So, you need a website for your business and you don’t know where to start? The bare minimum requirements are to pick a domain name, sign up for a web hosting plan, and choose a Content Management System (CMS). If your planning on reaching audiences around the world, you’ll also want to sign up for a Content Delivery Network (CDN). If some of this techie jargon is new to you don’t worry. It was new to all of us at some point in time! The good news is that getting a website up and running is a lot easier than it used to be.
1. Figure out your goals for your website
You’ll want to start by figuring out what your goals are for your website. Then you’ll want to figure out what features you’ll integrate into it. If you are a service-based business, one of your goals for your website is to educate your potential customers about the services you offer. Do you sell products or intend for customers to make purchases online? If so, you must integrate a payment processor such as PayPal and a shopping cart system into your website.
Get some inspiration
Start by searching for other websites in your industry. Come up with a short list of the top 3 websites that show up for each search term. Then go through each site noting of the key aspects that you like. Think about the look and feel of the website. How are things laid out? Can you find things easily? Does it look professional?
2. Register a domain name
Once you’ve figured out the goals for your website, it’s time to register your .com domain name. There are many companies that sell domain names, we use Namecheap as we find them easy to use.
Tips for choosing a domain name
Good domain names are short, simple and easy to remember. They should be associated with what your business does and are easy to pronounce. You don’t want your customers mistyping it. So, try to stick with easy to spell words, avoid the use of irregular spelling and don’t use hyphens. Say it out loud, does it sound natural?
Add a keyword that’s associated with your products and services to help potential customers recognize what it is your offering. Adding relevant keywords assist with Search Engine Optimization (SEO) by helping Google figure out what your website is about.
3. Decide on what Content Management System (CMS) you will use
So you’ve figured out the goals for your website and you’ve purchased your domain name/s, awesome! It’s time to decide on what Content Management System (CMS) you will use. A CMS is a piece of software that is used to manage the content on your website. They enable you to create pages, blog posts, menus, site aesthetics/themes, setup contact forms and much more.
The first decision you must make when deciding on what CMS you will use is whether you will use a standalone software or a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) CMS.
Software as a Service (SaaS) CMS
A SaaS CMS is an online service that you purchase a subscription to. Your subscription gives you access to a platform that allows you to create and host a website. These platforms are a one-stop-shop. Everything including purchasing a domain name, hosting your website and an eCommerce store is included as a package or available as an add-on. Wix, Squarespace and Shopify are among the most popular SaaS CMS platforms. SaaS CMSs are a good option for small businesses and solo-entrepreneurs, however, they come with some disadvantages. If you need more customization than what these services offer, or you don’t want to be locked into a single service provider then you are better off considering a Standalone CMS.
No doubt you would have heard of WordPress, it is the most popular CMS in the world with over 27 million websites’ using it. It is free and open-source with a large community of themes and plugins that enable you to customize your site with minimal technical expertise. A WordPress theme determines what your website looks like. A plugin adds some additional functionality to your website. WordPress is highly portable, it’s easy to get your data out of WordPress and migrate to a different hosting provider if you need to.
While WordPress is the most popular CMS, it isn’t the only game in town. Drupal and Joomla are also excellent Standalone CMSs. They are more flexible than WordPress if you have some web development experience or are hiring a web developer to build your site for you.
4. Purchase a web hosting plan
When choosing a web hosting plan, you will need to consider what level of customer-service you require. You also need to have a rough idea of how much bandwidth you need. If you have chosen a SaaS CMS your hosting will be included with the company that is providing that service to you. If you are using a Standalone CMS like WordPress, you have several options available to you.
With a Managed Hosting Service all server maintenance is performed by the hosting company. This often includes server updates, automated backups, security checks and website uptime status monitoring. If you’re not a very technical person and don’t want to pay a professional to assist you with technical issues, choosing a Managed Hosting Service is the best option. Customer service is important when choosing a company to host with. Find out how long it takes for them to respond to emails and support tickets. It might also be worth considering a service that offers 24/7 phone support.
