Online Knowledge Base
- What is a domain name?
- How do I choose an appropriate domain name?
- What is DNS?
- What is SSL?
- What are email forwarding and aliasing?
- How do I choose a web hosting package?
- Can I access my email from a web browser?
- How can I sell my services from my web site and accept online payments?
- How much does a web presence cost?
- Can't I design my own web site?
- How does a web site compare to traditional marketing materials?
- What are frames?
- What do I need to know about web accessibility?
- What good are visitor statistics?
- How can I effectively communicate with clients and visitors?
- How can I get my site listed with search engines?
- What is reciprocal linking?
- What is Pay-Per-Click advertisement?
What is a domain name?
A domain name is the name that identifies a server available on the Internet. Typical web site domain names begin with "www." and end with ".com," although there are many possibilities in choosing a domain name.
How do I choose an appropriate domain name?
The domain name for a web site should be concise, descriptive, predictable, memorable, and evocative. It should accurately represent the name or nature of the business that the site is designed to promote. For example, a personal home page might have a domain like "ademola.com" A commercial business domain address should be more specific, like "www.naija-internet-consultants.com" Notice the hyphens in the preceding domain. It is a growing trend to reserve variants of multiple-word domains both with and without hyphenation. One reason for this is that search engines are more easily able to extract keywords from a hyphenated domain.
What is DNS?
DNS stands for "Domain Name Service." This is a network of servers on the Internet which keeps track of which domain names are associated with which IP addresses. An IP address can only be associated with a single server on the Internet, but many domain names can point to the same IP address -- and a single domain name can be associated with several IP addresses. This means that "ademola.com" and "www.naija-internet-consultants.com" could show the same web site. Used appropriately, these features of DNS allow you to catch possible misspellings of your address, or to create branded or targeted versions of your site. For example, subdomains can be created that target specific geographical areas, like "www.abuja.naija-internet-consultants.com"
What is SSL?
SSL stands for "Secure Sockets Layer," which is a protocol for encrypting confidential information, such as passwords and credit card information, transmitted over the Internet. You can tell when you are visiting a site that is using SSL because the address should start with "https://" and your browser should display a lock icon in the toolbar.
In order to provide a service, like online banking, over SSL, a secure server certificate is required. For real use, the certificate also needs to be digitally signed by a trusted certificate authority. Web browsers have a list of the authorities, such as Thawte and Verisign, from which they will accept a signed certificate. If the certificate is not properly signed, the SSL connection can still work, but the web browser may give a warning about the certificate. An SSL certificate is usually purchased on a yearly basis.
What are email forwarding and aliasing?
Email forwarding works much like postal mail forwarding. When email is being delivered, the server checks to see if there is any forwarding information on the account, and if so, resends the email to the appropriate address. For example, if you use a free, web-based email account, like Hotmail, as your primary account, you may not want to publish "email@example.com" as the primary contact address for "www.naija-internet-consultants.com." Web visitors will notice that the email address doesn't match the website address, and this does not present a very professional image. Instead, an address like "firstname.lastname@example.org" could be forwarded to "email@example.com"
Email aliasing is a similar, but more flexible, concept. The most useful feature of aliasing is that a "catch-all" address can be defined, so that any mail addressed to any nonexistent account at "ademola.com" may be delivered to "firstname.lastname@example.org" This way, you don't have to worry if a client misspells the email address. Furthermore, email aliasing can be used to create virtual "departments" for client communication.
How do I choose a web hosting package?
There are several factors to take into account when choosing a hosting service -- but the most important is knowing the budget and technical requirements for your site. There are a few widely-accepted guidelines, however. For starters, you should ensure that the service includes a "fully-hosted" domain, meaning that you access your web site with an address like "www.ademola.com" and not "www.ademola-hostingcompany.com" or "www.hostingcompany.com/~ademola/." You should determine how much storage space and data transfer is included in the package. It can be difficult to know how much you will need, but if your site will be comprised mostly of text, then the minimal storage and transfer allocations will suffice. However, if you plan to provide multimedia content like images, audio or video, then these requirements will increase dramatically. You should also find out if the hosting provider penalizes accounts that exceed the allocations. Exceeding your quota can be a very expensive situation, so it is a good idea to buy a little more space than you need, in order to give your site room to grow.
