This blog by Ogi Djuraskovic originally appeared on FirstSiteGuide May 29, 2017.
ABOUT THIS GUIDE
Whether you’re thinking about creating a brand new website or want to redo your current website, you’re faced with a number of basic, but important, decisions.
In this guide, we’ll help you sort through these choices and explain how specific options will fit your unique needs. We’ll cover everything from understanding what type of website you need and choosing a domain name—to the finishing touches that will help you launch your website successfully.
SIX ESSENTIAL STEPS TO LAUNCH A WEBSITE
- Understand what type of website you need
- Choose the right tools to build your website
- Pick a domain name and web hosting provider
- Install and setup WordPress
- Work on design and prepare content
- Test and launch
UNDERSTAND WHAT TYPE OF WEBSITE YOU NEED
There are different types of websites. The type, or combination types, you choose will depend on what you want to achieve with your site and the functionality you’ll need to accomplish this.
Following are the main types of websites:
Blog or website with a blog. A blog can be an extra feature for any type of website or it can be a separate type of website on its own. Blogs are usually arranged in chronological order, with the most recent entry at the top of the main page and older entries toward the bottom.
Business card website. For some small businesses, a simple one-page website with the name, description, contact info and maybe a logo may be all that’s needed. You can also include some product information, but the basic concept is a one-page website that represents your company or yourself.
Portfolio website. A portfolio website is similar to business card website, except you’ll have a section on the site where you showcase your work and give people options for contacting you. This type of website is commonly used by photography studios, design firms and other creative endeavors.
Product brochure website. This type of website is an extension of your company’s sales and marketing efforts. You’ll be able to include products and services your company offers for visitors to browse through. This website may include some pricing guidelines but doesn’t enable customers to make purchases online.
E-commerce website. With an e-commerce website, you’ll be able to showcase your products or services and allow visitors to buy them online. At first, the setup process for an e-commerce site may seem daunting, but there are many simplified methods and tools on the internet today that will enable you to sell online.
CHOOSE THE RIGHT TOOLS TO BUILD YOUR WEBSITE
With so many options and different platforms available today, it can be difficult to select the best tools for the job. Choosing the platform upon which you build your website will be one of the most important decisions you make. This choice is critical because you’ll be tied to that platform for some time and it’s never easy (or possible) to move your website from one platform to another.
Now, let’s look at a quick overview of website development platforms and options from which you can choose.
Content management systems (CMS)
CMS is a web tool/application that allows you to manage your website and its content from an internal user interface or dashboard.
There are plenty of options when it comes to choosing a CMS for your new website. The most popular content management systems include WordPress, Drupal and Joomla. These three CMSs are open source, which means you can use them for free.
Web builders (or website builders) are tools that allow you to create a simple website using templates and drag-and-drop interfaces.
In recent years, online web builders have become very popular and there are plenty of options. With a web builder, you can build any kind of website, but people tend to use them for smaller business or personal projects. The most popular website building platforms include Wix, SquareSpace and Weebly.
E-commerce (or electronic commerce) platforms are tools specifically developed for users to set up their online stores.
Basically, e-commerce platforms are another type of content management system. Several big players provide services for building an online store. Among the most popular are Shopify, BigCommerce and PrestaShop.
HTML and CSS
HTML (or Hypertext Markup Language) is a computer language that allows you to create a website from scratch. Once created and properly uploaded to the internet, it can be viewed by anyone who has an internet connection.
CSS (or Cascade Style Sheets) is a style sheet language that defines how HTML elements will be displayed on the website page. It’s used to create visually attractive websites, user interfaces and web applications.
The basics of HTML and CSS are not hard to learn. It’s handy to know how they work, especially if you plan to add some unique customized features to your website. At the same time, plenty of user-ready templates and themes are available, so you don’t have to build everything from scratch. You simply choose a design you like and edit the HTML coding to customize it to fit your business.
