For some reason, people get caught up in the misconception that building a website is hard. It’s just not true! Nowadays, it’s almost too easy. With dozens of hosting platforms and millions of how-to articles; anyone can learn how to build a website.
I love running my personal website and publishing content that I’m passionate about. This guide is for anyone who wants to learn how to build a website — on any platform.
Let’s get started!
Planning Your Website
Starting a web design project can be overwhelming — especially if you don’t have a plan.
A lot of people (myself included) want to jump right in with their web design project and get their site launched as soon as possible. This is not the right approach and it rarely turns out well. Instead, you should start with a project plan that outlines what you are going to build, how you are going to do it, and who it is for.
Whether you’re building a personal, business or niche site, its purpose should be crystal clear. The best way to do this is to ask yourself;
“What do I want to get out of my website?”
Do you want to showcase your past work? Do you want to sell products? Do you need a homebase for your side-project? Are you looking to promote your local business and get more clients?
Here are some questions you should think about before you start building your site:
- What “type” of website are you building? (personal, business, niche, etc)
- Why are you building your website? (grow your audience, sell products, get clients)
- Who is your target audience? (what are their demographics, interests, and challenges?)
- How will you drive traffic to your website? (organic, social, video, email, paid ads)
- What metric will you use to measure “success”? (traffic, signups, downloads, sales)
- What pages do you want on your site? (home, about, gallery, blog, contact)
Knowing the answers to these basic questions will help as you build out your site and gather content. Create a project plan with a list of all the pages you need to build and start gathering your page content. Make notes on your brand and aesthetic like your logo, fonts, and color palette.
domain name, hosting and CMS
This is the nitty gritty behind starting a website. Every website needs three things; a domain name, hosting and a content management system (plus.. you know, valuable content).
Your domain name is how people find and access your site.
Hosting keeps your site up, running and accessible to visitors.
Content management systems are used to control and manage your content.
It’s really important to have a killer domain name. It may be tough to find great domain name that’s also available, but there’s no reason you can’t. Brainstorm a few and check if they’ve been taken using tools like Launchaco or Naminum. It will take some trial and error, but you’ll find one eventually. Once you’ve picked your perfect brand name (and you’ve checked that’s it’s available). You’ll need to register it with a domain name registrar. Registrars claim a domain name on your behalf and allow you to use it for your site.
A hosting platform is simply the place where your website is stored online. Web hosting services give you a place to access and manage your site and usually charge on a monthly fee to keep your site live. There are two ways that you can go about hosting your website; managed or hosted.
Managed platforms give you all the tools you need to build and manage your website without bogging you down with the technical details. Hosted platforms give you full access to backend of your hosting service.
The type of hosting you need will usually depend on your content-management-system.
A content-management system (or CMS) is a platform used to design, organize, manage and publish content. Your CMS is the backbone to your website so it’s important to choose a platform that works for you and your project.
The platform you choose is entirely up to your personal preference, skill level and the requirements of your project. If you are new to web design, a managed website platform like Squarespace is right up your alley. If you need advanced features and more control over your site, WordPress might be a better solution for you.
What’s important is to learn your CMS inside and out. Learn the basics and expand your knowledge as required. Web technology is constantly changing; what’s important is to gain a grasp on the basic fundamentals and build up your skills with practice and experience.
Building your website
After the planning phase, you are ready to start building your website! How you actually get started and start building is entirely up to your hosting and management platform. But your first step will often be to setup your new site and pick a starter template.
Templates are used to provide the groundwork for the design and aesthetic of your website. There are thousands of free and paid templates for just about every website platform and they give you a headstart when it comes to building a new site.
Once you’ve found and installed your template, it’s time to build your pages and add your content. Your content is the information that is presented on your site. Website content needs to be easy-to-understand, error-free, and relevant to the page it appears on. You should also use a variety of different types of content (text, images, videos, etc) to engage with your audience.
With your content in place, you can start to tweak your design to better fit with your branding and aesthetic.
Search engine optimization (or SEO) is the art of getting found by visitors in search engines like Google and YouTube. But how do they work?
At their core, search engines work by crawling websites using a spider and indexing them in their database. When a user enters a query, the search engine will display web pages and content that the index has ranked as the most relevant according to the keywords in user’s search query.
Search engines are constantly updating and tweaking their algorithms and how they rank websites; their only purpose is provide users with relevant content.
In my opinion, SEO can be broken down in the three themes: technical, content, and authority.
Technical: URLs, page titles, meta descriptions, header tags, alt tags, accessibility and crawlability.
Content: Unique, relevant, quality, use long-tail and semantic keywords.
Authority: Links, engagement, sharing.
Launch your site
With your website created and your content and design in place, you are ready to launch your website to the world!
Before you do, you need to ensure that everything is prepared and ready for visitors. This includes checking every page, proofreading, connecting social accounts and more. Use this launch checklist as a guide before sharing your site or submitting it for indexing:
- Branding (logos, fonts, colors) is consistent and Favicon is present.
- URLs are clean and search-engine-friendly.
- SSL certificate (https://) is present.
- Site redirects to either www or non-www.
- Page titles and meta descriptions are unique and descriptive.
- Keyword hierarchy is present (one H1 tag per page).
- Content is unique, valuable and error-free (grammar/spelling).
- Multimedia content (images, audio, video) is present.
- Images have been compressed and use descriptive “alt” tags.
- Links are present, appropriate and use anchor text. External links are to authoritative websites and open in a new tab.
- Social profiles are linked and integrated.
- Blog RSS feed is available/accessible.
- Sitemap.xml and robots.txt is available/accessible.
- Broken links and pages are redirected using 301 or 302 redirects .
- Pages you do not wanted indexed use “noindex” and “nofollow” tags.
- Site markup has been validated // run a validator test
- Site is responsive // run a device responsiveness test
- Site displays correctly on all resolutions // run a resolution test
- Site displays and functions on all // run a browser test
- Site loads quickly // run a speed test
With the launch checklist completed, it’s time to submit your website to search engines like Google and Bing. Tools like Google Search Console and Bing/Yahoo Webmaster Tools make it easy to submit your website for crawling, indexing and ranking.
Grow your audience
With your website launched, your number one priority should be to publish more content, grow your audience and drive traffic to your website.
One of the most effective ways to grow an audience online is to regularly publish content. Your website is fantastic platform for sharing your ideas and getting found by like minded people. Not to mention, it’s a great way to rank in search engine results.
If you’re still feeling stuck, here are a few different ideas to help get you started:
- Create a how-to tutorial;
- Make a checklist;
- Give your opinion on something;
- Document your journey/story;
- Talk about your failures/accomplishments;
- Share your experience with a case study;
- Recommend your favourite tools and resources;
- Create an infographic;
- Build an email list;
- Start a podcast or YouTube channel.