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Websites: Build a Business Site

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Hi there! Interested in taking this course?
First, you’ll need to sign up or log in to WordPress.com

Want to register for this course? Visit the Blogging U. home page, and click the “Start” button next to any course to get going!

Build a Business Website is ten days of tasks, tips, and advice on how to plan site content and use it to create a business website to help you meet your business goals. Each day, you’ll get a new task. We’ll ask you to define the type of site you need and create pages and site navigation. We’ll look at themes and customization, custom domains, SEO, and get you up to speed on social networks. Whatever your business goals, Build a Business Website will help you create a site you’re proud of.

This course’s assignments don’t require publishing posts, if if you’d like to post, use the tag #businessbasics — and browse the tag to see what other participants are up to!


Day One: Defining Your Site

How do I define my site?
Today, we want you to do some thinking about what kind of site you’ll have and the actions you want site visitors to take so you can create site pages and content. Sites differ greatly based on the product and/or services you offer.

What type of site will you have?

  • An online calling card / brochure that introduces customers and potential customers to your business and your products/services?
  • A mechanism to share your thinking and connect with readers?
  • A portfolio of your creative work?
  • Something else entirely?

Which actions do you want users to take on your site?
Here are a few examples:

  • I want visitors to book my services via contact form.
  • I want visitors to subscribe to my blog.
  • I want visitors to order my products.

Once you’ve decided the type of site you’re going to create and you’re clear on the actions you want site visitors to take, write a short site definition you’ll use to help plan the content for your site.

UGH. I’m not sure what sort of site I need. Do you have any sample site definitions?

Here are some sample site definitions for various types of sites:

  • Philbert is launching a greenhouse business and he needs a site to share his products, communicate his location to new customers, and create a community around his business by blogging about flower and vegetable gardening.
  • Mimi runs a food truck called, “Tacos on Wheels” in Winnipeg, Manitoba. She wants to share where to find the truck during lunch and summer festivals, and the menu, which changes each week.
  • Harriet is in journalism school and she wants a place to showcase her longform work and links to pieces she’s published online — something she can share with prospective employers.
  • Hervé is an artist and he wants to build a site to share his sketches and watercolors and blog about materials and processes.
  • Paolo is a career coach. He needs a site where people can learn about his services, read testimonials from his customers, and where he can blog about job hunting and career advice.

I’m really stuck — I don’t know how to define my site. Help!
List your competitors or other people or businesses in the industry that you admire. Now Google their sites — what type of content do they have on their sites? Make a list of the pages you see, and the content you find on those pages. This will give you a base from which to start. Sometimes things become less murky once you have a place from which to begin — ideas will flow once you get into the task.

Day Two: Creating Pages and Content

How do I create a page for my site?
Here’s a guide on how to create a page.

Hang on one second — I’ve read about posts and pages, and I’m confused. What’s the difference?
Posts appear on your blog page, usually in reverse chronological order. When you publish a new post, the older posts move down the page so your latest post is always at the top. At Bewildered Creatures, posts are found on the main page.

Pages are static and typically don’t change very often (unless you want to update them). An About page is a classic example. Here’s the About page at Bewildered Creatures.

Ok. I’ve created my pages. Now what?
Write your content. If you’re not sure what to write, put in some placeholder text — you’ll want to have some text or content on the page so you can see how the look of your site changes when you preview new themes. If you’re not sure where to go to get placeholder text, check out Lorem Ipsum. You can generate a few paragraphs of text and copy and paste it into the pages of your site.

UGH. I’m stuck. Can you give me some tips on how to plan and create content for my site?
When in doubt, turn to Google. Research your competitors. What is it that sets you apart from your competition? You’ll want to make sure you highlight the unique benefits of the product or service you’re selling, even if you’re selling professional services. This might turn into a “Why Choose Me” or “Why Choose [Business Name]” page.

Which three most important things would you want a customer to know about you or your business: How to see your work or your products? Customer testimonials? Your location? How to get in touch with you? Answering these questions will help you define the pages you need for your site and the content that will appear on them.

What types of questions do you receive by phone? By email? What do customers ask when they walk in your door? If you put this information on a page on your site, would it help save you and your employees time and help you be more efficient?

