Congratulations! You’ve decided to forge ahead and either build a new website or do some digital liposuction on an existing one. You even have a budget in mind. Now it’s time to dive into the work at hand, laying the foundation for the build phase.
1. Assign a project manager
Before you start the process of finding someone to build your site, you need to decide who is going to manage the project for you. Even though a lot of the process is far simpler than it used to be, someone at your business still has to be in charge of making decisions along the way. There are review cycles and website assets to gather. There may be some copy you need to provide or, if you’re selling products, photos and descriptions of the items you’re selling.
Chances are good that your business owner calendar is already pretty full. While you can manage this process yourself, you may want to find someone on your team, or even your family, who can help you, especially if they are more technically savvy than you are.
This is not a job to hand over to someone who does your IT. These folks are great at keeping your computers up to date and handling Wi-Fi, but they aren’t marketing experts. Even if they know their way around a website from the technical side, they rarely understand the marketing side. Remember, a website is the front door of your business online; it needs to be professional, easy to navigate and drive leads or sales to your company.
If you have members of your family who grew up with the Internet, you may find that someone is already designing websites for their friends. They may be a good choice to handle your web project, especially if you’re not entirely comfortable doing it yourself or can’t find time in your schedule to work with a freelancer or a design firm.
Yes, you can build it yourself. You can probably do a lot of things by now. Most business owners have had to learn many skills in their business’ daily operations. If you are a whiz at websites or know your way around WordPress, you can probably move on to the next section, which covers design principles.
If you plan to use an entry-level self-serve site development service, such as wix.com, weebly.com and squarespace.com, you can skip this section too, as each one is a little different, and their site tools walk you through the process step by step.
2. Assemble your basic graphics
Before you start building a website, you’ll need some content. The writing can wait. What your design firm will want initially are the graphics you may have. Start by collecting your visuals in .jpg or .png format, including your logo. If you know the hex codes for your business colors (expressed as six-digit number/letter sets such as #000000), add them to your worksheet along with the fonts you use, addresses to your social media, and photos you want to use.
3. Get a domain name
As noted earlier, you will need a memorable address for your website. Choosing the perfect domain name can be challenging. The Internet has been around for decades, so most of the best domain names are gone, especially those ending in .com. There are other, newer domain name roots (the part after the period), such as .biz, .info, .pizza, etc., so you may be able to use your company’s name if you’re willing to use one of these newer naming roots.
There are two ways to get a domain name. You can register one with just about any server host company, including godaddy.com, bluehost.com, ionos.com, hostgator.com… the list goes on. Start by visiting the site and entering a name in the search window. If your choice is unavailable, the site will usually offer some alternative ones. Sometimes, the one you want is taken but can be had for a price. Cybersquatters register names they think someone will want down the road and attach a higher price to them.
When choosing a name:
- Make it easy to remember and difficult to misspell.
- Include your business name, slogan or brand.
- Keep it as short as possible (e.g., www.tricolorpasta.com)
- Consider adding keywords that describe what it is you do (e.g., www.ginospizza.com)
- Consider adding your location (e.g., jmlawseattle.com)
When you register your domain name, you’ll be given the option of letting it be public or keeping it private. A private registration costs more but keeps your personal information – name, location, contact information – out of the public eye, which means less spam in your email box and fewer sales calls.
A domain name should cost you between $2 and $25 per year, but some companies include this price in a hosting package, which we will cover in a moment.
Remember that you are purchasing this name, not renting it. As long as you renew it annually, it’s yours. That’s why you need to do the registration and not a design firm. You want to make sure that you are the owner. If you find several variations of your desired domain name, you may also wish to purchase those. For instance, RobZerrvations and RobbZerrvations are both owned by me since some folks may use the actual spelling of my name versus the name that I’ve used for my “blog” since I was in high school (yes, I was ahead of my time).
4. Find a host
A server is nothing more than a hard drive connected to the Internet. It stores all your files, and when someone types in your domain name, it points to the server at your hosting company. The server, in turn, sends the files back to the requestor’s computer, and the files assemble in the browser (Chrome, Explorer, Safari, etc.) to create the web page you’re looking for.
The top-rated server hosts include GoDaddy.com, Ionos.com, Bluehost.com and HostGator.com. They’ve been around a long time, so you don’t have to worry about your website disappearing in the middle of the night because your server host went out of business.
Every server company is different. Shop around and read customer reviews before you select one. All you need is a shared server, which can cost as little as $2.95/mo. Many hosting companies offer domain name registration for free, so factor that into your decision, as it is something you will need to renew annually. Some host companies will include a free SSL certificate with a new account to keep your site secure.
You will also have the option of getting email accounts with a server host. This is highly recommended. Having emails such as firstname.lastname@example.org is far more professional than having a Gmail or Hotmail address. Plus, customers can contact you at email@example.com instead of firstname.lastname@example.org.
When comparing server plans, pay particular attention to bandwidth. Ideally, you don’t want to buy a plan that has a cap on data. Some lower-cost plans charge additional fees for any bandwidth above a set amount, which can add to your monthly costs.
Geek Time: When you type a domain name in your browser, your request shoots from your computer to a bunch of other computers around the world, asking for directions. The domain name is actually a series of numbers (126.96.36.199). Once a computer says, “Yeah, I know where that is,” the request is sent to the corresponding server. It then fires back all the file links through the Internet to your computer’s browser. This all happens in milliseconds, even though the request may stop a dozen or so servers along the way asking for directions.