My first piece of advice when it comes to creating your own website, is that ‘you get what you pay for’. I genuinely believe that. I have little expertise in creating websites, but I have managed to put a few together, using templates and simply adding images and copy, using the website builder, WordPress. I think they look good, but if you want lots of functionality or something more complex, then I would highly recommend speaking to and investing in the expertise of a good web designer. At the very least, go and have a chat with someone and find out about how your needs match with their services…and how much it will cost!
Using a professional
If you decide to use someone to build your website, ask about the available ‘content management system’. This essentially is the software that is used for adding content to your website. Ask if it is a ‘WYSIWYG’ system – this stands for ‘what you see, is what you get’ – and essentially means that if you type some words in a textbox or add an image to an image box then it appears on your webpage as expected and you don’t need to be some whizz in HTML coding! This is important because part of a good content strategy includes regularly adding and updating content on your website, whether this is with regular blog posts, changes to your pages and updates to reflect the time of year. Website updates and additions also helps ‘search engine optimisation’. I think, in an ideal world, even if you have had a website designer to help you to create a site, you want to have some level of access (and training) to make simple changes and add blog posts when you wish to, without additional cost and with relative ease. Ensure you investigate the options and if this level of access is not possible, consider seriously the cost and speed at which updates can be made via your website designer.
There is no harm in investigating the ‘do it yourself’ option, as well, because it can be cost effective; it allows you to make your own updates and additions easily and you might learn a useful new skill. The best way to decide if the ‘DIY’ option is for you is to consider the following… (plus, you then you have something to compare when you investigate the professional website designer option too).
1. Investigate the website builders
Firstly, (and unfortunately for us non-experts!) there are loads of options when it comes to DIY website builders. The ones I am most familiar with are WordPress, SquareSpace, Wix and One.com, but there is also GoDaddy, SiteBuilder and Weebly, and you can even create ‘landing pages’ via Mailchimp.
Personally, I have found both WordPress and SquareSpace easy to navigate. They have lots of lovely templates (see point 5) and seem relatively low cost. I slightly favour WordPress, unsurprisingly because this is who I have used for my website (!) and because you can have a completely free site to start with, which is a big advantage if you just want to have a play and see how a website will work or how it will benefit your business, you just have to accept that you will have ‘wordpress’ in your domain name (see point 2). This is exactly what I did for my first year of business. WordPress also seems to be used by many website designers I know. WordPress also seems really good for ‘information only sites’, i.e. those that offer a home page, services, about, blog and contact, for example. I believe there are e-commerce options, but I have no knowledge of these.
SquareSpace offers a free trial period, but it is only for 14 days (although I have heard they often offer to extend it) and the site isn’t live as such. However, it seems to offer better options when it comes to e-commerce and the templates don’t seem so focussed on blogging. I find the editing style more difficult, however you also have more options and more opportunities for personalisation, so it depends what you are after and how much of a ‘designer’s eye’ you have.
I could write a whole blog post just comparing builders – but as it is not my forte at this point, all I can recommend is doing your own research, having a play yourself and see what you thing. (See also point 4.)
2. Investigate domain name registrars
This is where it gets a bit technical – but my basic understanding is that your domain name means your URL or web address – i.e. www.thecontentconsultancy.com .
The important thing to know is that wherever you build your website (see point 1) you then have to link it with your domain name. This will be done automatically if you opt to use a free WordPress domain name, e.g. www.thecontentconsultancy.wordpress.com .
You can purchase (yes they all cost money…varying from 99p to £1000s per year) them either via your website builder or via another registrar. You may find that on selecting your domain it is not available (because it is already being used by someone else) or costs lots of money to purchase (because someone else has purchased it already and although they are not using it (i.e. it is not linked to an actual website) they want to be paid to give it to someone else).
Like website builders, there are quite a few domain name registrars, including GoDaddy, 123reg, FastHosts and 1&1.
Take some time to consider what you want your domain name to be and how much it will cost, either directly through your website builder or via a registrar, which you will then have to link together. Most website builders have good help guides on how to do this.
Remember that you are not limited to .com or .co.uk (if in the UK) anymore at the end of the address. You can get quite creative!
Consider if you decide on a domain name very similar to a competitor or a well-known brand how this might affect your website visits too.
I know it sounds technical…but it is fun too! Consider what will be memorable, what it easy to spell, what will be good from an SEO point of view and what makes logical sense.
