How to Launch a Website: Our Simple Guide
So, you want to launch a website? It’s a common thing these days—all the cool kids are doing it. But starting a good website, that people want to visit again and again? Well, that’s another thing entirely.
If you’re starting a website as an online business (especially if you might want to sell that business one day), that’s definitely something you want to do right from the beginning.
Good websites are attractive, both to the eye and to the mind.
They should be visually pleasing without being overwhelming. The style and content should be catchy and memorable. As a business, your customer or client’s experience should be one of your top priorities, so that they will take action (as in, buy a product or service) and become a returning customer.
Here are 3 simple steps to launching your own website (and two bits of extra advice), and what to do if you decide that a DIY project isn’t your thing.
Downton Abbey (not “that big house on a lot of land in England”)
There is power in a name (just ask Rumpelstiltskin). If you’ve created a business you probably spent a lot of time and thought coming up with just the right name.
Now you need to do the same thing for your website.
Getting a domain is one of the first things you need to do when building your website. You can either register your domain first, or you can do it at the same time you set up hosting (our next step).
Once you have a name, the registration part is pretty easy. All you have to do is list the name with The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). The easiest and fastest way to do that is through a domain name registrar like GoDaddy, HostGator, Namecheap, or BlueHost.
Go register your awesome name!
*record scratch, flashback to earlier that day*
Yeah, actually, it’s not that easy. You might get lucky and your awesome business name is available as a domain, but probably not. According to Verisign, at the end of the first quarter in 2017, there were about 330.6 million domain name registrations across all top level domains. 128.4 million of those names are registered as dot coms.
Chances are, your name is already one of them.
Quick Internet 101: Top Level Domains are the highest level of the hierarchical Domain Name System of the Internet (aka how we know where everything lives on the world wide web). It’s the bit that comes right after the last dot in a domain name, as in the .com or .org in a URL.
So if the .com version of your name is taken, you can look for other top level domain options. .biz, .net, .me, .org, .info, and .edu are some of your choices, and if you want to go hyperlocal, you can look for top level domain for your country (for example, .us, .uk, .de).
The number of top level domains has grown to over 1500. That means you have well over a thousand possible choices for extensions for your website name.
You might decide that in order to make your website URL memorable you should choose one of the more interesting extensions, like .expert, .love, or .lol (no, really, there’s a .lol). You could also choose .mom. .pizza, or .tattoo.
If I wanted to use “buildawebsite” as my domain, a quick search on NameCheap tells me:
Note that I can make an offer to buy the domain name from the current owner by clicking on the “Make Offer” link, which then gets me this:
They suggest a few other top level domain options if I don’t want to buy the .com version or if my offer to buy isn’t accepted. .store and .services are good choices for an online store, but remember, you have more than a thousand choices, so choose wisely.
It’s not always best to tack on a random top level domain for your perfect name. For example, if you choose .org, people are going to assume you’re a non-profit organization, and if you have .edu they will assume you’re education focused. Furthermore, if your chosen name already has a well-known .com version, since most people will assume the .com when they type in the URL, you’re setting yourself up to compete for traffic against an established presence.
Other top level domains are not well known, especially some of the ones recently added. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use them, just be mindful that it will probably make it a bit more difficult for new customers to find you if they tend to assume .com when they started typing a URL into the browser.
When choosing a domain name, consider things like length, spelling, common misspellings, your competitors’ names, and hyphens (don’t use hyphens if at all possible; people tend to forget them when typing the URL).
Ideally, you want something that people can remember without having to remember the full URL. So: heyushouldbuymyproductitssoawesomereally.com is probably out.
People tend not to remember full URLs and instead of searching they may just start typing what they think the URL is into their browser. Which can lead to interesting problems.
Funny story. I’m sure you can guess the URL for the White House. If you started off with www.whitehouse, you would be correct.
However, back in the day when I worked for Uncle Sam, it was imperative we remembered that the correct URL ended in .gov. Because if you accidentally typed another common TLD after www.whitehouse, you would end up at a site that would, at best, get blocked by the filter and, at worst, get you a visit from your boss wondering why you were visiting NSFW sites during business hours.
