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To take your business online, or start an internet business, you will need a website. The major decision you need to make is if you will develop the website, if you will hire an internal developer, or will the task be outsourced. This question can be answered by your current skill level and budget. I have developed allot of website over the last few years, for clients on a freelance basis, for employers and as a contractor. The single best piece of advice I can offer is to be prepared. Knowing exactly what you want will save you allot of money and possibly a friendship. Clients that change their minds half-way through a build get a poorly finished website and a huge bill. Know what you want and communicate it with your developer.
A website is a series of files that are served to a browser through the Hyper Text Transfer Protocol (HTTP), or the secure version (HTTPS). These files need to be stored somewhere, on a physical device. These devices are known as your host and come in a variety of flavors. The two most common types of hosts are shared hosts and Virtual Private Servers (VPS). The two vary in cost and performance, with the VPS being the best performer. Shared hosts will often come with a management system called Cpanel that allows you to manage your website’s hosting configuration. Cpanel is helpful for those that are new to hosting websites, but it comes with some major downfalls. The first downfall is that it’s extremely slow to use, compared to using Linux from the command line. A task that would take a couple of minutes in Cpanel can be completed in just seconds from the command line. The second downfall to using Cpanel is that it will use resources that could be used by your website.
A VPS is a large server that has been sectioned off with software, dedicating resources to each user. This is adventitious because an attack on another website that resides on eh server will not affect your website. When renting a VPS, you will often get SSH access that when used properly is extremely useful. On shared hosting, all applications are installed, because someone might need to use them. On a VPS, you can take control over what applications are installed and running, potentially speeding up your environment.
There are two types of VPS plans available. The first is known as Elastic Cloud Computing (EC2) and is offered by Amazon. EC2 servers are billed on a per-use basis, so you pay for what you use. If your server uses 100% of its CPU allocation for the month, you pay for 100% of the CPU usage. The other type of server available is the pay per month. When you signup on your VPS plan, you will agree to a set amount to pay each month, no matter what resources you use. Choosing between the two is easier than it may seem. If your website isn’t going to be getting much traffic for certain times of the year, but allot at other times, then EC2 might be the solution for you. If you want to agree to an amount and know that hosting will always be that amount, the per month billing may be better for you.
To learn more about website hosting, visit W3Schools introduction to website hosting. W3Schools is a fantastic place to learn about anything World Wide Web (WWW) related.
Content Management Systems (CMS) Vs. Raw code
The choice between using a CMS or raw code will depend on what tasks your website will need to perform. If the website consistent of just a couple of pages that rarely need to get updated, pure HTML may be the best solution for you. If you need to retrieve data from a database and regularly update, or add content, a CMS will be the right choice.
Acquiring customers online is going to be your biggest challenge. There are many ways to acquire customer to your website, from SEO, to Pay Per Click advertising. Its not a matter of choosing one over another, instead you will need to incorporate both paid and free methods of advertising into your customer acquisition strategy.
Search Engine Optimisation
There isn’t much point in having a website if you aren’t going to get any traffic to the website. Search engines are arguably the best source of targeted, free traffic available. SEO is the practice of optimizing your website for search engines with the purpose of getting traffic. SEO can be broken up into two different topics, on-page and off-page SEO.
Lynda.com has an excellent series on SEO that will get you started with the basics. For advanced topics and current trends, read forums, blogs such as Search Engine Land and backlinks. Be selective in which blogs you read, take Moz for example. Moz is one of the most popular SEO blogs and while you may see the odd post that is helpful, for the most part they are full of hot air. Their blog exists purely for selling SEO tools to suckers that have more money than sense. Most content on Moz is un-actionable and vague.
If you have a store-front business, then having a good understanding of local SEO will be extremely beneficial. Around 20% of all Google searches are local queries, meaning the user is looking for a specific business in a specific area. These queries will usually be structured as ‘business type + area’, for example ‘pizza shop Maroochydore’. Below is the result of such a query. The results that the big red arrow are pointing to are the local results. Ranking for these two keywords is usually easy and will result in highly targeted traffic to your website and business.
Local search is a different algorithm to normal search and requires a different approach. Submitting your website to high quality business directories, Google Plus and Google maps are an excellent start. Most aspects of SEO will be relevant to local SEO and it’s a good idea to have a firm grasp of SEO before calling yourself a local guru. For an excellent local SEO checklist, visit localseochecklist.org
Search Engine Marketing (SEM) and Pay Per Click (PPC)
SEM and SEO differ in that the aim of SEO is to get results in the organic listings. The organic listings are the results that appear ‘organically’, meaning they the website’s haven’t paid to be there. Getting your website above or on the right side of the organic results is known as SEM. These results are known as Pay Per Click (PPC), meaning when you click on these results, the website owner pays. The algorithm that determines how much is paid and where each website is positioned is just as complex as the algorithm that determines the organic results. These results are listed here because the website owner has created a campaign in AdWords, Google’s console for their advertising network. It’s important to note that AdWords is not the only place to get PPC advertising and there are potentially cheaper sources of targeted traffic for your niche.
Its extremely difficult to know how successful your business is without metrics to measure. But what are those metrics? Is it the amount of money you have in the bank? It is, but that is a pretty poor indication of how well your business is doing. Each section of your business and each product you sell will generate different levels of income. So if you have a product you offer that is costing you more in storage fees than it generates in revenue, you won’t know that by looking at your bank statement.
It’s important that you understand how every facet of your business is performing, from your staff to your website. Understanding how your website is performing requires an analytics tool that can be found at clicky.com or you can use Google’s analytics. Both of these tools will tell you how much traffic you’re getting and where the traffic is coming from. Google webmasterter tools can be helpful for finding where HTML improvements can be made, what search queries you’re ranking for and who is linking to your website. Google analytics, along with other analytics packages offers income reports. This means that you can see, in your analytics dashboard, how much a particular product has generated in sales in a defined period of time. You can see where your profitable traffic is coming from and how successful PPC campaigns are.
Social media analytics
Nearly every social media platform now comes with an analytics dashboard. Facebook for example, gives you some extremely powerful insights into who your audience is and what posts they are engaging with. These dashboard exist across many social media platforms, including Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest. In the past, the Twitter analytics dashboard was only available to verified accounts, this has since changed and can be accessed by anyone with an advertising account.
The internet is filled with interesting characters, some know what they’re talking about and some don’t. Never just take someone’s word for it, always do your own research and get a second opinion. There are too many gurus around that will happily take your money, without showing you proof of their abilities if you never ask.
Too many business owners pay the price for not getting the right internet business training for themselves. Not having a well-versed understanding of how to run an internet-based business before embarking on such an adventure will almost certainly lead to failure. Before hiring outside help, you must know what they are capable of and before you can know that, you must understand the subject matter, know the terminology and know what questions to ask.