain name registration when you sign up with them. It is more than ok to take advantage of deals when they come up.

Read Choose and buy a domain name for more information.

What kind of website do you want to build?

If you feel comfortable using HTML, CSS, JavaScript and/or other programming languages, then you may want to build a custom coded website. For most people, this is not an option. Even if you could, it may be too much work for you. In that case you need a content management system that is already built and trusted by millions. There are two types of CMS: proprietary and open source. 

Proprietary Content Management Systems

Proprietary systems are those owned by a company that sells the CMS software and hosting as a pre-built package. The more popular systems are Wix, Squarespace, and Shopify. With these systems, you have limited or no access to the source code so the websites are not as customizable. The advantage to these systems is that they can be easier to use without having much technical expertise. The lack of customizations means that the websites could end up looking very cookie cutter. The owners of the platform provide the technical assistance when necessary. With these proprietary systems, hosting is included and they handle all software updates internally. 

Shopify is an excellent choice if you want to build an ecommerce website. For other websites Wix and Squarespace are both good options.

Open Source Content Management Systems

An open source content management system is software that is installed on a web server. All of the code for the software is available to view and is 100% customizable. The most popular open source CMS is WordPress which powers roughly 40% of the top 10 million websites around the world. 

The disadvantage is that there is no centralized support for open source software. When you have an issue, you have to either rely on documentation, pay a developer, or search through Google and YouTube for answers. The good news is that for almost any issue that you may have, someone else has already had the same problem and written about it. 

Open source systems also require you to keep the software updated. Most of the time, that is just a click of a button that takes about 10 to 15 minutes a month. Occasionally though, you may encounter a compatibility issue that causes your website to break. 

If you do the work yourself, using an open source CMS can be the most affordable option. If you hire someone to create a website for you, there’s a good chance that they will be using WordPress to build it for you.

Find out more about WordPress.

WordPress is our preferred platform for building websites. If you decide to use WordPress, your next step is to set up website hosting services.

Sign up for Web Hosting

Hosting refers to a computer server connected to the internet that allows files on the server to be displayed across the globe. I like to think of it as someone else’s computer that I am renting to connect to the internet. 

Once you choose your hosting provider, you will need to connect your domain name to the hosting plan. You will have to search online for specific instructions since each registrar has different instructions. 

There are two common types of hosting for WordPress websites: shared hosting and managed WordPress Hosting. 

Shared hosting

With Shared hosting, you are sharing a computer server with several (maybe hundreds) of other users. The main advantage of shared hosting is price. For less than the price of a drink or two at a coffee shop (per month), you can have unlimited websites and unlimited email hosting accounts. There are many negatives to shared hosting including:

  • Slower websites – with so many websites on a server, you may often have congestion which slows down your website. 
  • Less secure – if one of the websites on the server gets hacked, you may be putting your website at risk of a back door entry. 
  • Lower email deliverability – you are likely using the same ip address as other email accounts on the same server. If one of them is sending out spam emails, your emails may soon be blocked by many users as well.

Our favorite shared hosting is SiteGround. Their pricing is a little higher than most other shared hosting but the increased security and speed tools may make them worth it. 

We also like GreenGeeks and DreamHost as more affordable options. 

Managed WordPress Hosting

While shared hosting is ok for someone just starting out, or an organization with a limited budget, we believe all established businesses using WordPress should be using Managed WordPress hosting. Managed WP Hosting will give you a faster, more secure website. The dashboards are usually much easier to use as well. A disadvantage is that they don’t provide domain name or email hosting services. You would have to use a third party service such as Google Workspace or Microsoft Office for your emails. The tools that come with these services are well worth it.

We recommend Kinsta as the overall best hosting provider. 

We also recommend Flywheel as the best value for money. Since 2021, Flywheel is what we have been using for most of our clients.

Build It

If you are new to websites this will be a slow process but fortunately there are a ton (maybe too much) videos online that can guide you through the process. Here are some of the steps you will have to take to build a WordPress website.

Choose a Theme

A theme is a set of styles and functionality that are put together to give a website a consistent look and feel. You can search for themes by keywords for the type of industry you are in (roofing, photography, etc.) or by style (art deco, modern, etc.). There are many other factors but this gives you a starting point.

Install some plugins

Plugins are sets of code that add functionality to your website. As the name suggests, you plug in the code and then the functionality is added. Do you want to sell something? Add an ecommerce plugin. Want to add a way for people to contact you? Add a contact form plugin. There are an enormous number of plugins available that can help you accomplish just about anything you can imagine. 

