When you decide to go at it alone and make your own website, this brave new frontier takes a bit of planning and perseverance. Where do you start? Where do you end?
The truth is that everyone’s website is always going to be a work in progress. There will always be technology advances and industry trends that drive us to update and improve what we’ve got. With that in mind, it’s important to think about your future business and the website it should have before you even start to design it in the first place.
If you have complex needs you may want to start with a custom website design to save yourself migrating websites later. However, if you are reading this post, you have likely already assessed your own needs and feel that making your own website is the best decision for your personal site or small business. And that can be a wise choice as well depending on your situation.
In this post we’re going to look at the pros and cons around different website development methods and then walk you through how to make and design your own website! Get your notebook handy to jot down ideas for your site as you read through. But first let’s take a step back.
The internet and all the devices that connect to it have transformed how modern customers find and learn about businesses. The internet empowers consumers to read about a company before spending their money with them. A professional website gives businesses the opportunity to be discovered and shape their customer’s vision of the company. But websites also serve practical functions for businesses as well, from selling products online to hiring new staff.
Thing is, many people who start to build their website get tired and stop. They may just keep a local business listing instead of a website. Similarly they may just set up social media and not actually have a website. While local listings and social media are great, they aren’t the same as a website. Websites are the core hub connected to all your business channels, while local business listings help local searchers find you faster and social media helps you build a brand community. Let’s take a closer look at six reasons why you should definitely make a website.
Reason #1: Let Potential Customers Learn More About You
One of the most significant reasons to make a website for your business is to give potential customers somewhere they can research your products or services, find contact information if they have questions, or even buy from you online! Your best customers may not even know you exist yet, and a website lets them discover you.
Reason #2: Your Business Looks Professional to Everyone You Meet
When promoting your business to your friends, family or anyone really, it’s common for people to ask you if you have a website that they can check out for more information. Since it’s what people expect (even from small business owners), not having a website can make you look unprofessional. Having a website to share with people you meet at networking events or in casual situations gives them a chance to head there to learn more about the business on their own time.
Reason #3: Attract Even More Potential Customers From Search Engines
By creating a website that uses search engine optimization (SEO) techniques, your web pages can be found on Google, Bing and any other search engine. While this typically involves expert consultation, the benefits of a good SEO strategy are generous. When your web pages start to rank, your website traffic and potential leads increase significantly.
Reason #4: Stay on Top of the Competition
If you don’t have a professional website, every competitor that does is a step ahead of you when it comes to capturing customers. Nearly 60% of consumers research and purchase products from brand websites, especially over businesses that have no website. Having no website is simply not an option when it comes to keeping up with the competition.
Pro tip: By taking a look at what competitors are doing online, you can gauge what strategies would work for your business, and where you can innovate. If they have a 25% off sale on their website, you could offer a 40% off sale for example or free shipping.
Reason #5: Improve Your Business Reputation
A business website that is well-crafted and positively reflects your company is an instant public relations boost. It says “I’m taking pride and care in what I do, I’m organized and professional.”
For businesses with reputation management needs, the advantage to designing your own website is creating positive search results about your business to reverse negative rankings.
Reason #6: Attract High-Quality Candidates
Today's job seekers, especially millennials, are just as selective about the companies they apply for as the recruiters who choose them. Your best candidates may be researching online to find their ideal company match. If you're not there, they'll never apply.
Create a careers page on your business website that talks about your company culture, values, and benefits. Use the page to show a tour of the office, or solicit descriptions from current employees about why they love working at the company. Make it easy for qualified candidates to instantly apply so you can keep attracting and retaining top talent.
Ok hopefully we’ve convinced you how important your website is! Time to get cracking. But what’s the best way forward for your business?
Even if you have no coding experience, it’s easier than you think to build a website that makes a great first impression. But you still may be asking yourself whether making your own website is the right decision or if you should be opting for a professionally designed, custom-built website instead.
There are definitely pros and cons to each. Hiring a designer obviously means that you’ll pay more but do less. While there is no substitute for high-quality, custom website design, some would argue that making a website yourself has more benefits.
The answer to the question at hand is completely dependant on each business’s individual needs and situation. Some may intend to create a website for themselves but realistically they have no time. Others may have complex needs that require a web development and/or design expert. More commonly, most business owners just don’t have the money for custom development - and that’s ok! Everyone has a unique situation. But there are definitely some reasons why you may be you thanking yourself for making your own website down the road.
