Not all websites are created equal.
Ever DIY yourself a free website and wonder why it failed to connect or draw in sales? Because it was probably nothing more than a digital business card.
You’re ready to cut away from the pack and build a real website. One that’s built exactly the way you want it and 100% owned by you.
Just one minor issue: you’re not ready to hire a professional web designer.
Don’t fret just yet. Creating a website is now more accessible than ever. Anyone can build a website that’s easy on the eyes and on the wallet. Honestly, anyone.
Having your own website is a game-changer.
Think of your website as your own little corner of the worldwide web. It’s where you can stand on your soapbox and sing your business’ praises. It’s where you can engage with your community completely on your own terms. It’s another spot to promote and sell your product or services.
Making your own website makes it 100% custom and 100% yours.
Free & rented websites come with a price: you don’t own them. Same goes for building a web presence on a social media platform. If your entire online business presence is on Instagram, guess what, Instagram pretty much owns your entire business. At any time, they can adjust how your content is shared, delete your information or even wipe out your account entirely if you don’t play by their rules.
All that content you worked so hard to create, all that invested time, all your followers — poof.
Unless you unite your online presence into a central location — a location you control — you’ll be starting from scratch. Which is why you should be craving a piece of the Internet no one else can touch.
Enter the humble website.
A website is a space where you can showcase your business, advertise offerings, provide value for your community, capture leads and establish yourself as an expert.
Maybe you tried hiring a pro in the past but it feels like they’re charging an arm and a leg. Or you outsourced the work for a few hundred bucks and got crap in return.
Whatever got you here, you’ve chosen the DIY route. Now where to begin?
I don’t want to mislead you but you’re about to embark on quite the adventure.
It’s going to be pretty Frodo-like in your quest too but if you’re reading this I take it you’re up for the challenge. You will face trials of both pain & frustration on your journey. There’s a steep learning curve involved and even once you figure out how to piece everything together, there are still best practices involved, practices that have taken me years to learn — and I’m constantly still learning.
But with a little patience and willingness to learn, anyone can learn to build a website.
Plus, you’ll gain a new & valuable skill in the process.
For the purpose of this guide, we’ve developed a step-by-step process to get you started on building your website. Let’s walk through exactly what you’ll need to begin building your online presence.
Before you get to the fun part of designing, let’s lay a roadmap. This single step is what separates the boys from the men.
// Determine Your Why
I’ve said it before and I will say it again: determine your why before doing anything. I mean, really understand why you want a new website.
If you fail to determine your why before starting a project I guarantee the project will fail as a whole.
Would you run a marathon without first having a reason, setting a goal and establishing a training plan to get there? Pheidippides, the infamous first marathon runner, didn’t plan his run and he kicked it immediately after crying, ‘“Nike!”
Same goes for building a website. You wouldn’t throw the valuable time, money and resources it takes into building a website unless you knew you were going to see some sort of return on your investment.
The second reason I’m asking is because your ‘why’ determines what sort of website you’ll need to make. Sticking to the running parables here, a website designed to sell running shoes will function very differently than a website meant to provide 5K coaching.
Think about what sorts of actions you want people to take on your website. What is the main goal you want to achieve or ultimate result you want customers to gain? Answering these questions now will save you loads of time & frustration while building the website later.
// Choose a Host & Site Builder
Now that you know your ‘why’, you’ll need to select a platform on which to build it.
There are two foundational pieces of the website puzzle often used interchangeably but not at all the same thing: the hosting & the website builder.
To put it simply, the web builder is the tools & software used to build the website. Hosting is the server on where that website will now live.
I play favorites. WordPress & Squarespace are my go-to because they’re a two-for-one deal letting you build and host. Let’s review each one.
With an estimated 75 million website builds worldwide, WordPress is unequivocally the galactic warlord of web builders. Launched in 2003, WordPress is one of the founding web builders & hosting platforms and has grown a mass following since. With a seemingly endless array of development options, it has long been a favorite of mine to build with.
Be warned: if you choose to build with WordPress, know what you’re getting yourself into. There’s more to it then uploading a theme and thinking you’re all set.
WordPress is more for the experienced user. It has a steep learning curve and requires basic knowledge of configuring websites and coding skills. Since most WordPress building blocks are developed by unofficial WordPress developers, you need to stay up-to-date on the who’s who of theme building or risk your site crashing.
Save this option for those who at a bare minimum consider themselves tech-inclined.
Squarespace is my new favorite web builder.
It’s been on my radar for years. While not a perfect product when it first launched in 2003, their team has taken the task of perfecting the platform to the beautiful product it has become.
Squarespace a visual web builder letting you see the design come to life in real time. Squarespace’s templates and designs are impeccably modern and polished making it the perfect choice for those largely concerned with making sure their site stays on trend. It’s also easy to switch templates if you decide to change up your website later.
Another fact about Squarespace that really sold it for me is the fact that all their add-ons and extra features are built in-house. This makes it soundly supported and keeps you from having to update your website or worry about if/when it will crash. Squarespace is perfect for those who want the set-it-and-forget-it approach to building a website.
