Advice on how to use a popular web-building platform
Savvy business owners know that in order to build and maintain clientele, a website that works is an essential part of the business. In the past, businesses may have done well with a simple listing in the Yellow Pages or an advertisement in the local newspaper. These days, when a consumer wants something, he or she pulls out the smartphone and searches online. Without a web presence, business owners are certainly missing out on a segment of their market.
Moreover, even if potential customers see a paid advertisement for a business or find the listing in the phone book, it’s likely that the next thing they will do is look for the business’ website. Consumers want to browse photos, compare prices, see the hours of business and read testimonials. Online testimonials basically serve as a form of referral and are a great way to build credibility in your market.
The good news is that the barrier to entry for a new website has never been lower. It’s now affordable for companies of all sizes to have a simple, yet effective website that will help grow their business. Business owners wishing to rebuild their website or start from scratch have several options.
One excellent option is a popular web-building platform called WordPress, which powers millions of websites. WordPress was born in 2003 as a publishing tool for bloggers. Over time, it has evolved into a robust content-management system that allows users to update their content and images without knowing any complicated web coding. It’s so popular, in fact, that one in five of all websites on the Internet are now built with WordPress. This includes websites for small businesses, as well as multi-million dollar corporations.
WordPress is an open-source publishing platform that makes it easy for anyone to publish online. Open source means that the code is shared among developers. Website developers from all over the world are contributing to WordPress. This makes for a powerful and dynamic platform with seemingly endless possibilities. Unlike Dreamweaver or Microsoft FrontPage, for example, WordPress is installed on the hosting server, rather than on your computer, for free. You face no initial investment in costly software, and users can log into their website from anywhere.
To clarify, there are two separate WordPress platforms, WordPress.org and WordPress.com. At WordPress.com, anyone can create an account and publish a blog in a matter of minutes. Although this is great for some bloggers and hobbyists, WordPress.com has its limitations. WordPress.org, which is self-hosted, is the best choice for business owners. So, let’s focus on WordPress.org.
Whether you decide to go it alone or hire a developer for the initial set-up phase, here are some tips and considerations for building a great WordPress website.
Choosing a domain
If this is your first website, you’ll need to choose and then purchase a domain name. It’s best to pick a .com extension, or .org if you are a non-profit organization, but stay away from .biz or .info or any of the newer extensions. Ideally, it should closely match your business name. Try not to use hyphens. Keep it short, yet descriptive.
GoDaddy is a reputable domain registrar. No matter where you purchase your domain, be sure to choose Private Whois registration during checkout. Set up the account’s recurring billing with a credit card, so as to avoid losing your domain after your initial registration period.
In order to publish a website online you need a web host. The web host stores all of the pages of your website and makes them available to computers connected to the Internet. There are many options for web hosting. As a rule, hosting is not created equally, and cheaper is not always better. The performance of your hosting environment affects your website performance, your search engine ranking and your customer satisfaction. You want to look for a host that supports WordPress, has one-click WordPress installation and offers good customer support, ideally phone support.
Some reputable shared hosting platforms are Bluehost and HostGator. Don’t rely on your hosts’ backups. You will definitely want to make sure you set up weekly or monthly off-site backups of your website just in case anything ever goes wrong. A great plugin for that is called BackupBuddy. Or you can find a third-party provider that will handle regular offsite database and full backups.
Another hosting option is called managed WordPress hosting. Managed WordPress hosting is great because it is optimized for the WordPress platform. The host will handle the initial installation of WordPress on your server, plus it will handle periodic updates of your WordPress script, as well as handle all of your backups. Generally, websites on managed WordPress hosting are fast and offer protection from hackers.
The cost for managed WordPress hosting is higher, but you are paying for simplicity, peace of mind and optimal performance of your website. Some reputable managed WordPress hosts include WPEngine and Flywheel hosting. GoDaddy has never been a leader in hosting services, but it now offers managed WordPress hosting that could be a good solution, especially if your domain is registered with GoDaddy.
Editor’s note: You’d be wise to research hosting options by reviewing comparisons presented on websites such as PRChecker.info.
Choosing a Theme
After either you or your host has used the one-click install feature to install WordPress on your server (the place where your website is hosted), you will be ready to begin building your website. One of the first things you want to do is decide on a WordPress theme for your site. A theme is kind of like a template. WordPress is the engine, but the look and the feel of your website are determined by your theme. WordPress comes with a default theme installed. In most cases, however, you will want to upgrade to a theme that has a more robust design and more layout options for your content.
Choosing a theme can be a daunting task. There are literally thousands of options. In general, free themes are not well supported or documented. Most paid themes will cost between $30 and $100. Paid themes usually include documentation or tutorials and have some kind of customer support.
Two recommended themes include the SmallBiz Theme by Expand2Web, which is great for small businesses, and the Divi Theme by Elegant Themes, which, among many other features, includes support for e-commerce.