Check out Measure Twice, Cut Once, a Daily Post article that covers site pages and content planning.

I’m not sure which pages I should create and I’m not sure what sort of content to put on them. Any guidance?

Let’s look at our sample site definitions for insight on pages and content.

Philbert is launching a greenhouse business and he needs a site to share his products, communicate his location to new customers, and create a community around his business by blogging about flower and vegetable gardening.

This sample site definition suggests these three pages. (Note we suggest three just to get you started, but you can always create more!)

Products page
Content:

  • List of products with accompanying photos and prices.

Location page
Content:

  • Google map embed marked with the business location.
  • Business hours.
  • Exterior photo of the business to help customers to find it.

Blog page
Content:

  • Regular posts on annual and perennial care and placement within the garden.
  • Column: Frequently Asked Questions Answered. (Take a question that customers frequently ask, and answer it with Philbert’s expert tips and advice.)

Here’s another sample page list and content plan:

Harriet is in journalism school and she wants a place to showcase her longform work and links to pieces she’s published online — something she can share with prospective employers.

This sample site definition suggests these three pages:

About page
Content:

  • A short bio and photo to help readers get to know a bit about Harriet.

Published Work page
Content:

  • A list of links to Harriet’s work online.

Contact page
Content:

  • A contact form that allows site visitors to get in touch with Harriet.

I want to add images to my pages. Help!
Here’s how to add images to a page.

Where can I get good, free images for my site?
Here’s a set of sites that offer high quality, free images. Make sure you credit the image to the source. That’s neighborly on the internet.

One of my pages has a contact form. How do I create that?
Check out this guide — it has the full details on how to create a contact form, step-by-step.

I want to add a blog page to my site. How do I do that?
Good news! On every site, by default, the blog page is the home page. When you write a new post, it will automatically appear on the home page.

I want a blog, but I don’t want that blog page as my home page. What do I do?
Many businesses prefer to have a welcome page or introductory content on their home page — something that’s static and doesn’t change very often. Here’s some information on how to create a static home page and designate a page other than the home page for your blog.

I don’t want visitors to be able to see the site while I’m building it. What can I do?
You can set your site to private while you’re working on it so that no one but you can see it.

Day Three: Creating Menus and Adding Your Logo

My pages are ready. How do I create a menu and assign my pages to it?
A menu is the mechanism visitors use to get around your site. Here’s a sample menu:

Here’s the navigation menu at Automattic.com:

automatticnav

For full details, check out this guide, which walks you through how to create your main navigational menu and activate it on your site, step-by-step.

For good further reading, check out “Get Published” on Learn WordPress.com for more information on how to create pages and menus.

How do I upload my logo?
Here’s a short guide that walks you through how to upload your logo, step-by-step.

I don’t have a logo. What can I do?
Choosing a font for your site’s title that suits your business can be a great, simple alternative to a logo.

To add your site’s title (if you haven’t already), go to My Sites → Customize → Site Title, Tagline, and Logo. Enter your text and click on Save & Publish for your changes to take effect.

To try out some fonts, go to My Sites → Customize → Fonts and click on the default font title to reveal font options. Click away and check out the live preview on the right-hand side of the screen. When you see one you like, click on Save & Publish for your changes to take effect.

Day Four: Theme Selection

I’ve never used the Customizer before. Can you share some tips?
Here’s some good reading on how to explore themes and customize your site.

You have so many themes! How do I choose?
How do you want your business to be perceived? What words would you use to describe it? Would it be professional yet friendly, or sophisticated and exclusive? Perhaps something else entirely? Brainstorm a few words and then enter those descriptors into the search box at the Theme Showcase. Experiment with different terms or use the filters provided to narrow your search. For example, here’s a list of sites returned by the term, “professional.”

To help whittle down your options, try our three rules of thumb:

  1. Pick something that speaks to you. You might admire simplicity and bold typography on other sites, but if your business demands a look that’s sophisticated yet friendly, head in that direction.
  1. Consider your content. If you know you’ll be posting lots of images, pick a theme meant to show off photos. If you simply want to communicate important information, choose a streamlined theme that makes your words the star. Not sure what you want to publish? Try anything!
  1. Think about your priorities. Some themes have a very distinctive look out-of-the-box. Others let you add custom touches like headers and backgrounds, while some have a variety of layout options. Take a look at a theme’s features, and think about how much time you want to spend getting things configured.

