The humble website. It’s the double-edged blade all entrepreneurs must wield if they hope to build a successful online business. On the one side, it’s an astonishingly powerful portal to the fabled land of success; on the other, it could also become the bane of your existence.
Here’s the thing, most entrepreneurs aren’t web developers. We are a tremendously creative bunch, but we come in all shapes, sizes and skill sets, and the odds of your particular zone of genius being web development are fairly slim. Which means you’re going to have to do one of two things:
- Learn how to create a website for yourself (and be happy with the end result!)
- Pay a professional web developer to build a genius site for you
Which brings us to another unpleasant home-truth: a lot of entrepreneurs (especially those who are just starting out in business) don’t have the budget to pay for a website to be built. And, even if they do, it’s not necessarily the best time to have a site made by a pro.
Your business is very likely to evolve quickly in the first year or two, so unless you’re already crystal clear on exactly what functionality you need, waiting to have that fancy site with #AllTheThings built can save you a lot of money in the long run.
Because, if you’re new in your business, by the time the website project is finished you will have new ideas, have changed your mind, or have new things to add. Changes in project direction can add up very quickly, which is not ideal when you’re starting your business!
If you’re smart, that won’t happen.
You know enough to wait until you’re certain of the functionality you need, or you can budget for a web developer who will continue to work on your site as your business and needs grow.
But what are you going to do in the interim?
In the point before you’re ready to pay for a professional site and knowing exactly what you need, when you just need a website, you’re going to have to make one yourself.
Don’t worry, it’s not nearly as terrifying (or difficult!) as it sounds. To get you started, here’s the ultimate beginner’s guide to easy web development basics…
The Basics Of Web Development
The creation of a website is a very daunting task, especially if you’ve never done it before. But it’s entirely possible to create a simple website (and even more complex ones!) with relative ease. There’s very little you can’t teach yourself to do with enough time, guidance, and Google searches!
But where do you start? Let’s run down the basics of web development…
Website Hosting And Your Domain Name
There are two essential elements involved in having your own website (as opposed to having a blog that is hosted on someone else’s site):
- Domain Name
Creating the site requires a little more, but before you can build it, you need somewhere to put it. If you’re running a business having a dedicated domain name and self-hosted website are a must.
But, buyer beware:
- Cheaper is not always better.
- Check that your plan can support your website platform (i.e. WordPress), as often the cheaper web hosting plans don’t supply enough resources for a business website to run effectively.
- Cheap hosting often attracts spam accounts which can drag down the quality of your domain, site and emails before you’ve even started.
- Test their support speed and quality – if you are DIYing it, don’t be left high and dry with non-existent tech support from your host!
- Check if your web hosting plan offers automatic backups regularly and server security.
Don’t be put off by my warnings. They are cautionary tales to ensure you find the right domain and hosting service, and shouldn’t discourage you! There are a lot of benefits to hosting your own site, but the main ones are:
In this day and age, people expect a business to have its own dedicated website. Consider these two options:
The latter immediately carries more weight, appears more professional, more official, and less like a hobby or personal blog.
You own everything, you’re in control, nobody can change your site or take it away from you unexpectedly.
Brand Recognition And SEO
When your domain name is your company name it’s extremely easy for people to find you. Even if your domain contains words or phrases that are commonplace, the fact it’s your domain will automatically put it at the top (or at least very near the top) of search engine results pages (SERPs). This is great for your SEO but also makes it very easy to find you.
If you don’t have that domain name, and the SERPs show people a load of other stuff before they mention you, the odds are your leads will have clicked away long before they find you.
Not having a dedicated domain name makes it too hard for people to find you, too difficult for them to remember where you are, and more sceptical about the validity of your company.
So really, you need a dedicated domain. Which means you need hosting for your domain name.
Register Your Domain Name
The first thing you need to understand about domain names is their anatomy. There are three parts to any domain:
- Before the dot
- Between the dots
- After the dot
The parts you need to concern yourself with are the last two: the text between the dots (usually your name or the name of your business), and the top-level domain (TLD), which comes after the dot (i.e. .com).
There are a plethora of companies out there selling domain names. You may want to buy a domain and then find a hosting service for it separately. Alternatively, you can buy your domain name directly from the hosting service, such as Digital Pacific or Just Host. This is often simpler as you only have to deal with one company, but may not be possible if the hosting service you have chosen doesn’t have the domain option you need (for example, Just Host do not offer .com.au domains).
You will need to pay an annual fee to register your domain name, which is usually between $10 and $40 per year.
The only tricky part about domain names is getting the right one. The internet is increasingly crowded, which means a lot of domains are taken. Because they have to be completely unique, only one person can use any given domain at a time.
If the one you want is taken, you’ll need to get a little creative in order to find one that works for you and your business. Just don’t make it too obscure or hard to remember for your clients.
One way to do this is to use a different TLD (for example, mine is .online rather than .com). You could also hyphenate (for example ‘robyn-kyberd’ would be a good alternative if ‘robynkyberd’ was taken) or make it a quirk of your branding (for example, if you have a signature product or service, use the name of that rather than your brand name).
The part between the dots is your DomainSherpa, or simply domain. And there are some rules you need to be aware of when deciding what it will be:
- No spaces are allowed (you can use a – instead).
- They’re not case sensitive, so when you type them out you can capitalise the first letter of each word to make it easier to read (i.e. www.OptimiseAndGrow.Online).
- In addition to dashes (-) you can also use numbers, but beyond that no special characters are permitted.
- There’s a 63 character limit on domains, not including the TLD.
