Many people now use the internet as their first port of call to search for a business or service - so if you've not got a web presence you could be missing out.

It doesn't cost an arm and a leg to create a small, simple website, but it could make a big difference to your business. To find out how to create your own website in easy stages, we have described the process below.

Choose a domain name
For example, www.yourbusinessname.co.uk. You can check the availability of your chosen name at any of the domain name registration sites, for example www.123-reg.co.uk.

Once you have found an available name, then you need to register it with one of the domain name registration companies . Depending on the name you choose, this costs from about £3 per year. Once you have registered your domain name, it will remain yours for two years. When your two years is up, the company you registered the name with will contact you with the option of renewing for a further two years before it goes back on the market.

TIP : When selecting your domain name choose your words very carefully. The name you choose should be easy to spell and easy for customers to remember. If not then you could be making it harder for customers to find your site.

Create an email account
Once you have a domain name you can then create one or multiple email accounts, to your own name or "enquiries", "sales" etc - at your new website address - eg jane@yourbusinessname.co.uk. Having your own business email address always looks much more professional than jane.smith@yahoo.co.uk.

Most domain name registration companies will give you the option of setting up an email account without having to sign up for a web hosting package. It will cost you a pound or two each month, and you can access your email on the internet, or download it to Outlook Express. If and when you go ahead with a website, you can then transfer your email account to your new web host (which may or may not be the same as your domain name registration company).

Arrange web hosting

To upload information to your new domain name, you need some web space. You can get free web space on the internet, but if you are using the website for business purposes then it is not a recommended option. It can be unreliable, you may end up with a very long URL which is hard to remember, and you are often required to include flashing banner ads on each of your pages.

Web hosting companies are so numerous it can be impossible to choose between them. So it is best to either get a recommendation (Amberweb UK is happy to recommend www.clook.co.uk), or to take the easy option and pick up a web hosting package from your domain name company.

Packages vary depending on the space you will need and other options such as how many email addresses you require, for example. But for a small to medium sized site, with multiple email accounts, you should not have to pay more than £5 a month.

Note some web designers offer web hosting as part of their design package, so if you are intending to use a professional designer then don't choose any hosting until you have talked it through with them. They may be able to offer you a better deal.

Web design
Now it's time to think about the design of the site, and to choose whether to use a designer or do it yourself. It is not impossible to design a site yourself, using Microsoft Front Page for example. Or you can buy an 'off the shelf' website, which provides you with a pre-designed template into which you simply insert your copy.

However, no DIY site will ever look as good as a site built exclusively for you by an experienced, professional web designer. Of course, it all comes down to budget. Web designers are not cheap, they usually charge upwards of several hundred pounds to design an original site for you, but if you have a product to sell, it can be well worth the investment.

If you google "web designer" you get about 18 million hits, so it is very difficult to know where to start if you do want to choose a designer. Again it is best to get a personal recommendation if possible (Amberweb UK can recommend several firms to you - please contact us for details). Alternatively, contact the owner of a site you like, and ask if they would be prepared to pass on details of their designer.

Prepare the content and images
Now you need to think about the content for your site. Basically, it's your web space, so you can add anything you like to your website! A good start for small businesses is to include your company logo, a short description of the products and services your company offers, your contact details, information on how to order, and ideally some testimonials from previous satisfied customers. Add to this a couple of photographs or graphics which represent your business offering and you have enough information to populate your first web page.

Note - if you are selling products online then you are legally obliged to include certain information on your site.

TIP: always get your web content edited and proof-read. However fantastic your design, if the content is poorly written and full of typos, you won't get taken seriously. As a bare minimum, get a proof-reader to check it through before launch (contact Amberweb UK for details of our website proof-reading and editing services).

Your new website - next steps
Your content and images are prepared and ready, your design is finalised. Next step is to upload your new site to your web space - and you are now the proud owner of a website!

The final stage of the process is to submit the URL of your site to the major search engines, eg Google, Lycos, etc to make sure your website will appear in the results of a relevant internet search. You can do this manually by visiting each search engine in turn, eg www.google.co.uk/addurl, and inputting your URL.

Now keep the content fresh
It is essential to regularly add new and fresh content to your website if you want to keep it up-to-date. If you want to add pages or new sections to your website, then we can create content for you, or work with your existing copy to prepare it for your website. See our section on updating your website.

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This site is copyright E J Cooper t/a Amberweb UK, Surrey. Last updated 2 February 2007.
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