Welcome to the Bowler Hat Website Planning Guide. This guide sets out everything you need to consider when planning a website for a startup or small business.
We look at domain names, web hosting, website content, the various options available for buying or creating your site, and finally, the all-important task of marketing your site and getting noticed in the search engines.
This is not a technical guide and our aim is not to bamboozle you with jargon. Rather the intention is to provide an overview of the knowledge that will ensure you can put a website plan together. Additionally, by arming yourself with the facts, you can avoid the attention of any unscrupulous cowboy web design companies (of which there are many).
This is an intentionally short, non-technical guide which you can read cover to cover within an hour. Our goal is simply to arm you with the knowledge of how to plan a website to achieve your business goals. If we can help in any way then please get in touch. Alternatively, if you are looking for an agency who specialises in small business web design then give us a shout!
The document breaks down into the following sections:
A domain name is the entry point to your website. You simply can’t have a professional-looking website without a domain name of your own. It is worth taking some time to choose a memorable domain that represents your business ethos and correctly considers the technical implications of a domain extension. In this chapter, we will explain how domain names work so you can make an educated decision.
Web hosting is the service that allows you to make your website visible online. It’s vital to have a hosting environment that ensures you stay online, avoids poor site performance and supports customer journeys. This chapter outlines why you need hosting, how to choose the right hosting, and the steps to hosting your site. Whatever hosting you choose, it has to support the requirements of your website and business.
Content will help your site attract potential customers, allow prospects to compare your offering against your competitors, compel customers to interact with your site and make a transaction, and build relationships with those customers to make multiple transactions and become loyal followers of your brand. This chapter will help you determine what content is needed on your site to drive customers and prospects to take action.
When building your website you may think you need a huge workforce, deep pockets, and a team of highly paid technical professionals. However, there is now a variety of options available to build your website, run your own site and manage your own content, all without six-figure development costs. This section will look at the different approaches available, the different types of web design companies, and some of the pitfalls you should avoid.
A domain name is the entry point to your website and you simply can’t have a professional-looking website without a domain name of your own. The domain name that you select could be with you for a long time and changing domain names isn’t something that should be done regularly…
Therefore, it is worth taking some time to choose a memorable domain that represents your business ethos and that correctly considers the technical implications of a given domain extension. In this chapter, we will explain how domain names work so you can make an educated decision on this important first step.
The Anatomy of a Domain Name
Generally, a domain name is broken into three main parts which are logically split from right to left.
We can dissect www.bowlerhat.co.uk as [www.][bowlerhat][.co.uk] :
A label known as a subdomain & a subdivision of bowlerhat.co.uk
This is the label or domain itself & is a subdivision of .co.uk
This is the domain extension
Choosing a Domain Extension
The first thing to consider is the domain extension (.co.uk, .com). Let’s have a quick look at the domain name extensions available and what they actually stand for. This will provide you with the knowledge to select the domain extension most relevant for your business.
The list is not exhaustive but covers the usual suspects:
.eu domain extension for the European Union
.co.uk commercial UK
.com commercial, usually USA but also used for worldwide commerce
.me domain extension for Montenegro & also used for individuals
.mobi use for mobile devices & services
.info purely informational sites & resources
.biz for business use
.uk.com commercial UK
.net generic extension, for worldwide sites
.uk.net generic, UK
.org.uk UK organisations
.me.uk UK individuals
.tel a global contacts directory
.name individuals and named services
So, as you can see, there are a few options. Generally speaking, if you are to going be running a business in the UK then the .co.uk is the one to go for. You can back this up with the .com as well but it is not necessary to do so. The uk.com,.biz and.eu are also used but if possible you are well advised to stick with the .co.uk or .com as they are the most commonly recognised of all domain extensions for UK businesses.
Note: .co.uk domains are automatically assumed to target the UK by Google so this saves you a technical step to correctly geo-target your site. A .com can be set to target the UK or any country.
