Starting your own website can be an exciting and daunting process. Something which initially seemed like such a simple idea can become overcomplicated, confusing and cause a blinding headache. You might want to start a website for any number of reasons. To promote your favorite band, to promote your new business, to sell stuff online, to publish articles or blog, or just to tell the world about you yourself and your dog.
How to start a website the right way? Don’t run before you can walk!
Obviously you could hire a freelance web designer (oh come on what did you expect?!). But this isn’t aimed at those with a budget and a deadline. This guide is aimed at helping those interested in how to start a website, get it off the ground.
Where to begin with your new website
My web design career started back in my college days, when I was studying IT Networking and Comms. A buddy asked me if I would mind helping him set up a website for his band Skirmish – I had an interest in Web Design, but up until that point, hadn’t really ever really had a meaningful subject. I had, in the past, set up a free page with a company called Homestead who at the time offered a free online site builder. I crafted a page which featured every animated flashing gif I could find on the web, and a nice centre spread photograph of me in the middle of the page – terribly pixelated due to my lack of knowledge regarding photo resizing.
This was my first shot, I signed up for a Geocities account, who again offered the online site builder and some free hosting, and I began putting together a website for my fiend’s band. The key here was that i finally had a meaningful subject, something that other people might actually be interested in, and furthermore, I had some motivation, my friend was keen to see the project move forward and would want to see its progress regularly. Web designers in my experience thrive when they’re thrown in at the deep end. There is so much support out there on the World Wide Web, that with almost any problem you might face, you just need to remember that GOOGLE IS YOUR FRIEND. Search for your specific problem, and it’s likely that someone else has faced the same problem as you at some point in time, just as likely is that some clever individual has solved said problem and posted step by step instructions on how to resolve it. So don’t be afraid to take on a challenge, the support is out there!
So that gives you your first key steps..
1. Find a meaningful subject, that other people might actually be interested in!
There’s nothing worse than putting all that work into a site, and then day after day watching web analytics gathering dust. It’s demoralizing. Build a site about somthing other people will find useful and interesting, or build a website for a friend who needs it – that way you can collaborate and enjoy the process with another person who is genuinely interested, and who doesn’t want to help out a friend!?
2. Find a webhost that offers you a free site builder
As i said before, don’t run before you can walk. Web technology today allows you to build simple static websites easily, without needing to use code. That’s something you’ll move on to further down the line, once you’ve gotten to grips with the basics, like building your website navigation and laying out content. The online site builders allow you to get a better understanding for how a website is structured and how users will interact with it, it makes you think about it properly, and probably for the first time. Its best to get this understanding before you start learning the code. Here’s a few online site builders with free plans to get you started:
Buying a Domain name!
Next up, you’ll probably want to get a domain name. Domain names are cheap, you can pick up a .co.uk for as little as £5.00 per year. I use Namecheap.
Obviously you need to choose a domain that’s relevent to your subject, the band name, the business name or the product or service name. If the single name is gone, try appending the field, such as “Skirmish-music.com” or “Joes-Snooker.co.uk”. The addition of the extra keyword is good for your search engine rankings anyway, but don’t let SEO determine your domain name choice, choose the domain that’s best suited to your Idea. Once you’ve purchased your domain name, you just have to point it to your newly created site. Typically you can do this by simply forwarding your domain to your free site builders address – such as “joes-snooker.moonfruit.com”. Eventually, when you go for a proper host and decide to code your website yourself, you will need to update your DNS settings to associate them with your new server, but that’s for later.
So you’ve started your site, promoted it locally and you’re getting a few visitors each day. Where do you go now?
By this stage you’ve probably gotten to know your site well, and you understand the site builder like the back of your hand. No doubt you’ve been tweaking and changing almost daily! With this confidence and knowledge, you’ve probably also begin to feel the limitations of the free site builder. You’ve been looking at other sites which just look nicer, cleaner and not as ‘blocky’ (for want of a better word!). When you’ve reached this stage, it is indeed time to start thinking about designing your website using a proper web design tool, and creating the HTML files that will make up version 2 of your site.
Finding a good webhost
There are millions of web hosts out there, they all range in price and quality of service. In my experience, you’ll be disappointed with most. Unfortunately it’s a common problem, web hosts are often slow, your site may occasionally go down, and support is somtimes hard to get. Every individual’s experience is different. One person may tell you that 123-reg.co.uk is the best thing since sliced break, another person may warn you to avoid them at all costs. Every web host has horror stories attached to it, so my preference has always been to pick one with good support. With that in mind here’s my two recommendations.
Hostgator are a massive US based host and they’re not going anywhere. They are not advisable for a large professional website, as their shared packages do have a tendency to go down, but they have 24 hour support via live chat, and they will help you with almost any problem you’re facing, even if it’s not technically their fault, they’re pretty great for beginners. You can get 25% off their hosting packages with this discount code too: BOSHANKA25OFF.