The most popular tool for making a website
The most popular platform/tool used on the internet today, according to Torque magazine, is the self-hosted CMS, WordPress.org. In fact, more than 1 billion websites currently use WordPress.
WordPress is a clear leader and our top recommendation because:
- It’s free/open source, so you’ll have access to all the free goodies the community has created
- You don’t need coding knowledge to handle tasks related to creating and maintaining your website
- Software updates are done automatically or can be done within the dashboard with the click of a button
The reason WordPress is so widely used is because it’s highly versatile. It’s user-friendly, so anyone can use it without investing a lot of time learning how it works. But it’s also robust enough to be used for large corporate or commercial websites.
Because it’s so prevalent, a lot of developers, programmers and coders work with WordPress, and a lot of tech-savvy people continually design themes, plugins and new features to add to your WordPress site.
PICK A DOMAIN NAME AND WEB HOSTING PROVIDER
In order to create your new website with the recommended WordPress platform, you’ll need a domain name and web hosting provider.
Once you’ve selected the right platform for your website, you need to start thinking of a domain name. This domain will be yourname.com, yourbusiness.com or something similar.
If you’re marketing yourself, you’ll want to use your first and last name. Think johnsmith.com. Even if you aren’t marketing yourself, it’s not a bad idea to get your name as a domain now, in case you want to use it in the future. If you are marketing your business, you will want to use your business name. Think yourbusiness.com.
For most websites, the first goal when choosing a domain name is to get the .com top-level domain whenever possible. Here is a useful guide to help you learn the details and secrets to selecting an effective domain name.
Web hosting provider
After choosing a domain name, selecting reliable hosting services will be one of the most important decisions you make. To a great extent, the functionality and performance of your website will depend on your hosting provider. The host makes sure your website is available to potential readers 24/7, and it’s where your files are stored online.
The wrong web host can cause many problems with your website. Just imagine choosing a mobile company that has no reception. Your web host is a major piece of the puzzle to maintaining a successful website, therefore, it’s crucial that you choose a reliable provider.
Most hosting companies also offer domain registration services. Some people keep their domain name with the registrar company, separate from the hosting account. We recommend keeping it all under your hosting account for hassle-free management and maintenance.
We highly recommend Bluehost, which powers over 2 million websites worldwide. And for our visitors only, they offer a special deal that includes a FREE domain name.
INSTALL AND SETUP WORDPRESS
There are two ways to install WordPress: one-click install (recommended) and manual install (advanced)
While each host has slightly different control panels, the installation process will be similar. If you signed up with our recommended hosting provider, you’ll find it very easy to setup a WordPress site. You’ll see an icon on the host’s control panel that says “Install WordPress.” It’s as simple as clicking that icon and following the step-by-step instructions to install the latest version of WordPress.
If your host doesn’t have one-click installation, WordPress has full instructions on how to install it manually at wordpress.org (for advanced users). Keep in mind that a host that doesn’t offer one-click WordPress installation may not be your best choice.
Setting up WordPress and managing your website
WordPress has two zones: the front end and the back end.
The front end is what your visitors will see when they come to your website. Many of the tasks performed in the back end will be visible on the front end, such as theme customizations, plugin functionality enhancements and content publication. Actions can also be performed by you and your visitors directly from the front end of the website, including commenting and social sharing.
The back end, also known as the WordPress dashboard, allows you to fully manage your site’s content, community, functionality and design. It’s accessible only by users who have an account on your site. To access your WordPress dashboard, you need to type yourwebsite.com/wp-admin in the address bar of your browser and log in using your WordPress username and password.
The Dashboard is the center of website administration. It consists of three main parts left-side menu, top toolbar and middle section. The left-hand column of your WordPress dashboard is where you’ll find all of your admin options and where most of your creative effort will be focused.
The left-side menu items include the following:
Home takes you to your dashboard.
Updates show you any themes or plugins that need to be updated because a new version has been released. If WordPress itself is updated, you’ll see a number in a red circle next to this menu item.
