There are so many business owners and bloggers DIY-ing it nowadays, and many people are creating their own websites. I’ve received a ton of inquiries from friends and clients who want to do their website themselves, but just need a little kickstart to get them going. My hope is that I will be able to provide some simple and helpful tips on this blog to help those people get going on their website, and to keep giving them pointers along the way!
For those of you who don’t know, I’m a freelance graphic and web designer on the side (www.taylorgreydesigns.com). My experience and degree is primarily in advertising and online marketing (SEM/SEO/SERP – search engine marketing/search engine optimization…super nerdy, I know). Many businesses/blogs come to me and say “I want to be ranked #1 on Google!” (which is actually a little more complicated then one might think…I’ll get into that later). There are so many people who are creating websites themselves with the help of platforms like WordPress, Squarespace, Wix, etc., which is amazing! You finally have your domain, hosting, and some pretty pictures…Now what? There’s so much more to website than beautiful images and a snazzy logo. I’m going to go over a few basic tips and necessities when it comes to creating your own site (and getting it noticed on search engines!)
Buying your Domain Name
First and foremost, you need a domain name. This is your URL identity (mine is Wildlygrey.com). This is also a more-complicated thing, because it’s actually hard to find a domain name that isn’t already taken (unless you have a super unique name or business name). You may have to get really creative with this. It actually took me a while to pick my blog name, because many of the ideas I had were already taken as domain names! Some other things you want to keep in mind when choosing a domain name:
- Is it easy to remember? It’s best to have a URL that is easy to remember and resonates with your business or blog. Also, domains that are too long also tend to be hard to remember (and also look really funny on business cards or other printed marketing!)
- Alternative .net, .co, .us extensions Take one look at a domain registrar website, and you’ll realize just how many website options there are nowadays. Does it matter if you have a .com versus a .net? The short answer – no. Your SEM/SEO won’t get any dings in it for having another extension – you can still build a beautiful site with a great sitemap and optimization, no matter the extension. The only downfall in this is that it might be harder to remember for your audience, and your name is also competing with another domain with the same name (and the more common .com version). If you are purchasing a .com extension, you can also purchase other common extensions (.us, .net, .co), and create a forward on those extensions so that visitors will always get redirected to your .com extension.
- Choosing to “auto-renew” your domain You finally got that domain name you’ve been dreaming of. You got your site all set up and beautiful, and you’re starting to get a lot of traffic. One year passes and you’re getting reminders to renew your domain registration. It lapses, your website becomes unavailable to visitors, and to top it all off, some jerky 3rd party just purchased your domain for $10.99 and now wants to resale it for $2,000/year. Think it sounds like a joke? This happens all the time. Do yourself a favor and just setup the “auto-renew” option with your domain registrar.
- Speaking of domain registrars…Who do I choose? Honestly, there are so many. Obviously GoDaddy is a huge one. NameCheap, Google Domains, and Bluehost are all ones that I know well and trust. If you are looking for a particular domain and you see that it’s taken, but the registrar will contact that person and help you buy it from them…DON’T DO IT. You will end up paying a crazy commission fee plus the registration fees.
- Domain add-ons You will be asked if you want to add on a bunch of fun things (SSL certificate, professional email, etc.) You don’t absolutely need any of it for your site to work, but I would definitely recommend investing the SSL certificate (Secure Sockets Layer) if it doesn’t already come with the domain fee.
Choosing the Right Hosting for your Website
Just like domain registrars, there are countless website hosts that give you a place to “host” your site so you can make it live to your audience. Where you choose to host your site heavily depends on what kind of site you are having. If you’re going to have an online store (E-Commerce), then Shopify is a great option that helps you easily handle inventory and pricing. Want a clean, sleek site that is easy to build and edit? Squarespace has some of the most simple and prettiest themes out there. (And if you’re more advanced – SS allows you to easily edit HTML/CSS too). Are you a blogger that just wants to easily create posts, share pictures, and get connected to other bloggers? WordPress is easy and offers some beautiful themes!
