This guide takes you from great idea to up and running online. Over the years I have had many people contact me because they have a website they want to launch, but have no idea where to start. They are completely overwhelmed, and I understand that, but this quick guide will give you the knowledge to get up and running today!
First let’s tackle that pesky question, “what is the difference in a blog and a website”? Well as most of you know a blog is a page that is broken down by posts and dated. All blogs live on a website, not all websites have a blog. A blog could include other pages on the website, say about, contact etc. Where a website may not include a blog at all. There are several blogging platforms that can be used to put together a website without actually running the blog. For the sake of simplicity, in this guide I will only use the term website.
I am going to get you up and running with 5 simple steps:
1. Website Anatomy: Before you can start building, you need a quick understanding of how websites work.
2. Website Plan: Determine what type of website your business needs.
3. Content: It is pretty cliche to say, but “content is king,” so why is it so often created last? Content should not be an afterthought.
4. Install Your Site: Now is the time to get site built using the content you laid out in step 3.
5. Look and Feel: Now your site up and running with content it. Now you can start branding and make it look nice!
In order for you to put together a website you need to understand a few things about how they work. There are two sides of a website, the backend and the front end. The backend refers to the files that make up a website and the hosting server those files live on. I like to use the analogy of a book. A book holds pages which then hold words. Similar, a server holds files that hold code. In both cases the complete package allows for mass communication. The files need to be located on this hosting server so the server can then project them over the internet. Most of this will be transparent to you, but it is helpful to understand the process.
The front end is the part of the website your user sees and interacts with. Internet browsers receive those files with code and then translate them into something much better looking.
The domain name, such as www.getmegeeky.com, is like the address to your house, but instead it is the address to your website.
Now that you have a better idea what makes up a website let’s put together a plan to start yours.
Lets get started with a website plan. When you go to build a house you can’t just hand a builder a picture of a house and tell him to get started building. Sure that may be what you want the front of your house to look like, but that is only one dimension.
You start with a floor plan. You perfect the layout, think about where every sink, outlet, door and load bearing wall will be. The “look and feel” (shutters, paint, tile color etc…) of the house is many steps away. Building a website is very similar to this. First off you need to determine how you are going to use this site before you take any further steps.
A decade ago if you wanted a website, even a simple one, you had to hire a web developer to hand code one. Today there are many ways to avoid this. I am going to help guide you to the simplest and least expensive way to get you up and running, but first we need to do a little brainstorming.
Let’s start by answering these questions:
1. What do you want to do with this website (e.g. are you going to sell a product, a service or neither)?
2. If you are selling something, is it a physical product that you need to ship? Or is it a digital product (ebook) or a service (legal work)?
3. If your product is the website you may need to hire a developer. For example, if you are planning to build the next, Flickr or Ebay this is going to require custom work.
Keep those answers in mind and lets move forward.
Fortunately for you, putting together a website on your own, with little to no web experience is completely attainable. You just need the right road map. There are several business now that give you all the pieces you need to build a website without knowing any code at all. Just like the house I mentioned earlier, it is like a builder giving you a home that is ready to paint, decorate and arrange your furniture in. In the web world we call that decorating a “theme.” You will need to determine the correct system (house) and then pick a theme (look and feel).
I am going to introduce my two favorite paths to web building and explore them with you.
If you need a site for a physical business (not a storefront), or to sell a service or digital product you can almost always cover your needs with a WordPress site. WordPress is one of the many blogging tools out there, but should really be considered more of a content management tool. It is far more flexible and manageable than other blogging tools.
Important Note: There is a difference between wordpress.com and using WordPress on your own hosted server. For many reasons wordpress.com is not right for a business. You can not have your own domain name and offers very little flexibility. Using WordPress on your own hosted server is much more professional. This may sounds overwhelming and complicated, but it isn’t. I highly recommend Bluehost (although there are many other good options out there) to host your WordPress blog. They are a hosting company you can really grow with and their one-click installation of WordPress means it is very simple to set up.
If you are an online business selling a physical product that requires a storefront, www.shopify.com is great. Again this is a system that is already built, you just adjust and design for your look and feel. The hosting is included in the cost and has a very simple walk through process to get everything up and running. It allows for huge growth too. For example, you can integrate your site with many warehouses around the country if you determined you needed to go to a drop shipping model.
Now stop! Don’t go set one of the site up and dive in. We have determined your path, but now we need to work on content.
Let’s take a few minutes to focus on content. Everyone wants to go straight to “look and feel” of the site, but that is like putting wrapping paper around an invisible gift.
Before you can start building a site, it helps to sketch everything out. In order to sketch it out you have to determine what this content is going to be. Then sort it into groups and create your content pages.
There are several pages that are pretty standard on most websites. It may help to start your list with those. Things like home, about me/us and contact are standard. While home and contact are pretty easy to tackle, “about us” is a bit more of a challenge. People often save their about section for last. They think it is not as important as the other parts of your site. I disagree, I think this sets the tone for your entire business. Defining who you are on this site is going to give you direction when it comes to building the rest of your content. Take some real time with this. They think that people don’t bother to look at the about us section. This is not true. Customers and users of your site CRAVE a connection to you and your business. Open up let people know who you are personally. Don’t try and hide behind a business name or speak about yourself in the third person. Seriously consider who is going to mainly visit your site and make sure your content speaks to them. I encourage you to be transparent and build trust with your reader. If you need a little direction I love Bernadette Jiwa’s “10 Rules for Writing an About Me Page“.
