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The advice that follows will help you create an effective plan — and it could also help you if you have a website but aren't getting the results you want from it.

The Basics - Domain Registration
First, register your domain name. Select a name that best represents your company and is not already appropriated by another business. Remember that long or complicated domain names can be easy to misspell by your existing or potential customers. It's smart to also register variations or misspellings of your primary domain so customers who don't have the name quite right can still find you. To check for availability of a domain or to register a domain now, please click here.

Website Hosting
Next, you need a Web hosting service, which we provide at very affordable pricing. Our plans have a range of choices for features, disk space and bandwidth, and can easily grow with your business.

Search Engine Submission
When you're ready, you'll want to optimize the site so search engines quickly find you. This ongoing process and will be discussed with you in your consultation.

Check out your Competiton
Spend time reviewing the Web sites of your competitors, big and small. Jot down your likes and dislikes. Bookmark other sites that appeal to you so we can review these sites in the initial phases of designing your website.

Information Gathering
Think through these questions.
1. What kind of website will best meet your needs?
- Informational. This site is an online marketing brochure or branding tool that invites visitors to learn about the company and its offerings. It a good choice when you expect customers to call or visit after researching online.

- Transactional. This, of course, is an e-commerce site. That can run from selling one product (a software program) to selling a service (online data storage) to a niche catalog that supports a brick-and-mortar shop to a fully functioning online store. Transactional sites are geared for a visitor ready to purchase. (For more about creating an online store, see this page.)

- Relationship builders. This site works to develop relationships with customers over time. It encourages involvement and two-way communications, providing valuable data or expertise while requesting and capturing visitor information in return. Such sites offer educational or time-sensitive information and motivate repeat visits. That means you must invest in updating the content. These sites are designed for businesses that benefit or grow by interacting with their customers.

2. How will the Web site boost your offline business goals?

Businesses that combine goals can harness Web tools to provide tailor-made solutions.

3. What are your budget and plans for future site development?

The fast pace of small companies often results in throwing up a Web site just to get a "placeholder." But unplanned or "slap-together" sites can turn costly, eating up staff time, spitting out glitches, and squandering opportunities.

This is not to say you shouldn't think big. On the contrary. Just implement in phases. The solution is to do the best with less. Start with a good top layer and add enough supporting info to make it clear that the company has the capabilities to do the job, whatever that may be, then add to the site as time and budget permit. If you don't invest in a quality top layer, you'll find that visitors likely won't return to check out the deeper pages.

4. Have I forgotten anyone in the process?

Don't forget employees. You can set up a private, password-protected part of the site to post company-only news.

Build it right the first time
With a smart, relevant Web site you can significantly cut marketing costs, expand your customer base, create brand or line extensions and, ultimately, grow the business.

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