Blogging is a fantastic marketing tool, and one that all online business owners need in order to extend their reach and increase their visibility. However, it can be frustrating and even overwhelming trying to start creating a business on the web and you may be wondering where you should start, and how.
How to start your blog
One of the most frequent conversations that I have with would-be bloggers is “But can I not use a free host and then see what happens?”. The answer is yes you, but what happens is predictable and I'll predict it right now. You will not grow a business online. You may make one or two fluke sales but that's it. You'll blame your products, the economy, and all number of other things but the truth is you never bothered with the fundamental of all online business plans – own your own site.
If you plan on doing business on the web, then a domain name and a good web host are essential. These two things will form the foundation of your online business.
Need a domain name? Brainstorm a brilliant domain name here. The domain name is like your house number. It's nice to have a keyword in it (we have a business) and whilst your own name is great… someone has to know you already ie know your name in order to search for you. Stack the odds for success in your favour by including a keyword.
One final note about domain names… Which looks better to you?
Which one is easy to remember? And that's why you need your own domain name and not something with an additional extension. These are good sites, but they're not suited to a business site.
Got a domain name? The next step is web hosting…
What is Web Hosting?
If you’ve never built a website, then all of the terms might be confusing at first. Think of the process like you were going to buy a retail outlet. First, you’d find and buy property in a commercial area, maybe a high street or a marketplace.
In this scenario, the property is your hosting. In the virtual world, you can't say visit the shopping center and look for my shop, and you probably wouldn't do that in the real world either. You'd be more specific. You’d tell them exactly how to come to your place by giving them an address like ‘ 23 high street’. Online, you give the domain name in the way that you give the street address in real life.
Now you can see why the domain name is now important. If you have your premises in a rough part of town, even if your shop is pretty no one will want to visit you. Think Tiffany.com versus Tiffany.wix.com
You tell potential customers to find your services at ‘NancyBradyCoach.com’ rather than NancyBrady.com. Now, you have your virtual land (hosting) and the address (domain name) so you can build your shop.
My final thoughts on the free domain name versus one that you own. Ask yourself honestly would you buy a premium product from a site that was free? Is it the right vibe that you're giving to your potential prospects? I'm so high-end that I won't pay £10 for a domain name.
How Do I Find A Decent Web Host?
Now that you understand why you need hosting and how it works, you need to look for a reliable host. You can use Google or another search engine to find reviews of different hosts. But be careful with this approach. Sometimes, affiliates of web hosts will post glowing reviews in the hopes that you’ll click their link and they’ll earn a commission. I understand the reason why everyone recommends Bluehost is because it gives the highest commission. Not all reviewers behave this way, but how will you know from a couple of searches?
I use and recommend Siteground. It was recommended to me by the lovely Jacqui Malpass who had been through a raft of hosting companies before she found one that could handle traffic and the others things it needed. Based on Jacqui's recommendation I use them, and now I too recommend them. If something goes wrong with your website, and at some point in its lifetime it will, then you need a hosting company with good communication skills. Ask around for recommendations for web hosting and see what comes back to you.
If you're in the E.U, your web hosting company will need to host your website on a server-based in the E.U. This isn't negotiable.
What Should You Look for in a Web Host?
One of the first things you should consider when searching for a host is the uptime guarantee. Uptime is the amount of time that the server is online and functional. The industry standard is 99% uptime.
However, the host may have scheduled downtime during which they perform maintenance and other tasks. Which is great, they tend to let you know. This however may mean your site is down during the day because your hosting isn't in the same time zone.
Speed. Speed is vital. You will be marketing your website at some point and this means that you will need to have a fast website. Shared hosting is a good starting point, but remember you will outgrow it. You are not wearing the same clothes you wore as a toddler; you're an adult with different needs. Your hosting package may have plans that you will need to consider when upgrading. You don't need the super-duper plan straight out of the box, but you will need to change at some point in the future.
Pay attention to a host’s customer service options. Some web hosts offer 24/7 telephone and chat support. Some hosts have an extensive knowledge base that’s searchable. Customer service may not be a big deal to you right now. But if something goes wrong(and it will), you’ll be glad to have it. Again, check the time zones. If you're based in Europe having a host on Pacific time can mean waiting 12+ hours before your ticket gets a response.
Some companies, like WP Engine, offer managed hosting. This means they will manage your website updates for you. Often with managed hosting, you cannot add plugins to your website. If you aren't going to do a lot of customisation on your site and you're not needing a lot of plugins for marketing and enhancing your services, then this is a good choice.
Often, managed WordPress hosting is offered and the customer (you) doesn't really understand what you're buying. Here you will not have to complete backups or updates. There's nothing technical for you to worry about. Your site is optimised for speed and agility. The price for this peace of mind is you are limited to what you can do with your site.
For some business owners, this is perfect for their needs.
Another thing to keep in mind is that the majority of hosting companies aren’t responsible for backups. You're responsible for these. Just like owning a shop, if someone breaks into your WordPress site and you don’t have insurance, you may lose all of your hard work. In the case of Siteground, you can pay for additional backups. However, you should back up your site elsewhere “just in case”.
I highly recommend using UpdraftPlus
The pro version is the easiest and best I have ever used and I have used and researched a lot of these over the years, you don't need to understand cpanels it's all done in the WordPress platform. If you can load a plugin then you can use this. Its automated features are really good and it's the one that we use for ourselves and our clients.
I know this post will help reassure you that you are making a good business decision to invest in hosting and your own domain name. When you invest in something for the first time, and funds are tight it can be the motivation to make something of what you have.
If you have a bigger budget and a desire to get things done faster, this is something you can outsource so that you can focus on your clients rather than the technical aspects of running a business online.