While I personally don’t use Wix, it’s worth mentioning.
Wix is the best choice for total beginners.
It’s another visual web builder like Squarespace letting you drag and drop each element on the page to create your design. It comes with hundreds of templates to choose from. Simply upload your website with the click of a button. Swap out the content for yours and voila, you have yourself the beginnings of your very own website.
A big perk of Wix is that there’s a free option but you get what you pay for – or in this case don’t pay for. In exchange for a free site, Wix loads your website full of unwanted ads and gifts you with a Wix-centric web address, which screams unprofessional. While the free version is perfect during the building stage of your website, I strongly encourage you to upgrade your site to the paid version once it’s ready to go.
// Purchase a Domain
Next step is to purchase a domain name. A domain name is the “www” web address used to navigate to a website.
There are a number of places you can purchase a domain from. I suggest using one of the following:
There’s a certain art to choosing a domain name. For most businesses, your business name is the obvious choice. But what if the .com is taken? Luckily .co, .net, .biz and other domain endings are gaining in popularity & normalcy.
// Take a Lesson
No matter how simple a website builder is suppose to be, there will always be some degree of a learning curve involved in setting up your website. Take it from me, it can be frustrating. It’s not uncommon for people to spend days trying to make a simple adjustment and abandon the project all together.
It’s well worth it to take a course on how to use your web builder. Skillshare is a great place to find web design & development classes for all skill levels.
YouTube is another great teacher. If this single mom of four could learn to build a house through nothing but YouTube videos, I have full faith in you to piece together a website.
// Gather Inspiration
It’s difficult to build a website if you don’t know what it is you want to build. Take a little time and gather inspiration that will guide you through the creation process.
Start by clicking around the web and find websites you want to emulate. Think about colors, feel, design, photos, copy and web features. Gather these images together in one location. A great place to aggregate inspiration is to simply build a Pinterest board. If Pinterest isn’t your thing, save screenshots in a designated folder on your computer.
The key here is to make it visual. Identify what it is you like about each website and let those ideas guide you into the next stage of the process – the design & build stage.
This is the fun part of breathing the website into existence.
A website isn’t a static object. There’s a lot that goes into a website and you’ll constantly add to it, making it better bit-by-bit. Right now, we’re solely focusing on whats required to establish a strong foundation.
At its most basic, content is information. It’s the words, images and ideas you’ll communicate through your website.
Content can be accomplished in different ways. Text, images, video, audio – these are all examples of mediums you’ll use to communicate your content. The hard part will be deciding what it is exactly you want to communicate.
At the bare minimum, the average website should include the following:
Home Page. This is the first page people see when landing on your website. It’s your first impression so you will want to make it a good one.
About Page. Business is a personal thing and potential customers will want to know a bit about you. This is your chance to tell them & begin building a connection.
Contact Page. Not to state the obvious, but people need to know how to reach you.
Blog. Every website should have a designated spot to add new content on a regular basis to stay relevant to both its users and search engine algorithms.
Legal – If you want to stay out of hot water, you’ll need some form of legal information on your website.
Branding is the art of aligning people’s perceptions to your vision of what you want them to think & feel about your company. It’s the visual identity and experience one has when they interact with your brand.
You may have a brand already. Or you may just be starting out and haven’t even begun to think about your business’ personality — and that’s okay. What we’re really going for here is consistency. At minimum, you want to create a cohesive font and color scheme that brings the look of your website together.
And if you don’t have a brand, we might be able to help you with that.
// Search Engine Optimization
In simplest terms, search engine optimization (SEO) is the practice of making Google a fan of your website. The goal: to build your website in a way that aligns with Google’s algorithm for increased site visitors.
When done correctly, not only will the quantity of traffic increase but the quality of traffic as well.
Many business owners see the solution to this as hiring an SEO specialist and pumping cash into Google or Facebook ads. The specialist performs a sacred sacrifice to the Internet gods and traffic then rains from the heavens.
I promise you, SEO is not that mystical or complicated. Gone are the days of keyword stuffing and the pressure of creating a new, washed-out blog post three times a week.
Over the years, search engine algorithms have gotten pretty advanced and now focus on your web presence as a whole rather than on just one piece of the puzzle. This is great news for the every day user. If you’re creating original, unique, descriptive content, chance has it that Google is picking up what you’re putting down.
It’s actually fairly simple to optimize your website on your own. We’re not going to get into too many SEO strategies today, but let’s take a quick look at the most basic pieces of SEO you’ll want to optimize before you launch your website: meta tags.
The title tag is the title of the web page – pretty self-explanatory.
This is the most important piece of information to optimize because this Is what shows up on search engine results. It’s meant to be an accurate description of what’s on the web page, told as concisely as possible.
There is a formula for this:
Title Tag = Primary keyword + secondary keyword + brand name
Example: Lincoln Realty Group | Washington DC Real Estate – Luxury Georgetown Homes
Take note, your title will cut off around the 60 character mark, so keep it as concise as possible and avoid unnecessary keyword stuffing. Drop nondescript words such as “at” “the” “or”. Exclude the secondary keyword if need be. There will be another opportunity to add it in the next meta tag.
