Are you website-ready? One of the best ways to showcase your talents is to have a website. But two ways of thinking could hinder a successful launch. First, the relatively low expense of an ‘office’ in cyberspace often leads to a lack of planning and organization. Second, failure to maximize your site’s Search Engine Optimization (SEO) may leave it buried in a sea of similar information in search results.
Whether you are starting from scratch or thinking of revamping an old site, these seven steps can help demystify the process of getting your website online. Follow them to reap a rewarding harvest of visitor engagement.
7 steps to being website-ready
To start, this simplified approach may be customized depending on your needs and the complexity of the material you would like to present. However, if you are completely unfamiliar with what it takes to get a website online, these steps may help you align yourself more fully with your goals. Work with your Information Technology (IT) Department if you have one, or assign duties and update job descriptions to manage these critical functions.
1. Check your digital literacy.
Are you familiar with handling WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get), or have you ever worked inside a CMS (Content Management System)? Some of the most popular site builders that use CMS are Drupal, Joomla and WordPress. WYSIWYG (sometimes pronounced “WISsy-wig”) refers to an editor that lets you see the visual representation of what you are making during its creation. For example, Wix.com allows users to make professional-looking websites using drag-and-drop, without knowing any coding. Your changes to color, text and layout are rendered instantly.
If you do not possess these skills, they may be acquired by accessing the help and support documentation. If you do not have the time or are not willing to take on the task of learning, you may want to consider assigning webmaster duties to someone else. Today’s websites arrange content such as images, text and user profiles into databases, but you do not need to be a database administrator to handle a simple site. However, the customer information and communication you assemble may be very useful toward noting trends and planning new projects. This is called Data Analytics, a specialized field.
2. Register your domain and set up web hosting.
Your domain name (or hostname) is the unique part of your web address for your site. In the address www.YourOrganization.gov, the “YourOrganization” portion is your domain name. You purchase a domain name from a registrar, a company that must be accredited by a global registry and operate under strict guidelines. It is not uncommon to pay multiple years in advance for a domain name.
Chances are, your registrar also offers a separate service called web hosting. Your web host provides server space for your website so that it may be accessed over the internet. A domain may be registered for as little as $10 per year, and hosting can begin as low as $2 per month. For hosting, added features may include online payments (e-Commerce), regular malware scans and security certificates (to protect visitor privacy). Keep your site free of malware and secured with a certificate.
It is very easy to search the web for these services and compare and discuss with your team. You may consider contracting someone or assigning this duty. Be sure that all accounts belong to an organizational account and not an individual or outside company. This is a best practice for control and fiscal management, and it maintains continuity for your organization.
3. Assemble your starter content.
Before you begin to upload anything, you should have assembled enough content to make your website useful to a visitor. You will need at the minimum:
- Your Logo – you likely already have one, but get a quality full-size version that is crisp and clear.
- Images to depict services and activities – label these descriptively and place into separate folders.
- Text for your main pages – these may vary, but at least begin with these –
- Home – your welcome page which will include information about all of the other pages and a menu for easy navigation
- About – information about your organization; its purpose and mission, some history and goals
- Services – links to separate pages about each of the services offered by your organization
- Contact – ways to get in touch, including phone number(s), location(s), hours, email address(es) and a contact form
- Support – to provide your visitors with a way to find answers to common questions or get help by email or phone (or live chat if you add this feature)
4. Decide on how dynamic your site will be.
Do not look upon the opportunity to blog lightly. Many website visitors consider a site newsworthy and will visit repeatedly if they expect fresh information. Additionally, you may offer visitors the opportunity to subscribe to receive emails when you post new articles. If you are interested in online visibility, blogs that are updated frequently perform better in search engines, according to Forbes.com contributor Jason DeMers. Only begin blogging when you or your team are able to furnish interesting content on a regular basis.
5. Choose the vehicle for your message.
If you have read this far, you may be thinking of being your own webmaster. With a plan in hand, contact your web host to find out which web builder applications come with your account. Add on items such as e-Commerce modules to allow you to collect payments securely. If you have multiple free builder options, it’s a good idea to examine your best picks before deciding on which one you will use. Fortunately, many hosts will also offer a free, branded WYSIWYG site builder.
Modern sites built with these tools tend to be ‘responsive,’ or visually compatible across devices including mobile phones. Of course, you’ll need to take some time to go over design options such as color, look and layout. To kick-start your knowledge of what is out there, see PC Mag’s list of Best Website Builders 2018. You will find that social media integration (such as for Facebook, Twitter or Instagram) is built in. Read How Governments are Using Social Media Today by GovLoop’s Catherine Andrews to see how agencies benefit from the integration of social media.
6. Raise your visibility with SEO.
SEO, or Search Engine Optimization, helps web search sites to better find your content on the World Wide Web. GovLoop contributor Joe Flood believes you can do SEO on your own, with some great writing and attention to consistency. Search engines respond to inquiries by scouring the web for keywords in pages, posts, images, videos, news articles and scholarly writings online.
Being website-ready also means making sure your site is easily found. Keywords literally focus on what your content is all about, making it easier to index by search engines. Also, make sure that the details on your website are relevant. Flood recommends writing content people want to read and using analytics to see what search terms are driving people to your site. There are many web analytics tools available. FirstSiteGuide.com offers dozens of these on its Ultimate List of the Best Web Analytics Tools 2018.
7. Use domain email to complete the professional feel.
An email based on your domain name inspires confidence and completes the ‘look’ of your online presence. Being website-ready involves all aspects of your interaction with the public. Avoid using free email account services to manage your correspondence. Incidentally, all communications should go through official channels for compliance, as well as audit and quality control. If you need help in selecting which service will work best for you, it’s PC Mag to the rescue again, with its list of Best Hosted Email Providers for 2018. Chances are, your new web host will already have one or more of these or other email solutions available, so be sure to ask.
Indeed, it’s possible to become website-ready with limited experience if you are willing to be patient with the process. Your site may require more or less, but setting up an online presence is not to be taken lightly. Being website-ready requires planning, expertise and focus on your mission. Work with your budget and personnel availability to create a website that is manageable for you and useful to your clients, patrons and customers.
Anita Davis is part of the GovLoop Featured Contributor program, where we feature articles by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Contributor posts, click here.