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Updated by Hans A van Putten on Dec 19, 2016
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Top 17 Steps to Start Web Site or Web Based Business

These are top 17 steps to consider when starting a web-site or web based business.

Although in theory you can do most steps in this list at any time, to a certain extent there is a logical order in this list.
For instance, apart from the fact that you need a web-site to be able to implement SEO , I believe that choosing a web hosting company before discussing keywords and a web platform, before building plans, may not be the most logical and efficient way to set things up. However, if you pay on a monthly basis, it would be easy to change.
I'll discuss each category to give you a quick and dirty overview of each step simply to structure your thoughts.
In future articles I'll elaborate each step in more detail.

1

Set Up Your Company

I'm sure I'm not the only one who's been bouncing around many ideas for a business, product or web-site. Probably thousands if not millions of people are doing so each day.

So to a certain extent speed from idea to launch is of the essence, standing still means falling behind the competition. More often than not I'm discussing ideas with partners or fellow entrepreneurs, and in some cases we have weekly or monthly meetings to keep things going and hopefully create something useful.

I have learned a long time ago that "An Objective Is A Dream With A Deadline". If you are like me, bouncing around many business ideas, or product ideas becomes a blur of great creative energy, but stays that way, great creative energy. It does not morph into something tangible. Unless there are some methodologies in place. One of the latest "hot" methodologies is Agile. More about my use of this in future articles.

However, particularly when you work with partners, some of whom have a natural tendency to skip methodologies or procedures, it does not matter what you implement unless money is on the line. And this gets to the heart of the matter why it is good to incorporate early in the process of developing (serious) business ideas. The moment you incorporate, all partners are on the hook, a tax id will have been created and this project, this dream is suddenly a serious, professional business idea.

2

Refine Your Business Idea

It doesn't matter whether you start with one idea or a string of ideas, most likely your idea needs some serious testing against what is out there already in the same industry or category. Seldom is the first idea the successful product or service everyone knows.

Be honest, don't look at your idea through the proverbial "rose colored glasses". The first question you should ask yourself is "what problem is this service going to solve?". Next you should ask, "whose problem is it going to solve?". In other words what target market are you aiming for? 20 year old males or females, or 50+ year old couples? Does your target market have an education, are the affluent? The more focused you are the better you can do your testing.

Now that you have an idea, have determined who to target, you can check what competition you have. Research online and find out what competition you have. Check Google Trends to see what search level your product shows monthly. Check Google Adwords "Keyword Tool" to find out what online SEM competition you have. Both tools can be used to find synonym keywords people use to find the type of product you want to sell, and people might be looking for.

Searching online for competition will give you a quick (much quicker than sifting through stacks of library directories in the old days) idea what the key components are of the competition. Most likely you want to introduce a product or service that has at least the same components, if not better, at a lower price point than the competition. And that's where you start going back and forth to refine your business idea until you have something that looks viable to generate revenue and profit. make sure you have at least a few Unique Selling PropositionS (USP's) features the competition does not have, and price the product or service competitively.

3

Create Business Plan Outline

Some people start ducking when they hear the word business plan. Maybe they are creative people and hate paperwork, or they think a business plan is a document of 5000 pages, like some of the useless government documents!

Nothing can be further from the truth. A business plan can be (to start with) just a serviette/napkin with a few ideas on it. Preferably that idea should have an objective, and it should have a deadline. You know what they say "An objective is a dream with a deadline".

Before you create an objective, you should create a mission, what do you really want to do or achieve? How do ypou want to change the world, how do you want to solve someone's problem(s)?

Once you have an objective, the obvious next step is to define how you are going to achieve that objective, before the deadline runs out. And that will be your strategy. Your strategy is made up of your sales and marketing plan, your manufacturing plan if applicable, your human resources plan (even if you only have 2 employees, it should be in your plan), your budget (Financial Plan) and your capital expenditure plan (how many computers do you need to purchase etc.).

Theoretically this could be done with just a few pages. But with a plan, you have milestones to test against what your plan was. Did you succeed? If yes, on to the next phase. If no, time to change a few things. Until you see that your ideas and plans are viable and successful or it is time for a new venture.