3. Add up all of the costs
This is really important – all domain name purchases and website builders charge on a monthly or annual basis (most give a monthly cost but ask you to actually pay for 12 months up front). There are lots of ‘packages’, with WordPress and SquareSpace for example, so consider what you might need. You can upgrade and change in future remember, but also consider this is an ongoing (not a one-off) cost. Most website builders give you clear details of the options and costs involved, just check out their ‘pricing’ section.
Consider all of the extra costs too – so, for example, your domain name cost or linking, your email address if you want one (or more) with the same domain (i.e. email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org etc), and also any essential plug-ins you may need. Plug-ins are ‘extras’ that will add more functionality to your website. I won’t go in to more detail here but just be aware of these as many do cost (or the ability to add them may do). Come up with a realistic cost. This is really useful, particularly if you then compare with a professional website designers costs (which you will need to check to see if this includes hosting, domain names etc etc).
4. Research competitors
Your next step is to start thinking about what your website would actually look like and I think the best place to start is to look at competitors, and wider!
Take a look at your competitors’ websites and consider what you like and what you don’t like. What information do they include? What sorts of images? What level of detail?
Consider not just direct competitors, but indirect competitors and simply websites you admire too.
If you have friends or family with a website of their own, ask them how they created theirs and who/what they used.
For all of the website you are looking at, take a close look at the menus and their layout; consider the ease of navigation, and also the information in the headers and footers too. What remains consistent on every page?
You may also notice, in the footer particularly, that it tells you who the host/website builder is, i.e. this one says ‘at WordPress.com’.
5. Write a site plan
Now is the time for some planning of your own. Start writing out a site plan. I recommend using a simple numbered bullet system. See the example below.
The Arabic numerals are the ‘main’ pages, which will be included in your main navigation menu (e.g. across the top of each page) and the roman numerals are ‘sub level’ pages – which will likely show up in a drop down menu when you hover over the main menu options (or show up in another way, depending on the design of your website).
Writing a site plan gives you an idea of the type of website you need, the functionality and simply the number of pages you will need to write and create content for.
Example site plan
i. Meet the Team
6. Search through templates
As mentioned, website builders generally have a lots of templates to choose from. WordPress has loads! Some are free and some cost money. Now, you have a basic site plan and a sense of the type and style of websites you like, you can look through the templates and start to assess which ones might work for you.
Whatever you choose (via WordPress and SquareSpace at any rate) you are not tied to a template for life. You can switch to a different one. Your content will remain (i.e. the text on your pages and images) but menus and other elements may change. So do your research before doing so.
Also, take a look at what the different templates look like in different formats, i.e. mobile, laptop and tablet.
7. Source good images
I think most people would agree that a good website is often defined by high quality images. So consider next how you are going to source these. Whether you ‘DIY’ or get an expert to help you, you will still need to consider imagery.
There are fantastic stock image sites, some of which are completely free, such as Pexels, Unsplash and StockSnap. Then, there are ones where you have to pay to download images, such as Getty, IStock and ShutterStock. However, their quality and range are amazing.
Remember, however, with stock image sites you will not get ‘exclusive use’. This means anyone else can also download and use the image on their site. Make sure (via your competitor research!) therefore that you don’t choose exactly the same images, especially for your homepage!
Consider having your own images created or photos taken, especially if you make or sell products. You may have the equipment and skills to take them yourself or get a professional involved. It may be quite a big up -front cost, but having a bank of good quality, unique images to use and interchange on your website is very valuable.
8. Write quality copy
As a content consultant, this ‘tip’ had to be here. It may be last, but it is so essential! Like images, whether you DIY or use a website expert you are likely to have to provide the written content yourself. Take the time to consider the style, wording, length of copy and information you are going to provide.
For your homepage, the template will often guide you where text will be needed, but also consider what you ‘need’ to say on your opening page.
Your website’s homepage is your shop window and the pages are your shop ‘walls’, in a way, so remember the importance of writing inviting and engaging content, which is easy to understand and in a logical order.
Consider which pages will need to be linked to which. Consider what information is vital. Consider your keywords (words people are likely to type in to a Google search to find you, your products and/or your services) and how and where you will include these. Consider your use of headings and subheadings, as well as page titles.
Do your research and, if necessary, please ask for help…
DIY website chat
Don’t be afraid to have a go at creating your own website, but equally don’t be afraid to ask for help, whether it is with creating the website itself, or for the images, or the copy (ask me!). A website is not ‘for life’ – you can start DIY and then as you grow pay out for something more specialist, unique or with more functionality. You can revamp and redo your website whenever and as often as you like, particularly if you keep key branding, such as logo or colours the same.
I repeat I am not an expert by any stretch, but if you have any questions, do not hesitate to get in touch. I am happy to share what I know over a coffee or via a phone call!