Any insight into how others pick their themes? Have any great sample sites to share?
We talked to several bloggers about how and why they chose their theme — read more from them.

To get you inspired, we share how site owners take a basic theme and make it their own. Here’s “Twenty Fifteen Three Ways,” “Customizing Radcliffe, From Elegant to Eccentric,” and “Websites for the Win: Four Home Pages” to get you started.

I’m not sure the theme I picked is right for me. Where can I get some second opinions?
Visit The Daily Post Community Pool. There, you can comment, share a link to your site and ask the participants to give you their thoughts and impressions on whether the theme matches your business’ goals and intent. A new thread opens each week. While you’re there? Return the favor for other bloggers and site owners.

I’m stuck! Where can I get help?
WordPress.com offers a forum specifically for getting help on themes. It’s full of friendly, smart people who want to help.

Day Five: Mapping a Custom Domain

I have a domain I bought at another domain registrar (like GoDaddy). How do I map that domain to my WordPress.com site?
If you already own a domain that you bought elsewhere, there are two steps that you need to take to map that domain to WordPress.com.

Domain mapping is included in the WordPress.com Premium and WordPress.com Business plans, so if you haven’t upgraded your account, the first step is to go into your dashboard, where adding a domain will prompt you to upgrade your plan.

Once you’ve purchased a plan, update your domain’s DNS settings so that they point to WordPress.com’s servers (or contact your domain registrar and ask them to update the domain’s DNS settings for you). Here’s a guide that covers both tasks, step-by-step. The guide contains the DNS information you’ll need to map your domain or provide to your registrar. Note that when you update your DNS settings, it can take up to 24 hours for the change to take effect. (It often happens much sooner than that.)

I don’t have a custom domain. Can I buy one?
You can register a custom domain from within your dashboard as part of the WordPress.com Premium and WordPress.com Business plans. This guide covers the steps to buy a domain and map it to your WordPress.com site.

I want a groovy custom email address. How do I set it up?
Email Forwarding lets you use your custom domain in your email address, so your email address can be just as memorable as your business. All your mail will be forwarded to an email address you choose.

For example: if your email address is john.smith123@yahoo.com, and you have the domain example.com for your site, you can set up jsmith@example.com using Email Forwarding. Emails sent to jsmith@example.com will arrive at john.smith54915@yahoo.com.

Follow the steps in this guide to create a custom email address and set up email forwarding for it.

I don’t know anything about domains. Where can I learn more?
Check out Wendy’s article at The Daily Post and learn how to manage your domains like a boss.

I’m stuck! I need help.
Give us a shout in Support. You can also do a search at the WordPress.com Forums to find the information you need to solve the problem.

Day Six: To Blog or Not To Blog?

I’m really stuck. I have no idea what to blog about. Any ideas?
Here’s a list of ideas to get you started:

  • Customer profiles.
  • Customer testimonials.
  • New products / services.
  • Sales.
  • How-tos: tips on getting the most out of your product / service.
  • Industry-specific tips and guidance.
  • New and interesting ways that customers use your product.
  • Photo galleries of completed projects.

Day Seven: All About Widgets

I need some more information on the various widgets and what they do.
Check out this guide on widgets, specifically the “Related” section. (You’ll need to scroll down a little — you’ll see it toward the bottom.) There, you’ll find a clickable list of the different widgets we offer. Click on any widget title to learn more about its super power.

In what ways can I use widgets to communicate information on my site?
Check out “Get Flashy.” This section of Learn WordPress.com covers how to add widgets and offers some tips on choosing widgets for your site.

I’m sold on widgets. I want to add one to my site. How do I do it?
Go to My Sites → Customize → Widgets. Select the widget area to which you’d like to add your widget, and then click on Add a Widget. Learn more in this handy guide.

I’m stuck! I need help.
Give us a shout in Support. You can also do a search at the WordPress.com Forums to find the information you need to solve the problem.

