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Web Design Solutions for Small Local Businesses, Nonprofits, and Schools that are Stuck.
Published: April 9, 2019
Written by Kyle Null
Category: Web Design

When I first started working as an IT Director for a nonprofit Montessori school I discovered they had been duped by a 3rd party web agency.

 

One of the hardest things to see in business is when a small local company, nonprofit, or school gets taken advantage of by self-aware businesses. I’ve been a technology & digital marketing consultant for over 20 years and I’ve seen a lot of bad work being done for incredibly high prices. It’s easy to find similar examples of this in any industry really. For instance, when I go to get my oil changed I have no idea if I’m getting ripped off when I sign up to get a new filter, the weird stuff on my battery blasted off, and whatever the super expensive transmission thing is that they said I don’t really need now, but I should get it soon before my car falls apart. The difference here is these things cost like $150 total, whereas the Montessori school got tricked into paying for a $15,000 website that they contractually retained zero control over. It would of been okay, but the quality of the website was equivalent to the ones I was making for my Rainbow Six Guild when I was 13 on yahoo’s geocities back in 1999. 

Below you’ll find some good advice and get a decent beginners web development overview that will help you get through the initial decision making process of starting a website from scratch and/or regain control over your website that is being held hostage by an agency.

Feel free to give me a call, text, DM, reply in the comments, or e-mail if you need any help with this stuff. 

E-mail: k@nullen.io | Phone: (574) 327-1083

 

 

Step 1: Acquire Hosting & Your Domain Name

If you’re creating a brand new website or trying to gain control over your present one you’re going to have to choose a new hosting company to point your domain to and migrate your present site to. The hosting company acts a bit like a public garage that you, and other small businesses, permanently park your cars in. Then your domain-name.com is the car you can purchase from any car dealer, including the parking garage, prior to indefinitely parking – or pointing it.

In general, I’ve found it’s easier to organize things financially if the domain and hosting are all purchased and managed in the same place. However, you may be forced to keep them separate if you’re wanting to use interesting domain names that are cool for branding purposes. Many startup companies are actually choosing their business’ name 100% based on the available names under trending domain endings like .ly. 

There are many website hosting companies. A lot of them do affiliated marketing with bloggers — so if you Google, “Best Web Hosting in 2019” you’re going to get conflicting results based on which hosting company is pumping out the most money to the top tech sites. Presently, this is how the Internet works. Whatever blog post is at the top of your Google search results tends to be affiliated with the correct answer. There are no correct answers when it comes to technology.

Even though I should participate in affiliated marketing, I don’t. I feel it cheapens the sincerity of the services I offer. Others may disagree with my suggestions, but this is a great place to start if you’re new to this and are trying to figure stuff out. =)

Personally, I don’t think it matters who you choose to host your site. The only thing that matters is, do you like the way they do customer service? Some people like to use chat boxes, others like to make phone calls. I’m a chat box kind of guy, and I want that chat box to solve my problems quickly, and do everything for me safely & securely while I’m multi-tasking other work.

So if I’m responsible for your website, I’m likely going to recommend a hosting company that has nice customer service for me to deal with on your behalf.

Many clients I’ve had purchased their domains from GoDaddy. GoDaddy tends to be the most popular choice because controversy and sex-sells and they’ve ran some pretty viral marketing campaigns during the super bowl. Outside of that, clients tend to either host their site default with GoDaddy, or they’ve hired an overpriced 3rd party web agency to manage things on their behalf. Either way, I do a lot of website migrations.

 

Website Hosting Recommendations

 

Namecheap: https://www.namecheap.com/

This website you’re presently looking at: https://nullen.io is hosted by namecheap. I originally chose namecheap because they sell different domain endings for reasonable annual costs — hence the .io for this website. Sadly, the guy that owns nullen.com wants too much money for it. Maybe for one of Nullen’s birthdays I’ll buy it for her. By the way, .io represent’s input-output which is affiliated with tech / design sites. 

Anyway, Namecheap always seem to be increasing the amount of domain endings they offer and it’s fun to hop on their search tool to see what ones are available. One ending they don’t offer presently is .gg, which is the new default ending for e-sports websites & tools. You can reliably acquire a .gg domain name here: https://www.gandi.net/en/tlds/gg/prices if that’s the industry you’re in.

Namecheap’s support is incredibly reliable. They run things through a chat service and I’ve written wonderful things back to them in their surveys they send me after they’ve fixed my problems.

I purchase a lot of different domains through them as well — various business ideas and imaginary brands my wife and I invent. I’d highly recommend it. Also, buy your kid’s full names, they’ll thank you later. It’s only about $10 a year to do.

The only reason a client doesn’t go with namecheap is due to budget limitations, as they are a bit more expensive for hosting than the other’s below.

GoDaddy: https://www.godaddy.com/

I’ve had a lot of problems with these guys. Almost all of my clients have shared slow website loading times. I actually lost a client because the client affiliated my work with the constant issues that GoDaddy’s weak services were causing with their website, e-mail hosting, and slow timings of them fixing server issues.