Once you decide the main purpose of your site and if there’s an obvious hosting choice, then I’d take a close look at all the different themes that these hosts have to offer! Most have extensive information on each and also provide live demos and a “try it out” option so you can see how different themes look and operate. If you start with a theme but then end up hating it, most hosting platforms make it easy for you to switch to another theme within that host’s options.
Create your Sitemap
For your own organization, it’s very beneficial to create a skeletal version of your website. A very basic sitemap allows you to see all the pages you have, ones that you may need, as well as how pages are linking together. Again, think about the purpose of your site. Do you need to list your services? Then you should have a Services page. Do you need subpages within that Services page? Are you a photographer that wants to primarily showcase your work? Then a Portfolio is a great idea. Are you a lead-based business that needs an eye-catching contact form? Make a great Contact page and have a call-to-action Contact button on every page.
What is a Sitemap?
A sitemap is a hierarchy flow chart of your website. It shows all the pages you have in your site, including subpages. A visual sitemap is really helpful in the planning process, because it helps you decide what pages are needed, and it helps you organize subpages appropriately. It gives you a birds-eye view of the structure of your site.
Using Sitemaps for Optimization
Sitemaps are also really important for the optimization of your site if you want Google to crawl your site better. There are tons of sitemap generators on the web now, where you can actually just type your URL and they will generate the HTML code for you. (I like this generator). Make sure your pages are setup correctly and you are happy with the structure of your site before you get this code. Once you get the code, you can paste it into the appropriate section of your HTML. If you aren’t sure how to do this, just search “pasting sitemaps in WordPress” (or whatever CMS/host you are using). WordPress doesn’t allow you to edit HTML, but there is a great tutorial that I used here to verify your site and add your sitemap. Other hosts that allow you to edit HTML will have you paste your sitemap code into a robot.txt file. If all of this sounds like too much, you can also submit your sitemap to Google.
Start Creating your Pages
Now that you’ve done the boring housekeeping, it’s time to start getting creative and making your site come to life. Follow your sitemap and create your pages/subpages. Once you know your main pages, create your main navigational menu (and be sure to add your subpages there, too). You should also have some kind of call-to-action button or link on every page. CTAs vary depending on what kind of website/business you have. If you sell cute baby rompers, then you want a CTA that gets people to your product pages (like Shop Now). Are you a house cleaner? Then you want a CTA that gets visitors to Schedule a Cleaning Now!
Don’t forget your logo! Luckily for you, I know a gal that specializes in logos and branding 😉
Putting it All Together
Once you have your site up, the most important thing you can do from there is CREATE GOOD CONTENT. My favorite advertising/marketing professor continually stressed that to his classes. If you have aesthetically beautiful site, but crappy content, your site won’t get noticed. You’ll work really hard at your site and put your URL on a business card, but you’ll have a hard time getting unique visitors when the world-wide-web. Once you have your site setup and you start generating some good content, there are a few other steps you’ll want to take to make sure your site gets crawled appropriately. I’m going to work on another post that explains a few other guidelines for optimizing your website so you can increase your rank on the SERP (search engine results page). I’ll go over good text-image ratio, clean URL structures, clean anchor links (and good links, in general), header tags, alt-text, and more. Stay tuned!
Honestly, this stuff takes time. You’ll get frustrated and want to give up, but DON’T! There are so many wonderful tutorials on how to do literally everything to setup your site. My biggest tips if you are inexperienced in web design but want to create your own site: don’t take on more than you can handle. Chances are, you’re also running a business, or busy being a parent, or working another job. Having patience is the best thing I can advise when creating your own site. I’ve created a lot of websites and I still have moments of frustration and confusion, because I’ve had to learn many different platforms. The more patient you are, the better you will learn, and the more liberated you will feel when you figure this stuff out. Also, please don’t hesitate to ask me any questions! I’m here to help!