Write some stuff

To maximize your website’s potential, you will need to write a lot of content that answers your potential customers’ questions. Become a trusted source of information for people looking for your product. Your goal should be for people to think of your page as the go-to reference. 

Buy some ads 

Writing content is a long term strategy. While you wait for your content to start generating traffic, you can proactively lead people to your site by paying for ads. Google Ads and Facebook Ads are the most common types of ads. They are probably the most effective ads at this time but there are other markets including Bing ads or Yelp ads that can also be effective.

Set up Social Media accounts

As a business owner you must meet customers where they are. Social media is a great way for people to find and refer to you. We recommend at least setting up accounts with the major platforms so you can increase your chances of getting your business name as the link (handle). With social media platforms you don’t have as much control due to changing algorithms and trends. A new social media platform can appear at any time and reduce the effectiveness of your presence on a platform. 

Facebook

As the most popular social media platform, you should definitely have a presence on Facebook. Although it is not as inexpensive as it used to be, Facebook ads are still an effective way to show your business to potential customers. 

Instagram

We recommend at least a minor presence on Instagram. Some businesses will be more successful than others. If your brand is young, fun, or passionate, you may be able to attract a large following. 

LinkedIn

Some people really love LinkedIn. Takes a more serious, business approach than other social platforms but you can still have fun with it.

Twitter

Certain businesses can really succeed on Twitter. We recommend testing it out and at least reserving your preferred handle (business name).

TikTok

A fast rising platform. Ideal platform if you are looking to target younger generations. 

Other Business Directories

Take advantage of free business directories where you can. They can help increase your exposure and solidify your business. 

Google My Business

A must for any business. Control the way you appear on Google Search results

Yelp 

If you are doing a search for a place to eat, or a roofer, or car wash, oftentimes the first result is Yelp. We recommend organizations that want to do business with their local community to create a Yelp profile. 

Nextdoor

An up and coming business directory that focuses on local neighborhoods. 

Conclusion

Creating an online presence is within reach for just about anyone. We hope that we can help guide you in making the best of it. Let us know if you have any questions or if we missed anything. 

If you want someone to build your  website for you, help with your digital marketing, or if you want to hire us for an hour or so to help you build it, please contact us.

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Choosing a Domain Name

If you want to set up a website for a new business and you already have a business name, your first step is to buy a suitable domain name. This is the web address (URL) that you will direct people to on your business cards, directory listings, email signatures, and in person.

Price for a domain name

The price of a domain name depends on many factors including:

  • the perceived desirability of the name
  • the Top-Level Domain (TLD)
  • availability
  • the domain registrar
  • and other registrar algorithms.

If the domain name is available, you can expect to pay between $12-$25 per year. Prices can go up to a few thousand dollars if someone else already owns it.

Choosing a domain name

Domain names should be easy to remember, easy to spell, as short as possible, and reflective of you or your business. Once you know what your ideal domain name is, keep it close to you. You may want to have a list of alternative names ready in case your ideal name is not available.

Hot tip: don’t search for your domain name until you are ready to buy. It’s said that searching for a domain name and not buying it can alert other domain name buyers of your interest. They could end up taking the domain name from you or you may end up affecting the price of your desired domain name.

Choose the Right Top-Level Domain (TLD)

As a rule of thumb, if you are a for-profit business, you want a dot com (.com) TLD. Likewise, if you are a non-profit organization, you want a dot org (.org) TLD. With so many organizations out there, sometimes the name you want is already taken. If you don’t want to change the name of your business, then you can choose from a wide variety of other TLDs available. Some popular alternatives are dot net (.net) or dot biz (.biz) but there are many more to choose from.

Industry Specific Top-Level Domains

One option you have is to use an industry specific TLD. For example, if you are a wine shop, you may want to consider using dot wine (.wine); A car dealer might want to choose a dot autos (.autos) domain. Many churches have started adopting dot church (.church).

Country Specific Top-Level Domains

Many countries have their own TLDs such as dot fr (.fr) for France, dot ca (.ca) for Canada, or my personal favorite, dot us (.us) for the United States of America. These TLDs are usually restricted to residents of that country. A company that has major business operations in a different country may be able to use that country’s TLD.

Other Top-Level Domains

There are many other TLDs such as city TLDs (.nyc, .la, .atl) or fun TLDs (.party). Domain name registrars are very good at making suggestions. Make sure you consider how the TLD may affect your professional image. From experience, we know that some people still get confused with alternative TLDs but it is becoming less of a problem as time passes.