In the past, I feel they were more reliable, which is why they are the giant company that they are. But if you’re trying to do something modern — in terms of web development – don’t bother going with them because they can’t adapt to your needs without inconvenience or price increases.

BlueHost: https://www.bluehost.com/

WordPress.org recommends these guys as one of their default hosting providers. I presently have a client operating on their hosting and it’s reliable, good, and has great customer service. You can’t go wrong with these guys.

Their interface is a little wonky to get used to and it’s highly likely when you first get your website switched over to them that you’ll have to deal with their tech support. It’s good tech support, but the point is, is that you’ll likely have to get in touch with them in order to get things setup the way you want. 

I ran into a big challenge with a client that had one 3rd party company managing their IT support and e-mail server, while a separate web agency managed and controlled their website. Bluehost did a good job helping me navigate that ocean of troubleshooting during the migration process.

Site5: https://www.site5.com/

I switched a client from Site5 to the cheapest possible option at the time, HostGatorhttps://www.hostgator.com/

Site5’s server’s seemed extremely slow for the high cost they were charging. It also seemed like their bill was gradually increasing without them telling anyone. HostGator is super cheap and somewhat reliable. The only problem I had with them is their customer service is a little weird to get access to and were slow on getting things resolved for me. They have a huge affiliated marketing program out there so there are all kinds of discounts on many different websites that you can find to reduce your hosting cost.

If you’re a student or an individual that wants to create a website to practice on, or start a blog with I’d highly recommend running it on one of the cheapest plans you can find with HostGator. Then later, when you get more serious you can migrate over to a fancier hosting company that can handle your load.

Step 2: Install SSL Certificate

As of 2019, Google has made it mandatory that every website installs an SSL Certificate. If you don’t and someone visits your website, it’ll show them that it’s “not secure” warning them that the website they are about to visit could harm their computer or steal their identity. This overall, is clearly bad for business if your customers are visiting your site and being warned that they could be a victim of identity theft. 

The purpose of these certificates is it insures that the business the website is claiming to be is actually them. It’s literally a verification process. The more involved that verification process is, the cooler your “lock” becomes. 

For Nullen, I wanted to go all out, which required a validation process that involved hiring an accountant. 

I wouldn’t recommend going all out like this unless you’re an e-commerce store, or silly like me and want the cool looking lock + business name to show up in everyone’s browser.

Most web hosting companies provide free SSL certificate options for the first year or two that you pay for hosting. From there, it’s like $8 to $10 a year depending. Their support can help you install the free/cheap ones as well if you ask nicely.

 

Step 3: Create a Development or Staging Website

Many of the good web hosting solutions I shared above have the feature of creating a development or staging site for you, at minimal or no cost. This is a really great feature because it allows you to migrate your present website that you’re freeing from the clutches of evil doers, and making it so that you can begin creating a new website behind the scenes. Then even after you finish development and make it live you can still experiment on the dev site, and do training sessions with employees.

At this point, unless you have a tech savvy insider that wants to tinker with WordPress on their free time, I’d recommend hiring us to work with you on redesigning your website because it’s not going to break your budget and we’ll do a nice job.

However, if you are in the mood for DIY, I’d suggest installing WordPress on your development site. Which is an option available within your hosting account. If you’re not sure where that is, you can find an easy guide by typing: Hosting Company Name + How to Install WordPress into Google. Then after creating an admin account, sign in, and do a bit of research on finding a wordpress template that resonates with you. Then install that and begin developing. This guy seems to have the cream of the crop YouTube video for learning the basics. 

Step 4: Constantly Improve & Update Your Website

Rather than worry about launching the perfect product on day one and having a giant launch party, focus more on getting it into a better place than your previous website then releasing it to the world and continually evolving it. You’re not a massive corporation. It’s ok if your online offerings are a bit incomplete at first. This even gives you the opportunity to receive feedback from people by making it public and gradually sharing it with various circles. They’ll let you know through their questions, comments, and complaints if you’ve left something off the new design. 

A fancier way of approaching this is by continually doing A/B testing. This is something that we love doing for companies that have higher amounts of traffic. You can learn a lot about your customer base by continually testing how they respond to different elements, copywriting, and content that you toss up on the website.

Big organizations are constantly evolving their web pages. Web development is now a constant, it can and should be as organically different as your weeks are at the office. By continually adding new content, coming up with better copywriting, and improving your online offerings, you’re increasing your online presence, improving your chances for conversion (successful sale), and making your organization look like you’re killing it while participating in the modern world. 

Now this may sound like a lot. But all you’ll need is access to tools that are user-friendly, you’ll need someone there every step of the way to guide and train you on these new capabilities, and you’ll want to develop a series of goals that will define what success looks like from year to year.

All of which, we’d be happy to provide for you if you’d like our help.

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