Getting started with your first web site - part II

On this page: Some notes on what you need to get started with your first web site. Technical and practical issues: web hosting, domains, internet access etc.

Your own domain

For professional organisations, it is considered essential to have your own domain name - this is the bit between the www. and the .co.uk, .com, or .net that identifies your site from the millions of others around. The name must be officially registered before you can use it.

You may be happy to have a subdomain or subfolder of someone else's web site instead: for example, yourname.othername.com or www.othername.com/yourname. This is cheaper, but considered a bit amateurish, as is free space on a community site. (The exception is where you join a site specifically devoted to your business area, for example www.widgets.com/mywidgets.

Web hosting

You will need to rent space to hold your site with someone whose computers are connected to the Internet 24 hours a day, so that the site is always available. Companies that provide these web hosting services normally do a package that includes the web space to hold your pages, registering your domain (see above) and providing email facilities.

A broadband or dial-up account allows you to connect your computer to the Internet - this will be necessary to see your site, and to receive any emails that you get.

Although you can get free dial-up access and email, if you are relying on the facilities, it is better to pay for a proper reliable service (preferably broadband). As with all these things, you tend to get what you pay for.

Finding the site

People who don't already have the address of your page from stationery etc. may try to guess at the domain name (with more or less success depending on how guessable it is), or they may use one of the many search engines or directories on the web to find you. For this to work, the new site must be registered with the main search engines and directories, which use a combination of visible and hidden information on the web page to decide where to list you or how relevant your pages are. (Poorly-designed pages may not show up at all in the search engines.)

However, be aware that these sites are very busy with a backlog of registrations, and it can take several weeks before your site will show up in the listings. And of course, if yours is the millionth site advertising the same thing, it will be difficult to guarantee that it will show up in the first page of results if someone searches for your site.

Traditional means of advertising - putting your web address on all your printed materials, ads in the local or trade press, signage and so on, are just as important.

See my articles on web site marketing and search engine success for more on this area.

Changing the way you work

If your web site is successful, you may need to change the way you work.

If you go for the full e-commerce option, this can involve a major upheaval, as you have to ensure that you have all the back-office procedures in place to support your online sales operation. Once you are competing in a global market, it is crucial to have an efficient and reliable operation. If email orders are just printed out and left in a tray for days, your credibility is at risk - few sites offer 28-day delivery for example!

Adapting an existing mail-order service to cope with online orders is much easier, but still requires you to be diligent about fulfilling orders.

On a more mundane level, remember that people expect a quick reply to emails, so you must be prepared to collect and answer them regularly (at least twice a day on weekdays). Make sure an answer is sent, even if it only says "I don't know the answer now, but I'll get back to you as soon as I do".

Don't forget about your web site - it is your showcase to the world, and if it is never updated, it will not be credible. So, have a plan for regular review and update.

There may be extra Data Protection implications for your business if you start to store the details of customers who contact you online. And if you sell products through your site, the Distance Selling Regulations apply.