If you need a little validation before you get started, we’ve compiled a list of many benefits.
Design Control and Unlimited Editing Freedom
If you don’t have a lot of experience designing websites you’ll likely opt to use a website builder (which we’ll talk about later). While these helpful tools allow you to get the job done easily, they also allow you to personally control the design.
Maybe you have custom artwork that has been created for you that perfectly tells the visual story you want to convey. Or maybe you'd like to peruse professional stock images to get inspired and better shape your brand strategy.
When you’re in control, you can customize the images and layout of your website to perfectly match what you want. The best part is not having to ask someone else to do these small tweaks everytime. From color scheme to placement of copy, you're in control, and you can modify the design whenever you want based on changing preferences you or your customers may have. Too often I hear about website owners who can’t update their website because they don’t have access to their CMS, or they can’t get a hold of their website designer anymore...you name it! Designing your own website gives you complete freedom for current and future website updates.
You Can Work on It Whenever You Want
Similar to being able to simply edit your website an unlimited amount of times, making your own website means you can work on it on your own time. Your time is valuable and this method of website development perfectly compliments your schedule – it’s there when you want to work on it. Whether you have a few extra minutes each night to dedicate to ramping it up, or you're able to spend more time at once to craft a beautiful website, you’re in control of the process.
Just because it’s on your schedule doesn’t mean it has to go slow. We’ve created a website in as little as 15 minutes with our website builder!
Bragging Rights and Instant Credibility
Anyone who has ever attempted to make a website or completed one, in any way, shape or form, deserves a pat on the back right now. It’s not easy. That’s why we’re talking about it!
Even though online website builder tools make it easy to design a website now, there is still a lot of thought and consideration that should take place. At the end of your website journey you’ll be able to proudly tell your friends and family that you made your own website.
You Can Set Your Budget
By using a website builder to make your own website, you have the power to choose the plan you want that fits your budget to design a website. Sometimes working with a custom website developer means that costs can arise that weren’t planned. There’s always value in being able to set a modest budget and stick to it.
You Can Get Valuable Feedback
Working with a custom website designer can limit the website feedback portion of the development phase, depending on the methodology. Feedback from key stakeholders is really helpful to make sure your website is clear, navigable, and that nothing is missing. It’s ideal to take as much time as you need to get input from those who matter, so you can make sure you're completely satisfied with the product before you publish the website. While that’s not always realistic, it’s certainly easier to coordinate if you’re making your website yourself.
There is of course a number of business benefits to creating a custom website with a developer and/or a designer as well – from more complex integrations that better serve customers like payment systems to animated elements that can be eye catching. Again though, it all depends on what makes the most sense for your business and your budget. If you have basic website needs, making your own website is your ideal solution.
So let’s get started!
Use the following information to start outlining your business and to develop an early brainstorming map. This will give you a high-level overview of what you need.
A website’s homepage should clearly explain what the purpose is or what the business does and it should get that message across immediately. There should also be additional pages for each product or service explaining them in depth. Demonstrate your passions and professional strengths throughout the website. And definitely show off any proof-points and value-adds as much as possible, like customer testimonials, number of years in business, even customer perks like free parking etc.
Aside from these basics, there are a number of things a website could include that depend on your business, what it does and what your customers need. When you’re making your own website you also have to think of who will be accessing the content. Food bloggers who focus on dining reviews may be looking to use images from your website, while a couple may be looking to make reservations online. You have to know which content to include on your website to support all types of users.
Let’s develop this brainstorm a bit more:
Use Copy and Imagery That Shows Off Your Personality
Think about the target audience for your website and what type of high-quality content will impress visitors. Let visitors feel like they're getting to know you by writing website content from a first-person point-of-view. Focus on messaging that shows how you can help those who visit your website. Be genuine with your messaging, but have an editor take a look at it to ensure you're not publishing spelling or grammatical errors on your site (or rambling too much). You could also feature a short video where you're talking directly to your website viewers.
The more thoughtful the content on your business website is, the more likely it is to engage website visitors and give them a good user experience. A company blog, a testimonials page, case study descriptions, or even a list of awards and achievements allows your business to give those who find you online plenty to be intrigued by. Plus, a website filled with rich content will naturally do better in the search results.
Use Relevant Long-Tail Keywords
You'll increase the chances of people finding your website if you use relevant and specific long-tail keywords. Consider your target audience, and think about what they're searching for (besides your business name). Use a keyword tool like SEMrush to gauge which popular terms related to your brand are being searched and where there are opportunities to stand out.
