Last week, one of our prospects called us in a panic about his website and email. He didn't realize that as the domain owner, he had to renew the domain name at the end of the term he purchased it for. It took a breathing exercise and some explanations about the confusing world of online marketing, but he eventually got his domain and email working again.
As I thought about how confusing it can be to keep up with all the connected pieces of a business online marketing presence, I thought the following metaphor might help those small business owners who are just getting into the world of inbound marketing:
Whether you realize it or not, there are several connected parts that make up your online world:
Domain name - This is also called a "url" and is the basic web address people type into their web browser. In a stadium, this is sort of like the naming rights to the stadium. Some company pays hefty amounts of money to put their name on the outside of the venue. After 10 years or so, the stadium can see who else is interested in the naming rights and pay for the new name. For your website , the domain name is usually part of a larger package from a company that offers a website and email. Best practice is to purchase your domain name for 5 years or more since search engines like this. We tend to buy our domain names from GoDaddy (although this has changed with the SOPA stance) or NetworkSolutions, which are independent of where our website lives. Think of them as the lawyer who manages our interaction with the stadium.
Website platform or host - As we mentioned, our domain name was purchased from a different company (GoDaddy) than where our website files exist (SquareSpace). SquareSpace is actually a website platform where we can make changes using their easy to use online interface. In the stadium metaphor, this would be the equivalent of the physical structure of the stadium. There are dozens of website platforms and hosts at all price levels, depending on your wants and needs. While basic functionality of showing your web page to visitors might seem the same, a high number of visitors can cause some problems, just like with the bathrooms at some stadiums. Security and browser compatibility are also considerations for website hosts. Security is self-explanatory in the metaphor, and browser compatibility is similar to site-lines in a sports venue. Fenway Park wasn't built/designed to watch hockey, so last week's "Frozen Fenway" might have been a disappointment if you didn't bring your binoculars.
Website content - This is the reason people come to your site. Similar to having a successful team that draws sell-out crowds, you want engaging and valuable content every week to keep people coming back. For example, the St. Louis Rams (2-14) had an attendance rate of about 86% while the New England Patriots (13-3) had a 100% attendance rate. Interestingly, Indianapolis (2-14) had the second highest rate at of 102.9%. While it might not seem logical, the fact that they've had great teams for so long gives them a little room to "coast". The same thing can happen with really good content, even if it's not updated for a long time, it can still draw large crowds. We have seen this in some of our clients (even though we coach them to use best practices of consistent, fresh content).
As a small business owner, you need to be aware of some of these things, but you shouldn't have to worry about these individually. Here are some suggestions that help you manage these while still attending to your customers:
Register your domain name separately - We recommend this because you can add up to 10 years of ownership, you can set it to automatically renew (and remind you) and you can switch your website platform or host whenever you want. Plus, some all-in-one packages don't register the domain in your name, they do it in their name so that they own it. Jimdo is an all-in-one package we use with some of our clients and you own the domain name even though they facilitate the process.
Use an integrated website creation system - Our philosophy is to focus more on your content than the technical aspects of your website. Gone are the days of needing a dedicated web designer (though they still have their value) who has to use Dreamweaver to change website files and then upload them to a server. The "WYSIWYG" (What You See Is What You Get) online services offer easy-to-use online interfaces that allow you to create web pages, emails and social media updates with the push of a button. If you know how to use Microsoft Word, you can use these. We've tested and used several, and recommend the following platforms and services:
- Jimdo - For about $60 a year, this solution provides a great solution to a small business.
Pros - Relatively inexpensive, online store solution, search engine optimized, all-in-one solution
Cons - Limited template customization ability
- SquareSpace - Our choice for this website, it provides solid back-end strength and flexibility in design.
Pros - Awesome templates (including create your own), full css-customization, mobile apps for iOS and Android, fast and helpful support
Cons - Not all-in-one solution (must buy domain and email separately)***UPDATE*** As of Summer 2012, SquareSpace has lowered their pricing, added free domains and email, and upgraded their platform.
- Boom360 - This is a marketing platform that offers economical integration and is easy to use!
Pros - One button publishing of blog, newsletter and social media, easy mobile marketing, competitive pricing
Cons - Geared toward B2C clients, especially restaurants, but expanding
- Hubspot - Another great marketing platform that offers a highly integrated set of premium marketing tools.
Pros - Lead nurturing tools for all points in the sales funnel, built-in keyword tool, easy landing page and call-to-action button creation, integrates with CRM systems like SalesForce.com
Cons - Premium priced, might seem costly for some small businesses, limited website template customization
This is only a brief introduction to choosing the right "stadium" for your content, but once you pick the right name, register it for 10 years and commit to a platform, you can focus solely on your content and customers. There are even companies (such as Inbound Edge!) that will help you with all of this, including putting good content on your site in a consistent manner.
What about you? Are you just getting into online marketing for your business? What recommendations from your own experience do you have for other business owners?