In the early days of the internet until the early 2000s, developing a website used to be a thing exclusive to professional designers and web developers.
By MIKE KHOREV
However, things have dramatically changed, and now even complete beginners that don’t know anything about programming can make their own websites with relative ease. Yes! You can actually learn to create a website from scratch without knowing anything about HTML, PHP, CSS, or any of those programming languages and technical jargon.
Here, we will discuss how you can set up a website as a beginner and the three different ways you can use to make a website.
Three Common Ways To Make a Website
In general, there are three main ways to build a website today:
No 1: Using a Website Building Platform
This is, in most cases, the easiest option.
In this approach, you simply sign up for a cloud-based website builder platform (like Wix, Weebly, Squarespace, etc.). This platform will usually provide a design template that you can use right away, a visual editor with drag-and-drop tools, domain name, hosting service, and customer support.
In short, this option is very easy to use and so it’s ideal for beginners, but they can still be useful for even big enterprises. Typically these website builders provide less versatility than the other options since you can’t edit the coding aspect behind the visual builder. However, the included templates, especially on bigger platforms, are typically very usable.
If you don’t really need a heavily-customized website, then using a website building platform might be the best choice for you.
— Easy to use for beginners, don’t need any programming skills
— Cloud-based, you don’t need to download and install anything
— Customer support will be useful in the event of any issue/threats (i.e. hacking)
— Useable templates that you can use right away, most are already mobile-responsive
— Customer support, domain name, and hosting service typically included
— Not very versatile, you can’t always add features and customizability depending on the platform
— Difficult to integrate a database to the website, so might not be suitable for use cases that require databases
At the moment, Wix and Weebly are among the most popular website builder platforms, while there are also options like Shopify if you want to start an eCommerce website (with eCommerce specific features like POS).
In short, if you prefer the ease of use over customization, this approach is for you.
No 2: Using a CMS
Using a CMS (Content Management System) to build your site is a little more complicated than a website builder, but the main principle is the same.
Similar to website building platforms, there are also various CMS solutions available today, most of them are free/open-source or very affordable. WordPress is the most famous of all the CMSs out there, but there are also other options like Typo3, Drupal, and Joomla!, among others.
Nowadays, using a CMS like WordPress is much easier than it used to, but you still need to know at least (very) basic programming knowledge, especially CSS and HTML. There are, however, many resources that can help you learn for free, and arguably even beginners won’t have any issue.
However, a key concern in this approach is that typically you’ll need to get a separate hosting service and get a domain name. Although nowadays a hosting service can be very cheap (below $5/month), it is still extra work.
The main advantage of this approach is that you’ll get much more freedom in customizing your site not only via programming/coding but also from a wide variety of plugins available.
— Typically more affordable than a website builder service (even after considering getting a hosting service and domain name)
— You can choose your own hosting service, useful if you want to use a dedicated server
— Versatility in customizing your site by having access to the whole source code
— Various plugins available for extra functionalities and customization
— No dedicated customer support
— Need at least basic programming skills, if you want further customization you might need to hire a programmer
— Additional costs for plugins, hosting server, etc. can pile up if you are not careful
No 3: Building a Website from Scratch (or Hire Someone To Do It)
If you want further freedom in building your site, for example, if you need a specific design or function that is not offered by any website builder, then you’ll need to build your site from scratch. You can hire a designer and web developer in-house, or alternatively, you can outsource to a web design agency/freelancer.
There are two main concerns in using this approach: cost and time. Expect to invest at least a few months before your site is ready, and even the most affordable programmer/designer would cost much more expensive than the monthly subscription fee of a website builder platform.
Bottom line, you should only use this approach when you absolutely need the extra freedom.
— Unlimited freedom if you know how to program, or if you hire a decent programmer/developer
— No customer support
— Steep learning curve
— Hard to manage your costs
— Implementation time can be much longer than the other two approaches
Designing Your Website: Step By Step
No matter which of the three approaches you choose, you still need to plan your website ahead so that it can effectively achieve your objective.