Choose a registrar

A registrar is a company certified by ICANN to sell domain names. Our current favorite registrar is Google Domains. You can buy a domain name and they include free privacy protection. Some of the other registrars charge an extra fee (usually around $10/year) for domain privacy protection. Another advantage to Google Domains is the ease of integrating a Google Workspace account. Workspace is a bundle of services that includes email hosting, file storage, and other useful business services.

A disadvantage of Google Domains is that they do not offer a wide variety of TLDs. In that case you can try other registrars such as GoDaddy, NameCheap, or Network Solutions.

Web hosting companies

We must also mention that some hosting companies will give you a free 1-year domain name registration if you buy hosting from them. This is usually only offered by shared hosting companies such as SiteGround, Bluehost, Dreamhost, or GreenGeeks and by proprietary website platforms such as Shopify, Wix, or Squarespace. Most managed WordPress hosting companies do not offer domain or email hosting services.

Should I keep my domain name separate from my hosting?

In most situations I would recommend keeping your domain name separate from your hosting. Keeping your domain name separate gives you more control over your online presence and makes it easier to switch hosts if you ever need to. If you want to save a few dollars, go ahead and take advantage of the domain name included in your hosting plan.

Stay in Control of your Domain Names

I’ve seen it happen a few times… a web developer sets up the domain name and hosting for the customer and the developer retains control over the domain and the hosting. Then the relationship between the client and the developer sours for one reason or another. I’ve even seen one situation where the developer passed away. The client loses everything. They may have put in a few years of work into the content of the website and it is all gone. While losing hosting is bad, there are sometimes ways to recover content and rebuild. A lost domain name can be tragic. Good domain names can be hard to find. Even if you find a new domain name you like, search engines will view you as a new business. It may take more time to rank on search engines.

If you have your domain name and hosting separate, you can give the developer access to only the service they need access to. This is especially important if you haven’t built a relationship with your developer yet.

In closing the three major steps to purchasing your very own website address are:

  1. Choose your ideal name
  2. Choose the top level domain
  3. Choose your registrar

And seal the deal! Every registrars sign up process is different but they are all usually intuitive.

When you have chosen your web hosting provider, you can then do a Google search for “Connect domain from [your chosen registrar] to [your chosen hosting provider]”. You should get results with detailed instructions on connecting your domain to your hosting. If we can be of any help, please contact us.

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What is WordPress?

If you have ever researched how to build a website, you have likely seen WordPress as one of the top solutions. While there are other ways to make a website and it is not the right solution for everyone, we at Emphasis.LA prefer to use WordPress for most of our website projects.

In an effort to make sure our customers are well informed on what goes into creating an effective website, we want to answer a few frequently asked questions regarding the framework we use.

What is WordPress?

WordPress is open-source content management system (CMS) software built on the PHP coding language. It was created in 2003 and now powers roughly 40% of the top 10,000,000 websites worldwide and growing.

Open-Source means that the code behind the software has a communal license and once downloaded, can be used, and modified any way you wish. In the case of WordPress, Automattic owns the brand “WordPress”, and they own the main repository where the master code files reside, but they do not control what you do with that code once it is downloaded. Automattic is the ultimate decision maker when it comes to the direction WordPress is heading in, but they cannot, for example, say that they do not agree with you politically and tell you to stop using its code.

To make a website with WordPress, you must upload the files to a web hosting company. Fortunately, most popular website hosting companies have a one-click install button for WordPress which means you can have a working skeleton of a website up in a matter of minutes.

Advantages of WordPress

Customization

The main advantage to using WordPress versus other platforms is that it is highly customizable. There are thousands of plugins available that can help you accomplish almost anything you want. In the cases where there are no pre-built solutions, a developer can custom-create one and integrate it easily.

People Know How to Use It

Since WordPress is the number one platform for so many websites around the world, it can make it easier for a small business to hire someone internally that can maintain the website and content.

Control Your Content

With WordPress (WordPress.org not WordPress.com), you have more control of your content. With CMS solutions that are proprietary (not open source), you must agree to terms of service that often restrict the type of content you can place on your website. They may even include terms that gives them ownership of your website content. What if, for example, you were making political statements on your website? If they disagreed with you, they can say that you violated their terms and take down your content at any time.

With WordPress (.org) you own your content so, except for the law, no one can tell you what you can or cannot put on your website. You do have to comply with the terms of your hosting company since they can take down your website from their servers. But if you are backing up your website properly, then you can look for another host that is more favorable to you and place your already built website on their servers quickly. If you wanted to remove your website from Shopify for example, you cannot just download your content and place it on Wix. You would have to recreate your site from scratch.