(Now I imagine half of you will wander off to check and see if that site still exists. If it’s still there, remember, I warned you. I’ll be here when you get back.)
But it doesn’t have to be that epic of a wrong direction. If you want to visit NASA, but type www.nsa.gov, you’ll end up on the home page for a whole other government agency. (No, they are not the same thing!)
It’s a good idea to have a few versions of your preferred domain name in mind when you go to register. Otherwise, you’re going to be staring at your screen, hopelessly typing mywebsite7, mygoodwebsite, ihatemywebsite, and about 17 other bad versions of possible domain names until you hit the first one that’s available—and it doesn’t matter that it’s weird and wrong, you’re taking it anyway. (What? No, I’ve never done that. Really.)
How much it costs to register your new domain name is going to depend on the registrar you choose, the domain name, and the top level domain. For example, the .store and .services names that Namecheap suggested are $4.88 a year and $1.88 a year, respectively. The less used top level domains are likely to be less expensive, and the most popular ones like .com are likely to cost more.
It’s important to note that you register your domain for a year, then you have to renew it. Basically, you’re renting the domain. With most registrars, you can set your account up to renew automatically, so you don’t have to remember to re-register each year.
Location, Location, Location
Depending on whether or not you want to use the same domain registrar and host, this step may be something you do in conjunction with the previous step. If you’re not using the same provider for both your domain registrar and your host, you’ll need to decide now who your host will be, because your website needs a place to live.
In other words, you need to have physical server space that houses all the ones and zeros that make up your website. A web host provides that server space.
Different hosting companies will offer different services. Several companies, including Namecheap, DreamHost, and BlueHost offer WordPress specific hosting, which is great if you’re building your online business with WordPress.
When choosing the right company to host your website, you want someone who understands you, knows what you need, has great customer service, and won’t try to upsell you for things you don’t want.
Look for a hosting company with a clear, understandable plan. If you can’t tell what services they’re selling you, don’t do business with them.
Read through the services and add-ons they offer, and research how they handle things like creating backups, account security, and scalability.
Check out their customer service before you purchase a plan. Look for the hours that customer service is available and through what channels (do they only have a contact form on their website, can you call them, or do they have an online chat function?). Search for the hosting company and “review” to see what others are saying about them.
Most companies will offer different types of hosting plans. Decide which is right for you at the start of your business, and remember that you can always change your plan if you outgrow it.
A good way to start is with the most basic plan. It’s tough to know exactly what your bandwidth needs are going to be right at the start. Sure, you want to be confident about your website traffic, but until you know that your concept will support higher levels of traffic, you don’t need to overpay for services you won’t use.
Look at the number of visitors you have to your site, the number of page views, and visitor engagement or conversion (if you’re selling a product, how many people look at your website and then actually buy something). Once you have some metrics, it makes it easier to determine the right amount of hosting resources you need.
Keep in mind, you’re probably going to have a few hiccups along the way. You may have under or over-estimated how much bandwidth your site will need. You might decide to do a redesign of your site three months in, because the current design isn’t working.
Most importantly, remember, you do get what you pay for. If you go for the cheapest company with the cheapest plan, you probably can’t expect always-on service and plenty of bells and whistles.
Hosting companies will sometimes offer you a deal on your first year, but then the price increases. For example, Namecheap’s EasyWP plan for WordPress hosting will run you $8.88 for the first year, but it goes up to $48.88 for the following years.
When you create your account, the company will ask you to either create your domain name or indicate that you already have one.
After you pick your plan, you’ll need to enter all your contact info (this is from BlueHost):
And then pick the length of your plan and any add-ons you want:
Then enter your payment information (if you’re setting up recurring charges, make sure the credit card you use is one you plan to keep active for a few years).
Ranch versus Craftsman
The third step is the fun part. Also, the frustrating part. But mostly fun.
This part is where you get to shape what your website looks and acts like. It’s like walking into a condo you’re thinking about buying and saying, “let’s blow out that wall, update the kitchen with concrete countertops, add a six burner, fire engine red Aga stove, and build a deck outside.”
