Steps to Launching Your First Website

build websiteBefore building a new website, there are some things you should consider. If this is your first time building a website, it’ll be challenging because without experience or knowledge, you can get lost in the world of website development. This article will serve as a checklist of things to think about before you commit to getting your first website built.

1. Create a plan

Treat your website like a business. Create a business plan for it. What is your business model? How do you plan on making money with it? Once you have the big picture, you can then begin to think about all the smaller details that will help you reach your goals.

2. Set a budget

Most small businesses don’t have a big budget to work with, but a weak looking website can potentially scare away customers. So, allocate at least a little bit of money towards web development so your site can look somewhat professional. Nowadays, it doesn’t cost much to run a site. If you know where to look, you can get a site running for a few dollars per month with hosting included.

3. Make a list of all the features you want

The features that you need for your site will usually determine how your site will be developed. There are many different ways to build a website today. It can be built from scratch, or it can be made using one of the many CMS programs available on the market. Each method has its strengths and weaknesses so choosing one that can accommodate your needs is important.

For example, WordPress may be the best blogging software out there, but it’s not really ideal for a robust shopping site. On the other hand, a site made using an open source shopping cart may work well for an ecommerce site, but may not be best suited for blogging purposes. The features you need will usually dictate what method you use to build your site.

Once you have created a list of all the features you want, you can then compare the features of each website building method vs your needs. If you require unique features not found on an existing CMS software and plugin, you may have to hire a web developer to custom code it for you.

In addition to the features, a website should always incorporate SEO best practices into the design and structure. If you don’t know about on-site SEO, you should at least get familiar with the basics before you begin building your site.

4. Decide who will build your website

Figuring out how to build your website is one of the most challenging things when setting up shop online. With today’s technology, there are software that will allow you to build a website without much programming experience. However, building a website on your own has its draw backs. Here are the pros and cons.

If you do it:

  • Pros – save money, flexibility, make changes whenever you want
  • Cons – without proper knowledge, you may make lots of costly mistakes such as bad on-site SEO techniques or setting up your web hosting improperly. Trust me – there is a lot that can go wrong when building and setting up a new website.

If you hire a web developer:

  • Pros – they usually know what they’re doing, creative, professional, save time
  • Cons – costly, charged every time you need to make a change, you might not know what they’re doing

If you decide to hire a web developer, there are many online marketplaces where you can find them.

A few places to look:

  • Blogs of web developers
  • Forums like DigitalPoint, WarriorForum and V7N
  • Outsourcing marketplaces Odesk, Guru and Elance
  • Classifieds like Craigslist

5. Who and how will it be managed?

The way a site is managed will depend on how it is built. Will it be built using a CMS software or will be made from scratch using HTML? If it’s built using a CMS software, you can probably learn the system and manage the site yourself. However, if you have no programming experience, a site made without a back-end admin interface would be very difficult for you to manage. If you’re looking to save money, the better option might be to use a CMS or a site builder software to build your site, so you can manage and update the site yourself. An HTML website may be fine if you have a small website and don’t plan on expanding or adding more complex features.

6. Get your own custom domain name

A custom domain name should be on your list of priorities. I see so many business owners make the mistake of using some free sub-domain of a 3rd party site building service like Squidoo or Blogspot. There are a few reasons why I believe it’s a mistake – one, it looks unprofessional, two, it’s hard to remember, and three, your content is at risk. What will you do if that 3rd party site decides to shut down or take your articles down? When you’re building content on someone else’s site, you’re at their mercy.

On the other hand, there is an advantage to building a webpage on a sub-domain of popular site builders like eZineArticles and Squidoo – and that is search engine boost. It is well-known that creating new pages on an authoritative site will immediately will give you a higher ranking vs creating a new page on a new site. Despite the benefits of higher rankings, I would still recommend that all business owners register their own domain names and host their own website.

7. Web hosting

Managing as much as you can in-house is a goal for many business owners. Bringing things in-house, not only helps to streamline the work flow, but also helps to secure proprietary information and save money in the long run. Web hosting is one of those things that you may want to consider bringing in-house. I don’t mean you need to go out and buy your own servers and hire a full-time webmaster, but at least sign up for your own shared web hosting account. This way, you’ll have full access to the source code of your site and also be able to other features of your hosting account.

The reason why I emphasize this is because I have come across many business owners who have had their websites held hostage by a web design company or some hosted site builder solution because they weren’t allowed access to the source code of their own site. And, if you ever wanted to go separate ways, you’d have to pay them whatever they felt like charging you for your site files – usually in the thousands of dollars.

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