I need to save money…should I build a website myself!? If I were writing this article several years ago, I would have placed a great deal of emphasis on the importance of a custom-built website utilizing a professional web development firm. It’s true that there were basic site builders back in the day, but I was dissatisfied with the large majority of them and often found myself talking people out of using them for websites that were intended to represent a business or sell a product.
Times are different now though! In general I still recommend web design and programming to be left to the professionals, but the site development…that can be done by the dedicated and determined business owner. In fact, if you follow the basic steps I outline below, you can be well on your way to having a website with the design and programming done by a professional, BUT with a tremendous discount…even up to 90%!!! In other words, absolutely – YES, you can build a website!
Are you ready to save money as you build a website?? Well, let’s see if you are “eligible” for this kind of task. First, know that there are numerous ways one could go about this process – including “do-it-yourself” website builders or shopping cart creators. There are also programs you can purchase that you install on your computer, build a website with, and then upload the files to a hosting account. What I am talking about here though will be more affordable in the long-run, and will give your site a unique, incredible, and professional look and feel. To build a website, you will need to be able to use online forms to order your website services, be open to learn how to upload files for your website, and stay strong through the learning curve of how to set-up the site layout and make edits. You will also need to come up with your site content – either on your own or by using a professional writer. Site content is a very important and critical piece to having a successful website, but that specifically goes beyond the scope of this article.
If you feel confident with that list of “need-to-knows” – let’s build a website…
Build a Website – Step by Step
- Get Your Domain Name –> and I mean now! Seriously…domain names, especially the coveted .COM, aren’t as easy to come by as they used to be. If you are able to get a short and business-specific domain name, don’t wait! I’ve seen it happen. A new website owner discovers a great domain but decides to wait until the morning before proceeding…only to wake up and find it is no longer available. By the way, if the domain name you want is already registered, you can contact the owner to see if they are up for selling it, or try and get it by placing it on backorder.
- Get Your Web Hosting –> Your web hosting account is where all the magic happens. Web hosting is where your website will reside, but is also where you will be installing the free program I am going to tell you about where you will build that incredible website! The web hosting plan that you get is largely dependent upon how much storage space you need and how many websites you plan to place in that account. You can always upgrade so starting with the Economy plan is fine, but I have found that the Deluxe plan is usually the best choice for growing professional websites that are frequently updated.
- Secure Your Site & Get a Merchant Account –> These are both only necessary if you plan to accept credit cards online through your own merchant account, or are storing other security-sensitive information in the database of your website. When using a pre-existing merchant account you may need to contact the bank to get the details about online rates and gateway services. If you plan to accept credit cards through a service like PayPal, then the SSL certificate is usually not necessary because the transaction will take place on their servers which should already adhere to high security protocols.
- Set-Up Your Professional Email –> When you register your domain at eWebsiteSolutions.com, you are provided with one email account (@yoursite.com) and 1 GB of storage space. Depending on what web hosting plan you get, you may have the option of setting up multiple email accounts with varying space quotas. For many small businesses, that one free account that is provided with the domain registration is sufficient to manage email for the online business. Beyond that though, I recommend purchasing an independent email plan – in particular the Unlimited Email Plan due to the convenience of unlimited storage and IMAP capability (provides synchonization ability on smartphones).
- Install Your Site Infrastructure –> There are numerous content management systems out there to build a website with, but the one I am recommending and discussing in this article is a free and very popular option called WordPress. It is possible to manually install this program into your hosting account, but WHY? You can easily let the software install itself – click here to learn more on how to automatically set-up WordPress. Okay…for those of you who want the manual method, here you go. Something that everyone should review is the WordPress Getting Started Guide and the Troubleshooting Common Issues in WordPress information. The Getting Started Guide I just referenced will walk you through the process and help you get familiar with where you will be setting up the basics of your website. Take the time to get familiar with this and do not get overwhelmed! The process is actually quite intuitive once you get the hang of it. One more thing here – the default appearance of your site is NOT going to be attractive. That is okay!! It is going to look fantastic very soon!!!! That is part of the magic behind using WordPress to build a website! For even more information on how to work WordPress, head here to see the online manual of the official WordPress site.
