Wikipedia defines “Web Presence” as follows:
A web presence is a location on the World Wide Web where a person, business, or some other entity is represented.
it furthers states:
“Examples of a web presence for a business or some other entity could be a corporate website, a microsite, a page on a review site, a wiki page, or a social media point of presence (e.g., a LinkedIn company page and/or group, a Facebook business/brand/product page, or a Twitter account).
Every web presence is associated with a unique web address to distinguish one point of presence from another.”
There is much to discuss when it comes to web presence; firstly I want you to understand should you have or decide to have a web presence you need to take it seriously. Too many times do I see businesses starting a website or a Facebook page and never updating them or worse, having an unreliable system.
Most of the examples that I have given can result in reputational damage or an uninterested potential clientele. I do not see the difference, a despondent customer is a lost customer, and this will translate into lost revenue. Though difficult to quantify, it is true never the less.
The way that you represent yourself on the web is the way that people will see you as this is more often than not your first customer touch point.
I will discuss Email in this post and Websites, Social Presence (LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter) and Search Engines (Google and Bing) in upcoming posts.
It may seem strange to you that email is the first in the Web Presence series, email has become a cornerstone service in the business space, it is probably one of your three most used customer touch points and probably your primary mode of communication.
Getting Emails right is vital for your business, it is also the only service you may need.
In this space, there are thousands of different providers, some even free such as Gmail, Outlook.com (formerly Hotmail) and Yahoo. All of these free services have the same problem, they do not allow for a customised domain name, i.e. firstname.lastname@example.org, and that is a problem for your branding.
POP3 mail servers
Many website hosts will give you email for free, these are often limited in capacity and only use the widely adopted POP (Post Office Protocol) and SMTP protocols which though very solid due to their age, POP3 standards were ratified in 1988, it also has its drawbacks. For example, POP3 downloads all emails to your device and deletes it from the server by default, there are ways around this by setting a flag, but this complicates maintenance. This is not the service type I would favour for a business that has more than one employee. If you are alone and do not require more flexibility with your email system such as having a shared email address across multiple email accounts this will do for you.
IMAP Mail servers
In comes the IMAP (Internet Message Access Protocol) and SMTP protocols of the 1990’s. IMAP is a far more sophisticated system; it allows multiple email clients connected to the same mailbox. This means that your smartphone, your tablet and your computer can be connected to an IMAP mailbox simultaneously without losing any data including the read, deleted or moved emails will synchronise across all your devices, IMAP also supports folders. Almost all services that support POP3 also support IMAP; you may have to force your email client into IMAP mode during set up. I recommend this over POP3 as a copy of your messages will exist on the server, a perfect backup in case something goes wrong on your devices.
Ensure that there is security in the form of communication encryption to and from your email server, these are called either SSL or TLS and are straightforward to set up. If you use a reputable service, the auto-configuration will do it for you.
Both POP3 and IMAP email servers have limitations; they do not include facilities for calendaring, tasks or contacts. This means that should something happen to your device(s) you will lose that information, it also means that you will have to copy the data from one device to another. Most modern email clients can do this locally, whether it be Microsoft Outlook, Apple Mail, Mozilla Thunderbird or others but you will want your email server to also store your contacts, calendar information and tasks in one package. Neither POP3 or IMAP servers support this; it is worth noting that some services do include these facilities with your hosting using separate servers.
Better mail hosting solutions
Low-cost all-in-one packages exist for email, calendaring, contacts, tasks and even online storage, two of these are Google’s GSuite and Microsoft Office 365. Neither of these services is free, but my question to you is “Can you afford not to pay? Is your reputation worth less than R100 per user per month?”. Certainly not.
I have used both services in my professional life, and I am partial to Microsoft Office 365, I find it better integrated and far more flexible than Google GSuite. In the final analysis, this will be up to your preferences. Both services will give you entry level business tools, both are well supported and stable, but more importantly both allow you the flexibility to use your domain name, your brand and grow as time goes by.
If you are a one-person company, you can start with the basic package at USD 5 per user per month for Google GSuite Basic and ZAR 80 per user per month for Microsoft Office 365 Business Essentials; it will give you peace of mind.
Below is a simple comparison table of both services
|Custom domain support||Yes||Yes|
|Video and voice conferencing||Yes||Yes (Microsoft Teams)|
|Team messaging||Yes||Yes (Microsoft Teams)|
|Online office tools|
(Documents, spreadsheets and presentations create and edit)
|Cloud Storage||30GB combined (Email and documents)||1TB OneDrive|
|Mobile Apps||Yes (iOS, Android)||Yes (iOS, Android, Windows Phone)|
|Offline Desktop Apps||Chrome browser-based||Yes on Microsoft Office Premium starting at R200 per user per month (Native Windows and MacOS Apps)|
|Requires some IT knowledge to set up||Yes||Yes|
|Free trial||14 days||30 days|
Ask a Google or Microsoft partner to set you up; it will avoid issues in the long term and is well worth the cost.
In my next post in this series, I will be talking about setting up a web presence with a website.