For most financial advisors, a website is a necessity. The content you choose to put on yours is only one part of the story, though. Where you set up your website is another.
To make your website available to others, you’ll need to have it hosted on a web server – the back-end computer that holds your site’s files and displays them to visitors. This isn’t something you’ll want to do yourself. Bandwidth, reliability and other network configuration issues would make running a web server in your office unwise. Instead, third-party web-hosting companies specialize in running websites for you. So, how do you find a good host?
– DEDICATED OR SHARED?
The first jargon hurdle you’re likely to face is whether to choose a “dedicated,” a “virtual private server” or a “shared” host. Luckily, this choice will be easy if you don’t plan to have complicated software running on your website.
Dedicated hosts give each website a web server running on its own computer. This is great for large sites with lots of traffic that run application software such as an investment-management system, for example. This option would be overkill for the average advisor’s blog website, though.
Virtual private servers look like dedicated web servers to the companies using them, but all the servers reside on a single physical computer. These servers are cheaper, but still offer lots of power. Like dedicated servers, they require that you do all the work setting them up and installing the relevant software. Geeks only need apply.
If you just want to provide basic information online, you can opt for a shared service. This type of service hosts multiple websites for different customers on a single web server, and doesn’t let you tinker with the underlying, low-level configuration of the server at all. Instead, this option presents you with a browser-based point-and-click control panel that shows you only the things you need to administer your website.
– FEATURES OF SHARED HOSTING
Some control panel-based, shared hosting sites have features that make them especially easy to use for certain applications. One of these is WordPress administration, a content-management system that lets you publish and update your own content on a regular basis. You can use WordPress to configure your site around a specific visual theme and customize its format.
A content-management system can be difficult for non-techie users to set up, because it involves uploading the software and configuring a database. To ease the process, many shared hosting companies will allow you to install and administer WordPress directly from their control panel software. The same goes for rival content-management sites such as Joomla and Drupal.
Depending on what you want to do with your website, you might benefit from a hosting company that provides other integrated features. One of these is a site builder, a rudimentary tool that enables you to create a website from scratch. A site builder typically is simpler than WordPress to configure, and is best suited for users who don’t expect to update their content much.
If you’re hoping to develop something more sophisticated, consider a hosting company that offers file transfer protocol (FTP) access. FTP is the way to get files from your computer up onto your website so that others can see them.
If you’re working with a third-party web designer to produce a more elaborate website than you can create with a basic site builder, FTP will be an important feature for you.
Have you registered the domain name for your website yet? If not, you’ll have to do so before anything else. A domain (investmentexecutive.com, for example) is your address on the web. You must register it with a domain registrar, which will help you find a name that hasn’t been taken already, and then will charge you a small fee to claim it as your own.
You could find a company that offers only domain registration, or you could work with a hosting firm that provides domain registration as part of its service and then helps you manage the domains you’re using.
If you’re hoping to generate leads via your website, then you’ll probably want to use email as a communication channel. Rather than using an @gmail.com or @yahoo.ca address, consider email that uses your own domain name.
Most hosts will provide an integrated email-hosting service that you can connect to your email software. Ensure that your host offers proper anti-virus and anti- spam technology as part of the service.
For added value, look for a host that offers autoresponder services. These send emails automatically to you, enabling you to create automated marketing campaigns. Perhaps you’d like to email a potential lead with an informative article a few days after he or she registers on your website, and then again with another a few days later. The content of these emails might vary depending on the information the visitors gave you about themselves. Just make sure any messages sent from your site comply with Canada’s anti-spam legislation.
– RELIABILITY AND SUPPORT
These snazzy features won’t matter much if your website keeps “going down.” Choose a host that offers reliability and protection against outages. Ask for uptime figures (a measure of the time a website is available) before signing up. And look for features that protect your website against corruption or malware. Bluehost (www.bluehost.com), from Provo, Utah-based Endurance International Group, for example, offers an optional website-backup service that lets you access your backup to recover specific files and database tables, along with a “sitelock” service that detects vulnerabilities and malware before they infect your computer system.
On that note, read hosting site reviews to ensure that a hosting company’s support is adequate. Support should be quick, effective and, hopefully, available 24/7. After all, cybercriminals and software bugs never sleep.
You’ll find information about all these features and specifications on most competent hosting companies’ websites, but what might not be as obvious is information about a company’s ethos. If your financial advisory practice has a specific customer focus or service philosophy, then you might find a way to reflect that in your hosting choice.
This could be as simple as using a Canadian host (such as Vancouver-based Canadian Web Hosting) to reflect a Canadian audience, or even finding a host in town so that you can say you’re supporting your local business community. This loyalty to local businesses can resonate with clients.
Taking this idea further, some hosting companies focus on registering and hosting domains for special interest groups (such as the LGBT community), which might suit you if you target that market directly. Others, such as Burlington, Ont.-based HostPapa Inc. make a point of using only renewable energy to power their servers, which might be an extra selling point if you specialize in socially responsible investments.
Like choosing an office or home, choosing your residence online isn’t something you want to do more than every few years. A little research, along with some vision into future website requirements, will aid you in finding a hosting service that will be right for you.
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