4

Do Keyword Search

Although your natural tendency may be to finish the business plan, create a marketing plan and move from there, the way one would proceed say 15-20 years ago, in this digital era, where your web-site has become the center piece of communication, doing keyword research first, will pay you dividends in spades. Why?

Because it all goes back to the ultimate marketing questions, 1) what are you selling and 2) what is the customer looking for, literally what keyword or phrase will the customer type into the search box to find your (type of) product!

If you sell curry mayonnaise and your web pages are all optimized for the keyword "mayonnaise", you have two problems to start with. Mayonnaise is a very general term which means you will have much more online competition from an SEO/SEM standpoint than when you use a more specific keyword or phrase that includes exactly what you are selling, i.e. "curry mayonnaise". Secondly people actually looking for "curry mayonnaise", a product you actually sell, may not be able to find you because it is not used (enough) in your pages.

Creating a web-site or creating (new) pages without doing keyword/key phrase research could be a lot of wasted time, if you a) need to redo the page for the correct keyword or b) need to do so much, much later in the process when you should be spending time on other things or redoing one or more pages could have a significant impact on the structure of the site. The best free tools to do initial keyword research is Google Trends and Google Adwords - Keyword Tool. There are tons of other paid software programs to do keyword research and more, I will address those in future articles.

5

Perform Competitive Search

Although doing competitive research has always been on the list of Business Plan tasks, in this Digital era it has become even more important.

The internet has made a large part of the market transparent. This means that (potential) customers can compare products, services and prices relatively easily. This means purely from a marketing Mix standpoint that it has become easy to check online which product has the best features, which products have the features I want and which product is "best value". Mark here that I say "best value"! Best price, or lowest price, may not get you the features you really want or need.

Once you know what the competition can deliver as a "total product", provided you are still in the developing stages, make sure you create a product or service that has at least one or two, if not more USP's. Having a Unique Selling Proposition, i.e. a great feature that the competition does not have, will lift the value of your product higher compared to the competition. If you have a number of USP's versus the competition, you may even be able to command a higher price than the competition.

Don't forget that the value of your product, your "total product" is not just the product itself, incl. its features! No, the value of your "total product", for which your (potential) customer is willing to pay, includes, regular updates, accessibility to support in case of something wrong, the speed with which support solves your issues and the quality of the solutions provided.

Competitive research should be done in the early stages of the process, to find and define their USP's, your USP's, and find the keywords and key phrases that trigger successful customer conversions to a sale.

6

Create SWOT Analysis

A SWOT analysis should be standard in your business tool kit. Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. You should do this analysis on a regular basis both on yourself, your business and your products.

Once you have done a competitors analysis it will become fair;ly obvious where the strengths and weaknesses of your product versus the competition lie.

Looking to the near future you should then also be able to determine where some opportunities lie and where there may be some threats.

Once you have the complete SWOT picture mapped out, you can take action, make decisions and make plans to ensure you improve your weaknesses, counteract any threats and take advantage of the strengths and opportunities.

7

Create (Digital) Marketing Plan

Now that you have an outline business plan for your idea, you also have a SWOT analysis, you know what your Strenghts, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats are and after completing a competitors analysis, you now know what the competition is offering. You are now ready to create a (Digital) marketing Plan.

Your plan should start with the Marketing Mix, the 4P's of marketing. You know what your product is, P number one. If still in development you want to ensure your product has a few USP's versus the competition. Provided you have a number of USP's you are now in a position of strength to price your product, the second P. Knowing what the competition is offering, and how they are offering it, i.e. how they are promotion it, you can now promote your product like the competition and do it even better. Promotion, the third P. The fourth P, Physical Distribution may not be very obvious with non physical products but it is still very important. How are you offering your software, through the web, through trade or consumer shows or through other channels. In the end, it does not matter how you deliver your product or service to the customer, as long as you do deliver it to the customer, completely and timely.

The marketing Mix, the 4 P;s are the back bone of your (Digital marketing Plan). I will discuss building a full plan in more detail in future articles.

8

Register Domain Name

Although I have registered many domain names just of the cuff of an idea I had, if can be more beneficial if you register a domain name once you have figured out what keyword, or key phrase is the main one for your site, representing the product or service you sell.