- Design Your Website (option 1) & (option 2) & (option 3) –> Technically by saying “design” your website I mean browse through a large volume of professionally designed themes that you will customize to a degree and make your own! I am not talking static old-school designs here…I’m referring to beautiful, interactive, and functional website themes that can be completely customized to represent your business in a very professional way. There are many sources out there for you to get an awesome theme from – we work primarily with and recommend ThemeForest (option 1) and/or TemplateMonster (option 2)…take your time and try to visualize what style would work best for your business. If the budget to build a website is really, really tight, you could browse through the WordPress theme directory (option 3), but for a business website I strongly suggest ThemeForest (option 1) or TemplateMonster (option 2). When choosing your design, it would help if you pre-plan the basic structure – how many and what specific pages you will want. If your site is intended to sell products online, be sure you look for the themes intended for ecommerce. When you build a website for shopping, know that often times basic cart setups are also free, just like WordPress.
- Install & Activate Your Theme –> There are several ways to install your theme, some are easy and others are easier! Clicking here will take you to the WordPress site that will walk you through this simple process. For now, you are likely to be uploading it through your WordPress administration panel or by FTP. Note that some themes, especially the more advanced ones, will require you to install other programs to get the full effects of the design. Do not stress! The themes are usually accompanied by extensive documentation and if you could upload the theme itself, you shouldn’t have any trouble uploading the programs (called plug-ins) because it is done in the same way.
- Set-up Your Pages –> Your website is practically done! At this point you should go in and add the website pages you have planned for. Note how pages are different than posts. Posts are more for time-sensitive components and are what you will use if you plan to blog or post news updates. If you do not have the page content yet, it is helpful to at least set up the pages (even if just blank) and be mindful of the page titles. Add all the pages you want, including all subpages. As you enter a page title you will notice how it becomes a part of the URL…for example: yoursite.com/title-of-the-page. You can edit this if you like, just remember that the URL and title play important roles in search engine optimization. When it comes time to add content to your pages, you will notice that you can edit your text with familiar icons like “bold” and “underline”, or if you have a working knowledge of HTML, you can make modifications in the code of the page too.
- Create Your Menus –> As you were adding pages, you may have noticed that they were also being added to the main menu on your actual website. They may not be in the order you want and perhaps some pages were showing up in the menu that you want to use as either subpages or down in the footer. To control the menu(s), you will need to create each one and assign pages to it. How many menus you will have depend on the theme itself. When you are in the “create menu” section of the WordPress administration panel, you will see an area that tells you how many custom menus are built-in to the theme. With that information you can set up your menus accordingly – and can create cool submenus. Even if the theme you have only allows for one main menu, you can still create more menus to use as side menus, perfect for a submenu that you plan to use in a sidebar.
- Install Other Useful Plug-Ins (option 1) & (option 2) –> At this point your site should be presentable to the public. Still, there may be specific functions you want to add to your website – and the WordPress Plugin Directory (option 1) will allow you to explore a variety of free options, and ThemeForest (option 2) has many great commercial plugin options. Each plugin will have its own documentation, though they all are installed in the same manner (installing & managing plugins).
- A little about “Widgets” –> As a final note I want to draw your attention to the “Widgets” area of your WordPress administration panel. These are special areas that vary by the theme that allow you to incorporate certain features – they can be anywhere in the design (right, left, footer, etc.). These areas can hold menus (like your sidebar menu mentioned above) or any number of program snippets that come with any of the plugins you install. Take a look in this area and see what cool features you can “drag-n-drop” in the areas around your site.
Your site is ready for launch….Isn’t it AWESOME?!!!