A simple guide to creating a website

Creating a website can seem confusing and overwhelming for people who are unfamiliar with the concepts of online marketing.

Explaining each section of the website creation process separately and with simple language (no jargon) can make things much easier to understand. This allows more informed decisions to be made by clients, ultimately resulting in better websites.

If you're considering a website then this guide is an essential resource. Or if you know someone who is please share using the social buttons below.

Hosting and domains

One of the first things to consider when creating a website is the domain (eg. www.MyAwesomeSite.com) and the type of hosting you need. You can think of hosting as the online space that you rent and the domain as the way of getting there. The domain is broken up into two parts: The domain name (MyAwesomeSite) and the domain extension (.com).

Domains are unique, so you'll have to choose one that doesn't already exist. Most online hosting companies offer a search engine specifically for this process, such as this one by HEART Internet. You can use this to find your perfect domain. It is also worth registering any social profiles which you'd like to associate with your online brand at this stage too.

A new era for domain extensions

In 1980 the initial batch of 7 domain extensions were released, including .com and .org. In 2014 over 300 domains now exist including .London, .Agency and .Photography. There's now more choice than ever before! You can find a full list of available domain extensions here .
In most circumstances domain and hosting is bought together. If you're unsure it's always worth getting someone who's done it before to help. Although prices vary, twelve months will cost approximately £5 to £15 for a domain and £30 - £80 for a decent hosting package. Avoid cheap 'website builder' packages as these produce notoriously low quality and unstable websites.

Domain names

As a general rule the best domain names are easy to spell, relevant, short (1 - 2 words) and include high search volume keywords. Remember that the domain name you choose reflects your brand so should be unique and memorable too.

Domain extensions

Usually .com is the best choice as its the most frequently used. However .co.uk and .uk are also popular in Great Britain. It is possible to have multiple domains pointing to the same website, for example MySite.co.uk and MySite.com.

Hosting providers

Hosting requirements ultimately depend on website complexity. Avoid hosts charging less than a few pounds per month, as these are usually unreliable. HEART Internet are one of the leading UK web hosts and offer a very good service at a reasonable cost.

Website content

Once you've decided on a domain the next task is to identify, organise and audit the website's content . This is often an area that doesn't get much consideration but with an increasing focus from search engines like Google on unique, high quality and authoritative content it's never been more important to take content seriously. After all, content forms the foundations of your site.

It's usually a good idea to audit the content that you already have. Ask yourself these questions;
  • Do I have enough content for each topic I want to be found for online?
  • Does my existing content read well and use the right keywords?
  • Is my content unique and does it demonstrate my subject knowledge?
  • Do I have access to high quality images?
  • What is the relationship between pages on the site?
Whilst quantity doesn't necessarily mean quality having more content generally means more ranking opportunities. That being said try to keep each page focused with around 500 words (about a single page of A4) per page. If you've got too much information on a topic then consider breaking it into a an overview page (parent) and several more detailed sub-pages (children).

This content structuring process produces your site's architecture which has a big affect on search result positions. Also consider links between pages and whether you can link to other authoritative sites around the web.

Stock photography

It can be difficult to find the right images for your website and stock imagery often offers a professional and effective solution. Websites such as Shutterstock offer vast libraries of professional, high quality images for personal and commercial use - Avoiding copyright issues which could occur if grabbing images from Google.
Did you know? Regularly blogging can be a great way of keeping your site up to date, and search engines love fresh content too! Have you considered how to update your site regularly?

Content management

Most modern websites use Content Management Systems (CMS) to manage content and structure. They don't require any technical knowledge and are perfect for adding, deleting and modifying page content. They also handle image uploads and much, much more!

WordPress

WordPress is the CMS of choice for millions of websites across the globe thanks to its ease of use and community support.

Design and development

Design and development accounts for the majority of time required when creating a website. Whilst development generally follows design the two can overlap occasionally . It's beneficial to have content ready by this stage as designing without it can result in design constraints which require overcoming later in the creation process.

Website design

Website design is a creative process in which the branding, style and visual elements of a website are defined. Deliverables include a set of images showing the aesthetics of different pages (Homepage, contact, Blog, etc). Functionality is not required at this stage.

Website development

Website development is the process of creating a website based on existing designs. Upon completing development the website should be fully interactive. This includes all pages being set-up with working navigation as well as any bespoke functionality.

Appearance

There are many different aesthetic options to explore when designing. It's often worth showing a few of your favourite sites to the designer.

Navigation

Navigation is a key part of any site as it has to look great but also be intuitive and easy to use. Modern designs are embracing much simpler navigation .

Functionality

Producing a thorough list of requirements before beginning development will reduce the chance of extra functionality being required later on.

Mobile

Increasing popularity of mobile browsing means ensuring that your site is able to respond to any screen size is now an essential part of web design.