Disadvantages of WordPress

Ease of use

While we believe WordPress can work for almost any venture, it is not the right solution for everyone. Some people do not find it very intuitive. They may prefer other proprietary solutions such as Shopify, Wix, or SquareSpace that do not require a lot of technical skills. WordPress in our opinion, is not that difficult, but for some it just takes a little getting used to. With a little help from Google, anyone can become a moderate WordPress pro.

Website Maintenance

Website maintenance is an advantage that other Proprietary CMSs have over WordPress and other open-source CMS solutions. Plugins, themes, and WordPress core need to be updated regularly. Although updates are usually a painless push of a button, occasionally an update can break a website. If even a small amount of downtime can disrupt your business or profits, then you may need to create a technical process to safely update a website. This may mean you need to hire someone to maintain your website.  With a Proprietary CMS, updates are handled by the CMS internally.

What is a theme?

A theme is a set of files with code that determines the overall style of the website and it may also control some of the functionality. The theme can be changed at any time by the website administrator. When you install WordPress, it comes with a choice of default themes already installed. As of the writing of this post the default theme is TwentyTwentyOne. WordPress has a large repository of themes to choose from that have met certain criteria to be listed on the repository. There are also other websites or repositories online where you can purchase themes.  All WordPress themes are built independently of WordPress Core, usually by third party individuals or companies.

You can choose a theme based on many factors. The most common reasons a theme is chosen is by the way it looks and by the industry it caters to. For example, if you wanted to build a website for a restaurant, you can look in a search engine such as Google for “WordPress theme for restaurants” and you will get several choices of themes that focus on restaurants.

What are plugins?

After choosing a theme and adjusting the theme settings you will most likely need to add some functionality to the website. Plugins are a set of code in a file or folder that are added (or plugged in) to the website that can help you achieve a specific functionality. Common plugins add forms to the website, help you to optimize for search engines, increase security, and many other possibilities. While a plugin like JetPack adds a lot of functionality to your website, most plugins only perform one specific functionality. The more code you add, the more likely you will cause performance or compatibility issues. You should create your website with as few plugins as possible that will achieve the website’s objective.

What are page-builders?

Page builders are a type of plugin that add a visual editing process to the website with the ability to drag and drop items into place. Page builders are easy to use and come with a lot of built-in functionality. They can save you a lot of time in building a website without having to know how to code. The main disadvantage to page builders is that they can affect your website’s performance. If you have good hosting and otherwise optimize your website, you may be able to negate the disadvantage.

At Emphasis.LA, we usually build websites without a page builder but there are times when we prefer the simplicity and speed of using a page builder.

WordPress.com vs WordPress.org

The product provided through WordPress.org is open-source software that is installed on a web hosting companies’ server. You can even download a copy of the software and run it on your personal computer along with other software to create a website only visible on your computer. This is commonly done by us and other web developers while building a WordPress website for testing purposes. If you ever want to change hosting companies, you can easily download your website and take it anywhere.

WordPress.com is essentially a hosting company that uses the WordPress.org software to sell a website CMS service that directly competes with Shopify, Wix, Squarespace etc. Like those other options, the websites are not as customizable, but they require less maintenance since WordPress.com handles the maintenance. WordPress.com is also owned by Automattic, the company behind WordPress.org.

How do you get support for WordPress problems?

Being open source means that there is no central source of support when you inevitably run into a problem with the website. Anyone who has worked with WordPress for a while has most likely become adept at using Google to find answers. Almost every issue I have faced with WordPress has already been dealt with by other developers and WordPress enthusiasts. Your questions on any WordPress issue may have already been asked on Reddit, WordPress Stack Exchange, WordPress Forums, and other Forums. Very often you will find someone has written a blog post about your question. Several websites such as WP Beginner focus on writing about the most common issues. YouTube is filled with tutorials. Udemy has several budget friendly courses. Facebook has several groups you can join to ask questions.

Are there alternatives to WordPress?

If you are looking to build a website, there are numerous options besides WordPress. Most solutions will fall into these 3 categories:

  • Custom coded websites
  • Proprietary CMS
  • Open-Source CMS

Custom coded websites

You can get someone to build you something from scratch that meets all your requirements. Custom coded websites have the added benefit of being lightweight and fast. A person or agency that is good may demand a high price tag and you may be tied to them for the life of the website. Making updates to the website may be too complicated for most people so updates may have to be done by the developer. Best suited for larger businesses who want to really stand out and can afford to have a team constantly optimizing.

