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How to Make a Website

The Beginner's Guide to Get a Small Business Online

About this guide

Whether you’re considering building an entirely new website or want to redo your current website, you’re faced with a number of basic, but important, decisions, including the following.

Domain Name and Web Hosting Plan

A domain name and web hosting plan are basics that everyone needs. There are a lot of options for these two items, but they’re pretty straightforward.

Website Building Tool or System

You need to choose the tool or system that you’ll use to build and manage your website. This is a bit more complicated, because there are so many options from which to choose.

Design and Content

You have to address the design tasks that make your website inviting to visitors and reflect your business’s brand. You’ll also want to fill your site with content, images and graphics before you start promoting it.

In this guide, we are going to help you with these decisions by showing you a number of options and explaining how specific methods and products will fit your unique needs. We'll cover everything from understanding what type of website you want and choosing a domain name, to the finishing touches that will help you launch your website successfully, no matter what your goals are.

In addition, we'll show you how to use specific tools or systems to create your website. If building your website is too daunting or time consuming, we'll show you how to find someone to do the heavy lifting for you.

Chapter 1 Introduction

Why you need a website

You may be asking yourself if you really need a website. Let’s look at the facts.

Today, in the information age, people expect you to have a website that makes information about your business readily available. According to Internet Retailer magazine, 83 percent of customers research the company, product or service online before they make a purchase decision. Yet one out of two small businesses is not online.

The main reasons for having your own website are to:

  • establish your online presence
  • attract new customers/buyers/fans
  • control your brand’s reputation

Many people think this can be accomplished with a Facebook page or a third-party website placement, but they are missing the point.

Verisign and Merrill Research conducted a global survey (Benefits And Barriers Of Bringing A Small Business Online) of 1,050 small businesses about their online experiences. It was discovered that most businesses understood the importance of having a website. They also found that 82 percent of small businesses with an online presence would recommend investing in a website, yet many decide to have a social media listing instead.

For selling online, many businesses use third-party websites — like Amazon.com, Etsy, Shopify or eBay, instead of setting up their own online shop. Why? Primarily because these sites and social media platforms offer a somewhat simple, template-based way to get a business listed. Additionally, a majority of people believe they lack the technical skills needed to create a website. Other obstacles include cost, support, time and security.

Site ownership puts you in control

Those who choose not to provide a website are missing out on the true value. Your website is yours — yours to control the content, yours to control what you sell, yours to grow your business and yours to keep competitors at bay. You don't have to worry about someone changing the rules of what you can or cannot present to your site’s visitors. (Social media and third-party websites have "terms of use" that are notorious for frequent and awkward changes.)

The value of your own website with a unique domain name is more significant that many think. Businesses that engage with customers online can grow 40 percent faster. Yet more than half of small businesses don’t have a website. This represents another competitive opportunity for you.

Many business owners don’t realize that today there are plenty of affordable and effective ways to make a website. There are free, easy-to-use tools and paid platforms. There are even people who will help you make your website for less than $500. We'll cover all of these options and more in this guide.

The essential steps to launch a website

  • Understand what type of website you need.
  • Develop an online strategy and website plan.
  • Determine the most effective website name.
  • Select the right tools to build your website.
  • Design your website. Make it look great!
  • Work on your copy. Remember: content is king.
  • Test before and after launch.

We hope you are excited at the prospect of having your own website. Now, let's look at the steps
you will take to get it right.

1 Determine what type of website will work best for you

Websites come in different forms and types, and each serves a different purpose. In this section, we’ll describe the main types of websites a small business can launch. Keep in mind that you may choose a combination of any of these types.

Business-card website. For some small businesses, a simple one-page website with the company’s name and logo, description and contact information meets their needs. Some product information may be included, but the basic idea is that this will be a one-page website, representing your company or yourself.

Examples: http://davymacca.com/ and http://www.dfunkydog.co.uk/.

Portfolio website. A portfolio website is similar to business-card website, with the addition of a section where you can showcase your work. This type of website common for photography studios, design agencies and other creative fields.

Examples: http://justinmezzell.com/ and http://edwardyau.co.uk/.