Day Eight:Broadcast Your Brand With Social Networks

I have no experience with social networks. Which one should I pick?
Google businesses that are in your industry or that you admire. Which networks do they use? What are they sharing? What are their fans chatting about? Make a list. This is going to help you choose your first social network and help you create a plan for how best to use it.

Each social network has a unique focus. Looking to attract a general audience and are unsure of where to start? Twitter might be best. If you want to broadcast to family and friends that might help you by re-sharing and re-posting content, Facebook is a good option. If you’re a professional who wants to establish yourself as a credible voice in your industry’s community, LinkedIn is the way to go.

Here’s some information on getting started with each service to help you make the choice that’s right for you:

Everyone’s got Facebook pages. What’s that all about?
If you’re running a business, you can set up what’s known as a Facebook page. Facebook pages are different from personal profiles in that they’re a mechanism for businesses, brands, and organizations to have a presence on Facebook. You can ask friends and family to “Like” your business page, which helps to attract new customers, as people tend to trust recommendations from friends. You can also create ads and promote them on Facebook within your business’ customer demographic. When you connect Publicize (see more below) you can broadcast every new post directly to Facebook without any extra effort. Learn more about how to create a Facebook page.

Ok, I’ve joined Twitter / Facebook / LinkedIn. Now what?

Connect Publicize
The first thing to do is connect your shiny new network to the Publicize feature of your site. Publicize automates the act of sharing new posts. When you publish a post, Publicize will automatically broadcast your post to the social networks you choose.

To connect to social networks with Publicize, go to My Sites → Sharing → Connections. If you have a self-hosted WordPress site, you can add Publicize with the Jetpack plugin. You can connect to one or all the available services.

Now, when you’re drafting a post, you’ll see the networks you’ve connected to under “Sharing” on the left-hand side of your screen. Tease readers and customers about your post. Add a relevant hashtag. Ask a provocative question. (The default is your post title, which is fine, but feels automated, so be sure to customize!)

Add Sharing Buttons
Once you’ve chosen a network, make it easy for you and your readers to share your stuff and find you there. Sharing Buttons are an easy way to encourage readers to share your posts without being pushy. They’re just there at the bottom of a post, making themselves available but being cool about it. Note that you can customize the text that appears above the sharing buttons. This site’s owner’s call to action says, “Tell your friends! Seriously. Tell them. Now.” Use a call to action that reflects your site’s personality and brand.

sharingbuttonskos

To make them appear automatically at the bottom of your posts, go to My Sites → Sharing → Sharing Buttons. Click on Add sharing buttons then drag in the services you’d like to have displayed, order them however you’d like, edit the heading, and presto! You can choose from a few different button styles.

sharingconfig

Plug your social networks in your sidebar
Sidebars are a useful place to plug your social networking presence. WordPress.com has widgets for Twitter, Facebook, and more and self-hosted bloggers can find plugins to add similar widgets.

Okay, my Facebook page / Twitter profile / LinkedIn profile, etc., is set up. Now what?
Using networks well means more than just publicizing your posts; if that’s all you’re doing, you’re not really making the most of your social connections. Social networks are about creating a sense of community: share other related content, and engage with your customers. Here are a few ideas:

  • Experiment with ads on Facebook. Ads an inexpensive way to promote your company within the demographic you choose.
  • Share humorous, helpful, interesting, or provocative links. Your networks become valuable when you curate, helping customers weed through the swampland of the internet to find the goodies.
  • Ask questions. If there’s one thing people enjoy doing on on the internet, it’s sharing opinions. Asking questions is a good way to get feedback on what your readers are interested in.
  • Share status updates. Are you having a sale? Got a new product in inventory? Offering a new service? Have a testimonial to share? Be sure to keep customers up-to-date on what’s happening with your business. It might just improve your sales and your bottom line.

I’m stuck. I need help!
Visit the WordPress.com Support Forums for friendly advice.

