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Crafting Your Digital First Impression

Editor's Note: This is the first article in a series on creating an effective Web site for your business.

Years ago, most businesses could operate without worrying about how people would gather information about them. Prospective customers would pick up the phone book and call or visit, or get a recommendation from someone else.

Compare this with marketing and advertising today. Most consumers expect more than a photocopied flyer or sales pitch. They want to know your Web address in order to research your company in the comfort of their homes or offices.

When they visit your Web site, it's like they're meeting you for the first time. This is your chance to make an outstanding digital first impression. Let's say you entertain a prospective client for the first time. You wear an Italian suit and order a $200 bottle of wine with dinner to make a good impression, but if your prospect goes home and looks up your Web site, which looks like a high school student made it in his spare time, it could be a deal killer. A well-designed Web site can make all the difference.

Some of you might think your Web site looks or works just fine, but the tell-tale sign is the amount of traffic the site receives and the leads and sales it helps generate for your business. A Web site must make viewers feel confident in your company or products. Today's consumers are finicky, and the competition is just a mouse click away.

When you consider the time and energy that goes into creating an ad campaign, think of your Web site as an extension of that process. The site should be visually appealing and work reliably.

If your current Web site does not work the way that you hoped it would, or if you need to build a Web page from the ground up, this series will provide the right questions to ask, technology issues to be aware of and the benefits of smart Web design. The first step is registering a domain name ( Think of it as buying real estate; this is your piece of the digital world. If you know the address you would like to use, visit and verify that it is not already taken.

Domain names are more flexible now than they were even five years ago. Register a domain as a ".com," ".biz," ".info," or ".us" ... the list goes on. The suffix ".org" is usually reserved for non-profit organizations and is less likely to apply to a business's domain.

The standard registration is for a five-year term. Remember to re-register the domain after the term has expired. Countless hackers and ne'er-do-wells comb registration databases and buy legitimate domains when the registration has lapsed. Your Web address could become an adult site or online casino without your knowledge.

Once you have secured a domain, arrange hosting. The "host" is where the data that make up your Web site "live." Hundreds of hosting companies are clamoring for your business, so do your homework and compare services. Don't allow price to serve as your deciding factor, though; consider options such as number of allowed e-mail accounts, e-commerce capability and customer service. Also read consumer reviews about the hosting company.

The first step in establishing a Web presence might seem tedious. If you're not technologically inclined, enlist the help of a Web-savvy friend or employee. It's important to take time, or spend a little extra money at this point in the process. If you do things improperly now, it will complicate the entire process later.

The next step in creating a Web site is deciding who will design it for you and how you want it to work for your business and your customers. Stay tuned ...

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