If you’re building a straight up ecommerce site, I would be remiss not to mention Shopify. Shopify is a one-stop shop for building an online store. You can use your own domain, or buy one through them, and they’ll host your site as well. They have customizable themes, apps to help with everything from marketing to currency conversion, and a dedicated support team. You can also use Shopify with WordPress by adding a Buy Button onto your site.
We’re going to focus on WordPress.org because it is one of the best known and easiest to use, especially in the ecommerce field. To get a little statistical, here is the latest data from W3Techs Web Technology Surveys on how many websites use WordPress as their content management system.
The first thing you need to do is download WordPress to use as your content management system.
The easiest and fastest way to get started is to choose a host that supports WordPress, and go through the installation process that way.
You’ll choose which domain you want WordPress installed on. After installation is complete, you can start setting up the site itself.
You may have heard about themes. In WordPress parlance, a theme is a template, or a standard look and feel for your website.
One of the great thing about WordPress is that it lets you choose a ready-made theme from their extensive Theme Directory, which makes your site easy to build and launch. However, you’re not stuck with the template exactly as is. You can change the look of your site, by customizing it with all sorts of cool widgets and plugins, or update or change your theme if you want to change the look of your site.
When you get content on your site, you may decide your theme doesn’t work. In that case, change things up as needed.
In addition to the standard WordPress themes, you can add a new theme via the “Add New” box near the top of the page:
There are also several third party providers who will do the theme work for you, including Thrive Themes, which has a whole suite of WordPress tools for you to choose from, including custom themes, widgets, plugins, as well as a content builder and the ability to create professional landing pages.
That Lived-in Look
Here are the two extra pieces of advice.
One, you can have an awesome name, a great hosting plan, and a rad theme, but if your content sucks, well, so does your website.
Two, you need to maintain your website, and that means both keeping an eye on your stats and on things like links and SEO.
You may think that the content will take care of itself—it’s what the business is for, right? Sure, but are you going to engage with your customers or clients? How are your products or services presented? Are you on social media?
At the very least, you need an “About” page on your site that serves the function of introducing your business and yourself to the world.
Think about how you present your services or products. You’ll want to think about the right amount of information to include, as well as what kinds of images or video you’ll need.
There’s not necessarily a “right” answer for content—it depends on your product, your site, and your audience’s preference. Do some research before your launch your site to see what your competitors are doing. What works and what doesn’t work? If you can, talk to your potential audience (customers or clients) to ask what they want and need, and learn all you can about your specific niche market.
Creating content can be a lot of trial and error, especially when you’re just starting out, to learn what works and what doesn’t. Keep engaging with your customers to get to know them better and then tweaking your content to reflect what you learn.
Make content creation part of the business plan, and you’ll have a better website with more customers. Once you have a great website with good content, you need to continue to invest in both by understanding where your traffic is coming from, how well any promotion or marketing campaigns are working, who is linking back to you, and how you can use all this data to continue to grow your business.
Install a plugin for analytics on WordPress or Shopify to get the data on your website traffic. You can also use Google Analytics (Google has even created this handy academy to teach beginners).
Moving on Up
Building and launching a website used to be this daunting process. For some of us, it still is.
So, if you want to move into the ecommerce arena and launch your own online business, but really don’t want to do all the work yourself, there are people who can help.
If you’d prefer to let an expert build your first website, you can purchase a custom-made niche site through Human Proof Designs. One thing I like about the company is that it’s a great resource for beginners, because they will build a website for you, but they also want you to learn how to make your business work well.
You can also hire a freelancer or contractor through Upwork to build the site for you. A couple of tips if you decide to hire someone this way: be detailed and be specific.
Good job posting:
Okay job posting:
Please don’t do this:
As always, working with a freelancer will go better if you’re clear on your requirements and communicate openly with them about what you need and what you expect.
Welcome to the Neighborhood!
Building and launching a new website doesn’t have to be difficult. Above all else, you need a:
- Domain name
- Design (theme or template)
After that, create some good content and keep things maintained, and you’ll have a successful business.
And remember, if the whole process is something that, as a beginner, you feel like you need some extra help with, there are third-party providers and freelance web developers ready to help you out.
Good luck and welcome to the world of online business!
Photo credit: Redpixel