There are so many ways to make your business visible on the internet. This article will run through some of the options available for creating online assets for your business.
To do this, we’re going to use the metaphor of moving out of home.
Free, non-domain options
1. Online directories – the couch at a mate’s place
Directories are great for any business. Even if you have a website, I am confident you could quickly find some Australian online directories, or industry specific directories, and create a new listing within a couple of minutes. They are like crashing at a friend’s house. You don’t own the space, but they’re happy for you to stick around for free (or sometimes for a small fee).
Listing your business on truelocal.com.au or similar websites does get your online visibility journey going. Many of the big directories rank on the front page of Google for searches you are interested in. So it is possible for people to find your listing and give you a call.
The most powerful directory at the moment is built right into Google, and is called Google Business Profile (previously Google My Business). business.google.com
It is a free listing, with incredible visibility. It’s quick to set up, gives astounding stats in easy reports and allows a lot of interaction.
Are directories worthwhile? I know for myself I have hired tradies who had no website, but I found them using Google Business Profile. One of them asked me for a True Local review at the end of the job. They were using directories well, and getting by without their own website.
Also, we have had many enquiries over the years from people who have called straight from Google or a Directory without even visiting our website! So it can happen.
MY TIP FOR PUTTING YOUR BUSINESS ON DIRECTORIES
One thing I recommend from the start is to write a list of all the directories you put your business in. Also note down the logins that you used. The listings tend to stay there indefinitely, and as your business grows and changes, it is ideal that you revisit the listings to put in your up to date details.
Consistency is quite important with directories, because services like Google use the Name, Address and Phone number to compare with other listings and see if it is the same business. If those details have discrepancies, then search engines can’t be sure that they are all your business, and people may not be able to reach you. One obvious one, if you don’t have a website when you make the listings, is to log back in and add the web address when you do get a place of your own.
2. A free email address – the PO Box of the online world
In business, you really do need an email address. If you don’t have a domain name then you can borrow one. Free email addresses from gmail.com or live.com can be obtained. So you can have email@example.com. This is like having a PO Box. People can send you mail, but it’s not your actual address.
I used to think that it was essential to have your own domain with emails. But now I have seen so many businesses doing just fine without that overhead.
3. Social media pages – renting a room
Many businesses now use the free business page available through Facebook, and consider that to be their website. You can list business details, easily post news about your business and even receive enquiries. It is pretty amazing software, and can work well for a small dynamic local business like a restaurant. It is still branded like Facebook, and there is no doubt you are in someone else’s house. They have the right to evict you from your page at any time. But while it works, it can be good.
Similar to these pages is sites.google.com. It allows you to create a free website, but the address is always on a Google Sites domain name.
Ready to buy your own place online? First you need a domain
There are many providers of domain names. Common ones are Crazy Domains, GoDaddy, Name Cheap. I have found an Australian supplier recently, based in Lake Macquarie, which is great. You can find them at leopard.host/domain-names.
You own domain names for a set number of years, so they do need to be renewed regularly. And if you have emails and a website gaining traction for your business, then this becomes a critical part of your business. Every week I come across a business who has lost access to a domain, due to expiry. There are steps we walk them through to regain access. The most serious was one who had purchased the business, and never got the login credentials of the domain name that all their emails ran through! So when it expired there was literally nothing we could do apart from wait the 30 days cooling off period and then hope that no one snapped it up before us when it went back out onto the open market.
MY TIP FOR REGISTERING A DOMAIN NAME
Whether you are starting, or already have a domain name, this is perhaps the most worthwhile advice I can give today, make a document somewhere that contains information about all your domain names:
- Domain name
- Domain provider
- Email address or username
- Renewal date
If your domain name ever expires, any associated email addresses stop instantly. This is really important.
CHOOSING A DOMAIN NAME
If you’re running your business to an Australian client base, then I always recommend getting the .com.au if possible. You can get the .com as well (and others), but just configure those to redirect to the main domain.
I prefer a full business name in a website address. If you do want a shorter one so that your emails aren’t so difficult to type, then get both domains, and redirect the short domain to the main domain. (It’s a one-off task, and is very easy for an IT or web person to help you with if required.)