Review meetings

As design and development are iterative tasks there should be at least one (if not more) review meetings. These present the opportunity for you to give feedback on work so far and request any necessary changes. Always check the number of iterations included in quotes before agreeing work.
During the design and development stages review meetings may be the main dialogue between yourself and the developer. Make sure that you get regular updates and never leave questions until review meetings. It's also advisable to define a review meeting schedule before the design and development stage as well as familiarising yourself with each project milestone and associated costs.

marketing your website

Having your brand new website is only part of the challenge for getting found online. Once your site is complete getting visitors should be one of your main focuses. There's lots of ways to promote your website online:
  • Appearing in search results
  • Receiving links from other websites
  • Reaching out to audiences through email
  • Increasing awareness through social media
Although online marketing can sound complicated most of the processes involved fall into one of six categories.

On-page optimisation

Although on-page optimisation is a part of organic search it usually forms part of website development. On-page optimisation centres around ensuring that content on the website is marked up so that search engines can use it effectively.

Organic search

Organic search achieves high search engine rankings by creating relevance between search terms and website content. This is known as 'Search Engine Optimisation' and covers both on-page and off-page optimisation techniques.

Content marketing

With the focus moving from keywords to content over the last few years, creating and distributing high quality content has never been more important. This ethical approach can rapidly increase visitors as well as search result positions.

Paid search

Purchasing sponsored ad space at the top of search engine result pages can be an effective way of increasing website visitors. The maths-focused approach can be very targeted meaning you only pay for visitors who are relevant to you.

Email marketing

Email marketing is considered an outbound strategy (reaching out to customers rather than letting them find you). Email marketing can be a great approach if you have a particular offer or promotion and have access to a list of contacts.

Social media

With over 1,000,000,000 users on Facebook and 250,000,000 on Twitter, social media offers great opportunities to increase your website's exposure. Although you may not personally use social media it can make a big difference to audience awareness.

Updating your website

Of cause from time to time you'll want to make changes to your website. Although some developers charge maintenance fees it's more beneficial for you to know how to make changes yourself. As most modern websites use a Content Management System (CMS) making changes is now something anybody can do quickly and easily.

Using a Content Management System

Using a Content Management System is almost like using Microsoft Word. Most CMS' have a 'what you see is what you get' (WYSIWIG ) text editor, meaning you can see exactly how your page will look before you publish the page. You can save drafts, view earlier revisions and even work collaboratively.
Another advantage of using a Content Management System is the ease of adding 'plug-ins'. These are small functionality additions which can be installed into your website's CMS. If there's a particular function you need a little while after creating your website there could be a simple and cost-effective solution.

Updates in WordPress

WordPress is a fantastically friendly CMS for website owners - It's simple, intuitive and really easy to start learning. It also has over 30,000 plug-ins and arguably the best community support of any system. It's also a popular choice with developers meaning you'll always be able to find someone to give you a hand.

Hiring a developer

Sometimes for those more involved tasks you may need to hire a developer. The best option usually is to contact the person who originally developed the website as they will already have access and technical familiarity. However this isn't always possible so always make sure you search around for the best proposal.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long will it take to create my website?

The length of time can vary depending on functional requirements and site complexity. A month is a good starting point for a small-to-medium size project although it is dependent on content, iterations and the speed of developers.

How much will it cost to create my website?

On average a decent freelance developer will charge upwards of £1000 for a website, based on an hourly or daily rate. Agencies are usually three or four times more expensive but do generally offer a faster turn-around, a larger portfolio and additional manpower.

But online I can get a website for free!

Whilst it's possible to get a website for free you should always be vary wary of anything 'free', especially online. Website builder tools produce notoriously poor quality websites which are unstable, difficult to maintain and could end up charging you for additional services.

How do I choose a good website developer?

It comes down to transparency, ability and connection. Make sure that you and your developer are on the same page and ask to see a portfolio of previous work. A good digital marketer should be able to explain everything to you without confusing you. Whilst contracts are nothing to be afraid of (they actually work in both parties benefit) make sure you fully understand it and raise any questions before signing any paperwork.

I want to sell my products online!

Selling online is referred to as 'E-Commerce'. There are Content Management Systems and plug-ins specifically designed for selling products online. Expect to pay a little more for E-Commerce websites as the build is usually much more complex. You should also make sure you have good quality product data and an idea of which payment gateways you would like to accept before starting work in order to save time and money.

Conclusion

Creating a website isn't as complicated as it first appears. There are ultimately five key stages:
  • Hosting and domains
  • Content management
  • Design and development
  • Website promotion
  • Website maintenance
By understanding the processes involved with these stages you can make more informed decisions and ask more involved questions which ultimately leads to a more effective website.

Make sure you always read contracts thoroughly and understand each milestone's deliverables. Stay informed during each step of the creation process and challenge any areas you're unsure of.

Choosing the right freelancer or agency is a make-or-break decision so knowing some of the basics behind website development can help you find your ideal partner. Of cause this guide is just an outline of website creation, so please share it with your chosen developer and ask them any questions relating to the topics covered.

About the author

John Alexander Rowley - Freelance website developer
John Alexander Rowley an enthusiastic digital marketing professional passionately dedicated to increasing the online presence of businesses and individuals through innovative digital marketing in order to improve online engagement and return on investment.

www.JohnAlexanderRowley.com
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