Creating a business website from scratch is a little daunting for novices who don’t know the first thing about how the process works. (If that sounds like you, trust us, you’re far from alone!) But getting up and running online is not only vital to marketing your business or selling your product, it’s not nearly as daunting as it may seem.
In this, the first in a series of blog posts designed to get you going with minimal stress and exertion – heck, you may even enjoy it! – we’ll give an overview of the four most vital steps in building a custom website. In the weeks to come, we’ll explore some of the steps in more detail.
Before we dive in, though, a few tips: Keep in mind that the more planning you can do in advance, the smoother the process will go. Set aside a few minutes every day for a week or two to brainstorm alone without distractions. Pick the brains of colleagues, friends and customers (if possible). Visit the sites of your competitors as well as those you simply enjoy exploring – what are the first elements you notice, what draws you in, and what doesn’t quite work? Carefully consider what type of website you’ll be creating, what information you want to make available, and the key messages you want to convey to visitors. Rather than trying to hash all of this out in one session, committing to do so in bite-sized chunks over a period of time can prove much more effective.
Step 1. Choose a domain name. A domain name is the URL for your website – what users will type in the address bar to find you. Despite the rise of new suffixes, most domain names still most often end in .com, .net, .biz or .org. (You can see a full list of domain name suffixes and who is permitted to obtain them here.) Securing a domain is a crucial first step: you’ll need to make sure your website address is copyright-free, memorable, and easy to understand when you say it out loud. In a nutshell, I wouldn’t suggest naming your website www.duboisesquimeux.com.
Curious to know if your dream domain name is available? Securing the exact name you want can be tough, so don’t fixate on any one name until you’ve done your homework. Domize is a great resource for determining the availability of a domain name with different suffixes, and how much various domain hosts will charge you monthly to own it. Check it out!
Generally, you can secure a domain name through your content management system (find out more about what this is in Step 2!). If you are not going to be using a content management system to run your site (in which case, you can skip ahead to Step 3), you’ll need to find a domain host, such as Network Solutions or GoDaddy. Having a site host requires a cost in addition to what you’ll pay to reserve your domain name. If you head to GoDaddy and do a quick search, you’ll see that domain names start as low as a few dollars a month for less-popular suffixes like .net and typically hover around $12 monthly or so. A search for “MyAwesomeBusinessName,” for instance, reveals that you can be the proud new owner of this domain with the .com suffix for just $12.99 a month!
Of course, if you’re angling for a .com domain name that is a common word – say, “nuts.com” – you could easily pay in the six-figures to acquire it from its owner. GoDaddy will tell you who owns the name, and from there you can try to negotiate to buy it. (In fact, for a fascinating look into what happened when a successful nut company actually bought the nuts.com domain name, check out the recent New York Times article “A Web Retailer Buys the Perfect Domain Name. Then Comes a Letdown.“)
Step 2. Find the best content management system for you. Web content management systems like WordPress and Joomla, to name two popular options, provide awesome administrative tools to first-time website administrators or those who simply don’t know much about the programming language that goes into creating a working site. These systems make editing and building content on your website a snap once you get the hang of it.
You’ll want to do a little bit of research before choosing the best content management system for you. There are lots of options out there and varying price points (including free!). Depending on the type of website you need – whether e-commerce, informational or a blog – the best and most user-friendly content management system will vary. We’ll talk more about how to choose a content management system next week.
Step 3. Get your website designed. This is where it gets really exciting – having a graphic designer create a look and feel for your website that is totally unique and customized to you! While some 99designs customers have a logo designed through our site and insert it into a basic template, a logo should ideally be just one part of your overall website design and not the major element of the design itself. Having a logo you’re happy with can go a long way, though, in helping you decide the font type, color scheme and personality of your site. Each should complement the other.
Before you embark on enlisting a designer, you should think about two things:
1. How many pages will the website have?
2. How many of those pages will have a completely different style and layout?
When you budget your design budget, you’ll want to focus on the second question. A designer will produce the shell of your web page, typically using a program called Adobe Photoshop, so when you receive the file it won’t be a working, functional website just yet. Once you get the website itself developed (see step 4!), you’ll be able to edit any of the page content where necessary. Therefore, you will be able to reuse a single web design for pages which are using the same layout but have varying content.
Here’s an example from web developer and designer marketplace Sitepoint Market. You’ll see that these two web pages have different content, but the same design:
A. Classified Listing Guidelines Page
B. Frequently Asked Questions Page
A great way to get the design process started is to think about how you want your web pages set up and to then map out where you want each element of the page. You can easily create a skeletal frame of your future web design, called a wireframe, using websites like mockingbird.
Step 4. Get your design developed. Getting your website developed transforms your beautiful webpage design into a fully-functional site. You’ll want to have your site developed by either a coding company, which creates the code for your website suitable for the content management system you’ve chosen to use, or an individual developer.
We hope this post helped you get a better idea of the core steps you’ll need to take to create a great website. If you are still curious about the ins and outs of these different processes, stay tuned! Next week we will take a closer look at popular content management systems and how to select the best one for your site.
Eager to learn more? Check out these great resources:
- A glossary of design terms you’ll find useful when working with designers and developers.
- A quick explanation of the difference between design and development.
- A terrific coding company called XHTMLized (make sure to check out their FAQ!).
- A comparison of different content management systems. (courtesy of r2integrated).
- 12 fun tools for picking a domain name.