2. 5 Quid Host
Don’t be fooled by the name, 5 Quid host are extremely professional, and as the name suggests, they’re cheap. With packages starting at £5.00 per month. 5 Quid Host are UK based, and are currently responsible for hosting all of my sites. I found sites load fast with them and whilst they don’t have a phone number (which can put people off) their email support response time is exceptional, usually within minutes. I’ve used both Hostgator and 5 quid host, and whilst both are good, my preference lies firmly with 5 Quid Host.
Web Design Tools
In order to build your website, you’re going to need some tools. My preference is Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Dreamweaver, though there are many free alternatives out there. Student’s and Education professionals can also get a discount on Adobe Products. For the purposes of this guide, we’ll be focusing on Adobe Dreamweaver and Photoshop.
Creating your site in Adobe Dreamweaver
When you start your site in Dreamweaver, it organizes the files of your website on your local computer. So all of your site files and associated documents are available within dreamweaver. From here you can edit files, set up links and transfer your site files to a web server. Dreamweaver essentially becomes the management system for every part of your website. Typically, a Dreamweaver site is made up of two parts.
1. The Local Folder – The place which contains all of the files you’re going to work on.
2. The Remote Folder – This is the live location of your site, where you keep all of the files that are running on your web server or host – such as 5QuidHost, as discussed earlier.
All you need to do to get started setting up your site in dreamweaver is to define a site in Dreamweaver. Give your site a name and tell Dreamweaver where you want to store the local files. Dreamweaver will ask you for further information as and when it requires it. Simple!
You can follow an excellent tutorial which details the sett up of your website in Dreamweaver here. The tutorial also includes example files for your website.
Using Adobe Photoshop to give your site the WOW factor!
Adobe Photoshop allows you to create beautiful designs which will make your website jump out! You can take inspiration from the thousands of CSS galleries out there, but you must try to keep your design your own. My personal favorites include CSS Drive and CSS Mania. You can download a FREE Photoshop website template i’ve put together from a previous article I have put together here: Free Photoshop Website PSD Template .
Test your website, then test it again, and then TEST IT AGAIN!
There’s no excuse for not fully testing a website, badly designed, poorly coded websites will prevent users from visiting and interacting with your site. If you want to give your website the best possible chance at generating visitors, you must make sure it’s compatible with all modern web browsers and mobile devices. The only way to ensure this is to test it thoroughly. Download a copy of Internet Explorer, Google Chrome, Apple Safari and Mozilla Firefox. Your website should work perfectly on all of these browsers, but feel free to go further than this. Put Google Analytics on your website to track what the most common browser types are, and test your website on all of them. Lastly, try validating your website code and aim to get a perfect score.
Get your website noticed online!
So you’ve tested your site, you’ve given it an awesome design treatment and you’ve uploaded it to your web server! Next up, you need to generate some traffic. Off the bat you should have already made sure you’re web content is unique, relevant and well written, don’t copy and rewrite content from other websites, write your own and don’t be afraid to add a dash of your personality into it, or the personality of your brand, product or business. Make sure your site is structured properly, use appropriate header tags – I’ve written an article here about how to write good Search Engine Friendly content. Next up, submit your site to Google and Bing.
[TBS_BUTTON color=”success” style=”text-decoration:none” link=”https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/submit-url?continue=/addurl” title=”Submit your site to Google”]Add Your Site to Google[/TBS_BUTTON]
[TBS_BUTTON color=”warning” style=”text-decoration:none” link=”http://www.bing.com/toolbox/submit-site-url” title=”Submit your Site to Bing”]Add Your Site to Bing[/TBS_BUTTON]
Then write and release a press release advertising your site, and interact with other websites in your industry, read other blogs and leave meaningful comments. If you’re lucky those website owners will visit your website and return the favour, and they might even tell their readers about you. Its about building relationships and meaningful connections.
Obviously this list isn’t exhaustive, and there’s hours and hours more stuff to cover, web design is an amazing and rewarding industry, from the amateur level to the professional level. I would highly recommend anyone give it a go, there’s something wonderful about getting your first website online and watching it grow. My advice is to pick a subject you’re passionate about, something you’ll enjoy spending time on and giving lots of TLC. Of course if you ever need help, you can always get in touch with a professional web designer who can give you advice and support or jump in and resolve a problem you might be having.
I would also like to open the comments below up for discussion or advice – if you have a question or need some advice, please leave me a comment below and I’ll do my best to help you resolve your problem or provide you with some expert advice.
I am good at managing my schedule, so I can usually get projects booked in without much lead time. Let’s get our heads together and get your project done.