Having a presence on the Internet is a crucial element to the success of any business.
According to research commissioned by 1&1 Internet, 40 percent of companies do not currently have a website, which means they have a major marketing disadvantage in comparison to competitors who are online.
One of the most common reasons, it turns out, is that business owners felt they didn''t have time in their schedules to create and manage a website.
What many people do not realize, though, is that with the right web host, a website can be created and made accessible to viewers in a matter of minutes.
However, following a few guidelines can prove helpful in creating a successful website.
Do Your Research
It is important to explore all your options when it comes to developing a website.
Different web hosts provide different resources, so it is also a good idea to create a "wish list" of features you would like to have for your online storefront.
This can help you take a closer look at the different hosting companies and the services they offer.
Storage, design tools, customer support, statistics, calendars, news feeds and e-mail options are only a sample of the many options available today.
Choose wisely when considering costs in terms of what you are getting in return.
Although a website can be built quickly and inexpensively, the opposite is also true — and just because it takes longer and costs more does not mean it is better or will contribute to a greater return on investment.
Some hosting companies offer affordable packages with different feature selections that suit various budgets and skill levels.
Choose A Domain Name
To help keep costs down, make sure your hosting package includes a free domain name.
After all, your choice of a domain is a critical step in this process, as this establishes your company''s online brand.
People recognize a company on the Internet by its domain, so a name that includes a clear, catchy phrase and is easy to remember will draw the appropriate attention to the website.
Don''t be discouraged if your desired domain name is not available as a .com; try other extensions such as .us, .biz, .info or .net.
Different hosting packages may allow you to follow a suggested template designed specifically for the cleaning and maintenance fields.
With some design tools, industry-specific text and images are already included in templates that are suitable for various businesses.
A step-by-step tool will guide you through the setup process where you can change the color scheme, include company logos and pictures, edit the layout and incorporate contact information.
What''s important to remember is that the information included on your website should answer all of the common questions customers might have.
Incorporating contact information, product and/or service descriptions, frequently asked questions (FAQ) page and other critical details about your business will create a virtual relationship between you and your customers.
Integrate Interactive Tools
Social media is erupting, and by integrating interactive tools into your website, you can open up entirely new communication avenues — and keep potential customers engaged.
There are tools available to support this activity, including dialogue boxes, blogs, registration forums and social networks like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and others.
Dialogue boxes, for example, allow business owners to answer customer questions quickly in an online chat.
A company blog or profile on Facebook is another way your website and, in turn, your business will develop personality and encourage people to visit again and again.
Requiring customers to register to access specific information from your website provides opportunities to communicate through future mailings and newsletters.
This is also a good way to track the activity of individuals while they are interacting with your website.
Incorporate Live Content
One way to boost interest in your company is to add live content to your website.
Features such as maps and news feeds make your website convenient for the visitor.
Maps will provide customers with the ability to easily find your company''s location and other places to which you provide services.
By pinpointing your location in respect to other local businesses, maps can help you secure business from clients weary of traveling to unfamiliar areas.
Incorporating current news feeds conveys your knowledge of the industry to your clients and potential customers.
Analyzing current events shows your vested interest in the state of the industry and its happenings.
Integrating live content into your website illustrates a consideration of the customer and professionalism from your company.
Keep It Updated
Your company website is a quick, accessible resource for perspective customers to find information.
Especially for small businesses, it is important to make sure the information presented online is current and correct.
This will show that your business is run attentively and its operation is organized, so it is important to have easy access to the website''s editing tools.
Slacking on details such as contact information, employee biographies, services, testimonials and prices misinforms customers and can imply the company no longer exists or is not prosperous enough to perform quality, ongoing service.
In today''s world, a website should mirror the company itself.
The site should be personable, interactive and professional.
All necessary information should be easily accessible and frequently updated.
By following these guidelines towards creating a successful website, you will show your customers that you are open for business and ready to satisfy all of their needs — whether big or small, mundane or arduous.
Oliver Mauss joined 1&1 Internet in the spring of 2008, working from 1&1''s office in Karlsruhe, Germany. He is in charge of 1&1''s international web hosting operations, which, in addition to the U.S., includes four international subsidiaries. As chief executive officer (CEO), his main focus is on 1&1''s strategic development as well as driving growth and profitability.