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Setting Up Your Own Website – Beginners Guide: Article or Project

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Everywhere you turn, someone is telling you you need your own website. EVERYONE is doing it. Well, its true. It is the future, whether you are a business or not. Computers have become a way of life. Getting a domain name is less expensive than ever before, no reason not to jump on the band wagon.

I firmly believe though, that if you have a business, you HAVE to have a website in order to succeed. Maybe you are doing alright without one-now; but believe me - times, they are a changing. If you want your business to grow - whether it is a simple one page creation or a complex, full-fledged shopping experience, you seriously need to get your own website.

So you have a Domain Name. Now, what do you do with it? Yes, having a domain name is the first step, but having a domain name is not the same as having a website. Its time to roll up your sleeves and get down to business.

Face it, most ceramists are ceramists. Most are not computer savvy and most don’t know the first thing about how to navigate on the computer. Other than visiting other sites and playing around with emails, the common ceramist has minimal or no knowledge of how to conduct business on the wide wide world of the web/internet.

To help the lesser techno-literate amongst the ceramists, let me break down some of the basics to starting your online presence on your own domain.

1. Secure a domain name
2. Select a host/server to support your site
3. Determine a budget
4. Determine what you want your site to do (sell, provide information, have a shopping-cart/check out system, etc)
5. Decide if you want to do this yourself or hire help
6. Decide on a program to set-it up like front Page, Publisher, Wordpress or others if you are to do it yourself. Most host sites will provide this.
7. Locate templates and design a logo. Make your own or use those that come with your program or host site
8. Prepare photos, set policies, shipping procedures, payment methods.
9. Organize your templates as to how you want to present data
10. Input your data
11. Upload to the internet
12. Know how to maintain your website
13. Advertise

The above steps are simplified and their inclusion is to give some idea of what you are getting yourself into. It is not as intimidating as it seems.

Step One: Secure your domain name. Domain names can be purchased and registered for an annual fee of around $9 or $10. paying several years in advance can give you a better rate. Having a website that will be secured for several years, gives more credibility to the search engines (Google, Yahoo, etc), so if you can afford it, then I do recommend paying for more years in advance. Having your domain name is by far the easiest step, or is it?

You are going to want to develop name recognition and you want to choose something that will be easy for your customers to find and remember. If you already have your business name, then ideally you would want to transfer that or something similar to be your domain name.

In addition to the basic name, there are several extensions to the domain name that you have to consider. We have .com, .net, .biz, .gov, .us, .ed etc. .The extension of .gov is reserved for government entities, .ed for education, so those are automatically out of consideration. By far the best extension to have would be the ‘.com’ because people relate internet searching to that extension; so if there is any way you can pick an available name with that extension, it would definitely be to your advantage.

If your selection is already used, you may need to tweak it with using a hyphen ‘-‘ or shortening a word or adding a word or other slight modification. If you cannot find something suitable available, then (and only then) go to the next most popular extension of ‘.net’ Hopefully, you will not need to check out the others; but if you must, they are available however you will need to pay particular attention to drawing your customers eye to the fact you are using a lesser known extension.

Tip: If you cannot secure a .com extension for your domain, you might want to keep an eye on whoever has that site so that if they ever let it go, you can snap it up as soon as it becomes available.

Step Two – Select a server or hosting site. This is a company who has computers with large amounts of storage capacity and high ‘bandwidth’ who are able to hold safely all the data you will be putting on your site. This company takes care of keeping the site visible and online 24/7

Bandwidth is the amount of data that can be carried from one point to another in a given time (usually a second or less) and high bandwidth is necessary to carry a succession of images in a video presentation.

Step Three: Know how much you want to or can spend each month supporting your website. There are different types of servers/hosts available. There are some that are free, but as you know nothing is really free. In exchange for use of their service, they usually place advertising on your web-pages and give minimal technical support. If you don’t mind this advertising, then you may want to check this out as an alternative.

Other servers/hosts charge for their services. The rate depends upon how much service and technical support they provide you. If you do all of the set-up and maintenance of your site, costs are lower than if you have them do it or help you with it. Costs can range from $4 a month and up to a couple hundred dollars.

Some sites will charge you to help get your site set-up and train you in maintaining it with an advance fee, then reduce their monthly fees thereafter.

You can host your own website, but if you are not tech savvy, I discourage it because you need a computer powerful enough to keep up with the requests when your site gets traffic, a copy of the Linux operating system, your ISP may not allow it or they may charge additional fees, as much as $500 a month, Cable and DSL are not good enough and you would need a dedicated T1 line. It is also important to have a computer dedicated to this alone and not be used for personal use. So I ask you, “As a beginner, why would you want to do this?”

Just remember, you get what you pay for, but you also need to find the best way you can afford to get an online presence. Start small if you have to. You can always change servers depending upon any contracts you may enter in. Use caution, and avoid contracts unless you are sure of your commitment.

So, as you see this is a very important aspect of setting up your website. A couple of inexpensive or free hosts for the beginner are: freeservers.com, powweb.com, intuit.com, hostmonster.com, bluehost.com, fatcow.com, justhost.com, greengeeks.com. Disclaimer, I do not recommend any particular web host, but only provide the previous as a starting point in locating a hosting site. I encourage you to search on the web for others that may be available.