Now onto our mind-mapping. Sit down with a blank piece of paper and jot down every thing you would even consider putting on your site. Go wild don’t be afraid to write down some off the wall stuff. After you do that start going through and grouping those items together. For example put an A next to all the common items, B next to another group of common items etc…
After you have grouped them, take a separate piece of paper and across the top write A, B, C and so on to cover all your groups. Within those groups you should be able to come up with a title that covers the content, things like products, services, support, resources, blog and so on. This is a rough draft of your navigation bar. At this point don’t be afraid to look around at other successful sites for examples. Try to avoid doing this too early on because it will stifle your unique brainstorming. Now that you have more direction for your content, it is time to actually start putting it together.
While you don’t have to make all decisions about your content, it is very useful to spend a little time laying out your pages. Grab some more paper and markers and start drawing out your layout. Use one piece of paper per content area. These represent your different website areas and will be represented in the navigation bar or sub-navigation bar. Think about the main objective of your site. Are you starting out with a blog as your main focus? Do you offer certain services? Do you intended to sell products? If so are the products digital or physical. What does this look like on your page?
Now that you have taken the time to outline your content you are ready to move to the next step. Actually setting up your site.
Install Your Site:
Time to get your site up and running!
Note: If you are selling physical products and decided Shopify is the best route take a look at this information to get started with them.
From this point on my tutorial will take you through setting up a WordPress website.
A majority of you will find WordPress to be the perfect set up for your website. To run a WordPress site you need to have a host, a domain name and a blogging software installed (WordPress). Even if you have no intention of running a blog on your site you can still use WordPress to set up your site and mange the content within. As I mentioned in an earlier section, Bluehost is an excellent hosting company to get started with and they make it easy to install WordPress with a few simple clicks. For step by step instructions watch the video embedded below. Take note this gets you running WordPress, but does not tackle the “look and feel” of the site, which is called a theme. We will get to that in the next section.
After watching the video and following the steps you should have the site up and running. Even though it may not look the way you want, let’s get back to our content before we move onto look and feel.
Using your Dashboard you can add pages or posts. First it depends if you intend for your site to have a blog or not. If you have a blog portion of your site you are going to use the “posts” to add posts to your blog. If you do NOT want to have a blog on your site you can add pages and then make one of the pages your site’s landing page instead.
The landing page is the page your user first arrives to if they went to your main domain name. To have your site land on a page other than your blog go to “Settings” on the left-hand column of your dashboard. Then go to “Reading”, at the top under “Front Page Displays” choose “A Static Page” then choose which Page you would like under the drop down menu.
Start plugging in content by going to “Pages”, “Add New” under the left-hand column. Go ahead and create the pages that you laid out in the content section of this Guide. Hopefully you have at least some basic content to plug into your pages. Once you have a few of those together you need to actually add them to your Navigation Menu to have them appear on your site. If they are not added to the menu you will not see this page in the navigation bar when you visit your site. To do this go to “Appearance” then “Menus” on the left-hand column of your dashboard. Look for your pages on in the left-hand column, check the pages you want, then press “Add to Menu” to add them to the Navigation Bar. Then use the simple drag and drop system arrange the order of your navigation bar.
Congratulations you now have the bare-bones of your website up and running!
Look and Feel:
Now we are finally ready to add style to our website. Remember the house we designed earlier? Now we can pick paint colors, hang shutters and landscape.
WordPress uses themes to change the look and feel of your site. There are many, many professional, sleek looking themes available. Some of them are free, and some are for a smaller fee. Themeforest is a great place to find many different themes. Keep in mind you are saving a lot of money by not hiring a web designer so don’t be afraid to buy a theme. They tend to offer a little more customization.
If you find yourself wanting something more custom than what you can put together using available WordPress themes you may need to hire someone who has the ability to customize a theme just for you. If you are bootstrapping your business and really need to save money, there are plenty of themes that look professional and allow you to pick colors and logos that represent your brand.
Once you have a theme picked out installing it is pretty simple. In the left-hand column of your dashboard you look for “Appearance” then go to “Themes”. Once in themes click on the tab along the top that says “Install Themes”. Look for the “Upload” link. When you downloaded your chosen theme, whether it was free or paid it should have arrived in a .zip file. Just upload that file. WordPress will do the hard work of unzipping it and applying it. Under “Available Themes” be sure to “Activate” the theme you just uploaded.
Depending on the theme you chose you should have some them Theme settings you can adjust. They are either under a theme label in the left-hand column or under “Themes” and then “Customize”. Many themes allow you to change colors and upload a different header or logo. An original logo will make a website really custom. Head over to 99 Designs to post a job for reasonably priced professional quality design work.
If you chose a theme with a sidebar you will need to use widgets to have items show up there. Amy Andrews over at “Blogging With Amy” has a great blog post on using widgets http://bloggingwithamy.com/how-to-use-wordpress-widgets/. In fact Amy’s website is a fantastic place to dig deeper into WordPress blogs in general.
Congrats! You are now up and running with your own website. Let me know if you have any questions.