Launch Your Site Without Losing Your Sanity: Seven Tips for Success
Are you ready to establish a firm presence on the web? Whether you're planning to launch an online store or a service-related website, things are both simpler and more complex than they were in years past, and you'll need to take this into account as your site moves toward live status.
For instance, while we now have content management systems to take the tedium and complexity out of adding and updating content, the advent of Web 2.0 has added some additional steps to the process of marketing your site that are absolutely necessary to complete in order for it to get noticed on the web in 2010. Below, you'll find some tips that will help you cover all the bases before you introduce your site to the masses. For the purposes of this article, we're going to assume that you're planning to launch a self-contained website, not a blog or mini-site on a domain shared by thousands of users. However, the vast majority of this info will be relevant to most entrepreneurs or small businesses putting together their first website.
You should look at launching a website as you would launching a product; once it's out there, you can't take it back. Of course, a website allows you to make changes, even significant ones, as you go, but it's helpful for design's sake to assume that the domain, design and CMS you launch with is the one your going to be keeping for a while. There's nothing worse than realizing a week into the operation of your site that you're stuck with a clunky design or a CMS that doesn't meet your needs.
Here are some tips to help you get off on the right foot:
Establish Your Domain
First and foremost, you need to scour the web for the perfect domain name. Well, maybe not perfect - .com domains are hard to come by these days, and newer suffixes like .biz haven't caught on in general vernacular. Nevertheless, your domain is your introduction to the world, so make it a memorable one. Some sites are stooping to using the .org suffix, which was set aside for non-profit organizations. There's no need to do so when there are so many other suffixes available. Don't be afraid to use one of the newer suffixes if your ideal name is only available in that form. Use of these suffixes will only grow in the future, so you may actually end up ahead of the game.
Marry Form and Function
There's a constant argument as to whether the design of a site is more important than the content or vice versa. The bottom line, however, is that they're both essential to your site's success. Your site's design needs to be such that your visitors can concentrate on the reason they came there in the first place rather than getting bogged down by tedious navigation. If you have a knack for such things, you can create and execute the design yourself, but most people lack the time and inclination to do this. Your other choices are to either find and purchase a quality template that does exactly what you need or to hire a professional to design the site for you. Many times, which option you choose comes down to your available budget, but if that's not a major factor, you're almost always better off finding someone skilled enough to take your ideas and translate them into a design that marries form and function.
Content Management Is Key
Today's sites that host more than a few pages of content generally use a content management system. There are literally hundreds of these packages available, and choosing the right one can be a daunting task. Most sites, however, will be perfectly suited by a basic system that does the essentials and does them well. This would include an easy-to-use editor, a fast search engine, powerful asset management features, flexible customization options and a suite of interaction tools that can turn your stale site into a vibrant community. Try to curb your desire for a CMS with all the bells and whistles, because odds are, you won't use them. At the same time, keep expansion in mind as you choose your CMS. For instance, you might only have one site now, but is there a chance you'll be launching another in the near future? Don't be afraid to try a few systems before you make your choice.
Find Your Site a Home
Find it and forget about it. That's what you'd like to do when it comes to choosing a host for your site. Your ideal host gives you all the tools you need at an affordable price with rock-solid reliability. Is there such a thing? There is, and you can usually find a host that meets all your requirements while not breaking the bank. Just make sure the bandwidth costs are reasonable - if you should go over your allotted amount, some companies will charge you a small fortune. It's also important that your host be able to expand when you do, so keep that in mind as you browse hosting options. Of course, if you're starting an e-commerce site, your requirements will be a bit more stringent. You may need a dedicated server to go with the more advanced tools and required certifications, which can push the cost considerably higher.
Tell the Neighborhood
Before your site goes online, you need to create some hype. And in these days of social networking, wetting the appetites of potential visitors is easier than ever. Long before you decided to put up a website, you no doubt visited other sites in your niche. Maybe they were blogs of people in your field; maybe they were communities on Myspace or Facebook. Your goal is to spread the word through these communities that your site is coming soon and is relevant to the discussion at hand. . As soon as your site goes online, you can use these tools to direct targeted traffic to your site. This is a great way of driving visitors to your site without spending a small fortune on marketing.
Cover All the Bases
After you've made all the big decisions and have built a site you can be proud of, it's time to nail down the little details that can frustrate you to no end if you neglect them. Here are some of the most important:
- Create a .htaccess file to redirect visitors to the proper page, either from www to non-www or vice versa
- Make sure your site includes a robots.txt file to tell web crawlers like Googlebot what you want them to ignore
- Create a unique favicon that users will associate with your site
- Submit your sitemap.xml file to Google, Yahoo! and Bing
- If your CMS doesn't do it, set up Cron to take care of periodic tasks like sending newsletters or reminders
- Create a custom 404 page containing at least a search box and a link to your sitemap
- Install analytical software or open a Google Analytics account to track site traffic
- Utilize Google Webmaster Tools to optimize your site
- Install a captcha or other anti-spam system to cut down on bogus comments or form entries
- And last but not least...
Do a final sanity check. Test everything. Broken links on a brand new site are really embarrassing. Xenu Link Sleuth is a must-use tool before you open your site to the world.
Once your site is live, as you advertise it on relevant forums, it's a good idea to ask for reviews. Invite people to give you an honest evaluation of your site's design and functionality. Odds are, there's something you overlooked, and this is a good way to quickly find it and fix it.
Launching a website is no picnic - it takes careful research, planning and a lot of patience. But if you do your homework and avoid cutting corners, you can take your niche by storm with a sleek, functional and useful site that will meet your needs now and in the future.
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