You have a great idea for an online business. Or you decide you need a website for your business. But where do you start? What do you do?
There are many pieces that go into creating and running a business website. It’s a fairly simple process for a small business website or blog that is used to give clients and customers information. You can usually get started with a domain name, hosting, WordPress and a theme.
If you want to create an e-commerce website, there are more pieces to your website that you need to understand to make wise decisions.
Every website needs a domain name. A domain name can be purchased from a domain registrar service – your hosting company, another hosting company, or a company that just sells domain names.
A domain name adds your business “pretty” name to your website, so that people can remember you. Your website address is really an IP address, like 123.456.789.123. This number will depend on where you have your website hosted.
A domain name is similar to using a street address for your house instead of giving someone the longitude and latitude numbers.
Every website needs to be hosted somewhere. A website host creates space on a server for you to put the files that make up your website. The server also has an environment and software that runs or executes the files that make up your website.
Hosting plans are generally priced based on traffic or bandwidth. If you have a very small informational website, you won’t need as large or feature-filled a hosting plan, as you do if you have a very large e-commerce website with a lot of traffic. Also, if you have a website that is used to download many, large files (e-books, mp3s, videos), you will use more bandwidth than a site that has no downloads, and you will need to make sure that your host can manage that type of website.
A hosting company that allows you to easily change plans as you grow is great, or you can plan to take your website to another host when you outgrow the first. There is also managed WordPress hosting to make maintenance a bit easier.
A website host is like the lot on which you build your house.
CMS (Content Management System)
Many websites today use some extra software called a content management system. WordPress is a CMS that allows website owners to add and edit their own content easily which is great for small business owners. Since WordPress is open source, it’s also a cost-effective CMS. Managed WordPress hosts use the WordPress CMS.
The CMS is like your house.
While you may never need to be concerned with a database, it is a crucial part of your website. A CMS stores your website content (data) in a database. The database resides with the hosting company. When your content is in a database, you can move the content somewhere else if you need to, and you can change how it is presented easily.
The database content is like your furniture. You keep it even when you move to a new house.
Your theme has all the code needed to deliver your website pages (with the CMS) in the order and with the look you want. Your page content is stored in the database, and the theme with the CMS gets that content, adds your images, and displays it for your browser with the look and in the way you want.
The theme is like the inside of the house itself. Some of the theme code just lays out the pages (rooms) and some decorates it, like decorating your house or giving it a fresh coat of paint.
Your website has to be backed up and maintained. The software that runs the website needs to be kept updated – your CMS, your theme, your plugins. And you need a copy of the data and images, in case something goes wrong.
Website maintenance is like maintaining your house. You need to fix the broken garage door opener or the wobbly ceiling fan or take care of the termites. Regular backups are like homeowners’ insurance.
It used to be that only ecommerce websites needed to have an SSL certificate to allow credit card or other sensitive information to be encrypted and transferred securely. But recently, all websites are using SSL, even if the site does not handle sensitive information because it helps prevent tampering with the information sent between your website and your users’ browsers.
When you see a padlock or https:// in your browser, you are using a site that has an SSL certificate. You can often use a free SSL certificate with is easily installed in your hosting account. There are still a few hosting companies that require you to purchase an SSL certificate, and then it’s best if they also install it.
And SSL certificate can be compared to putting locks or security doors on your house.
Merchant Account and Payment Gateway
If you have an ecommerce website, you need a merchant account and a payment gateway. You use them to help handle the financial transactions. The merchant account allows you to accept credit cards online. The payment gateway is the service that authorizes the credit card payments and processes them. Sometimes these are all-in-one solutions like PayPal, Stripe, and Square.
Whenever you buy or sell a house, you need to exchange money through a broker service; that’s like connecting your website to a merchant account and payment gateway.
CDN (Content Delivery Network)
You may need a CDN for delivering your images or other large files, so that your website loads faster. Even smaller sites are using CDNs for delivering images. Some website hosts will provide CDN services, or you can use a third party CDN. A CDN is especially helpful for a large e-commerce site.
This can be compared to putting some of your furniture in storage, but moving it back and forth to your house every day. Now, while you wouldn’t do that with your furniture, a CDN is very helpful!
Marketing is like trying to sell your house. You can buy ads to market your house or your furniture for sale. This is similar to buying ads to send traffic to your website on Google or Twitter or Facebook.
You want keep track of people who visit your open house or respond to your ad, just like you would do for your website. This is collecting names for an email newsletter or marketing letter. Then you can use a newsletter service (like MailChimp or ConvertKit) to send out emails about your home for sale.
You can also tell your friends that you are selling your house, and ask them to send anyone who might be interested to see your house. This is similar to social media marketing on Facebook and Twitter.
Just as with your house, you can do everything yourself, or you can hire people to help you with all aspects of your website.