As web developers and a website hosting business we are often approached by people running small businesses and asked what is the best way to build a new website. There are so many options available that we decided to write a short article outlining some of the better choices and decisions that need to be made when building your own site.
Define your purpose and audience
Before diving into the technical aspects of building a website, it's essential to define its purpose and target audience. Are you creating a personal blog, an online portfolio, or an ecommerce website? Knowing your goals will help you make informed decisions throughout the process. This is a much more important step then most people realise. Our first step when working with a client to build a new site is to determine what their main business goals are, and often this is a more fundamental business discussion which helps people to focus on exactly what their business does. You will want your website to be clear and concise and deliver targeted messages directly to the correct audience, so make sure you know what your message is and who your audience are. Essentially, define the problem before you create the solution.
The three things needed to put a website live
Domain name, hosting, website! This is slightly technical and often confuses people, and it's easy to get muddled so we will try and keep this as clear and concise as possible! Imagine these three things as "your home"; you have your address (domain name), your house (hosting) and you (website). For people to visit you they will need to know your address, come to your house and find you in it!
1: Domain name
You need to license a domain name with a domain registrar. This is normally via a yearly fee and you will need to make sure this is paid for each year in order to keep your website live.
2: Web hosting
You need somewhere online to store the website you create, and the files for your website will need to live on a server - basically a computer which is always accessible publicly online 24/7.
3: The website
The code and files that make up the design, pages and functionality of your website - essentially, the software that will run when someone visits your domain name at your hosting.
Choose a domain name
Your domain name is your website's "postal address" on the internet, so choose something that is easy to remember and relevant to your content or brand. Use a domain registrar such as Fasthosts, GoDaddy or 123-reg to check the availability of your desired domain name and register it. You can use any domain registrar for this process. Don't feel pressured by the other services they will try and upsell you, such as email accounts, SSL certificates or websites. The domain can be pointed anywhere you like using DNS records so you don't have to use any additional services if you don't want to, and often your web hosting will provide SSL certificates for free (as does ours!). You can register your domain name in one place, have your website hosted in another, and even run your emails from yet another (like Gmail or Outlook). So keep your options open.
DNS (Domain Name System) records can be pretty complicated and we have written a more detailed article about DNS which goes into greater depth on this subject for the curious! For now, though, the two main things you will need to know about are A-records and MX-records.
The A record is used to point your domain name to an IP address (the address used to target a server computer on the internet). This will direct anyone visiting your domain name to where your website lives.
The MX-records are similar but instead of pointing traffic to your website, they specifically direct emails. This can be used to set up locally hosted email, or external services such as Gmail or Office 365, etc.
Select a website hosting provider
Web hosting is a service that provides an "always on" computer to serve your website to your visitors at any time, from anywhere. Choose a reliable web hosting provider that meets your needs in terms of storage, bandwidth, speed and security. There are so many options out there that this part can be overwhelming. For most small businesses with lower traffic websites, a basic shared hosting service option will usually suffice. If you have a more complicated website with higher traffic and increased resource requirements then you may need to look at more costly hosting options such as a VPS (Virtual Private Server) or dedicated server. At Splendid Web, we offer a managed hosting service where we take care of all the above decisions for you, and our servers have been carefully selected to be fast, secure, reliable and environmentally friendly, running on 100% renewable energy!
Install a content management system (CMS)
Unless you are a competent web developer (in which case why are you reading this!?), you will most likely want a simple CMS with pre-built themes or templates that allows you to manage your content via a user interface, instead of via code. WordPress is one of the most popular CMS options, and has many pre-built themes to choose from. Most hosting providers offer a direct installation of WordPress onto their hosting, ours included.
Choose a theme or design
Selecting a visually appealing and functional theme is crucial to the goals of your business and brand. Most CMS platforms provide a variety of free and premium themes. Customise the chosen theme to align with your brand or personal style. You will need to follow the guide for your chosen CMS. Remember, "form follows function" - delivering your content is the priority, and the design/theme should support that priority, not get in the way of it!
Create and organise content
Begin creating content for your website, keeping in mind the needs and interests of your target audience. Organise your content logically, using pages, categories and tags (if applicable). Your web content should be concise and specific - treat it similar to a newspaper. Your homepage should have attention grabbing headlines with links to direct people to deeper reading areas within your site depending on what the user is interested in. Make sure your navigation is clean and easy to follow and that all your pages are accessible for users on different devices; laptops, tablets, mobile phones etc. Content is king!
Optimise for search engines (SEO)
Search engine optimisation is crucial for improving your website's visibility on search engines like Google. Use relevant keywords in your content, create descriptive meta titles and meta descriptions, and optimise images for faster loading times. We recommend using tinypng.com or similar for image optimisation, to create small compressed files whilst maintaining high image quality. You should aim to use your keywords throughout your content, especially in page titles.
Test & launch your website
Before launching your website, thoroughly test it on different devices and browsers to ensure a consistent and user-friendly experience. Check for broken links, slow-loading pages, and overall functionality. There are some really useful online tools to help with this such as Google PageSpeed Insights, Nibbler or Ahrefs. Once you are satisfied with your website's design, content, and functionality, it's time to launch it to the public. Announce your website on social media and other relevant platforms to attract visitors.
Other website building options
There are some good options for all in one hosted websites such as SquareSpace and Wix. These services are worth considering. They provide hosting, CMS and themes all directly managed from a single account and can be a great fit for a simple quick site once you have learnt how to use their web builder software. The main downside is they tend to be fairly inflexible if you want any custom features or more bespoke work done down the line as their software is closed to most developers. You will also find that whilst the base package is fairly cheap as soon as you require more functionality, the monthly cost can become quite a bit higher. If SquareSpace or similar is interesting you but the idea of working within their software doesn't appeal then we have a good alternative solution.
Building your own website may seem challenging at first, but with the right guidance and tools, it becomes an achievable and rewarding endeavour. Remember to regularly update your CMS software and content, stay informed about the latest web design trends, and adapt your website to meet the evolving needs of your audience. A website should be a living thing and ideally will evolve along with your business. Try not to let it stagnate - web technologies are changing and updating rapidly and a few years can be a long time for software to sit without being updated.
We wish you good luck!
Not sure I'm up for that...
Alternatively we can do that all for you!
If that all sounds too daunting and you are finding that not having a website is holding your business back or keeping you from focusing on more direct and important business needs, then we can help.
For small businesses who need a quick and affordable option our speedy website option is perfect to get you a website up and running in just a couple of days. If you need something more bespoke then our custom design and build services are a great option.