For example, if you want to promote yourself as a yoga expert in hopes of getting hired for more corporate gigs outside your studio, think about yoga-related words and how to include keywords related to your location when writing descriptions and pages for your website. Adding a blog to your website can help to integrate less brand related keywords into your site that are searched more often.
Demonstrate Accomplishments and Goals
When it comes to proof points, we gave a couple examples above like testimonials or talking about how long ago your company started to show experience and reliability. There are many things you could include to help convince potential customers to choose you.
Here’s the complete list:
Include Contact Information Everywhere
Once you've piqued the interest of people who have read about you on your site, make sure they can get in touch with you to learn more. Make it easy for people who come to your website to forge a deeper connection with you by explicitly displaying contact information. This could be a phone number, email address or a form.
If your business is on social media, you should include those channels on your contact page as well. The easier it is for people to reach you through your website, the more likely you'll accomplish your goals.
Ok high-level is over. It’s time to get your hands dirty and bring this site to life! Here’s a step by step run down.
It’s go time! Let’s get this website done!
Step 1: Select your website builder.
There is a lot to choose from in terms of which website builder to use. Some website builders claim to be free but in the end you pay for your domain and hosting. Web.com offers an easy and affordable website builder, and the domain and hosting are included for free. Since you’re hopefully going to maintain a website for years to come, choose the website builder that is right for you and sign up to it!
Choosing one with built in hosting is going to really help you when it comes time to publish. Your website, at the end of the day, is a series of coded documents, images, and videos (if applicable) that are stored on a server. Your host provides server space for your website and keeps that server up and running so your website is available for visitors at all times.
Some business owners try hosting their own websites on their own servers, but that’s an option best reserved for people who know how to manage, patch, and upgrade their servers. Think about it:
For most business owners, the answer to both questions is “no.” It’s much easier to choose a website builder that has hosting included and that offers great technical support. In the long run, the small monthly charge you’ll pay for your website maker is worth not having to host it yourself, especially when you consider things like server malfunctions or website crashes.
Step 2: Select a Template
When you start to look at website builder templates you’ll find a number of options - and this would be true for a custom site as well. Options are good in one sense because it ensures diversity across internet websites. In another sense, a wide selection of colors, layouts, and design elements may be hard to choose from when you’re making a website.
If you have a logo, letterhead, brochures, business cards, or ads, you’ve already done at least some visual branding for your business. If you like your logo and your brand messaging, you should choose a template that fits with what you’ve already created.
If you don’t have any existing material, instead of just browsing through templates in hopes of stumbling upon the perfect design, start by thinking about what you want in a website. Is it a bold look? A sophisticated feel? Perhaps you want a black background. All of this is helpful to note in advance to help you settle on a design template when the time comes.
If you’re unsure, surf the web. Take note of websites that catch your attention and why. You should also take a look at your competitors’ websites to consider what they do well and what they don’t.
Step 3: Add Copy
Once you have selected a template, you will likely be prompted to add text to your web pages one by one inside the builder experience. Some builders make you do this manually. Either way, take the time to do a rough draft of your copy as you build out each page identified in your brainstorming phase.
Here’s some pointers for writing compelling copy:
It’s important to be aware if you’re describing yourself with words like “groundbreaking” and “innovative,” that your website design template should reflect that too!
In addition to crafting a persuasive and strong message with your copy, it’s important to think about what your copy looks like. Most people don’t read everything on a web page, unless they’re reading an article on a news site or blog. They scan quickly over the copy to find what’s most relevant to them. For this reason:
Emphasize important information like your store hours, your address, or your phone number by making it distinct from more general copy. You can place important items in a different place, surround them with borders or backgrounds, add icons or play with sizing or other formatting.
Remember that you can come back to finesse copy as much as you want since you’re designing your own website. So don’t let copy block you. Just get down anything that fills out each page and circle back to copy at the end and then again during the feedback phase.
Step 4: Add Logo and Images
With most of the copy written, add all your visual elements like your logo and images on different pages. With most of these pages already laid out you’ll have a good idea of how to position them and you’ll adjust everything next.
Make sure all images look professional. They should be high resolution (meaning they aren’t blurry) and use proper lighting. If you’re displaying photos of your own products, consider hiring a photographer to capture them so they have a clean and professional look. If you don’t have products to showcase you can likely get by with stock photography. Some builders have a selection of free images built in.