Now the above would be the best path to Search Engine Optimization (SEO) you can take. Reality is not always that easy. There are many people and businesses that are registering domain names, URL's with certain keywords in it purely for resale to make some money. Additionally, think about Google, or Amazon, they don't spell out the service or product they are providing. So for your web-site as a whole it would be nice to have a URL that spells out your product or service but it is clearly not crucial.

Pages that will be created below the home page, specifically for individual products and services or categories should contain the product or service name in it's URL however.

So if you sell a product which name is still available as a domain name.com great, otherwise don't worry about it. Just make sure individual pages are fully optimized for whatever keywords you elected to choose.

9

Choose a Web Hosting Company

As you read this article you may already have chosen a Web Hosting Company. One that was recommended by a friend or colleague. You may at some point, once you have the business plan sorted out and your (Digital) Marketing plan as well, come to the conclusion that you just want a very simple "Corporate" site.

For simple sites, that are purely meant to be a corporate business card or brochure you don’t need an expensive package that includes a powerful server and large memory and disk space. You only need a good value and solid Web Hosting Company.
If you intend to build a large site, with lots of pictures, videos, and graphics you may need a more powerful server, one that does not slow down because of the weight of the site, nor when traffic starts picking up.

There are a few key things to think about. You want a Web Hosting Company that has good value and has plans from small to large. You don’t want to pay big bucks at the beginning for a plan that is way too much for what you really need. You want to make sure you check the “Up-time” of the WHC and their availability of features to install web platforms like Drupal and Wordpress.

The Web Hosting Company I have been working with for over 10 years and very happy with is Inmotionhosting.com. They are reliable, have various plans from small to large and have all the bells and whistles you need.

11

Choose a Web Platform

Your next question should be, what web platform should I use. What features, what theme, what look do I want.

A lot of Web Hosting Companies offer a package called "Softaculous" as part of your C-Panel. Sometimes it is part of your monthly fee, sometimes it is a few dollars per month more. Softaculous allows you to install for free packages like Wordpress, Drupal and a ton of other packages or scripts as they are sometimes referred to. So you can create as many web-sites as you want and install say Wordpress to one site, Drupal to another and some other script to the next one.

If you are a little handy with web design and development but not a thoroughbred programmer, nor do you want to pay for someone to build your web-site you may like Wordpress. It is a drag and drop, plug and play kind of web site building platform and offers many free plugins do get your site or your visitors do do almost anything. The good news it is easy, the bad news is you need to keep all plugins 100% up to date and up to date with the latest Wordpress version otherwise you may run into issues, not in the least security issues. And Wordpress, sometimes due to the many plugins (read scripts) used can be a bit slow, so you need to put proper caching plugins in place and use a Content Delivery Network to solve that issue. More on that in future articles. Wordpress also has an abundance of free and paid themes which means you can make your site look like anything you want.

Drupal is another plug and play platform but is not as easy as Wordpress and does not have as many (free) plugins. Alternatively you can code a new web site from scaratch, basically like any good chef of a top restaurant would make his signature sauce from scratch and not using frozen foods. A happy medium could be using Dreamweaver and the rest of the Adobe Creative Cloud family where you need a little coding but a lot is drag and drop as well.

You may actually determine what platform to muse before choosing a Web Hosting Company because not all Web Hosting Companies are geared towards Wordpress. Inmotionhosting.com is not only great to host your own Wordpress site but also has a lot of support articles to install, use and maintain your WP web-site properly and to solve any speed issues or other issues you may have.

12

Create Mobile Site

Now that the world as a whole is using smart phones to look up information and purchase services and products, it is key to have a site that is mobile friendly.

I use a number of ways to make my web site mobile friendly. using Wordpress and the Wordpress Theme Divi from Elegantthemes.com I have a "responsive" site by default. I can build the site as if it only needed one version and the responsive theme will do the rest. The site will fit to any screen and either show you all that you will see on a desktop or laptop screen, or if you decide not to show certain sections on a small screen, Divi offers you that functionality.

Alternatively you can use Elegantthemes.com's plugin called "Handheld" which is a plugin for premium members of Elegant Themes (Approx. $89/year for use of many themes) that is a separate Mobile Them in itself, but still offering your main web-sites pages within the "Handheld" framework.

Finally, although there are many other ways of creating a mobile site, or even a "native mobile app", you can use Adobe Dreamweaver to create a responsive site from scratch. If you're a programmer you can of course do it entirely from scratch in whatever program you can put code.

