Anyone can build a small business website (even you)

The commonly told tale is that website building is for “computer geniuses” who’ve been churning out complicated code for much of their waking lives. But it’s not true. Sure, building a massive site for a global corporation is a huge undertaking, but the tools exist, right now, for small business owners of any computer skill level to quickly create beautiful sites and online stores.

Don’t believe me? Read on.

  1. Step 1: Get a domain name
  2. Step 2: Choose a website platform
  3. Step 3: Install your domain to your website
  4. Step 4: Get a custom email address

Step 1: Get a domain name

Choosing a domain name, particularly the part after the dot (as in BUSINESSNAME dot COM), may seem like an arbitrary task, but it’s your first step to establishing legitimacy. There’s plenty of content on the web that goes over this in some detail—including our guide—but let’s reframe it here from a traditional business perspective.

Think of your domain as the location of your shop. As with a shop, you generally want to be front-and-center on the best street in town (location, location, location!) to get the most traffic. In the world of domains, here’s how the city is layed out:

  • .COM = Main Street, and the shorter your domain is, the closer you are to the center of town
  • Popular extensions (the ones you’ve probably heard of) like .CO, .NET, .IO, and your country’s ccTLD (like .NZ for New Zealand) = other streets near the center of town
  • .PIZZA, .CLUB, and the new gTLDs = the suburbs

Like any business, if you’re on top of your game, it doesn’t matter where you’re located. But at the moment, businesses are thought to be more legitimate if they’re not in an obscure location. Legitimacy is a fickle thing though—new domain extensions, like new suburbs, can grow quickly. So don’t let the fact that the domain you want in the .COM namespace is taken hold you back from starting a website. (But if you’re interested in buying that killer .COM from its current owner, here’s our guide.

One thing that’s perhaps more in your control is what goes before the dot. Here’s the basic rule: go with the name of your brand in its simplest form—don’t add identifiers that don’t belong like “buy” or “store”. So if your business name is Layshock Limo:

layshocklimo.com = good layshock.limo = in the suburbs, but it’s short and memorable, which is good ridelayshocklimo.com = not as good

Does your domain name have a sketchy past?

Technically, you can name your website anything you want, but like all things, names come with histories. Even if you have a sparkling marketing plan, getting unfavorable search results when seeking your site can be a killer. So do your research. Here’s a little video guide from Matt Cutts of Google Webmasters on how you can protect yourself from registering domain names with iffy histories.

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To recap, here are his three three main tips:

  1. Do a “site: DOMAINNAME.com” search. If you see anything fishy, be weary.
  2. Search for the domain name without the domain extension. So instead of “site: DOMAINNAME.com”, just search for “DOMAINNAME.” You never know what you might find.
  3. Search for your desired domain on archive.org. If your site used to be a scam site, you could suffer a continued SEO hit. Also note that if your site used to be something you find unsavory, you may get residual unsavory emails.

Step 2: Choose a website platform

Here’s the complicated part—or what used to be the complicated part. Ten years ago, creating a website meant finding some server space, installing your platform of choice onto that server space, then messing with some combination of a template (which meant a good deal of trial and error, even after learning some rudimentary coding skills) and some plugins until you’ve created something you’re remotely happy with. E-commerce was always tricky, keeping things updated was always a chore, and if you forgot to backup your site… kapow! All gone.

Things today are quite different. In the iwantmyname Marketplace, we’ve cultivated a number of platforms that do it all. The templates are all professionally made and are often able to be changed with simple drag-and-drop interfaces. And they come stock with tools that make online shopping, marketing, and once-difficult tasks like displaying photo galleries and menus as easy as could be.

As always, be sure to do a little research before picking the platform to want to go with. Platforms vary greatly in price, features, and general ease-of-use, so it’s important to find what’s best for your needs.

Here are a few to start your search with:

Squarespace

No matter what kind of site you’re looking to build, Squarespace has the tools you need. Just to list, they have templates and tools designed for businesses, online shopping sites, physical stores, restaurants (with amazing location and menu features), musicians, podcast hosts (you can serve shows directly from Squarespace to iTunes), photographers, and painters. And they’re adding new tools and features all the time, so the platform never gets stale.

Weebly

Decisions, decisions. In a lot of ways, Weebly is a lot like Squarespace. They have great online shopping solutions, offer simple drag-and-drop tools for website creation, and have some beautiful templates to choose from. Fortunately, you can try both out for free before you decide to plop your money down—so we’d recommend that.

Big Cartel

If you’re an artist, photographer, builder, sewer, or anyone making beautiful goods, Big Cartel is an e-commerce-only solution to check out. Their platform is extremely easy to use (they’ve been building it up since 2005), they specialize in showing off independent makers, and they’re still small enough to give you some honest personal attention.

Step 3: Install your domain to your website

Easy. As. Pie. When you log in and look at your domains, you’ll see an Apps & Services column to the right of your domains. Just click “Install new service,” pick the platform you want, and follow the simple directions (it’s pretty much a one-click solution). And that’s it! (If you have any trouble though, don’t hesitate to let us know.)

Step 4: Get a custom email address

This is the secret sauce for having a successful small business site. If you’re trying to do real business, contacting customers and clients with an @gmail.com, @me.com, or @yahoo.com address is a nightmare for legitimacy. Those are free email services that anyone can sign up and use! (Just think about it—would you be more likely to respond to tim@apple.com or appletim@me.com?) What you need is an email address that’s attached to your domain, and it’s way easier to setup than you think. Just head over to our simple guide to get started.