Product brochure website. This type of website is a direct extension of your company’s sales and marketing efforts. With this website, you will include products and services your company offers. This website may provide some pricing information but doesn’t enable customers to buy online.

Examples: http://www.grarchitects.co.uk/ and http://www.ghyllmountdental.co.uk/.

E-commerce website. With an e-commerce website, you will be able to showcase your products or services, and allow visitors to purchase them online. Setting up an e-commerce site may seem daunting, but there are many simplified tools and services available on the internet today that enable you to sell online.

Examples: http://www.harveynichols.com/ and http://shop.marissa-webb.com/.

Extra features you should consider for your website include:

Blog. A blog is an extra feature for any of the website formats described above. But it also can be a separate website. A blog is a type of website that usually provides commentary arranged in chronological order, from the most recent entry at the top of the main page to older entries toward the bottom of the page.

Examples: http://www.markforrester.co.za/ and http://huwshimi.com/.

Forum or Q&A. These two options can be used as an additional feature for your small business website in order to create a community around your niche. This enables visitors to hold online discussions in the form of posted messages. They may also ask questions of the experts.

Examples: http://www.modelmayhem.com/forums and http://moz.com/community/q.

 

2 Develop your online strategy and website plan

An online strategy lays the foundation for a successful online presence.

First and foremost, you’ll need a plan for your website. An online strategy will help you minimize your efforts and costs. You can’t just say "I want to make my website attractive and I want to rank high in Google." This is like building a house without floor plan. There will be some tweaks to the design, functionality or website content as you are building it, but the foundation shouldn’t deviate too much from the original plan.

What is online strategy?

An online strategy should outline your main goals. What are you willing to achieve using available technology, and how you willing to achieve it? Developing an online strategy will involve thinking about:

  • content you plan to include
  • tools you are going to use
  • features to be included on your website
  • search engine (Google and Bing) optimization — the ability to be found on the Internet

Developing your online strategy

The process of developing your online strategy will vary depending on your needs. But answering the following questions will help you devise the most effective strategy for your business.

What benefits do you want from a website?

Your website strategy should consist of the main goals for your website. For example, do you want to:

  • establish an online presence
  • attract new customers
  • develop better feedback
  • sell more products
  • reduce support cost

A clear set of goals is the crucial first step in developing a plan that will help drive visitors to take the action you desire. Your website should draw visitors to do something actionable—something that engages them further with your brand (e.g. subscribe, download report, contact sales, purchase product, etc.).

Who are your visitors?

The best practise is to identify future visitors to your site and to create user personas—character profiles with the same needs and desires as prospective visitors. Interview real people these personas represent; you may be surprised at all you uncover. Personas help you better understand the motivations of visitors to your site. This will help you make a website that will resonate with your target audience and motivate them to take the desired action.

The following questions will help you create personas:

  • age of the person
  • gender of the person
  • level of education
  • professional background
  • the way they’ll access the website
  • goals they’re trying to achieve
  • what matters to them (What’s their top priority? What’s a win? What keeps them awake at night? What frustrates them?)

It’s up to you how specific you want to get. You can create a brief sketch of persona or be really specific. Here is an example of user persona.

What is your unique value proposition (UVP)?

A unique value proposition is a promise of value that only you can provide. If you attract a high number of new visitors, in most cases they won’t be familiar with you and what you do. You need to immediately communicate that the product or service you provide is right for them. And you need give them a reason to buy/convert/stay on your website. It’s up to you how specific you want to get.

Your value proposition should be the first thing people see on your website’s homepage. It should be a clear statement and touch on the following:

  • Define value. What is the specific benefit you deliver?
  • Point the difference. Why is your offer better than the competition’s?
  • Relevancy. How does your product solve or improve specific problems?

Who are your competitors?

Analyze your competition by delving into the details of who they are, what they do and what they offer that you don’t. This doesn’t mean you should copy them; this is the last thing you want to do.What this process accomplishes is to help you identify opportunities and define why you are the better choice.

Visit competitors’ websites, make notes of things you like and don’t like. Use the following technique to analyze your competitors:

  • Identify competitors’ websites
  • Determine their strengths and weaknesses
  • Recognize opportunities and threats
  • Decide how to position your website (Do you offer the best price or value? Is your product the absolute top of the line? Do you provide services your competitors don’t?)