You should find out about the hardware and software being used by the hosting provider. A good server should have redundant network connections, sufficient memory, and reliable disk backups. Depending on the nature of your site, you may require a server running the Unix operating system, or one based on Microsoft technology. If you plan to have dynamic content, such as a discussion forum, shopping cart, or an interface to a database, you will need to ensure that the hosting provider can support your choice of database and scripting language.
Most hosting providers use a single server to host up to hundreds of different web sites. For most sites, which receive at most a few thousand visitors per month, this will never be a problem. However, if your site is very popular, you should consider "dedicated" or "co-located" hosting, which means that your site will be the only one hosted on your server. Extremely large and popular sites may require a "cluster" or "farm" of servers just for a single web site.
Other features of hosting packages include usage statistics and email forwarding.
Can I access my email from a web browser?
Yes! Many free email services, like Yahoo! Mail and Hotmail, let you use your web browser to read and compose emails. But a complete hosting service can also provide web-based email for the email accounts of a web site.
How can I sell my services from my web site and accept online payments?
There are a few options for e-commerce. PayPal is an online payment service, which is used by many online auction sellers, but can also be used to provide payment options for an online store. As an intermediary, PayPal handles check and credit card transactions in many currencies, and periodically mails the merchant a check for payments. For a small, primarily web-based business, PayPal can be a good choice, because it requires minimal time and money. Anyone living outside Nigeria with an email address can sign up for a PayPal account to send or receive payments.
For larger businesses, a merchant account will probably be necessary. There are many companies, such as Interswitch Nigeria Ltd and Cardservice International, which can provide online and point-of-sale credit card processing. If your company is already equipped to process credit cards at the point-of-sale, check with your merchant account provider to find out if they support online transactions.
How much does a web presence cost?
A complete web presence can range in cost from a few hundred naira to tens of thousands, or even millions. Ultimately, the answer depends on the nature of the site, and the budget of the company behind the site. Many design firms offer template designs which can be customized to match the image of your company. This is generally less expensive than having a completely new design created.
The amount of content on a site also contributes to its expense. A simple brochure-like site can be constructed quickly and at little expense. Dynamic content adds to the cost, as it takes time and effort to implement the programs which handle the content.
Can't I design my own web site?
Certainly! Part of the beauty of the Internet is that anyone can participate and make their own mark upon it. In a manner of speaking, designing your own site costs you nothing, but that's only if your time has no value. If you are serious about establishing a professional web presence, the services of a professional designer, or at least the use of a professionally-designed template, should be considered. Web production is a fundamentally simple practice, yet the many ever-changing subtleties and finer points take years to master.
How does a web site compare to traditional marketing materials?
There are many things a web presence can offer that traditional marketing cannot. For one, your web site is always in the same place, and is available to the entire world of Internet users, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. If necessary, you can make instant edits to your site reflecting changes in your products, services, prices, etc., in order to satisfy customer needs. The effectiveness of traditional marketing is difficult to estimate, but with detailed web site statistics, you can easily research the behavior of the people using your site. This information can be studied so that you can determine what your users like and do not like about your site, and make adjustments.
One aspect of internet marketing that truly sets it above traditional marketing is the power it has in matching customer needs to relevant companies through search engines results. Many times, visitors come to your site actively looking for information about products and/or services that companies like yours offer. While this also happens in print and electronic directory listings, your web site can offer a lot more qualifying information to a prospect (such as company history, product demonstrations, customer testimonials, free samples, etc.) than any directory can. If you provide enough quality information, you can convert the visit to a sale.
With all the advantages of web-based marketing, there are limitations as well. Traditional marketing is usually flashy and dense, because a print ad has to be constrained to a small space, and a broadcast ad is limited to the time allowed. There isn't usually much need for a lot of text, because the image will suffice. On the web, however, useful, relevant text content is essential for good search engine placement. Well-placed ads which link to your site are helpful, but the search engines are currently the force which drives traffic on the Internet.
Finally, there are similarities between web-based and traditional marketing. A web-based marketing campaign must have a budget and clearly-defined goals. You need to know what you are selling, and to whom you are selling it. Just like a real storefront, many of the people who visit your web site will not intend to purchase anything. With an effective marketing strategy, and by studying the habits and preferences of your clients, a web presence can be a very useful supplement to traditional marketing.
What are frames?
