Maybe you’ve started a new business and the next step is to create an online presence, or perhaps your business already has a website that is woefully out of date. Either way, it’s helpful to understand the process behind building a new website so you know what to expect and what you’ll be responsible for. Even if you decide to hire a web development company, there will still be information you would be expected to provide.
This blog post is meant to be guide to the steps of creating a website and will outline what the process looks like when it’s done the right way!
The first step to any brand new website project is purchasing a domain name. It’s the name that people will type in to find your website. Ours is zebralovewebsolutions.com. You can purchase a domain name at a domain registrar like GoDaddy or NameCheap. They usually cost between $10 and $35. It depends on what top level domain you choose. Top level domains are basically what’s after the dot, for instance .com, .net, .biz, .org.
In the last few years Icann (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers), the organization that regulates domain names, has come out with new top level domains. Some of them are fun or specific to a particular industry like .lawyer, .dance, .events or .cool.
We generally recommend choosing a domain name with your official business name in it. Some businesses like to purchase a domain with relevant keywords for their business, for example as a web development company, I might be interested in mainewebdesign.com (which is not actually available but this is only an example). While this approach can be a good option if you are in a very competitive industry, I think having the domain name match your official business name helps promote trust. It also makes sense that someone will search for your business using your business name, so it helps if that is your website domain name. Can’t decide what to do? Keep in mind, a website can have more than one domain directing traffic to it. Just be sure to pick one main one and have the other domains be redirected to your main domain.
If there is a domain you simply MUST have but it’s already registered, you can see if it’s available on the domain aftermarket. This is a marketplace that resells domains that have already been purchased. Domain reselling is a huge market. Many of the domain names that are purchased everyday are bought to be resold at a profit. Obviously, you should expect to pay more for a domain purchased aftermarket. How much more depends on whether or not a website existed on the domain before and if so, how popular it was. If you are interested in purchasing a domain that is already registered, check out sedo.com, NameJet or GoDaddy Auctions.
Once you have your domain, you should put some thought into what the purpose of your website is. Are you going to sell products online? Is your website more or less to inform the public about your business? How often will you post new content? Before you start your new website project, it’s important to have these objectives in mind because the steps you will take, whether or not you hire a professional, will depend on these objectives.
If you do plan to sell products or take payments online, you will need to determine what payment gateway you’ll use. A payment gateway is basically the middleman for all of your online transactions. They take the money from the buyer and give it to you! Of course you will pay a processing fee, and the percentages and other fees per transaction vary from service to service. There are many payment gateways and all have pros and cons. Do some research on what payment gateway will work best for your business. PayPal, Stripe, Authorize.net and Square are all reputable payment gateways, but there are many others to choose from.
Nowadays, even if you hire a web development company, they are likely not going to build your website from scratch unless there is some great reason to do so, like if your website needs some custom functionality that isn’t found in most website software already. In most cases, you or your web developer will use a content management software like WordPress, or a website platform like SquareSpace, Wix or Shopify. Content management software is website software that allows the owner of the website to make changes to text, images, etc. without having to mess around with any programming or code. There are many options out there. At Zebralove Web Solutions, we use WordPress a lot because it’s easy to use and SEO (search engine optimization) friendly. Other developers prefer other platforms, and again, they all have their strengths and weaknesses. It’s important that you choose a platform that works best for your situation.
Websites need to live somewhere and they typically live on servers. Think of it like an apartment building for websites. There is a monthly cost (or rent) for the space your website takes up, and this is called web hosting. Platforms like SquareSpace and Shopify must be hosted on their own servers. The software just won’t work anywhere else. They will charge you monthly fees that include your web hosting. WordPress is built with a programming language that will work on pretty much any server or hosting company. If you go with WordPress, you’ll need to purchase web hosting. If you have a web developer to work with, they may be able to provide the web hosting as well (at Zebralove Web Solutions we offer secure web hosting as a service). or they should be able to suggest a hosting company. You get what you pay for when it comes to web hosting, so look for one that includes security measures and perhaps other services you will need such as email, and don’t just choose the cheapest option.
When you are building a website, you need to have an awareness about how people will find you on search engines like Google, Bing and Yahoo. If you hire a web developer and they don’t discuss this with you, that is a red flag!