Planning will help in deciding how your website should be designed, what sections you are going to include in the site, what kind of content would work best in achieving your objective, and so on.
Below are the six steps in building a website, from planning until the launch.
Step 1: Defining Your Objective
This is the first, and arguably the most important aspect of the planning process. In this step, you’d need to identify the objective of the website design by considering:
— Who is the target audience of the site?
— What would the audience expect to find or to do on the site?
— What is the website’s position in the company’s branding strategy? (i.e. if it’s going to be the centre of the branding strategy)
— Your competitors’ sites, and whether you are going to mimic their approaches or take a different angle
The clearer you can define your site’s objectives, the better you can execute the website design process.
Step 2: Site mapping
Site mapping, or wireframing, is creating a mockup of the website so we can visualize its structure and how each page’s content relates to each other.
The wireframe will be a guide for how the site will ultimately look, and will also give you some ideas on how to finalize or format the design of certain elements. You can technically site map the whole website with a pen or paper, but there are various apps like Balsamiq, Webflow, and even Mindnode that can help with the process.
Even if you are planning to use a website builder platform, it’s better to first create your wireframe to help with the final design.
Step 3: Planning your content
Obviously no matter how good your website’s design is, it won’t really bring any value if your content is not valuable for your audience.
In web design, it’s important to remember that your site’s content serves two main purposes:
Attracting and engaging visitors: content is what attracts people to come to your website, and engage them so they stay for as long as possible on your site.
SEO: it’s important to have the right mindset regarding SEO; it’s not your site that ranks on Google’s SERP, but rather, the content. Only if your content is high-quality, relevant, and well-optimized can your page rank well on Google’s and the other search engines’ SERP.
So, when developing content on your startup or SaaS business, it’s important to keep in mind SaaS SEO best practices and strategies in the process: start with a proper keyword research, develop your content based on your target audience’s search intent, and optimize them.
However, the most important thing is to ensure that your content is relevant and attractive for your target audience. Plan your content strategy carefully as this can make or break your website.
Step 4: Planning visual elements
Visual design is obviously important for any website nowadays. If your site is using low-quality images or if your site’s layout is not well-designed, people won’t trust and will leave your site, period.
Carefully plan color choices for each page, logo placement, and various other visual elements on the page.
Step 5: Assembly and testing
Once you’ve got everything planned, it’s time to put all the elements together on a test page. If you are using a website builder platform, you can easily drag and drop everything and test its performance before launch.
Thoroughly test each page, check whether all pages can load properly on all devices and browsers, and check whether all links are working. There are various tools that can help you test your site’s performance, like Google’s PageSpeed Insight, Screaming Frog, SEMRush, W3C Link Checker, and more.
Step 6: Launch
This one is fairly self-explanatory, and probably the one you’ve been waiting for: the website launch. When everything has been tested and you are sure about your site’s current performance, you can launch the website.
Obviously, not everything is going to be perfect and you might find issues throughout the site, it’s normal. Monitor everything, identify issues and make adjustments as required.
Obviously, you’d need to update your website’s content and even refresh its design regularly. The launch stage of a website is, in most cases, the beginning of the journey rather than the end.
Your website is a very important part of your brand’s or personal online presence, and a proper website is very important if you want to reach a wider audience.
Fortunately, nowadays we have various tools and solutions so we can easily make a website, even if we are a complete beginner without any programming skills. Even if creating a website is fairly easy nowadays, don’t underestimate the importance of the planning process, and remember, your site is only going to be as strong as the content within it.
Mike Khorev is an SEO expert and consultant who helps SaaS, software, IT, technology, B2B and startup companies generate more sales and grow revenue online. He offers expert advice on marketing your company the right way through performance-based SEO, inbound marketing, conversion rate optimization, search engine marketing and many other online practices.