Free and low-cost resources for building a web presence when you're just getting started
You have a fantastic product or service, a fascinating story to tell potential customers, and unbounded enthusiasm. There's only one thing you don't yet have: a web presence. You can create a professional and functional online destination for your business – and it needn't break the bank.
Before you can establish a web presence, you need a home for it. A custom domain name will give people a memorable, catchy way to find your company online. A domain registrar can help here by helping you to search for an available name online, and then register it cheaply.
The domain name gives you an online identity, but when people type it into their browser, what will they see? One way to create an effective web presence without investing in web design skills is not to build your own at all.
Instead, consider a page created for your business on a social network as a destination for visitors. By using a 301 redirect – a free, easily-changeable setting on your domain registrar's site – you can automatically redirect visitors to a specific web address elsewhere on the web when they type your domain name into a browser.
That web address could take then to a page on Facebook. The social network allows businesses to create highly informative pages for free. This can serve not only as a basic source of information about your business, but also as a community hub for customers to share stories and information.
Alternatively, businesses or individuals can use pages on other social network sites, such as their LinkedIn profile or company page, an Instagram page, or a YouTube channel or Vimeo account.
If your business focuses heavily on ecommerce, you may want to consider redirecting to a marketplace page instead. Funnelling visitors through to your eBay or Etsy account gives your web page a single, focused purpose – to generate sales.
If you do want to create your own web page, then many web hosting companies will give you a free basic web site along with your domain name registration. These services often include basic web site templates, or rudimentary design tools to help you customize it a little.
Is a basic web page still not enough for your business needs? Perhaps you want a full-featured web site with regularly-updated content and interactive elements. Using a hosted version of Wordpress provides you with a free but powerful content management system that you can tailor to your needs.
Many hosting companies offer a one-click Wordpress installation. Then, enhance it with one of the free Wordpress themes that can give your site a professional look. Many entrepreneurs use Wordpress themes to build everything from online magazines to full-featured ecommerce stores.
Whether you're developing a web site of your own or using a social network or marketplace site, you can't ignore the 500lb gorilla of web resources: Google. Google My Business is a dedicated service for both bricks-and-mortar and online businesses. By registering your business with this free service, you can create a virtual storefront for your company complete with a phone number, address, and map (where appropriate). This will surface your business in local search results.
Don't restrict yourself just to Google's business listings, though. Register with the other heavy-hitters in this space, such as Yelp, which is an increasingly popular source of local business searches.
The web is a popular way for people to find you, but how can you keep them coming back to your site after that? Consider an email list as a low-cost but powerful way to boost your web presence.
You can choose a low-cost or free email lead generation plugin for Wordpress such as Email Subscribers & Newsletters, and then create regular newsletters to send to those who sign up, keeping your company on their radar. Use special offers and useful tips related to your product or service to give subscribers value and help build a relationship with them.
Developing a web presence doesn't have to be expensive, but it does take some forethought. It all starts with a creative domain name, which you can use as the online destination for your business. What visitors see when they get there is limited by your imagination, more than by your budget.