Posts are usually blog posts. Typically, these will be time-sensitive news items.
Media shows every photo, video and file you’ve uploaded as part of a post or page. You can also upload files directly to the media section.
Pages are usually evergreen, static web pages. Examples include the “About Us” section on a company website or the “Services” page.
Comments are what visitors comment on in response to one of your posts or pages. If you have comments, a number inside a red circle will appear next to this menu item.
Appearance contains themes, design and features related to the appearance of your site.
Plugins are extra mini programs that help increase the functionality of your site. You can use plugins to turn your website into a membership site, add social media sharing, eliminate comment spam or just to do something cool or fancy with your graphics.
Settings are used for just about anything. This is the first place you want to go when setting up a new site.
To learn more about how to customize your website, make design and layout changes, create your first post or page and much more, check our in-depth guide to WordPress basics.
WORK ON DESIGN AND PREPARE CONTENT
Changing the design of your website
Once you’ve installed WordPress on your domain name, a basic theme will automatically be applied to your website (currently it’s Twenty Seventeen theme). This theme and your website design may be changed easily by choosing from the thousands of free themes available for WordPress. This can be done under the Appearance menu item by selecting the Themes subcategory.
In this category, you can select a new theme from the WordPress repository. Here’s a quick checklist for choosing your theme by searching within the dashboard:
- Read the description Each theme usually comes with the short description of the features and functionalities. By reading it, you should have a rough idea if it matches your needs and how customizable it is.
- Check the ratings Popular themes will have star ratings that are visible in the preview and under theme details. They should give you a clear idea how good the theme is.
- Preview the theme Preview the theme to get an idea of the overall look and layout.
- Check for responsiveness Choose a responsive design that will work on desktop browsers and mobile devices. This is recommended by Google.
If you find a theme that takes your breath away, cool down. Once you install the theme you like, don’t be surprised if it doesn’t look quite right. Your theme is just the skeleton of your website—you’ll have to fill in content (text, photos, videos, etc.) to determine how it will work for you.
Content is information that will be presented on your site. It’s important to create and maintain unique and easy-to-understand content that will be of value to your visitors. Poorly written and badly presented content can frustrate and discourage visitors from staying on your website or returning in the future.
Two questions you need to consider when creating content:
- Is the content relevant and interesting to your audience?
- How should the content be presented to your audience?
Today, search engines reward (by ranking them higher) websites that make an effort to create quality content to educate people in their niche. Make sure your content is: unique, relevant, legitimate and current.
Once you have an overview of your website plan/site map, you can drill down to the specifics of content you need to create for a website launch. It will be important to create evergreen content (content that will not be changing much and will appear on the static pages)—and to have fresh content on a regular basis, so visitors have more reasons to return to your site.
Find more details about content creation in our in-depth guide.
TEST AND LAUNCH
Beta testing. Launching your website is an exciting process and you may be eager to go live as soon as possible. With all the excitement, however, people sometimes ignore the testing step. It’s really important you test your website before it goes live. The testing process can seem overwhelming, but it’s not that complicated. Just carefully check the following points:
- Content-related materials (spelling, punctuation, etc.)
- Design-related elements (images, fonts, etc.)
- Web-development items (live URLs, broken links, etc.)
- Search-engine optimization (SEO) details (title tags, meta data, etc.)
- Network administrator areas (hosting, backup system, etc.)
Post-launch. Once your website goes live, you need to have a strategy in place on what to do next and how to maintain your website. Here are some basic things to consider:
- Set up your site for promotion
- Prepare to measure website stats
- Plan regular maintenance to make sure the site is running correctly
- Always backup your site on a regular basis
- Collect visitor feedback
Congratulations! We hope this guide has given you a basic idea of what’s needed to build and launch your own website. There are more things to learn, so feel free to visit our Resources and Guides pages to improve your webmaster skills.