Content Management Systems

A content management system (CMS) is software installed on a server that simplifies the process of creating a website and aims to solve the issue of updating content on a website. A CMS user is given a dashboard where they can choose a theme for the website, add a logo, add pages and posts, change colors, and make many other changes without having to write a single line of code. Most will allow to add your own code if you really want to.

Proprietary Content Management Systems

A proprietary CMS is a privately owned CMS. You have either no access or limited access to the code behind the software and so you are limited to the number of customizations you can make. The code for the CMS is maintained by the owners so you do not have to worry about constant updates.

Some popular proprietary CMS are Shopify, Wix, Squarespace, and Weebly. These are good solutions for people with low budgets who want to build something fast.

Open-Source Content Management Systems (OS CMS)

The two most popular open-source alternatives to WordPress are Drupal and Joomla. For the most part, most of the people using these alternatives are web developers who have a personal preference for them. Without having used these other CMSs, it is hard to say what a specific advantage would be that would make a person use them instead of WordPress. Drupal was the CMS of choice for the WhiteHouse.gov website from 2009 to 2016.

OS CMS do not provide technical support. Users must rely on documentation and support forums to find solutions to problems. Since more people use WordPress, there are naturally more people creating content about WordPress. This gives WordPress a major advantage over other open-source content management systems.

Is WordPress Secure?

Yes, WordPress is secure software. It is safe enough that since 2017 WordPress has been used to build the website for the White House – two different websites – one for each of the administrations (Trump and Biden). For hackers, there would probably be no better prize than the White House website. That is a huge vote of confidence for WordPress.

So why is WordPress the most hacked CMS platform if it is secure? Simply speaking, it is because it is the most widely used. But that does not tell you much. These are the most common ways WordPress websites get hacked:

  • Weak or insecure passwords
  • Lack of updates – plugins, themes, WordPress, and PHP all need to be updated periodically.
  • Robots – hackers are constantly running scripts on websites looking for vulnerabilities or guessing passwords.

To avoid hacks, we recommend a strategy of constant monitoring and hardening of the website. Use secure passwords, keep everything updated, use a good host, and use security software to control the robots. If you add two factor authorization, you can prevent hackers from logging in to your website even if your password has been compromised.

Summary: We Love WordPress

WordPress is the tool that we, at Emphasis.LA, use to create effective websites for small businesses and nonprofits. It allows us to offer cost-effective, customizable websites that can allow small businesses to compete with mid to large size firms without looking cookie-cutter.  

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Three Years of Expanding Exposure

As of November 14, 2020, we have now been operating as Emphasis.LA for 3 years and counting. We want to thank all of our partners in business for making it possible.

“Don’t wish it was easier, wish you were better. Don’t wish for less problems, wish for more skills. Don’t wish for less challenge, wish for more wisdom.”

— Jim Rohn

2020 has been a challenging year for many of us. The year started out good and then the rollercoaster started. In the end, I believe the challenges made us better and we’ve learned to enjoy the ride.

We have a long way to go to achieve our goals but we are optimistic about being able to leave a legacy for our family.

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Two Years of Emphasis

Emphasis.LA is celebrating two years of doing business in Los Angeles and Southern California.

Jason Orellana, the founder of Emphasis.LA, began his digital career with many challenges. Shortly after graduating from ITT Technical Institute, the school went out of business. Jason felt like his investment of time and money in his future were in vain. Little did he know that this was the beginning of an entrepreneurial journey that would land him a gig as a business owner.

Jason started Emphasis.LA in November 2017 following a stint as a freelance website developer to a couple of different customers. Through trial and error, Emphasis.LA has evolved into a digital marketing and website development company. Our goal is to help small businesses and non-profits create an online presence and expand their exposure from LA to the world!

“There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning from failure.”

Colin Powell

We love and relate to this quote from Colin Powell. We learned that with hard work, preparation, and investing in ourselves, we can better position our company for success. Learning from mistakes while figuring out new ways to overcome obstacles has led to Jason’s success as the founder of Emphasis.LA.

From our own experience, we know that building and running a business is hard work. You have to love what you do. We love meeting business owners and doing what we can to help them reach their goals. We have a small team that works good together and shares a common vision. Along the way we have also worked with a select group of local, dedicated freelancers on a few projects.

Thank you for coming on this journey with us and for celebrating two years and growing with Emphasis.LA. We went from working on two small accounts to serving thriving businesses across Southern California. We look forward to helping you grow and Expanding Your Exposure!