There are many other great themes available. One important feature to look for is a theme that is “responsive.” Using a responsive website theme ensures that your website will look good on all devices– whether it be a desktop, tablet or smartphone.
Plugins and Widgets
The beauty of WordPress is that with the use of plugins and widgets there are an endless number of custom web functions and features available to you, so you can tailor your website to your specific needs–without knowing a single line of code. Essentially, plugins are prewritten code that are used to extend the functionality of WordPress. For example, if you wanted an events calendar on your website, you could install an events calendar plugin, rather than hire a website developer to hand-code it for you from scratch. There are far too many plugins to go into detail, but, in most cases, you will want to have a social media plugin and an SEO plugin, and you will have the option of several other WordPress plugins. Many plugins are available for free from the WordPress plugin repository, and some are available for purchase. Once again, paid plugins, as opposed to free plugins, tend to come with more extensive support and may provide better features.
Similarly, widgets provide a simple and easy-to-use way of giving you design and structure control of your WordPress Theme. Like plugins, widgets require no code experience or expertise.
Nothing serves as a better example or a source of inspiration than success stories from your peers.
Here is a glimpse of two NSSF member ranges empowered by their websites.
Colorado Clays makes website changes in real time
Overlooking Colorado’s snow-covered peaks, Colorado Clays is located 30 minutes northeast of Denver and six miles from Denver International Airport. Colorado Clays is open to the public and specializes in both competitive and recreational shooting, including sporting clays, skeet, trap, rifle and pistol shooting, for all ages and abilities
Launched in May 2013, Colorado Clays is sporting a new website built on the WordPress platform. Cory Kraft, Vice President of Marketing, explained how they made the switch simply because they needed more control over their own website.
“With our old website, it was frustrating that we didn’t have access to the content changes” Kraft said. “Every time we needed a simple edit, like changing our hours or posting an upcoming event, we had to hire our web developer to do it for us. Our developer’s hourly rate was $90 per hour, with a 30-minute minimum charge. I found myself saving up all of my edits so that we could ask him to do them all at once. And then it might still be another two weeks before he could make the changes.”
This was a problem for Kraft and for Colorado Clays. They found that the information on their website was often out-of-date.
Last year Colorado Clays expanded its service offerings to include rifle and pistol shooting. At the same time they decided it was time to upgrade their website, coloradoclays.com, to a platform that would allow them to make their own changes.
Colorado Clays outsourced the initial WordPress theme setup and graphic layout to an experienced developer, but, as they had hoped, Kraft is able to manage almost all of the website maintenance herself.
“I am to the point now where I am pretty comfortable with the site, and I’m getting more adventurous with it the more I work on it,” Kraft said. “I can ask for help from our developer when I need it, but now I have the ability to update all of our information, as well as upload media, including images and PDF documents.”
“The best part,” she continued, “is that I can make impromptu changes on the site. Our business is ever changing, and our website has become a tool for making those changes in real time.”
Rochester Books enjoys the easy-to-use graphical interface
Rochester Brooks International Trap & Skeet Range, Inc. is a private, members-only gun club approximately 20 miles south of Rochester, NY. The club offers a full range of shooting sports including skeet, trap, international skeet and trap, sporting clays, 5-Stand, pistol, rifle and archery, as well as hunting opportunities for members.
Its website, www.rochesterbrooks.org, was rebuilt about two years ago on the WordPress platform. Karen Dolan is their IT/ Communications Manager who manages the website.
“WordPress is easy,” she said. “You can do it without writing or knowing any HTML code. It has a good graphical interface, with menus and buttons, that makes it user friendly.”
Dolan recommends that anyone interested in a WordPress website hire an expert to help with the initial site setup. After that, almost anyone who is interested to learn how to manage his or her own website should be able to do so without extensive help from a developer.
“I am sort of a techy person, but I don’t have any formal training in website maintenance or coding,” Dolan said. “WordPress is easy once you take the time to sit down with someone and learn how to create new pages and posts.”
Dolan also likes maintaining the Rochester Brook WordPress site because she can log onto it from anywhere.
“Most of the time,” said Dolan, “I do the website edits from my home on my own computer. I can update the website virtually instantaneously. It’s convenient and fast.”
Outdoor Business Network Offers Solutions
for NSSF Members
A business looking for help with its website or online marketing efforts may want to take advantage of the NSSF member discount provided by the Outdoor Business Network (OBN), “the complete online solution for the firearms dealer!”
OBN provides turn-key managed eCommerce solutions, website design, custom programming, fulfillment management and inventory and shipping integration for small to midsize outdoor retailers.
All NSSF members are eligible to receive a 10 percent discount on all OBN services. Visit outdoorbusinessnetwork.com/nssfbenefits.html or call 800-699-0820 ext. 1 to learn more about the services and discounts that OBN can provide to NSSF members.