Choosing Your Domain Name
Right, so you have decided upon a domain extension (or a shortlist) and are ready to start looking for your domain name. This is where it can get a little tricky as so many of the obvious domain name choices have already been snaffled up.
Ideally, your domain name should be the same as your website name. So, for Bowler Hat we use www.bowlerhat.co.uk. This is really just a common sense factor as people will learn to know your business name and will type that into a search engine when looking for you. If you are an existing business, then people already know you and your brand so this is doubly important.
Once you have decided on some options for your domain name, you need to visit a domain registrar and search for the domain. You can search for and register a domain at any domain registrar, we like to use www.123reg.co.uk.
If your desired name is taken and you are an existing business, it is not the end of the world. You can ensure that your site still comes up for searches for your business name easily enough, so go for a short or simple abbreviation.
This is easier for new businesses as you can take the naming of your business into account when looking up available domain names and make sure the two are well aligned. If you are doing this, I would also factor in social media, and services like www.knowem.com will allow you to check domain names and social media platforms in one fell swoop.
Outside of the domain extensions, there are no hard and fast rules; if your business name is Ted’s Interesting Tape Solutions then the abbreviation may be a little misleading (and likely taken). Use your common sense, find something that is easy to read from a business card, easy to type, and can be passed on by word of mouth with a low probability of error (avoid-hyphens).
Registering a Domain
Once you have found an available domain name, you need to register it right away and fill in all the relevant details. The big deal here is to make sure you are using a reputable domain name registrar, reason being is that you need to be the registered owner and many of the underhanded companies will take ownership themselves so they can overcharge you once you have a successful website tied to that domain.
A good registrar will also provide a control panel with a series of tools you can use including email forwarding, a temporary holding page, and the ability to make all of the changes to where the domain name points when you get your site up and running.
The actual process itself is easy enough. You provide your business details and the period of time for which you want to register the domain name and make payment. It is important to note you never really own the domain name, you just have the right to use it for the given period of time and first refusal to re-register the domain name at the end of the given period.
We like 123-reg.co.uk for domains and knowem.com for registering social media profiles if you want to grab more than the obvious.
There are lots of domain auctions out there and most domain registrars provide premium domain options. These can range from hundreds to thousands of pounds with no additional benefits beyond the specific wording.
Choosing Your Domain
Certainly, focus more on brand than on specific keywords and don’t be tempted to pick up domains like www.what-i-do-where-i-do-it.com as there is no real SEO benefit (and it can in some instances be harmful).
It is always worth reviewing the history of a domain if it seems too good to be true. It may have had a previous life where it was used for a spam site or network. Reviewing the domain’s previous life on the internet archive and checking for backlinks on a tool like Majestic SEO will give you some insight.
Web hosting is the service that allows you to make your website visible online and a web host is a company that has lots of computers connected to the internet, typically in a data centre with a commercial-grade connection to the Internet.
A professional web hosting company will use a resilient infrastructure so should one of the internet connections fail, there will be a spare to take its place. If the power supply or hard disk malfunctions on the machine hosting your website, there is another ready to take over.
The company will also take care of ensuring there are frequent back-ups and that the Trivial File Transfer Protocol is maintained while a whole host of technical services ensuring your websites are up and running, 24/7. In 2018 and beyond, most websites are hosted in virtual machines, providing yet another layer of backups and security, but having your own, off-site, verified backup is still 100% essential.
Types of Hosting
There are many varieties of web hosting offering a wide range of services and performance benefits. In most cases, the type of hosting suitable for your website will depend upon the technology required and the amount of website traffic you are expecting to receive.
The main options are as follows:
This is the standard hosting used for most sites where your website shares space on a machine with a number of other websites. This is the most common type of website hosting and is suitable for all but the busiest of websites.
Dedicated hosting provides a single machine dedicated to your requirements. This is used when your website will receive a large amount of concurrent traffic and a shared environment can simply not provide the necessary performance.
Cloud hosting provides all the benefits of dedicated hosting with a sliding scale for performance. This allows you to easily add CPU, memory and storage as your requirements grow.