If you want more control over your website server, Unmanaged Hosting is a good option. With this type of hosting you are responsible for keeping your website up to date, ensuring its security and optimizing it as necessary. Unmanaged hosting is cheaper, however, there is less hand-holding when setting everything up. We recommend this hosting option if you are technically minded and have the time to resolve issues on your website as they arise. If you get stuck you can hire a web professional to solve problems for you.
Cloud hosting gives you the ultimate control over your web server. This is a great option if you are expecting a large amount of traffic or are developing a web application. Compared with Managed and Unmanaged hosting, Cloud hosting gives you a better price vs performance and you have the option of hosting your site directly on Google, Microsoft or Amazon’s servers.
Many cloud hosting providers allow you to scale your web servers to meet the demand. You might start out with one server running then as demand picks up throughout the day new servers turn on. As the demand declines those under-used servers will be shutdown saving you money. There is minimal support with Cloud hosting. If you experience a technical issue with your website that you can’t fix yourself you will need to hire a web professional with knowledge of Cloud servers to resolve it for you.
Static Hosting / Going Serverless
This option gives you the best price vs performance (especially at scale) but it’s not suitable for all websites. Changing content on a static website typically requires some level of web development experience. Since most CMSs require a server to load the pages on your website, you will not be able to serverless out of the box. Some website features that require a server can be set up with the static hosting service provider. Depending on the complexity of your website, some features will require you to connect to an external service.
5. Create Content
A key to having a successful online presence is to build it for your target audience. Think about why your customer would stop by your website and how you will help them meet their needs. Each page on your website should tell a story that unfolds step-by-step as your visitors scroll down the page. The story has to make sense and follow a logical order. There are 5 key pages that all websites should have which are the home, about, contact, products/services and blog page.
The homepage used to be the most important page of your website. That has changed now thanks to social media and advanced search engine algorithms. Most of your customers will find your business through the other pages on your site such as your product, services and blog pages.
Your homepage communicates the primary goal of your website. It should start with a value proposition enticing your visitors to scroll down or click a call-to-action button, perhaps taking them to a product page or a contact form. You should present some “Social Proof”. This is often in the form of testimonials to communicate that you are a legitimate business and that other people have used your products or services before. The homepage should also tell the visitor what benefits they get and what features your product or service offers.
The about page can be summed up in 6 words: Who, What, When, Where, Why and How. This is the page where you answer some essential questions potential customers might have when considering doing business with you. It’s an opportunity to help your customers build trust and confidence in your business. It should include at least one call-to-action and present a strong value proposition. You can go further and tell a story about how your business was founded, what your mission is and how you got to where you are today.
Products and Services Page
The purpose of a product and service page is to summarize the products and services that you offer. If you offer multiple products or services, you will want to create a landing page for each one and link to it from this page. If you only offer one product/service, you will want to tailor this page for it and ensure its SEO optimized so you can rank well on the search engines.
Include information about your business such as your location, contact hours and how they can get in touch. You might include a contact form and a few paragraphs targeted at a person who is interested in contacting you. What you write will depend on your business and whether the intention of the visitor is to make an enquiry or to provide feedback.
A Blog is an opportunity to get found in the search engine result pages (SERPs) and attract new customers. You write content targeting phrases that people are searching for, relevant to the industry you’re in. While not all websites have a blog, if you are intending on ranking well with Google it is a must. The blog page lists the most recent posts you’ve made and has a call-to-action enticing the user to sign-up, get in touch or subscribe to email notifications when you release a new post.
6. Setup a Content Delivery Network (CDN)
When you bought your hosting plan, the servers will be physically located somewhere in the world and that might not be your local country. Even if it is in the country where your operating, what if someone is trying to access you on the opposite side of the world? Content Delivery Networks (CDNs) distribute your content around the globe so that more people can find your website. Cloudflare offers a free tier for their CDN with the option to upgrade your plan if you need to. Cloudflare also provides you with a free SSL certificate when you use their servers if your domain registration company or hosting service didn’t provide one for you. Some hosting providers include a CDN with your web hosting plan.