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Small Business Website Development (Part 1): 3 First Steps for Planning Your Website

Small Business Website Development (Part 1): 3 First Steps for Planning Your Website

This is part 1 in a series of articles for business owners in the Clarington and Durham areas on small business website development. From the moment your small-business starts searching for a professional who can design a new website for you or who can update your existing site, you will constantly hear about the importance of marketing your business on the web. However, it is often difficult to separate the professionals from the enthusiastic amateurs. In this series of articles, I hope to show you some of the steps involved in creating a website, while sharing some of the pitfalls to look out for.

Step #1: Don’t Want to Have to Buy Your Small Business Website Domain Back? Register Your Domain Yourself.

There are tons of sites where you can buy canadian domain names. The Canadian Internet Registration Authority (CIRA) maintains the registrar list here. At the time I registered, GoDaddy was the only place I could register a “.ca” name, and I haven’t switched, despite this scandal or this more recent incident.

No matter if you hire another company to do contract work for you down the road or if you end up doing the work yourself, it is extremely important that you register your own domain for your small business website. Once you register your domain name, it is yours for as long as you keep paying your registrar.

There are are number of web design companies out there who will tell you that they will register your domain name for you for free. If you already own your domain name, they might say that you need to transfer it over to them to make the design work easier. Unless you want to risk an expensive buy-back of the domain later on, find someone else to work with.

Step #2: Register Variants on Your Small Business Website Domain Name

Search engines like Bing and Google currently give special preference to domain names that contain exactly the search terms your audience is looking for. Let’s look at a real life example.

It took us a while before deciding on the name “Longworth Dental” for our clinic. We liked the connotations of the value of patients’ long-term investment in their oral health. Once we chose the name, the first thing we checked was whether or not the website and its variants were available. GoDaddy offers a bulk registration tool that helps you quickly check the availability of the domain name you are looking for, as well as its variants, such as .com, .org and .ca. We took the .com and .ca versions, because we are a small business, but the bigger your company is, the more important it is to register the other variants of your domain name.

While you are at this stage, also have a look at other keyword-rich and exact-match domains in your niche. For example, if you are a dentist in Bowmanville, you might want to purchase: bowmanvilledentist.com, bowmanville-dentist.com, bowmanvilledentists.com, bowmanville-dentists.com, dentistinbowmanville.com, and so on (as well as the .ca versions). At the same time, don’t get obsessed with it. There is still some debate on how important these top level domains really are, as well as how much importance they will continue to receive in the future. Keep track of your expenses, and if things start getting out of hand, start asking yourself if your money would be better spent elsewhere, or donated to a local sports team.

Step #3: Register Your Social Media Accounts

The next thing you’re going to want to do is to register your social accounts. Want to know which account names are available for your business on which social sites? KnowEm makes it easy. They can also set up all the accounts for you (for a fee).

Next, set up a dedicated e-mail account for your company that you can use to verify all the services and profiles you are about to create. At this point in time, it is a good idea to start looking into a password manager like LastPass so that you can start generating unique, secure passwords for each site.

Why the dedicated e-mail account? While using your personal e-mail account may be easier in the short term, it is better to be prepared for the day that you hand over your business to someone else. On that day, when they ask you to give them the passwords for your Twitter, Facebook, Bing and Google account with all the Webmaster, Insight and Analytics tools that come with them, you could spend a lot of time disconnecting those from your personal e-mail and transferring them over. Be careful with your Google analytics account (among others), because you may lose data associated with the website in the transfer.

Even if you’re like me and you started setting up all those accounts up using your personal e-mail, it’s better to start changing slowly now than in a rush during crunch time later.

Leaving Logo Design for Last

Leaving Logo Design for Last

We started designing our logo late in the building process, once all the construction work had been planned. Our original reason for the delaying the logo design was that so much of the startup loan was already budgeted for other things. Should we have left the logo for last? Designing the logo first made us reflect on what to talk about with our interior designer. In hindsight, it might have been easier to design the clinic first and base the logo on the colors we chose. The criteria we used in choosing our logo designer were simple: we wanted to experiment with a variety of ideas, for a fixed price and to be relatively sure of producing an attractive design. We researched local graphic designers and their quotes varied between $40 and $60 per hour. Unfortunately, we couldn’t find a designer who offered a flat rate. Normally, this wouldn’t be such a big deal: after all, if it takes 3 hours to design the logo, the total cost is still low. The problem was that we didn’t know if it would take 3 hours or 30 hours to complete the design.

In the end, we decided on what we thought was a compromise, choosing to do an online contest. Our hope was that having access to more designers would generate more (and better) ideas, while at the same time guaranteeing that we stayed within our budget. To an extent, we were right: we received an overwhelming 281 design variants.

The downside, as you can see below, was that the design quality varied greatly between one submission and the next. We could only interact with the designers through a forum-style conversation or through private messages, and we had to extend the contest because some designers didn’t submit their best work until minutes before the deadline.

All things considered, we had a good experience. We managed to stay within budget, and our logo was finished within the required time. However, this is certainly not the only way to go, and we would be interested in hearing suggestions from logo designers with the Durham and Clarington regions on better ways to go about the best practices of logo design.

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