CMS Specific Hosting
These are hosting services that are targeted towards specific popular website content management systems (CMS), like WordPress.
Many sites provide hosting that is supported by advertisements. This is usually low quality and bereft of features but can be useful for personal sites.
* This is not an exhaustive list and there are many different types of hosting or sub-divisions of the above list, including managed hosting, virtual private hosting, colocation hosting and many others.
If you have any specific queries with regards to a hosting model not mentioned above, please get in touch and we will be only too happy to assist.
Web Hosting Technologies
To further complicate matters, there are a variety of hosting environments based on differing technologies.
The most common web hosting environment is based on the Linux operating system, the Apache web server, the MySQL database and the PHP scripting language. This technology platform is commonly known as LAMP. The Linux operating system is freely available so this type of hosting tends to have a cost advantage.
The other big hosting technology is based on the Microsoft Windows Server operating system and Microsoft’s proprietary web server, database and scripting languages, known respectively as IIS, MSSQL and Dot Net. Microsoft charges for its software and therefore this tends to be a more expensive route to take. Likewise, using an open-source database like MySQL, rather than MSSQL, will usually infer a cost advantage (even on a Microsoft hosting platform).
Both platforms will cope equally well with a standard web page consisting of just HTML pages. Microsoft can run PHP scripts, but the exact technology you use will depend upon what exactly you want from your website.
All web hosting packages should provide an optional email component. This will usually include access through your web browser, much like Gmail or Hotmail, along with the ability to read and reply to your email using your favoured email client (Outlook / Mac Mail).
You should also look for a variety of additional email features, including the ability to set an out-of-office or auto-responder, the ability to forward to multiple addresses, to send out a batch email to a mailing list, and most importantly – junk email filters.
Better hosts will provide a control panel where you can create new email addresses and aliases and manage all aspects of your email without incurring further costs.
Email is a value-added service and there are a wealth of commercial options often providing additional features. We tend to recommend clients use a cloud email system like Google Apps so you can easily access email on all devices and don’t have to worry about backups and such.
Many web hosting systems provide a huge range of additional features – a virtual toolbox that you can use to automate, benefit, and promote your business. These will vary in scope from provider to provider, but you will see a trend for more value from the Linux-based web hosting.
Additional services may include:
- Website Statistics
- Website Builder Software
- Free eCommerce & CMS Software
- Database & Management Platform
- A Range of Free Templates & Graphics
- Online File Manager
- Backup & Restore System
- One-Click Install for Various Software Packages
- Free Secure Certificate (for eCommerce)
Email and backups tend to be the important services to look for and much of what is remaining tends to be window dressing.
Service Level Agreements
One important but often overlooked feature is the level of service and resilience that your website host will provide. This is a technical service so it is reasonable to assume you will have a small problem with email or hosting every now and again, but these problems should be small, infrequent and quickly resolved. A 99% uptime sounds great but this allows for over three days of downtime.
A 99.9% uptime is not unreasonable and over the course of a year that allows for around 10 hours of problems (most of which should be due to upgrades and servicing, which should occur in the wee small hours).
Your own technical expertise and sensitivity to downtime will be a factor as cheaper hosting packages will provide poor support and more frequent downtime. If you want your site and email to be up all the time, make sure you choose a quality host and review the SLA before you commit.
Whatever hosting you choose, it has to support the requirements of your website and business. If you are building the site yourself, then you may know what you need, but if you are looking to appoint a web developer/designer then it would be prudent to ask the web developer for a list of requirements and check that your chosen web hosting supports the needs of your new site.
Often, website design companies resell cheap hosting at a huge profit so don’t assume you have to take what you are offered by the designer. Ask questions. Ask what the SLA and compensation is.
If you want something to benchmark against, take a look at the SLA on the WP Engine site.
Your web designer may want to sell you hosting. This may be okay, but you will likely maintain more control, visibility and get better value for money if you query their requirements and arrange for your own hosting.