Domains, emails and website hosting – paying your electricity bill
All three of these services call themselves hosting. Your domain gets hosted, your website gets hosted, your emails get hosted. So, it can be confusing about paying ‘hosting’. Essentially you need to pay for all three, sometimes all with a single supplier, sometimes with three suppliers. But just like electricity bills, if you don’t pay them then your lights go out, and website or emails are not accessible.
Essentially, to access a website or an email, it needs to be on a computer (called a server in this case), that is connected to power and connected to the internet at all times. And that service is called hosting. Like utilities bills, you will need to keep paying it, annually or monthly, for the life of your business website.
WHERE IS YOUR WEBSITE HOSTED?
Which brings us to an interesting bit of trivia about the internet. When we say “The Cloud”, it is actually referring to computers on earth, on solid ground. Usually servers are in big sheds of racks of computers. And this forms part of “The Internet”.
In the case of my business, we host our client websites in Macquarie Park in Sydney. And so we acknowledge that our website was built on Darkinjung Country, but is hosted on Dharug Country.
Most of the large hosting companies have been bought by overseas companies now. There is only really VentraIP left that are still all Australian owned. We host all our sites with Leopard Host. Ideally you’ll put your website on a host nearest to your customer base. So Sydney is a good location for Central Coast business, being the closest big centre to us.
CHOOSING A MAIL PROVIDER – Installing your letterbox
Many hosting packages include “Webmail” which allows you to add email address accounts within your domain name. These are low cost options to start. As a business grows it will outgrow Webmail, and I recommend moving to Office 365 for your email addresses. This is like a letterbox, because the person who sends you mail doesn’t notice a difference, but the experience at your end is much more robust with paid email services.
BETTER EMAIL PROVIDER, BETTER SPAM PROTECTION – Your “No Junk Mail” Sticker
Cheap email services do seem cheap, but they are susceptible to a lot more spammy emails than a service like Office 365 or Google Workspace. For spam protection you really do get what you pay for. It depends if you’d rather spend your money deleting junk emails, or focus your time elsewhere.
Which builder do I choose for my website?
There are many different providers for website software now. Some of them seem free, but they do have ongoing fees to do with domains and hosting, and then upgrades.
In my experience, a free website with Wix ends up costing about $400 per year. A free site with Squarespace ends up costing about $800 per year. And a DIY website with Shopify ends up costing about $1500 per year. This all could be higher if you select additional upgrades on those platforms.
This is still very cheap for what they are providing.
They offer a big range of templates, and it is like buying a project home.
These software options sell themselves as DIY, so you can basically be the owner builder of your website. And it is absolutely true that you can.
It is good to be aware though that if you’ve never built a website before, you will need to learn the software interface. Not to say that it is difficult, but you won’t automatically have the knowledge in your mind.
Learning how to add pages, posts and upload images to your website is a really handy skill. Especially if you see yourself wanting to use that skill repeatedly to keep your website up to date. Just gear up for the learning curve for a day or two, as I have seen business owners want to throw their laptop out the window when it took longer than they hoped.
People tend to recommend the tool that they know. My whole company builds WordPress websites. So it makes sense that we will always recommend to use WordPress. If someone has built a site in Wix, they will recommend you use Wix. But take that advice with a grain of salt. What they are really saying is, “I have knowledge about how to use this software”, but that doesn’t mean you have that knowledge or that it is the right tool for you.
One thing I like about Wix and Squarespace if you do want to DIY, is that it is all integrated. You can buy a domain name through them, setup your emails through them, and create a templated website through them. This means you don’t have to learn all the complex configuration of a website (which is a skill you might never need again) and can get straight into building pages and posts (which is a skill you will reuse many times).
Different Trades to help you with your website
Our team has to include many different disciplines. So we have graphic designers, website designers, writers, coders, marketers and website technicians on our team. You might want to think about hiring just a certain trade to help you in your weaker areas.
For example, you might know exactly how to explain your business, so you don’t need a writer. Instead, you might want a graphic designer to help you get your logo and colours and font right. Then you can build the website yourself and it will be so much better for having that professional help.
Make sure your website has your recognisable branding, and clearly explains your business from a customer perspective.
My biggest tips for your website
- Keep a record of your domain name and renewal date.
- Don’t forget to state what you do!
- Plan your website on paper before you start learning the interface of website software.
- Load your own website on desktop and mobile, click through it.
- Regularly test your own contact form.