The Beginner’s Guide to Making a Website
Are you planning on making a website? It’s a good time to move your business online. Your competitors are probably already making a home for themselves on the internet, schmoozing buyers, dazzling casual browsers, gaining followers, and more importantly, making sales.
With buyers moving online (20% rise in global site traffic since March, according to HubSpot), having a website has become mandatory for every business that wants to stay competitive. But how do you go about making a reliable, effective website? How do you get the best website possible with your limited resources?
We’ve put together a list of answers to the questions we get asked the most concerning website building and maintenance. It’s a bushy subject, with a lot of ground to cover, so let’s get started.
What makes a good website?
We’ve written more on the subject of effective websites in a previous article, where we identified 5 core principles that make a website a “good website”. However, I think it’s a good time to expand on the idea of your website focusing on satisfying your target customer’s needs rather than your own visual preferences.
This is something we see a lot: business owners making website functionality or design decisions based on what they personally like, copying 100% what the competition is doing, or going with what’s cheapest irrespective of what their visitors expect to see. These approaches rarely work and will cost you in the long run.
Users expect the info they want. If you disappoint them, they’ll forget about you, and go to your competitors.
Instead, why not get to know your ideal clients, and build your website to accommodate their needs?
The basics of making a website that works
- Keep it simple – gimmicks are fine, but only after you’ve got the basics right.
- Design with mobile in mind – most people browse on mobile devices. They open emails on their phones. That’s also where they click on links in social media apps. So, if they land on your page and it’s all wonky, they’ll leave. And you’ve just lost how many sales?
- Make it fast – your visitors won’t wait for your site to load if it takes longer than 3 seconds on average. It’s a fact. Your website should load properly in all browsers – for every browser that doesn’t display your website correctly, you’re losing potential business opportunities.
- Answer user questions – this is the easiest way to come up with effective content. Focus on the user. Give them what they want to know, and make this information easily accessible. If a design choice makes things pretty, but hinders functionality, forget it. Go for functionality first!
- Stay on brand, stay consistent – users should recognize your website in the first seconds after landing on your page.
- Update information regularly – this helps keep customers (and Google) happy. Keep all policies, terms, products, prices, and contact info up-to-date. If you have a blog, post something new at least once a week.
When was the last time you looked at what your competition was doing? Take your most successful competitor, and analyze their website. What are they doing well? Why are they getting the results they’re getting? There are lessons to be learned from businesses killing it online. But don’t copy what others are doing page for page! Look at what works for them, and adapt those ideas to your brand, your ideal buyers, and your values.
How to choose a domain name and hosting?
Choose wisely. A poorly chosen domain name can make it hard for your website to be discovered by potential buyers.
Make it as easy as possible for people to land on your website.
First, refer to your competition to identify the most common practices in your industry, so you can stay competitive. Do they use localized terms? Do they use .com or .org suffixes? How specific are the domain names? How whimsical?
Generally, you can’t go wrong if you follow some simple guidelines:
- Make it relevant to your business and memorable – usually your business name, but if the name is too long, try to shorten it.
- Keep it short – remember that the website name should fit cozily on your business cards, ads, social media profiles, etc.
- Use simple terms – try to avoid confusing letters and numbers. If people can’t spell it, they will spell your competitor’s web address instead.
- Choose a common suffix (.com, .net, .org are the most common) – people tend to type .com by reflex, so that suffix should be first on your list.
- You may want to purchase multiple domain names with variations on your primary domain name, so your competition can’t get to them.
One last thing: hosting. Not every hosting service is the same (and I don’t mean price-wise). When choosing a hosting provider, go for services with good customer support, and fast servers. Because no matter how optimized for speed your website is, if the server lags or glitches, you’re not getting anything for your subscription money.
How to design and code the website?
We’re assuming you’ll want to work with a professional web designer and developer. Many business owners have trouble finding reliable freelancers to work with, but they’re not always looking for the right kind of services.
First off, not all graphic designers are web designers, and not all web designers are web developers. The difference between all these professionals can be seen in their portfolios and skillset.
