This is the fifth post in the HostGator Home Business Guide, and this time we’re talking about setting up your business website. It only takes a few minutes to register your domain name and sign up for a web hosting plan. The real work this week is the planning, designing and testing that goes into making sure your new site works the way you want it to so you can start reaching customers with it.
Let’s dig in.
1. Choose your domain name
Not sure exactly what that a domain name is? It’s the part of your URL visitors will use to go to your website. Here’s the URL (the internet address, so to speak) for HostGator:
Within that URL, hostgator.com is the domain name. There are many domain suffixes (technically known as top-level domains or TLDs) that you can choose from besides .com, like .net and .biz, but .com is the most common.
Ideally, your domain name will be short, easy to remember, and not confusing when users type it in a navigation bar. More importantly, though, your domain name should be part of your company brand. Take your time to come up with as many ideas as you can, narrow the field a bit, and then check to see if those names are available.
- Check out our post: Choosing the Best Domain Name for Your Website
HostGator and other companies that register domain names have tools to check if the name you want is available. For example, I entered ‘life’ into HostGator’s domain search tool. Alas, life.com and all its variations like life.org and life.biz belong to other people. If I were really set on including ‘life’ in my domain name, I could consider the alternatives listed below the results chart, like livelifeonline.co.
If your domain is available, you can register it. Once you’ve found a domain name that works, you may want to see if variations are available, too. If so, you might want to register them also and set them up to redirect visitors to your site at your primary URL.
2. Check your privacy settings
When you register your domain name or names, you’ll have the option to buy inexpensive domain privacy protection that keeps your personal information off WHOIS. WHOIS is a directory run by ICANN, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, which anyone can use to look up the contact information you used to register your domains. Companies like HostGator that offer privacy shield services use their address in your domain name registration instead of your personal details.
3. Pick a hosting plan
Next, you need a place to store whatever you put on your site so visitors can see it. Creating, offering, and maintaining that data storage space is what web hosting companies like HostGator do. Don’t get too overwhelmed by the monthly plan options you’ll see. For almost all new home-based businesses, an inexpensive shared business hosting plan will have everything you need. Whatever host and plan you choose, you should consider:
- The number of domains you can register on a single plan
- Available bandwidth, which will affect how fast your site loads and how many people can view your site at one time
- Email account tools, which you’ll use to create branded email addresses
- What templates or site-building tools the host provides and how easy they are to use
- What e-commerce tools the host supports, if you’re planning to have an online shop on your site
- Downtime, which is how often and how long the web host’s servers—and therefore your website–are typically unavailable
- Customer support availability and quality
4. Build your site
Once you buy and register your domain and have a hosting plan, you’re ready to set up your site. There are a few housekeeping tasks to do before you start designing.
Adjust your site’s control panel so the site is not live while you’re putting it together. While you’re at it, close comments for now. You can reopen them later if you add a blog to your site, and in the meantime, you won’t have to worry about random spam comments or visitors seeing your site while it’s ‘under construction.’
Pick a site template or use a website builder tool to start creating your home page. You can set it up however you like. Just keep in mind that a good business website must have these elements:
- A responsive design, so your site will be easy to read and use on smartphones
- Your business name and a short, descriptive tagline in the page header
- A clear, brief explanation of what your business is and what you do
- A bit about you, your business, your accomplishments, and testimonials from customers
- Contact information (phone number and email address) on every page of your site
- A product list, shopping cart, and checkout if you’re selling products online
These are the basics, of course. You can add photos, product videos, a blog, and other elements to your site over time.
5. Test and update
Once you get your basic site set up, view it on as many devices and browsers as you can. Ask family and friends to help you by checking it out and reporting any problems with page display, load times, and navigation. Fix any problems and then view it again. When you’re satisfied, go back to your host’s control panel and make your site visible to the rest of the world.
Your site is live, but that’s just the beginning. Schedule regular site-maintenance time to add features, make changes, and keep your template and plugins up to date. Regular maintenance makes the site more secure and helps it look its best. You may also want to subscribe to a site backup service to maintain the most recent version of your site and spare you the trouble of rebuilding your site if there’s ever a problem during a template or plug-in upgrade.
After you’ve done all these steps, you have a basic home business website that you’re ready to promote. We’ll talk about the promotional tools you’ll need to get started in the next HostGator Home Business Guide post.
Casey Kelly-Barton is an Austin-based freelancer who enjoys writing about business development and marketing, e-commerce payments and fraud prevention, and travel.