Step Three. Depending upon your server/host site, you will need to have whatever programs are needed installed on your computer so that you can prepare and upload data on a regular basis. You will need to add inventory, change prices, edit/delete inventory, add pictures, etc. Things will most likely change frequently and it should. An active website will encourage visitors to return.

Step Four: You need to decide what you want or need your site to do.

As a studio, you will most likely want to have products for sale and possibly have some teaching techniques to tempt your customers to buy the supplies. You want a way for your customers to get fast service and be able to contact you. You want to be able to advertise specials or special events happening in your store

As a finisher, you will want to list your ware and possibly variations and or color selections. You will want to sell things already finished, or take commission to do custom orders. All these things need to be considered before you lay out your page design.

Do you want a shopping cart? These usually cost extra and often limit how your pages are structured; but they sure make management of sales easier. Some host sites provide this service, others don’t and still others offer it for additional fees.

Step Five: Do you want to do this your self or hire help? Perhaps this should have been stated earlier in the list, but until you have had the opportunity to see what is out there, you really can’t decide whether it is worth your time to do it yourself, or find a host site who will do it for you for a fee, or hire someone else to set it all up for you. Once set up, you will also need to decide if you want to manage it yourself or rely on others. Anytime others become involved, your budget will most likely increase.

Step Six: So you are going to do it yourself, good for you. There are a lot of programs out there and no matter how easy we are told they are, they are all intimidating for the beginner.

It is all a matter of taking it slow, one step at a time and then practice – practice - practice. When you learn how to do one thing, keep copious notes in your own words for later reference. And do the steps over and over until you feel you understand what you are doing, then go on to the next step.

Many of your web hosts tech support will help walk you through most of the programs they utilize on their own host site. If you choose to use something different, then in most cases you are on your own as far as they are concerned. If that is the case, hopefully you have someone at hand who can train you and can help when needed.

Step Seven: Locate templates you would like to use on your website. You can find these free by doing a Google or Yahoo search and you can find them for sale on various auction sites. You can have someone make you templates that are exclusively your own for nominal fees. Often times, your host/server will have free templates that they offer as a service.

The choice is yours. Just remember the templates are the showcase for your products. You want something pleasing and will catch the eye of your targeted audience. You are merchandising your product and you want it to look tempting.

A logo is almost as important as your site name. It becomes a brand and when people see it, they will associate it with you and your business. This should be displayed prominently on your home page.

Step Eight: Take clear pictures of your products, eliminate all background distractions. Pick plain or simple background colors that enhance the product. Prep the photos according to the program guidelines and have them ready to place on your site.

Establish all policies, such as returns, guarantees, shipping costs, insurance, methods of payment. Do you accept PayPal, Google CheckOut, Checks, Money Orders, and so on. Keep them clearly defined.

Step Nine: Lay out your templates, select categories, develop a menu so that people can easily navigate your website. You want people to be able to find what they are looking for without having to keep wandering from page to page. The average visitor to your website will spend less than 30 seconds. If they cannot find what they are looking for in that time, you have lost them. You know you have a good layout if a customer stays longer, it means that they like what they see, they found what they were interested in and they want to see more.

Step Ten: Now it is time to add your merchandise inventory. This part takes more of your time than anything else. You will probably say….”this is taking FOREVER!” But, in the long run, once it is set up, it will be worth it because if you do it right, you will only need to maintain it and make minor changes and additions later.

Step Eleven: Now comes the test, it is time to upload your data. You may want to wait until you have a lot ready to go, or you may want to do it in small segments. I personally vote for the latter. It will be less frustrating and more rewarding if you can upload daily so you can see your progress and have the opportunity to proof your finished work. Also, if you are making an error, you can catch it and make corrections on a few items more easily than having to correct everything.

Step Twelve: Know how to make those corrections, also know how to maintain your site. You may want to change out some products or change a layout, or add a new category. Your website is fluid. You can make changes most any time. If you see something is not working, it is not drawing attention, then try something different. Be a good merchandiser. It is just like your shop showroom, change parts of it for seasons or just for general interest.

Learn to read your reports, know that if a page is not getting views it is something you may need to change. If people do not stay long, you definitely want to find out why and try something different.

Step Thirteen: It is imperative that you advertise your website. There are many ways to do this. Some of the advertising is free and happens when you create your web pages. You are given the opportunity to add metatags, or key words which are picked up by search engines who use what they call ‘spiders’ to crawl through your website picking up specific words which, when someone does a ‘search,’ it will trigger your site in response.

Placement of these tags or keywords is extremely important and having your host tech go over this with you is critical to your success.

Your web host should do some advertising for you at no additional charge, but they would only do minimal effort unless you have picked one of the higher priced sites who offer you additional advertising expertise. There are some out there who really know the tricks to move a website to the first page of the search engines.

You need to determine how much exposure you want or need. Do you want to maximize full bore efforts, or do you primarily want the site available to local areas only.

You can buy ‘key words’ from the search engines such as Google, but I discourage doing so until you better understand which ones you would best use and also know how easily they can be manipulated.

Make sure your web address is prominently displayed in your studio, especially by your cash register. Put it on your business cards and all your stationery or receipts. Tell all your customers about it and encourage them to visit your site…even to the point of giving them a special discount if they place an order from your website – get them used to looking for it. Offer website only specials to them to come back. Once they find out about it, they will visit regularly.

More emphasis will be given in subsequent articles on how to advertise your online business.

IN CONCLUSION:

Anyone can build a website. EVERYONE should have one.

 

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