The Difference Between TLDs
From an SEO and branding perspective, there isn’t much practical difference between the TLDs you choose, at least not these days. Not that long ago there were a few dominant TLDs (mainly .com, .co.uk and .org) which were considered the ‘official’ ones, while others took a backseat.
As the number of sites online is expanding exponentially it was necessary to extend the scope of what constitutes a ‘proper’ domain name. Consequently, there are now a wide range of different ones in use. You may still prefer to get ‘.com’, or you may want to buy up every version there is so nobody can compete with you.
TLDs can tell you where a business is based (for example .au is generally for Australian organisations and people, while .co.uk is usually a sign of the UK), but this isn’t a foregone conclusion. Beyond that here are a few useful (though far from strict!) distinctions:
- .com is for commercial sites such as businesses
- .org usually indicates a non-profit organization
- .gov is for a government site
- .net is often an indication of network resources
- .edu is usually associated with education
- .tv is generally related to television, although it’s also the TLD for the islands of Tuvalu
Hosting Your Site
Next you will need to rent some space on a server to get your site up on the Internet. Think of it like renting an apartment. This is generally called ‘hosting’, as the company you rent that apartment from are your ‘hosts’ (i.e. landlords!). Companies providing hosting services are called hosting companies.
Once you’re registered your new domain name, all that’s left to do is notify your hosting company and they will guide you through the setup process and get your site live – typically within 24 hours.
Website Builders 101
When it comes to actually building your website there are three types of basic web development available to you:
- Program your website from scratch
- Use a Content Management System (such as WordPress, Shopify, Joomla, or SquareSpace), either using premade templates or DIYing your design from scratch.
- Use an online platform that makes website development simpler by doing most of the legwork for you (such as Wix, your web hosts Page Builder, or Google website builder).
If you’re a beginner to web development and looking for the simplest approach possible, avoid coding.
The quickest and easiest approach to building your site is to use a CMS with a premade template. WordPress comes with a huge range of free themes and plugins that allow you to very quickly and very easily build a highly functional website – no code required!
Essential Website Elements
There are certain things every entrepreneur’s website needs in order to be as effective as possible. At a basic level, there are elements that simply must be in place in order for it to function, represent your business, and provide a means for your to attract, nurture, and convert clients. If you want to earn money directly through your site it will need a few more.
Here are some of the basic building blocks that you will almost certainly need to incorporate into your site:
The hub of your website, this is the page that people see if they use your direct domain name. If you go to www.optimiseandgrow.online you land on my home page. Every site has a home page, even sites that are a single page!
As a page it serves several important functions:
- Immediately establishes what you do.
- Allows people to navigate to the most important areas of the site.
- Establishes your brand identity, and often your personal identity if you are the ‘face’ of your brand.
- Promotes your most important offers (for example, your core services, your best products, and your most popular optin offer).
This is the page that tells people all about your business. It’s not unusual to have small bios in other areas of your site, such as on your home page and in the sidebar, but the about page is a detailed version.
It contains everything people need and want to know, which is not necessarily what you think it will be. For example, they usually don’t care about all those cute stories that illustrate you were interested in your zone of genius from a young age, and once impressed a teacher when you were twelve. They often don’t care about your official qualifications, for example, you may hold a degree that isn’t directly related to what you do in your business. It’s part of your journey, and relevant to you, but your clients don’t need to know.
What potential clients care about is:
- How you can fix their problems,
- How your offering is going to take away their pain, and
- Why you’re capable of doing it in a way that is perfect for them specifically.
Exactly what you include on your about page will vary drastically, but as long as it conveys these three vital points, it doesn’t matter what form it takes. Whatever text you include make sure you also include at least one professional photograph of you, your team, or a behind-the-scenes glimpse of your business.
A blog is a vital element of your website if you want to get found online. It’s potential is boundless, offering you an easy and effective means of achieving several essential things at once:
- Boosting your SEO (making it easier for people to find you via search engines, like Google).
- Building your authority and establishing your expertise.
- Demonstrating the value of your services, products and other offerings.
- Nurturing the Know, Like and Trust factor between you and your audience.
- Growing a tribe of dedicated followers who will one day become paying clients.
- Driving subscribers to your email list.
- Providing content to nurture your leads, list, and existing clients, encouraging them to convert, or buy from you again.
You may or may not need a shop on your site. If you’re selling products or services directly through the site you will need something which has the ability to allow people to click on what they want, and pay for it, all through your website.
A website is an extremely powerful marketing tool even without a shop. You can use your site to attract, nurture and inform leads, and even deliver what they buy from you, without the use of a shop. Simply invoice people and allow them to pay via the invoice, direct bank transfer, PayPal, or another similar method.
An email list is a vital part of the nurturing process, but you need to entice people to sign up for it. To do this, your website will need at least one lead form – a place for readers to add their name and email address, so they can join your list.
Landing pages are perfect for displaying the details of your products and services. You can include descriptions, images, and other copy to convince prospects your stuff is worth their hard earned cash. It’s also difficult to convince people to subscribe to your list without offering them something of value, so a landing page may be required for your free offer or lead magnet.
If you’re planning on selling any kind of digital content that is hosted on your site, such as an eCourse, video training, or premium blog content, you will need a secure place to keep it that’s only accessible to those who have paid for it. That usually means a membership area of some form.
This is by no means an essential aspect of your site and whether you need one depends entirely on your business plan.
The Most Important Thing…
Aside from the mechanics of it all, the most important element of any DIY marketing project (not just web development!) is the need to ensure that your branding is consistent and representative of both your ideal client and business. Check out my free brand consistency guide and the accompanying blog post for details on exactly how to do this…