The best images make people experience feelings, so choose images that give you those same feelings of excitement, awe, or inspiration that you’re trying to invoke in others.
Step 5: Adjust On Page Elements
Even though you used a template, you should still be able to customize many on page elements of your website like font size or colour scheme for example.
Colors. Do certain colors appeal to you or best represent your business? Use color combinations in ways that customers expect but that are also nice to look at and make your copy easy to read.
Fonts. Make sure your product pages have titles proper H1 or H2 formatting. Make use of no more than 1-2 fonts on one page and keep it consistent throughout the site.
Images. As humans we process visual images much faster than text. Your website can help convey messages faster by including strong, relevant imagery. Whether you use real photography or animation, you can use imagery to better communicate messages and create a more engaging experience for your website visitors. Take screenshots of images to make them lighter if you’re having trouble with file sizes. Think about incorporating videos or GIFs too!
Layout. When you’re creating a website keep the navigation of the entire site simple. Then also keep the layout of each page simple and not too cluttered. You may want to resize certain elements of the page or move them around.
Step 6: Publish But Don’t Promote
Once you’ve given it all you’ve got, it’s time for feedback. You don’t necessarily want to give everyone you need feedback from access to your website, so that means you’ll have to publish it! But don’t worry, people won’t be clicking on it until you really start promoting it. So go live with it and then share it with key stakeholders or even just friends and family to get some feedback.
Publish your website under a domain name of your choice. In general, people choose www.yourbusinessname.com for businesses, www.yournonprofit.org for a nonprofit, or www.yourtechcompany.net for a technology site.
The organization in charge of domain names, ICANN, also allows other substitutions for .com, org, or .net. For example, if you run a pizza restaurant, you can choose www.yourrestaurantname.pizza, or for real estate, you could choose www.yourname.realtor.
Your domain name should match your business name as closely as possible, or should be something distinctive that’s easy for customers to remember. In addition to having your domain name in your web address (URL), you’ll also use it in your email addresses, so make sure your domain name is in line with your brand’s image.
Typically the purchasing of a domain and hosting of a website is part of the website builder experience. Once you’re live, get all that good feedback and make any necessary changes until you’re happy with the final product.
Step 7: Connect It With the World
Once you have a live website you love you can start connecting it to your other marketing materials. Include it on your business cards, on your social media pages, on your local business listings and any advertisements you have. You’ll be getting site visitors before you know it!
Tip #1: Plan in Advance
Building a website should start just like building a house – with a clear set of plans. Before you even start the process of making a website, plan out how many pages the website will have, what pages will be in the main navigation, what each page will focus on, and what colors and design you have in mind. It could take time to hire a photographer and select the right photos if necessary. By planning in advance you can ensure you have everything you need to make a site when you’re ready to get started.
Tip #2: Focus on User Experience
You may have a great idea for a website in mind, but if it isn’t easy for a user to use or for a potential customer to get to a lead form or purchase, it’s just not going to work. As a successful small business owner, you need to create a website that is simple for future customers to use and navigate. Think clean, organized designs and navigation. This will ensure that you make a website your customers stay on and have no problem coming back to again and again.
Tip #3: Test Your Website on Mobile
With 46% of all Google searches being for local services and 60% of those searches being made on smartphones, a mobile-friendly website has become more important than ever for online success. Consumers expect to find information quickly, and the majority of them find local businesses through mobile searches. Test to make sure your live website is responsive to mobile formats! In addition, the mobile version of your site should load information quickly.
Once you make a website, it’s helpful to know how well it’s performing. Having access to website statistics can help you understand what’s working on your website and what’s not. Some website builders have built in scorecards while others rely on users installing Google Analytics.
You can also include things like a tracked toll-free phone number that redirect calls to an existing company phone number. That way you can see exactly how many people are calling you from your website! Measuring and monitoring your website is the only way you’ll be able to make strategic improvements to it in the future.
Feature Image: Unsplash / Aleks Dorohovich
Image 1: via Giphy
Image 2: via Google
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Image 4: screenshot via Pinterest
Image 5, 10: via Web.com
Image 6: via Kitchen Cabinet Kings
Image 7, 9: via Innocent
Image 8: via OOO Polish
Image 11: via Dollar Shave Club
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Image 15: via @longleafleatherco
Image 16: via Website Design Academy