Thursday, July 7, 2011

Using Blogger to Host a Business Site

   I've been trying to help out some of my relatives by setting up web sites for a couple of their small businesses, using Blogger for hosting. There's some work you have to do to make a Blogger blog appropriate for a business site which includes: removing the Navbar, configuring a custom domain and setting up Google Apps accounts.

   The first thing to do was grab the business name .com from a domain registrar. We used Domain.com for this, with the coupon code "hak5" to support my favorite web show, Hak5. I had used GoDaddy for a couple of domains in the past, but wanted to try something else this time. Still, there's always a decent coupon code for GoDaddy on RetailMeNot, so I guess that's a point in their favor. NameCheap is another registrar that people seem to like a lot, and I've gone and tried them out too for a couple of domains. The free Whois protection for the first year is nice, and I think it's cheaper than what GoDaddy charges after that. Whatever registrar you use, make sure you grab the .com for your business name.

   I actually had a bit more trouble figuring out how to setup the DNS settings for Domain.com than I want to admit, mainly because I didn't bother reading. You first have to set the name servers to what Domain.com specifies on their settings page, I'm not sure why they don't have this done by default. Then you have to add DNS Management from the Services menu to be able to set your domain to work with your Blogger site.

   Once you've set the name servers the CNAME records will need to be changed. Followed by the A Name records to make sure people typing in your site without the 'www' will still be able to reach it. Then finally you have to edit the Blogger settings to publish to the custom domain instead of yoursite.blogger.com. After all that you'll probably still have to wait a while for the DNS settings to propagate before you can type in yourdomain.com and get to it.

   Now that the site is viewable on the custom domain name, the next thing you'll want to set up is Google Apps for the domain name. Google Apps is limited to 10 accounts now unless you upgrade to Google Apps for Business, it used to be much more, but it's still too useful to not setup. Having a gmail account at yourdomain.com for free is just awesome.

   The first thing to customize on the actual Blogger account used for a business site is obviously the navbar. It has got to go. Getting rid of it is fairly simple, but there are a couple of different ways to go about it. Customizing the favicon helps remove the "Blogger look" from the site too.

   Now go into the settings for your blog and remove everything blog-related (unless you really want it), like comments, trackbacks, post dates, and anything else that isn't useful.

   You'll want to select a decent theme that looks appropriate for a small business website. I like the Simple template, with one sidebar on the left. Also set a mobile template, especially if your business is a restaurant or something people will want to lookup on their smartphone on the go. You can also embed a Google Maps block into the page, giving local viewers a quick look at where they can find your business.

   The Google Keyword tool helps you get an idea of how many people are searching for your business name or for related keywords a month, so you'll get a rough idea of how many views you could get a month. If you're getting a lot less, that might be a sign you should look into SEO. Actually, you should probably do that anyway for a business site.

   You should also look into Google Webmaster Tools, even if it's just to make sure you've got no dead links. Finally, you'll want to setup Google Analytics to get more information about your readers than the Blogger Status tab provides.

   The sites I'm helping out need more work at this time, but the point was just to get an easy web presence out for a couple of businesses lacking that. The first site I helped with is the Dil-e Punjab Deli in New York. If you ever happen to be in New York City and want great Punjabi Indian food for cheap check it out. The second site was for the Cicero Dumpster Service, which operates in Central New York.

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