One thing is clear, the new Google algorithm judges sites as much on their speed as on their mobile friendly nature. So you better make a plan to make your site mobile friendly.

13

Implement Search Engine Optimization

Talking about Google Algorithm, you want to make sure that every page you create is "optimized for the keyword or phrase you have chosen".

If your page is selling "Pecan Pie", ypou want to make sure your page URL has that keyword in it, your page Title, your H1 Header, your Paragraph, your H2 and H3 has the keyword or phrase in it. Although here I am not discussing this in detail, you want to make sure you are registered with Google Web Master Tools, Bing Web master Tools and with others to ensure they crawl your site to index your pages, thus making them available in their Search Engine Results Pages (SERP). It will greatly help the crawl bots if you have a sitemap.xml in your root folder so they know where to find the pages to index.

There are many other factors impacting SEO, I will discuss more in detail in future articles, but the one I would like to mention is the back-links. The more you have renowned and respected sites, relevant sites linking to your site and pages, the more it gives the impression to Google's search algorithm that this site is important. And that will greatly help your SERP ranking.

Having said all that, the most important thing is to write good content on your page. be as unique as you can and offer clear content where it is obvious what keywords or phrases are part of SEO as described above. Good, fresh and unique content will get you the visitors and return visitors you need more than anything else.

14

Implement Search Engine Marketing

The more time goes by the more people around the world will have created pages and pages, posts and posts on their web-sites, indexed by the search engine. And only a few are part of the list that is shown on the first page as part of the organic search results.

Historically most people do not go to page 2 and beyond if they get served an organic link that offers them what they are looking for. So how do you show up on page 1 of the Search Engine Results page (SERP)? By having a unique product, that has a unique page made for it, with a unique URL. If you are the only one in the world selling Banana Bread with Cream and Salt and Capers, and your page is optimized for those words, it is most likely your page will show up on top of the first SERP. However if your product is "balsamic Vinegar" it is most likely your page does not show up on the first 100 pages of the SERPs.

One other way to get on the front page is to do Search Engine Marketing which is basically Pay per Click. One of the best platforms to do Paid Advertising is Google Adwords. You can do keyword research first to ensure your campaign and ads are aimed at your target group with the correct keywords. Those keywords or key phrases should represent words and phrases that your customers would use to search for your products, services and web-site in the Google Search Engine or any other search engine. But please note, although the more broad keywords or phrases you use in SEM (the same applies for organic searches) the more clicks you may get, it could cost you a lot of money to get those clicks with little or no conversion. If you use a keyword like Mustard in your Adwords campaign, and you're only selling horseradish mustard, you will also get clicks for people who are just looking for what different mustards are out there, even people who are looking for any mustard but horseradish mustard. Yet, you will get clicks, costing you a lot of money but most likely no conversion, unless someone is specifically looking for horseradish mustard.

So, as before, know your target market and know specifically what you are selling and promoting. Subsequently create a campaign with keywords that specifically aims at people search to buy your products and services. You may get less clicks than with broad phrases, but your conversion rate and ROI will be significantly higher.

15

Set Up Social Media Marketing

Social Media Marketing is essentially the process whereby you try to attract traffic from people you connect with and create relationships with on social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and others.

Social media marketing has many dimensions but two of the fundamental dimensions are, 1) content creation and 2) relationship building. The long term Return on Investment (ROI) of your web-site and your online business is repeat visitors and repeat customers. You only get repeat customers if you create compelling and original content. And the content you created may be picked up by people searching for certain keywords organically through the search engines, but unless it is a very specific and unique keyword and product it is more likely that you do not end up on the first page of the Google Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs).

So to increase the chance that people come to your site you can do Search Engine Marketing (see previous article) which can be very costly with a low ROI (SEM is "interruption marketing") or you can roam the social media sites to see who is talking and commenting on the type of products and services you offer. There are great programs like ActiveDemand (Marketing Automation) and Nimble (CRM) that allow you to find out what your contacts are chatting and tweeting about on social media. With that level of transparency you will be able to tap into their conversations by commenting or re-posting and re-tweeting interesting artcicles related to your products anbd services.