What features and functionality will the site include?

What do you want your website to be capable of doing? By researching your competitors and understanding general requirements for your website, you will be able to better determine what technical options you require. Ask yourself:

  • Will your site include blog or forum?
  • Do you need calendar, map or contact form?
  • Are you going to have share buttons or social bookmarks?
  • Will people subscribe to your site’s RSS / newsletter?
  • E-commerce websites normally include a shopping cart, order forms and various product options.

Also, you will have to make sure your website is optimized for search engines.

How long does it take to build a website?

How fast are you planning to get your site live? Figure out a launch date and work backwards to establish the milestones. Be real, do not set unrealistic targets. Small (2–3 page) websites can be created in days, but more complex websites can take months to develop. As a rule of thumb, project managers recommend establishing what appears to be a reasonable timeline — then allocate twice the estimated time.

Following are time estimates for developing different types of websites:

Website type Template/theme website Custom website
Business-card website 3 — 5 days 5 – 7 days
Portfolio website 5 – 7 days 2 – 4 weeks
Product-brochure website 5 – 7 days 2 – 4 weeks
E-commerce website 1 – 2 weeks 1 – 3 months
Blog (stand-alone or extra feature) 1 – 3 days 1 – 2 weeks

What are the building costs?

The cost of making a website will vary, depending on what you want to get out of your website and whether:

  • you’re going to create it yourself
  • you plan to get help with some of the tasks
  • you want to hire a company to complete the entire project for you

This costs and benefits comparison chart can help you maneuver the process.

When setting a budget for your website consider two things:

  • Establish costs for initial site development, including content development, web tools and legal services.
  • Estimate your ongoing costs, such as hosting services, web builder tool, domain name and technical maintenance.

What tools, skills or personnel do you need to build a site?

Do you know all the technology required to build your website with the features you want? With our guide, you will be able to make a website on your own. But in some cases, you might be planning to get others involved in the project. In this case, list the team of people who will be working on the website and determine their requirements. Your team may consist of:

  • company stakeholders (you or anyone else)
  • web developer (for complex projects)
  • web designer (for additional graphic work)
  • content writer and/or editor

As a small business owner, you may well be covering all of these roles yourself. Throughout this guide we will be showing you the best DIY website practises.

What is the structure of your website?

Create a map for your website. Think of it as an organizational chart listing the hierarchy of the pages in your website. It can be displayed as an organizational chart or with simple bullet points. Following is an example.

What content are you going to use?

Content for your site is more than just text. Unless you want you site to look like a Simple Text document, you’ll want to enhance the text with visuals. To make your website appealing and useful, consider adding some of these content types:

  • written copy
  • graphic images
  • PDF documents
  • audio and video files
  • photos and galleries
  • presentations

If you are working on an e-commerce website, prepare your product descriptions, photos and other materials you want to have on the site. Read more about content in Chapter 5.

How do you want the website pages to look?

It always helps to understand how your website will look and to identify what might be missing. Sketch out a rough layout for your website. You can use available web tools or simply draw it on a piece of paper. It doesn't have to be pretty, it just needs to show page layouts, called wireframes. One wireframe should be created for each unique page of the website. Here is an example of the wireframe.

What colors and fonts will be used?

The colors used on your website are an important part of your brand identity. You will want to select an appropriate color scheme that’s consistent with your existing graphic identity.

Many people don’t realize that different colors influence our mood and can greatly affect how visitors perceive your website. In 85 percent of the cases, colors influence your purchase decisions. And it’s a no-brainer that color can affect factors like conversion rates. Here are
some basic rules you can follow: How to pick the perfect color combinations.

The fonts should be part of your website design and match your brand identity. Choosing great font combinations is an art, not a science. While there are no absolute rules to follow, it is important that you understand and follow best practices when combining fonts in a design.

One of the biggest mistakes people make is to use too many different fonts or to use unusual fonts that lack professionalism and are hard to read. The smart course of action is to keep it simple and use two fonts, typically one serif font and one non-serif font. If you want to learn more about typefaces read this: How to select the right font for your website.

3 Find the right website name

Once you’ve developed your website strategy, you’ll be ready to start thinking of a domain name. This domain will be yourname.com, yourbusiness.com or something similar. Following is what you need to know about choosing your domain name.

The name itself

If you are marketing yourself, you’ll want to use your first and last name. Think johnsmith.com. Even if you aren't marketing yourself, it's not a bad idea to get your name as a domain now, in case you want to use it in the future.

If you are marketing your business, you will want to use your business name. Think yourbusiness.com.

If you are in the process of developing a name for your website or business, there are a few ways to research what name will be most effective.

  • Start by doing a Google search for your intended name to see what sites come up, what they’re linked to and decide if they’re companies with which you would want to compete.
  • Search for your intended name in the trademark database to see if it's trademarked. Visit Trademark Electronic Search System and perform a basic name search with one of the options available.
  • If you’re planning to use a popular name as part of your domain name, find out if it conflicts with prior trademarks or copyrights. For example, you can't use the domain name mywordpressguide.com because of the WordPress trademak policy.
  • If you do find that your intended name isn't used elsewhere, and isn't trademarked or copyrighted, check social media sites to see if profiles with the same name are available. Use KnowEm tool to see all the available options in one place.

Top-level domains

When you choose a domain name, you will choose your intended name. (dot) top-level domain. There are hundreds of top-level domains from which to choose:

  • The original top-level domains include: .com, .net, .org, .int, .gov, .edu and .mil
  • Examples of country-specific top-level domains include: .au (Australia), .cn (China), .in (India), .jp (Japan), .ph (Philippines) and .uk (United Kingdom)
  • Examples of topic-specific, top-level domains include: .accountants, .agency, .business, .city, .digital, .photography and .social.

Not sure what to choose for a top-level domain? For most websites, the first goal when choosing a domain name is to get the .com top-level domain whenever possible.

If your intended audience is outside the United States, you may wish to choose a country-specific, top-level domain. Look at your key competitors to see which top-level domain is going to be the most memorable for your intended audience.

 

4 Select the right tools to build a website

With so many options and different platforms available today, it can be difficult to select the best tool for the job. Choosing the platform upon which you want to build your website will be one of the most important decisions you make. Why? Because you will be tied to that platform for some time and it’s never easy (or even possible) to move your website from one platform to another.

Depending on the type of website you plan to create, your tool selection may vary. Once you pick the tool, you’ll have to make more decisions. Some tools require you to get web hosting (like BlueHost, InMotion or WebHostingHub) in order to install them. Others offer all-in-one hosted solutions (like Wix, SquareSpace or Shopify). If you decide to go with one of the content management systems (CMS), you may want a web hosting plan that caters to a specific platform such as WordPress or Joomla. Each option has pros and cons, and can be used in a different cases, based on your needs.

Now, let's look at a quick overview of the website development platforms and options from which you can choose. We will explain each option in detail in the upcoming chapters.

Content management systems (CMS)

What is CMS?
A CMS is a web tool/application that enables you to manage your website and site content from an internal user interface or dashboard.

Different types
There are plenty of options when it comes to choosing a CMS for your new website. Depending on the type of the website or content, how advanced you want it to be, and who will be managing and using the website, there’s a lot to consider before selecting the right CMS. The most popular content management systems include WordPress, Drupal and Joomla. These three systems are open source, which means you can use them for free.

When to use CMS
You can build any kind of website with CMS. However, initially it was created for the websites that require constant content updates. So if you are planning to include or start a blog or news site, nothing beats the ease that CMS offers. Once set up, most content management systems are easy to maintain.

Find more details on how to make a website with CMS in Chapter 2.

Website builders

What is web builder?
Web builders (or website builders) are tools that allow you to create a simple website using templates and drag-and-drop interfaces.

Different types
There are two main types of website builders, online and offline. In recent years, the many online web builders have become very popular. In this guide, we’ll focus on online tools since these offer the most up-to-date features for your website. Many also include hosting as part of their services. The most popular website building platforms include Wix, SquareSpace and Weebly.

When to use web builders
With a web builder, you can build any kind of website, but people tend to use it for smaller personal projects. These tools are mostly suited to freelancers, photographers, restaurants and small businesses that want to create a good looking, static website. Yes, most of these tools include features like blogs or shopping carts, but they are not always well suited for them.

Find more details on how to make a website with web builder in Chapter 3.

E-commerce software

What is e-commerce software?
E-commerce (or electronic commerce) platforms are tools that were developed specifically for users to set up their online businesses.

Different types
There are several big players that provide services to build an online store. Basically, they offer another type of content management system. Some e-commerce software platforms are created with the store owner in mind—they’re easy to setup and configure. Other e-commerce software platforms are created with the developer in mind—they’re harder to set up for the general user, but easier to configure and customize. Some popular e-commerce software platforms include Shopify, Bigcommerce and PrestaShop.

Find more details on how to make an e-commerce website in Chapter 3.

When to use it
With e-commerce software, you can create an online store. However, if you’re planning to sell just few products, you may not need the software. These tools are mostly suited for people who wants to create website with hundreds or thousands of items to sell. These systems are usually easy to use but on the back end, e-commerce software is a complex mechanism.

HTML and CSS

What is HTML
HTML (or Hypertext Markup Language) is a computer language that allows you to create a website from scratch. Once created and properly uploaded to the World Wide Web, it can be viewed by anyone who has an internet connection.

What is CSS
CSS (or Cascade Style Sheets) is a style sheet language used for defining how HTML elements will be displayed on the website page. It’s used to create visually attractive websites, user interfaces and web applications.

How and when you can use HTML and CSS
The basics of the HTML and CSS are not hard to learn. It’s handy to know how these things work, especially if you are planning to make some unique customizations to your website. At the same time, with modern technology there are plenty of ready-made templates and themes available, so you don’t have to start everything from scratch. You simply choose a design you like and edit the HTML coding to customize it to fit your business.

Find more details about HTML and CSS practises in Chapter 4.

 

5 Website design

Design of your website is very important. People will form an opinion about your business based on the look and feel of your site. Visitors will often make a decision in 10-20 seconds whether to stay on your site or move on. To make an impact, it’s important to have great design.

Depending on the type of the website and the way you choose to build it, you’ll have a number of design options. If you decide to use CMS or a web builder, you’ll be dealing with the pre-made theme and templates. Key things to keep in mind about your website design:

  • use clean design
  • make sure it’s mobile optimized
  • it’s appropriate for your website's niche and goals
  • one or two-column layouts are normally the best option
  • use unique design elements
  • make it easy to navigate

If you are looking for customized options using some of the above-mentioned platforms or to create a website from scratch, you can turn to professional web designer/developer.

 

6 Website content

Content is an information that will be presented on your site. It’s important to create and maintain useful, unique and clear content so your visitors can easily understand your message. Poorly written and badly presented content can frustrate and discourage visitors from staying on your website or returning to it in the future.

There are two questions you have to consider when creating content:

  • Is the content relevant and interesting to your audience? (Think about the personas you developed.)
  • How should the content be presented to your target audience?

Today, search engines reward websites that make an effort to create quality content to educate people in their niche by ranking them higher. You will have to make sure your content is: unique, relevant, legitimate and current.

Once you have an overview of your website plan and site map, you can drill down to the specifics of the content you need to create for a website launch. It will be important to create evergreen content (content that will not be changing much and will appear on the static pages). But it’s also important to have fresh content added to your website on a regular basis.

Find more detail about content planning in Chapter 5

7 Test before and after launch

Beta testing

Launching a new website is exciting and people tend to be eager to get it live as soon as possible. However, it’s important to not jump the gun by failing to test your website before launching it. The testing process can seem overwhelming and you may not be sure where to start. But it’s not that complicated; you just have to carefully check the following details to make sure everything is correct and functioning properly:

  • content (spelling, punctuation, etc.)
  • design-related elements (images, fonts, etc.)
  • web development details (live URLs, broken links, etc.)
  • search engine optimization factors (title tags, meta data, etc.)
  • network administration (hosting, backup system, etc.)

Post-launch. Once your website goes live, you need to have a strategy in place for promoting and maintaining your website. Here are some basic things to consider:

  • preparing your site for promotion
  • measuring website stats
  • conducting maintenance if and when needed
  • making sure you backup your site
  • collecting visitor feedback

Find more details about before and after launch testing in Chapter 5.