You need a domain: Your domain is the address where people find you on the web. This is your something.com, or .net etc. If someone already has the domain you want there is little to be done. There are a million places on the web to reserve one.
You need a host: Also called a virtual host. This refers to rented storage space on a web server where the files that make up your website can be placed in order to be visible the public. There are tons of virtual hosts and they are mostly very similar.
The uncertainty of the web: What your design looks like on your computer guarantees nothing. Your site has no REAL, TRUE appearance because it isn’t a hard copy: It is code. Your website only really exists when it is opened up by a browser on some device. Different browsers and different devices interpret the code differently and affect the appearance. If the site is built well there won’t be many problems, but there is no way to know to a certainty that everything about your site will perform as expected in all the places it has to go.
Plan your site: You need to know exactly what it is for. It is a machine. What does it do, or make, or accomplish? Avoid mission creep. You should be able to describe its purpose in a paragraph.
- Design is about serving the target audience. It comes from knowledge of who they are, and what they will find welcoming and reassuring in the appearance. It’s not about you and what you like. At least, it shouldn’t be.
- Design isn’t appearance. Design is the blending of appearance and function. Like a house or a car.
- There are not a lot of different ways to lay out navigation. It’s going to be either vertical, left side, or horizontal, top. Why? Think of yourself at an unfamiliar ATM: Do you enjoy not knowing what to do next?
- Don’t make your website radical and totally different because it will most likely suck.
Navigation: (ie: buttons, tabs, menu) The simplest, clearest menu is best. Can choices be simplified and merged? Do it. Classic example: “Home” and “About Us“, How are these different? And ask yourself, “Is the wording on my navigation crystal clear?” We tend to take familiar concepts and names for granted, so be careful not to baffle your customers. The best navigation is barely noticed because A. It’s right where we instinctively look for it & B. The wording is unambiguous.
Search Engine Optimization: There are a LOT of ways to polish and improve this but as the site owner you have the most important role. Write well. The entire site should be as well organized as a research paper. Write succinctly and with an intention behind every word. ALSO: Consider your target audience, what words and phrases do they actually type in search engines to find you? Be realistic about this and include those words and phrases (gracefully) in your writing.
Social Media: Irrelevant social media is a stupid waste of your time. Think strategically about this and include social media in the machine concept from the beginning of this article. What role do they play in the machine? Understand it, or don’t do it. Don’t over-commit to social media responsibilities, include your available time and energy in planning. The same goes very much for a Blog. If a blog is part of the machine, OK. But don’t add one because other people do. If you can’t keep it fresh and updated it will work against you. Avoid mission creep and don’t overextend.
D.I.Y.?: As far as building the site, many people say they want to do it themselves, but they probably can’t. I’m not trying to be a downer. It’s a skill set most people can’t add given the available time and energy. The exceptions are people who regularly achieve easy- breezy successes in complex computing situations AND have proven good instincts for design. If you struggle with any basic computer issues, in my experience, you can’t do this.
Gimme: Don’t ask a designer to do it for free. Don’t ask us to sit with you while YOU do it and give you “advice”. If you want me to teach you, I’ll teach you. If you want me to build it, I’ll build it. Don’t try to play me.
That’s it. Done.