The foundation of "social media marketing" is building relationships and avoid "hard-selling" to your contacts and prospective contacts. Remember the last time you went shopping and you had this zealous annoying sales person who kept bugging you every 10 seconds with "can I help you"? You want to be left alone until YOU are ready to ask a question or request assistance. The same applies to approaching potential customers/visitors to your site and products.....hover around them, engage in their conversations without a big sign on your forehead that says "I want to sell you XYZ"! In your comments and discussions you can add "subliminal" messages and links back to your site that would give a potential customer a chance to appreciate your content and respond a one of your "call to action" buttons like "Download a White-paper" or "Sign up for a Newsletter". The best "call to action" opportunities that people are willing to provide their email for are Free White-Papers, Free Webinars, Free Sample Products and Free Software Trials.

As I'm sure you know, "Subscribe to our Newsletter" may not be the one you would provide your email for, simply because before you know it is spam and your inbox gets inundated with useless tidbits every week or even day. So offer something that will solve a potential customer's/visitor's problem.

16

Set Up Mobile Marketing

Nowadays, in 2016 and beyond, mobile marketing is a must. Mobile marketing is basically communications aimed directly at mobile phones to create awareness of a brand or product and generate future sales (Advertising) or to create a great sales opportunity with a deal to generate instant sales (Sales Promotion).

There are many ways to communicate to a (potential) customer via mobile technology. Not in order of priority or importance, some of them are, mobile optimized websites with advertising. sms/text messaging, native apps with advertising. social media advertising, email advertising, content advertising, mobile payments advertising and personalized mobile content and advertising.

What is key to understand is the difference between inbound marketing (voluntary reaction to marketing and relationship building) formerly known as pull marketing, and outbound marketing (interruption marketing) formerly known as push marketing. When you are watching a nice movie or browsing a website in search of something, the last thing you want is an ad in your face. That is an interruption of your Modus Operandi (MO) i.e. of what you are doing; it is an interruption of your flow, your mood and your personal plan(ning). Technology nowadays allows anyone, in a lot of situations to block or skip ads in various ways. This means that either your message is not coming across or it will cost you a lot of money to advertise more and longer to get the message across.

And that's why inbound marketing, voluntary marketing and relationship building is so important. Give the (potential) customer the space to take action when and how they want. make sure you are there when they need you by creating content, solutions to their problems with blog posts or white papers, ready for them to grab when they are ready and needy. The moment you have established a relationship and lifted the "anonymity" by obtaining someone's email in a voluntary way, you have essentially opened a communication channel, a marketing channel that is much more valuable that someone who signed up for a quick and dirty deal.

So with the above in mind, mobile marketing is in effect not much different than web-site marketing, other than the obvious difference, that you are working with a much smaller (screen size) platform and as such of course need to adapt to it. Additionally by creating native apps, provided you can stand out in a very crowded market place, once your app has been downloaded to someone's phone you have opened a marketing highway ready to be utilized as communication channel.

17

Set Up Analytics Program

Provided you have put in a ton of effort to set up everything we mdiscussed above, unless you test what is working and what is not, and then fix what is not workijng, your efforst may be lost.

And that's where Google Analytics (Free) and other analyticws programs are so important. An analytics program will provide crucial feedback to you who visited what site, what page from where and when and using what piece of equipment and software. Best practise is to use A/B testing to see what site or page works best for your objective. Analytics will offer you reports to determine which approach worked best.

I like to call the whole process the "Black Box" process. The internet is a black box, you really don't know what's going on and the only way to find out is to try some input and see what comes out. A little bit like your computer. Think how frazzled and upset you would be if you hit a K on your keyboard and your screen shows a P, right? That's the essence of the black box theory. You don't know what's inside a computer and what happens, but when your input is keystroke K you expect the output on the screen to show a K. And if you want to see a P onscreen you'll change your input from K to P, right?

The internet and managing your website (input) and traffic (output) works along the same lines. If your site or page does not generate the traffic you expect, you change the input by either changing a hole site, a whole page or some elements of a page to see whether people react better to it and increase traffic and ultimately conversions (make a purchase or sign up for something). Changing a page or testing two different pages with the same objective is called A/B testing. And Analytics will help you determine what is going on on the internet related to the usage and viewing of your site, providing you with valuable information to change the input variables of any page you are testing.

More on this topic in more detail coming soon.

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