Day Nine: SEO And Your Site

How do I audit my site’s SEO?
While search algorithms change often, there are a few fundamentals you can examine to make sure that you’re presenting your site in the best possible way to search engines who come crawling. Here are some tips:

  • Enter a front page meta description. Go to My Sites → Settings → SEO and complete your front page meta description. Search engines will often display your front page meta description as a part of search results, so make sure yours accurately describes your site’s purpose and content.
  • Verify your site. Some search engines allow you to verify your site, which allows you to access their webmaster tools and advanced stats about your site traffic. Learn more about site verification.
  • Create an XML sitemap. Sitemaps are special-format pages that let search engines know what pages exist on your site and where to locate them. An XML sitemap can help search engines index your site more quickly. After you’ve verified your site using Google, Bing, or Yandex’s webmaster tools, you can submit your sitemap to those services so that search engines can easily find all the pages on your site. Learn more about how to create a sitemap.
  • Consider keywords. You’ll want to make sure you brainstorm the most important keywords for your site and use them frequently in your tagline, post titles, posts, and tags. For example, if you run a travel website, your keywords might include, “travel,” “vacation,” “hotel,” the names of destination cities, and other related words such as “nomad,” or “backpacking.”
  • Write a descriptive tagline. Even if your theme doesn’t display your tagline, search engines can still see it. Make sure yours accurately describes what your site is about. Your tagline is a great place for your most important keyword.
  • Ensure your profile is complete. Go to your Profile and ensure your name, your screen name, and most importantly your site’s URL appears on your Profile links. This is especially important when you comment on others’ sites.
  • Publish regularly. Make sure that you’re offering new content frequently so that Google comes crawling to index your site. This is why blogging is very important.
  • Be selective with tags. Choose only the tags most relevant to your posts. Posts with too many tags can be viewed as spammy and those a combination of more than 15 tags and categories may not appear in the Reader.

Can you share some further reading on SEO?
Why yes, yes we can:

I’m stuck. I need help!
Visit the WordPress.com Support Forums for assistance.

Day Ten: Five Final Tips

Can you believe it? We’re almost done. Check out these five final tips on how to build and tend your growing audience and customer base!

  1. Put yourself out there. Make time to visit the Reader, follow blogs and sites you’re interested in, and comment thoughtfully on others’ posts. Every time you leave a comment on someone else’s site, you also leave your name and your site’s URL automatically (provided your Profile is complete). People are naturally curious about that awesome someone who left a thoughtful comment on their blog and they’ll follow the link back to your site to learn more about you. If there is one single thing that you take away from this course on how to grow an audience, let it be this tip. Reaching out and making new contacts is something you should invest in regularly. Setting aside each day or each week will pay dividends.
  2. Be responsive on social networks and in your blog’s comment section. If you’ve created a Facebook page, a Twitter presence, or a LinkedIn profile, be sure to respond to customer comments / concerns on that network. Customers might not pass go and head directly to your site — be sure not to miss an opportunity to engage with them on the network they’ve chosen to reach out to you. There’s nothing worse than seeing a Facebook page filled with customer comments / concerns where the page owner is silent. Along the same lines, when visitors comment on your posts, be sure to keep the conversation going — people appreciate the acknowledgement and it’s an easy way to build relationships with current and potential customers.
  3. Keep your site content current. We’ve all seen it: that site where the latest blog post is three years old, the store hours quoted are winter hours and it’s definitely summer by the flowers in bloom outside your window. Don’t be that site. It shouts underachiever — and that is definitely not the message that you want to send to your loyal and growing customer base. Every month, (or even more often) take a few minutes to read through your site and update your content. Your customers already know you care; ensure your site reinforces that fact.
  4. Re-share older content periodically. Check out your stats to find out what your top posts and pages are. Be sure to re-share them on your social networks periodically. Remember, if someone hasn’t seen your post, it’s new to them. If you’re just starting out and you don’t have enough visits to know which posts and pages are resonating, diarize this task and return to it in a few weeks or a month.
  5. Subscribe to The Daily Post; mine the archives for gold. While you may be solely responsible for building and maintaining your site, you’re not alone. The Daily Post has years’ worth of content on every WordPress site-subject you might be interested in. And, if you’re looking for feedback on any changes you’re making or just to get some impressions of how your site comes off to potential customers, visit The Community Pool. A new thread opens every Monday — drop by, share a link to your site, ask for specific feedback, and be sure to return the favor for others in the pool.