How to get a cheap yet professional Web site

If you own a business but do not yet have a Web site, there has never been a better time to get a cheap yet professional Web site. Until recently, the only way to create a professional Web site was to hire a Web developer to create a custom design for your business. This was time consuming and expensive. Though custom Web sites and Web applications still have their place (and I still build them),  professional and affordable Web sites as a service are readily available.

There has never been a better time to get online - image credit
There has never been a better time to get online – image credit

Below, I’ve outlined everything most businesses need in order to create a professional Web site affordably, and to begin marketing on the Web. If you want to have a custom design, you will also need to plan to hire a designer and/or developer to do some work for you.

1. Register your domain name

I have used GoDaddy to register my domain names for the past eight years. Though I dislike their advertising tactics, I haven’t found a more user-friendly or affordable domain registrar (learn about domain registrars). I do not recommend them for Web site hosting, as I believe there are better solutions available. I also hear very good things about NameCheap’s domain registration service. Check out each site and choose the one that looks best to you.

2.  Get a Web site online

WordPress

WordPress, the open source blogging platform, is available at no cost and with thousands of low-cost, high-quality themes that you can often customize with little or no technical skill. I recommend self-hosting WordPress rather than using the WordPress.com hosting service. This is because as your site grows, you will be able to customize your site more easily without bumping into the artificial constraints that WordPress.com imposes on users.

Setting up WordPress self-hosting shouldn’t take more than about a half-hour if you have done your research, and WordPress provides a handy Quick Start Guide to help you get started.

Self-hosting

If you choose to self-host your site, you will need to purchase a Web hosting account that is usually renewed yearly. I use RackSpace.com personally, but that is a bit more technical than necessary for someone getting started. Lately, I have been hearing great things about BlueHost. Blogger and author Michael Hyatt has created a screencast that will help you get started with WordPress on BlueHost.

Website as a service

While there are many other website-in-a-box companies in the market, two stand out based on their quality and reputation. These are Wix and Squarespace.

Both services offer hundreds of templates that let you create an “almost” custom website. However, Squarespace offers an e-commerce solution, a focus on search engine visibility, and what seems to be a more flexible templating engine. Wix boasts attractive templates using the latest technology to provide a mobile friendly site.

If you choose to use this sort of service, I personally prefer Squarespace because it focuses more on the e-commerce and seems to have more features that let you grow without moving to another platform. Take some time to evaluate those services, and choose the best fit for your business.

Receiving and sending e-mail

I have been using Google Apps for about five years, and I would never want to use a different email hosting service. Google does an excellent job of filtering SPAM and delivering messages to others without getting lost in their SPAM folder. It is easy to use, and easy to set up. In fact, if you chose to host your own WordPress site on BlueHost, they make setting up Google Apps easy with an easy-to-understand guide.

3. Spread the word with e-mail marketing and social media

MailChimp allows visitors to your website to subscribe to your e-mail newsletter. With this low-cost service (there is a free level), you can choose from existing themes to style your messages, or you can design your own and upload it for use. MailChimp offers tools that help you optimize your content to avoid being seen as SPAM. It even offers an auto-responder service that lets you send a series of prewritten messages. Another advanced service that has been in use even longer than MailChimp is Aweber. I don’t personally use that service, but I have heard others recommend it many times.

In case you’ve missed out on all the social media action, here are some excellent books that will help you learn to use Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Pinterest for your business. A recent book introduces social media for business in an easy to understand format.

4. Track your website performance

Once you have a website, it is important that you keep track of how well it is doing to reach your customer. The most important way to track your website is to monitor your sales and customer contacts, but beyond those basic metrics you will need Web analytics. Fortunately, one of the best website analytics products, Google Analytics, is available for free. It is easy to integrate as well. If you choose to use a self-hosted WordPress site, there is a user-friendly, free plugin to integrate Google Analytics.

5. Secure your site (optional)

If you choose to collect personal information or sell products on your website, it is likely that you will need to enable encryption to protect that data from theft. This will require an SSL certificate. Buying one from the major providers (Thawte, Symantec, or GeoTrust) can be quite expensive, but SSL certificate resellers such as NameCheap can help you do so much more cheaply.

Some of the links above are affiliate links. What this means is that I receive a small commission if you follow one of my links and buy a product through that link. If you found this article helpful, please use the links provided to support me. Thanks!

If you’ve read this far, you probably have something valuable to contribute to the conversation. Are there products I should have recommended? Are there categories of tools/products that I should have included? Let me know what you think. Please leave a comment.

  • http://www.facebook.com/rickhocutt Rick Hocutt

    Great post Harvey! You know I’m a Drupal fan so I have to mention another great website service: http://www.drupalgardens.com

    • http://harveyramer.com/ Harvey A. Ramer

      Is that a user-friendly service for non-technical people? The minute I hear “Drupal” I think of something more for Web developers than business owners.

    • http://harveyramer.com/ Harvey A. Ramer

      Rick, after digging through the site, it looks like Drupal Gardens would be a great free solution for someone wanting to get started quickly. It lacks e-commerce and doesn’t quite have the polish of SquareSpace, but it would let anyone make a GREAT first website.