Keywords or keyword phrases are the words put into search engines to find what someone is looking for online. If you are looking for a new pair of shoes or a good local place to get a cup of coffee, you’ll probably put something into the search bar that describe what you’re looking for, and click on one of the choices that comes up on the first page of the search. Search Engine Optimization, commonly called SEO, is all about identifying the best keywords for your products or services and setting up your website so you are more likely to come up at the top of these relevant keyword searches. This is called optimization, and a critical component to getting found through search inquiries online.
Keep in mind that people looking for a product or service are not experts, so they aren’t going to use your industry jargon. That’s why it’s important to do keyword research! Best practice is to do this research early in the website development process so you know what keywords to use before you have your copy (words that go on your web pages) written .
The next step is to address the look of the new website. If you have hired a web developer, they will most likely provide you with custom design for your business. Often a way to speed up this process, and to ensure that they know what you’re looking for, is to provide some examples of websites you like, that will give the web designer an idea of the look and feel you are interested in.
If you are building a website yourself, the easiest route is to pick out a template. Some platforms like WordPress, call their templates “Themes.” If you are using a template, make sure to pick one out that is consistent with your business identity. Typically a Theme or Template will have a way to customize the fonts, colors and images of the design. This is where you can add some customization and unique touches.
If you are selling products, the most important element on your website is your product photos so be sure to not overshadow them with a really flashy design. Especially for e-commerce, a clean design is best.
The next step is to decide what information you’ll have available on the website. This is again a place where you’ll want to put yourself in your customer’s shoes and think about what content would be most useful for them. If you’ve already done the keyword research in Step 4, you should have a good idea of what information potential customers will be looking for.
Most websites have a navigation bar or menu of some sort that show all the pages of the website. Even if you have hired a web developer, it’s your responsibility to get this information to them. A web developer can steer you in the right direction with keyword research, but ultimately they cannot be an expert at what you do like you are.
With website navigation, it’s best to keep it simple. You will want to have pages for all of your main focus keywords. If you are optimizing for some keywords that are similar, you can optimize for them on the same page if that makes sense. The key is for the navigation to flow and be easy for visitors to find what they’re looking for.
Now that you know what content needs to be on the website, the next step is to write it! Some people find this to be relatively easy while others struggle to come up with what to say.
Writing the website content is another step that you’ll be responsible for even if you hire a web developer for help. That is of course, unless you hire a copywriter!
There are many benefits to hiring a professional writer to write the content for your website. Most importantly, a professional writer is a good writer! They also have something you don’t have which is perspective. When writing about your own business, it can be difficult because you are so close to it. A copywriter is generally better at focusing on what’s important in telling your story, and thinking from the end-user perspective. If they write for websites often, they will also be well versed in incorporating your focus keywords, and other SEO efforts, which is great for building your SEO.
At Zebralove Web Solutions, we routinely work with Noelle Castle of Castle Media Co. when clients need help with copywriting services and we highly recommend her.
The last step before your official launch is to look over the website and make sure there are no programing or grammatical errors. Test your contact forms to make sure you are receiving the emails from the website.
You can also do what’s called a soft launch at this stage, and launch your website, but don’t push traffic to it just yet. You can ask trusted friends and clients to take a look and give you any feedback.
People often hold off launching a new site until they think everything is perfect, and this is generally a mistake. This often results in the website being delayed and not being live for additional weeks and months, and there are many missed opportunities in this approach. Your website should be thought of as a work in progress, so done is better than perfect! Also keep in mind that Google and other search engines can take months to index (identifying that the site exists) your website so you can be really holding yourself back by waiting so long to launch.
Websites are not set in stone, if you do it right, they are always evolving. It’s OK to launch even when you don’t have all your pages or content up. You can add them as you go, when you are ready.
Hooray! The last step is to officially launch your website and start driving traffic to it. You will put it on your new business cards and announce the exciting news with a link to see the new website in your email newsletter and social media accounts.
If you can budget it, you should also hire someone (often the same company that built the website) to work on the search engine optimization (SEO) of the website so that it will come up for the relevant keywords we discussed in step 4 on Google, Bing and Yahoo. There are many behind-the-scenes efforts to build SEO that the pros know, and they can really help your site come up in a search. At Zebralove Web Solutions, we offer various SEO services to assist you with this.
When done right, your website is a powerful tool in promoting your business. Hopefully this article helps you better understand the process, and what to expect when creating a new website. If you are interested in finding out more about what we do, please contact us! We’d love to help you with your digital marketing and building your best web presence.
Milly Welsh is the owner of Zebralove Web Solutions. She’s a big nerd but also enjoys art, making pottery, her 3 children and gardening.