Frames are a technique used by web designers to show several different pages in the same browser window. Frames can be a useful way to logically separate the different sections of a web site, but they can also cause problems with search engines. Some web browser software, especially those used by persons with disabilities, may not display a framed site correctly. If frames are necessary for your site, you should be sure that an alternative view is available.
What do I need to know about web accessibility?
The Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) is a movement by web standards groups to increase the usability of web sites for people with disabilities or who use atypical software. There are many available tools and resources for evaluating accessibility. The guidelines for web content accessibility include:
- providing alternative text content for audio and visual materials;
- using color effectively, while not relying solely upon color for visual cues;
- using structural, valid HTML markup with separate presentation defined by a style sheet;
- ensuring that pages display properly in atypical software, such as text-only browsers, PDAs and text-to-speech browsers.
What good are visitor statistics?
Every time a web page is visited, the server records all sorts of various information, such as the time and date, the visitor's IP address and the previous site they were on when they clicked a link to the page. By analyzing this information periodically, you can discover the times when a site is most popular, which individual pages are most popular, how people are reaching the site and which search phrases they used, the first ("entry") and last ("exit") pages they viewed on the site and those in between. Once it is known how people actually use a web site, it becomes much easier to tailor the site to increase the rate of conversion of visitor into customer.
How can I effectively communicate with clients and visitors?
That depends on your needs and those of your clients. The simplest method is by direct email, with a feedback form on your site. The visitor fills in a few fields with her contact information, and when submitted, her information is sent to you in an email. The information you collect from a visitor can be as general or specific as you desire. Perhaps you want to do mass emailing periodically, like a newsletter. By collecting a list of email addresses for current and potential clients, you can keep them informed of upcoming events or updated information on your site, and encourage them to revisit your site at times of opportunity. You can even maintain several mailing lists, for more targeted and topical information.
If you want to be more interactive, a web-based discussion group can be a good option. Discussion group software allows you to define topics and moderate the content for the forum. Using a public web-based forum to provide information and to address the specific concerns of a client not only provides valuable information to your other visitors, who may have similar questions, but it can also influence the position of your site with search engines.
How can I get my site listed with search engines?
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a hot buzzword on the Internet right now. There are many companies today that specialize in SEO and promise "premium" or "express" listing services with the major search engines, and some use questionable techniques like "cloaking" and "link farming" to try to trick the search engines. The fact is, though, that paid listings are generally kept separate from normal search results and no one can guarantee you a top listing. For example, in Google's search results, "Sponsored Links" are listed along the right side of the page. Buying sponsored links can help drive traffic to a new site, but in order to secure long-term placement in search results, it's the content of the site that really matters. Appropriate keyword optimization and reciprocal linking are the most effective techniques for drawing qualified visitors to your site.
We must emphasize the word "qualified," because traffic alone will not make your web presence successful. Your site must convert visitors into customers. Driving qualified traffic depends on selecting appropriate keyword phrases for your site, and drawing visitors who are really interested in what you have to offer.
Google has a page of information for webmasters regarding their search listings.
What is reciprocal linking?
Reciprocal linking is a cooperative technique whereby two web sites link to each other. This is important because many search engines account for links from other sites when evaluating a page's rank in search listings. Beware of free-for-all "link farms," however. A link to your site from a link farm really provides little value, because the search engines also evaluate the relevance of the pages linking to each other, and the text of the link itself. Therefore, you should try to establish reciprocal linking programs with other web sites which have something in common with yours. Professional organizations, local government and clients' sites are good choices. A link from a very popular site is worth much more than several links from unknown sites. You should also use descriptive text in your links. For example, "Click here" is not good for link relevance. Instead, use a phrase which briefly describes what is being referenced.
What is Pay-Per-Click advertisement?
Pay-Per-Click (PPC) advertisement is one of the fastest growing Internet marketing tools today. The basic idea is that you buy sponsorship of a keyword from a PPC provider, like Google or Yahoo!, and when someone searches for that keyword, your ad is displayed alongside the search results. The best part is that you don't pay for the ad impression -- you only pay when someone actually clicks on your ad. The costs of a PPC ad campaign are very reasonable and the results are usually very successful. Pay-Per-Click ads are a great way to increase the visibility of a new site, but they should be viewed as a supplement to other techniques like Search Engine Optimization.