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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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