Note my choice of words for this post’s title. In particular, pitfall… The issues discussed here could be a problem, but with careful planning, they don’t have to be. Hopefully raising your awareness is sufficient to help you address them.
I’ve ordered these in the most likely order you will encounter the issue. Of course, when planning a web site in advance, you can address most all of them at the same time by doing good planning.
Purchasing a Domain Name
No web site exists without an address to get to it, and that means a domain name. It’s what ties your marketing materials together, it binds your online & off-line marketing together. It’s your email address. It’s everywhere! Why would you use someone else’s brand to label your product? You MUST own your domain name! There are two important points in that short phrase. First, it must be Your domain name–identified and related to your business, whether it be your current business name or variation of, or a fanciful name you plan on marketing off-line to build as your brand image, e.g., Yahoo! Second, make sure when the name is purchased or registered, that you, as principle of your company, are shown as the Owner. Third-parties are OK for administrative & technical contacts, but You must be the Owner. There are many sad stories about someone walking away from a business and taking it’s well-known web address with them. If you don’t own it, you don’t have control.
Choosing a Web Host
I know entrepreneurs are commonly on a shoe-string budget, but that is no excuse to choose a fly-by-night web host, just because they are cheap or run by a friend. Your business’ online image will be made or lost based on the 24×7 support that a web host must provide. Depending on the services you plan on delivering on the web, the level of host must be appropriate. The average $5 host won’t cut the mustard long-term. Shared hosting is only a starting place, you must have a plan to get your own dedicated host in the long term. No matter what size your business is, eventually. A Virtual Private Server (VPS) is a good middle ground for most businesses with medium web traffic. Heavy-hitters, i.e., business whose business is the web, need a dedicated server. Big bucks maybe, but worth it. It’s also not all about the server. The available bandwidth (how fast and how many independent connections to the Internet) to the hosting facility, the back-up systems, the back-up generator & UPS systems that are the infrastructure of a web host are just as important to you.
The web has been here long enough now for some standards to have been developed. This allows different people to choose different tools and yet all of us work together. In the web world, the key is the web browser and the leaders have over the years tried to do things their own way. Yes, there was commonality in the basics, but they tried to sell you on using their browser by adding features that other vendors did not have and could not understand. So, if one site developed with one browser in mind you better have that one if you wanted to access the content! Finally, they have (mostly) realized that agreeing on web standards is to everyone’s benefit. You benefit in developing your web site by only having to build to the standard–you don’t have to recreate your design multiple times to address all the major browsers. The key standards are those developed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). They are ever expanding and being advanced, but at least the core vendors are working together on a common path. A second benefit of this, is improved accessibility to your site by the visually or motor impaired. Web Standards-based designs can easily be made Section 508 compliant. If you plan on doing business with the Federal Government, you can be required to have your web site compliant with Section 508. This same ability also allows you to be prepared for change in the future for new types of devices re-purposing the content on the Internet.
Unless your business is web development, you should be contracting out the setup, design and maintenance of your web site. It might be fun to get your hands on the knobs and tweak the design, but if you are not an expert in web development or graphic design, your focus on the web site must be it’s CONTENT. That is where your business expertise should be focused–on your business! Not on what makes the web site look good or even makes it work. It’s the old story, do what you do best, and hire the best to do the rest! Experienced web professionals can do what you need done in much less time than you can and probably do it better. Meanwhile, you can be doing what you do best, running your business!
Keep it Fresh!
Once you have a good web site up & running, don’t let it languish! It needs to have it’s content kept up-to-date, even if you don’t have a changing product line, you should have something like a blog that requires updating on a regular basis so there is a sense of motion and change on your site. You need to track what results your site is getting using web analytics, and tie it to any web-based or off-line sales you make if you can, to determine your ROI. Your web site should easily pay it’s own way, if only in your marketing image–which is of value itself. Oh, and about every 12-18 months it should get a fresh coat of paint! I.e., a small redesign of the site based on feedback from your customers over the past period. Particularly addressing any usability issues that have been discovered. Change makes visitors keep coming back. If I get used to seeing something different every time I visit, I visit more often! You build brand image in your customer’s mind.
Hope everyone has enjoyed this recap of these potential pitfalls, and hopefully can now avoid them! Watch for more detail on each of these areas here in the future.
This post has been my entry to the latest Group Writing Project from Darren Rowse at ProBlogger. Be sure to check out more on the project, and visit the other authors that are contributing to the project. Here’s the summary pages so far: