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
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.
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.
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.
Extra features you should consider for your website include:
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.
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.).
- 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.
Also, you will have to make sure your website is optimized for search engines.
|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|
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.