For example, if you hire a web developer to also design your website, check that they have the necessary design skills. Similarly, don’t expect a graphic designer to automatically code the website too. Unless they are skilled in both fields, you’ll probably end up with a modified template, which is not bad if that’s what you were expecting/paying for.
Therefore, before deciding on a designer and/or developer to work with, do your homework:
A good designer
- Visit their web page or portfolio to see if their style fits the requirements of your target audience. Not your aesthetic values, but your customers’ values and expectations. Think about what would please them, and choose a web designer who can deliver that style.
- Look at how recent their portfolio is. The more recent, the more you know their skills are current.
- Read through some of their customer reviews (both positive and negative).
- Ask about what software they use, and why they use it. This will tell you how updated they are on the latest tech, and provide you some insight into their process.
- Ask about responsive design – your website needs to look good in all browsers and on all devices. The designer has to account for that.
- Get them to come up with a timeline and estimated cost for your project. Stay away from offers that seem too good to be true. They usually are.
A good developer
Don’t skimp on development. The functionality of your website is absolutely more important than design gimmicks. If the website loads slowly, or is easily hackable, or constantly freezes up, you’re going to lose more than a few sales. You’re going to lose your reputation and that’s extremely hard to get back.
- Check that your developer knows their stuff: look at what they’ve done before, review their websites to see how mobile-friendly they are, how easy the pages load, etc.
- Like with the designer, read their reviews (both good and bad).
- Have an initial talk about your project, ask them what the pain points would be, and how they suggest dealing with them.
- Ask about how they manage dev projects. Do they use Jira, Basecamp? You want to know what their process is.
- Ask them to produce a time and cost estimate for your project. Be realistic.
- And very important: can they provide ongoing maintenance or support? Your site is not done when you launch it. It needs regular updates, backups, security checks, the occasional new landing page to match your ad campaign. You need a developer to have your back if you want to change something in the design or functionality of your website, or if something goes wrong.
- Go through our 10 things to consider when shopping for a good developer, to really know your stuff.
And stay away from these 8 re-design pitfalls.
How to come up with engaging website content?
You may want to hire a copywriter. In addition to website copy, product descriptions, and blog posts, you’ll also need ads, social media content, emails, texts, the occasional eBook, flyer, whitepaper – face it, you’ll need good copy constantly. So, consider it an investment.
Preferably, hire someone familiar with your industry, and get them involved in the website project from the very beginning. The quality of the copy will improve if the copywriter knows early on what the challenges of the project are.
You’re going to do it yourself? Fine. Start with 2 basic guidelines for good website content:
1. Know your goal.
Ask yourself: what do you want people to do on the page? Buy something? Register for something? Get in touch? Follow you on social media? That’s your goal for the page.
Ideally, you’ll have a landing page for every goal. Individual landing pages are preferable for 3 reasons:
A. They keep things simple – the buyer is not confused about what they’re doing on the page.
B. They’re more persuasive – you can drive the visitor to your goal with a good headline, and finish with a simple CTA (more about CTAs and optimal page content structure here).
C. They are measurable – check traffic, conversions, and other statistics with Google Analytics. Measure and adapt.
2. Know your audience.
Just like with other aspects of your website, when writing content, go back to your ideal buyer. You’re writing for them.
- Visitors will just skim your content. So, keep it short and simple. Don’t make them search for information.
- Use clever headings to grab attention.
- Deliver the most important information first – visitors need to know what your page is about in seconds.
- Who is reading this? Why are they reading it? What is the purpose of this? Answer these questions as you’re writing.
- Learn more about effective landing page structure, writing engaging product descriptions, and correctly integrating social media, by browsing more of the NerdPilots blog.
No doubt, we’ve only scratched the surface on the topic of making a website for your business. From choosing a good domain name to proper hosting, design, and development decisions, to crafting engaging content for your landing pages – there’s a lot to learn.
Nevertheless, you shouldn’t get discouraged. Every competitive business needs to have a website now and in the future. Buyers are looking to fill their carts and solve their problems online. So, you’ve got to meet them there.
If you have more questions about making a new website, fixing up an old one, troubleshooting errors, or anything design and development-related, get in touch. A NerdPilot will get back to you with answers.
Ready to start working on your website? Ask for a quote with no strings attached.