The meta description is another bit of information that shows up under the title tag on search engine results. It provides a brief summary of what’s on the page, except this time we get more room to play with.
The meta description shows up on search results as a short paragraph. When optimized with the title tag, it can be a powerful way to pull people to your website. It’s the perfect opportunity to let viewers know what they can expect to find on your website.
The meta description formula is more lax than the title tag and runs about two sentences in length. Information should be read in an engaging, natural, active way and be directly relevant to the page it describes.
I once heard the meta description described as a window display. You want to create a concise and encouraging display of what the site holds and entice people to enter.
Alt tags are bits of information attached to images, describing what’s in the image on a page.
When Google crawls a website it can’t see the actual image. It has no clue what’s in a picture which is why you sometimes get those robot or human tests asking you to identify all the sqaures with a stoplight. We have to tell Google what’s in the image which is where alt tags come in. Alt tags are also picked up by screen readers for the visually impaired and reads what’s inside the image.
An example for an image of a townhome listing on your website could read “brick Georgetown townhouse in Washington DC”.
A word of caution here, alt tags MUST describe what’s truly in the image. It’s poor form to put “brick Georgetown townhouse in Washington DC” for a picture of say the Washington Monument. This is one area ADA lawyers have cracked down on website owners and taken them to court.
// Responsive Design
Mobile devices account for a little over half of all web traffic – a little statistical fact we’ve only seen continually rise since the advent of the smartphone.
While desktop and laptop use isn’t going anywhere any time soon, it’s still a fact you need to be aware of when building your website. I can’t stress enough that websites must be responsive regardless of whether it’s viewed on a desktop, laptop, tablet or mobile device.
Now that the bulk of your website is done, it’s time to go back and pepper in a little flavor to really kick it off.
Even if you never plan on looking at the analytics of your website yourself, adding these bits of code to your website is a smashing idea. In the future you may decide to bring on a marketing or tech guru. You’ll make their freaking year if there’s already some website data for them to work with.
Google Analytics is a free and powerful tool that the masses seem to ignore.
Remember, what you’re building right now is just the beginning of your website. You will be updating and optimizing this website so long as you care about it. The best way to know what to update is by knowing how the site is performing.
Google Analytics tracks the performance of your website to better understand how it’s running and how people interact with it. It will also tell you who’s on your website, revealing new audiences you never knew you had.
You don’t have to become a Google guru to use Analytics, even a basic understanding will reveal much, as well as be helpful to digital marketers you may decide to hire in the future.
Google Search Console
Google Search Console helps monitor, track & troubleshoot your web presence within search results. You can use it to learn things like how people are finding your website & how they’re using it. It can also help you fix web errors.
Even if you never plan on learning it yourself, you’ll want to make sure it’s set up for any web professionals you may eventually bring on.
Get your website inline with Facebook.
Social ads are a powerful tool for driving new audiences to your website and retargeting those who’ve already interacted. The Facebook Pixel tracks this information and stores it away for when you do decide to run ads making them much more powerful & effective.
// Lead Capture
Having a way to capture leads is crucial for taking those site visitors and turning them into clients & customers. I’m not talking about simply placing your contact information in one place on your website and thinking this will do. I’m sorry to break the news to ya, but most people don’t want to sign up for your newsletter.
Lead capture is an art form.
When done well, it should be seamless and make the person feel like they’re getting more than what they’re giving you — which is their data. And data is powerful.
But with great power comes great responsibility.
As a business owner, once you have someone’s data, you have a responsibility to your audience to use that data responsibly.
(We’re looking at you Cambridge Analytica.)
That means delivering the quality, relevant content they asked for; that they gave you their precious data for.
Lead capture takes the basic thought of newsletter sign-up and does you one better through the use of a lead magnet. Lead magnets are valuable pieces of content you can offer your audience for free in exchange for their contact information. They allow you to organically grow your email list and market to your audience while they in return receive the content they asked for.
There are a few items you’ll need to capture leads well:
Lead magnets. You have to give a little to get a little sometimes. A lead magnet is a free piece of content or offer customers can receive in exchange for giving you their contact information.
Welcome funnel. You’ll want to begin to build rapport with a new lead right away. A well thought out welcome funnel will begin to draw them in.
Email marketing software. Once that lead comes in, it needs to be stored somewhere. Email marketing software will store the lead for use in future marketing campaigns. They also automate your email funnels & campaigns.
// Add Social
Add your social media channels but don’t make it a central point of your site.
You’ve worked so hard to get people to your website and we want to keep them here. I recommend putting social links in the footer of your website so they’re readily available for those who are looking for them but won’t encourage people to click off your website otherwise. The only exception to this is if you have a social-focused business.
// Social Proof
Don’t forget to ask for and showcase those testimonials.
Testimonials build credibility for you and help you relate to your customers. It’s your clout and you need to let people deserve to know what an awesome real estate agent you are.
If it still seems like a lot to take on right now, have a look at one of our web design packages. We have a package for just about any budget.