A good website can take your business to new heights. A GREAT website – one that’s the star of your marketing strategy – makes your job easier. This step-by-step plan will help you get there.
Creating a website isn’t rocket science. (In fact, I’m convinced I can teach ANYBODY to use WordPress.)
If sending someone to your website makes you cringe with embarrassment – whether we’re talking thousands of people or just that one person you want to impress – you need to fix that. It’s tempting to dive right into what seem to be the ‘logical’ steps: find a domain name, sign up for a hosting plan, and start watching YouTube videos on how to create a website with WordPress. But that is the absolute hardest way to build a website.
We’ve built hundreds of websites for clients, and I can tell you from experience that starting without a clear plan in place will create hours of extra work and frustration.
Instead, decide what you want before you start, and write out your blueprint. Where does your website fit into your marketing strategy? That’s step 1: Choose the goal and purpose – what do you want from your website:
- A friendly online place to introduce your company, and learn about your prospects in return?
- Lead generation, where you provide information or something tangible in return for contact information?
- New client or patient registration, to take work off your staff?
- Information about your services or products?
- Online product sales?
Whether your website is an online brochure providing information about your products and services, a blog that entices prospects to sign up for your mailing list, or a full e-commerce site, setting the goal for your site gives you direction. Use this goal to create a map that leads your visitors where you want them to go.
Step 2: Define your target audience. Who do you want to visit your website – and what do you want to communicate to them?
Step 3: Outline your content. Your HOME PAGE should quickly let your target audience know who you are and what you do. Using your goals defined in step 1 above, where do you want your site visitors to go from here?
What other pages should you include? About, Contact, Testimonials, Blog, Products/Services, Portfolio, Our Team/Staff, Media/Press Releases, Calendar, FAQs, etc. Make a list.
Are there other features you need to incorporate? Examples include forms for email list signup and “Contact Us,” e-commerce shopping cart, online payment portal, product order forms, banner ads (for your own promotions or outside ads), etc.
Step 4: Draw a sitemap. There are many visual sitemap generators online (https://www.gloomaps.com/ is one we use), or just grab a pencil and paper.
Step 5: Create a style guide for your website. Using your logo, current marketing materials and other branding, select one or two primary colors for your website, along with two to four accent colors. The more formal your site, the fewer colors you’ll want to use. Write down the 6-character hex color values (for example: #00A28A); this will be invaluable to have close by as you develop your site. Select fonts as well, using your current branding as a guideline. We typically use at least one common font family that’s readily available on most computers (think Arial, Times, etc.) along with up to two font families from Google fonts. As in all design, with web fonts, the fewer the better; using too many fonts looks unprofessional, and loading more than three font families into your site can seriously slow down your page loading times, which will hurt your search engine ranking.
Your style guide should also guide the look for photos used within your site: will they all have a similar color tone, focus, camera angle? Having a central theme and consistency throughout your photos and other images keeps your site more interesting and professional.
Step 6: Choose a framework for your website. The framework is the underlying code that runs your website: straight/old-fashioned php and html, WordPress or Joomla are common options if you want control over where your website is hosted. Other frameworks include Wix and Weebly, but keep in mind that with these platforms, they own your content, not you. We’ve used WordPress since it was introduced in 2003 and highly recommend it. It can have a steep learning curve, but once your site is built, WordPress provides infinite flexibility and security, updating your content is easy, and keeping your site secure is simple. Plus, it’s search-engine friendly.
Step 7: Domain name and hosting. If you are revamping an older website you most likely already have a domain name; unless you have a compelling reason to change it, don’t. The company that registers and controls your domain name is your domain name registrar. This doesn’t have to be the same company that you choose to host your website, and in fact, we almost always keep the two separate. (Lessons learned the hard way.) Your website host provides the physical location, always open to the internet, for your website files. The cheapest website hosting is not always the best option, especially if having your website up 99.9% of the time is important to you. Make sure your website host supports the framework you’ve selected.
Step 8: Create your content. Write the copy for your pages and have someone proofread it – or at least run it through a free online grammar and spell checker such as Grammarly.
Source your images, and get them ‘web-ready.’ A picture is still worth 1,000 words, and photos taken with your smartphone can perfectly show off your company’s best. If in doubt, hire a professional photographer. Or, you can turn to online stock image libraries: websites such as Pexels, for example, offer high-quality free images; iStock is our inexpensive go-to for just about anything we can’t find on Pexels.
Sourcing your images is just the first step, however. Start with high-resolution images, but don’t put huge files straight into your web pages. Resize all photos to as close to actual size used as possible to lower page downloading times.
Step 9: Create the design – the overall look – for your home page, inside pages and landing pages, making sure the design looks great on mobile devices as well as desktops. This is where most people, even some website designers, start. But by laying the groundwork above, your site will come together much easier and quicker.
Step 10: Once your content is loaded, test your site. Go through every page on your own computer and your phone. Find someone with a different operating system to look at it as well. Test every form, and click on every button. Use Google’s tools for both Mobile Ready and Page Speed Analysis.
Step 11: Promote your site. Submit your sitemap to Google, Bing and other search engines. Link to your site from social media, and vice versa. Make sure every ad, every marketing piece, has your website URL on it. Your website’s no longer embarrassing – it’s time to let it shine!