If you are feeling intimidated by the idea of building your own website, and wondering if you should hire someone, don't. This is only my controversial opinion of course, but I can give you a string of reasons why you should not hire a web designer when you are just getting your presence up on the web. Not to say that designers don't have their place, they do, and I'll get to that.
Why Do It Yourself?
- If you hire a designer, you'll never learn and therefore you'll need to contact them every time you want to change something. I guarantee you won't make as many changes as often because of this. So many variables are present in building a successful business, and until you've arrived, you'll need to experiment, and tweak and adjust and iterate. Can you pay them enough to drive them that crazy?
- Many designers won't let you have access to your site at all. After all, their reputation is on the line for having a nice looking quality site, and they can't have you getting in there and doing your experiments.
- Designers generally aren't marketers. Many of them are after the "wow" factor rather than functional and high converting.
- When you are getting started, there are probably smarter places for you to put your money. A website is essential, but you can do something that's good enough to hold you for a couple years, maybe longer.
Don't get all intimidated by this.
You Start With Your Domain Name
This is your address for your website that enables people to find you, no matter what happens. If you change how you have your website or change hosting companies, even though your files physically move, your address stays the same.
If you sign up for hosting, many times they tell you a free domain comes with it. Say no to this, and get a domain at an accredited registrar like Namecheap. The reason being is that you'll pay more in renewal fees in the long run, and if you ever change hosting companies, you will have an easier time. I was helping manage a site that had the domain through the hosting company and it ended up being a hostage situation with 4 days of downtime. If your site is down, how much money do you stand to lose? Official name registrars are more closely regulated than hosting companies. If something happens to your host, you could lose your domain name if you bought it through them.
When you go shopping for a domain name, have several ideas in your head, and try to stay with a dot com, rather than all the silly things they have out now that nobody will remember. Also, don't be shopping until you are ready to buy. This has never been proven, but it seems there are parties monitoring domain name searches and they buy up domains that you are interested in because they want to sell them to you at a higher price. If you find something you like, don't let any grass grow. When you get your name, you'll need to connect that to your website that you still need to build, so let that sit.
Picking Your Web Builder
Since you're here on the "newbie" post, you probably don't know how to code. That means you need some software that makes it so you don't have to. You have a myriad of options and I'm going to narrow it down a bunch. Which to pick depends on what your priority is. For example, do you want a store? Is a blog the most important part of the site? Are you looking to get your services out there?
For clarity's sake, I'm talking about WordPress.org, not .com. The dot com version is hosted and is good for getting a blog up on the internet but overall functionality is lacking. The .org software is free also, but you need to buy hosting from a company to get it up on the internet. I like Siteground, and they will install WordPress for you for free.
WordPress is often considered the "gold standard" for website software and there are plugins to get it to do whatever you need. The problem is that you need quite a few plugins for whatever you do, and you're essentially building a Frankenstein. The body can reject any of the parts at any time. Another problem is that because WordPress is enormously popular, it's the target of hackers, so being vigilant about running updates and security is necessary. You can't put it up and forget it.
There's also a higher learning curve with WordPress than the others I'm about to mention. However, there are loads of YouTube videos, forums, guys on Fiverr that can help you.
I'm not saying any of this to dissuade you or because I don't like WordPress. This is a WordPress site. You can build anything with WordPress, but it was made for blogging, and out of the box, that is what it is. There is no better software if a blog is central to what you need to do. By the way, if you're blogging, here's a great article by Praying Medic on how to get one of those up and running.
On the other end of the spectrum as far as ease of use is Weebly. Super easy and is very functional for what it is if you choose one of the paid options. You can get a free account if you just need to play around a bit and prove to yourself that you can make a website. All of my businesses started out on Weebly. I still like it to throw up a site in half an hour to test new ideas. You can add HTML when you need to, and all of the template code is accessible and editable. I know that means nothing to you now, but down the road, you'll be glad.
Where Weebly is rough is the blog functionality and their e-commerce isn't the best for the money. If the blog is the central thing of your website or you have quite a few products to sell, let's move on.
Squarespace builds super gorgeous sites. I've not used them, but friends have and everything always looks great. Blogs on Squarespace look good, so if you were looking at Weebly up until I was down on their blogging, this might be an answer. What has always tripped me up about Squarespace is that they price by how many pages you have, and I build websites with like, 200 of them. But if you are wanting a simple, beautiful site the easy way, this is a good option.
Like the name implies, this is for e-commerce. In other words, you want a store to be the focus of your site. This is my BigCommerce site. If you are selling just a few things, you can use any of the above suggestions. If you are selling lots of different products or moving pretty decent volume, you need software designed specifically as an online store, because it is so much more than just your web presence. E-commerce software has a backend that tracks orders and inventory, calculates taxes and shipping, notifies customers, deals with product reviews and so much more. You do all this manually if you are running things from your regular website. This is more complicated to set up, but it saves you in the long term. You can get a free trial here.
This is very similar to BigCommerce. At the time that I signed up with BC, they seemed to have more features that I wanted. You can compare, contrast and do the free trials from both of them. Get your Shopify trial here.
This is an e-commerce plugin for WordPress. It's free, which is quite a contrast to BigCommerce and Shopify above. Again, if you do WordPress, you'll have to buy hosting somewhere, and for e-commerce, you'll need an SSL to keep your customer's data safe. You'll need to be vigilant about security. If you are needing a store and pinching pennies, WooCommerce + hosting + SSL + the cost of any extensions you need to run things the way you want them may be cheaper than the other two. I went with BigCommerce because I just didn't want the mess.
To sum this all up, if you're:
- a service-based business that needs a way to get out there, pick WordPress, Weebly or Squarespace
- an author or a blogger, pick WordPress or Squarespace
- a musician who'll mostly direct traffic to Gumroad, CD Baby, Amazon or elsewhere, pick WordPress, Weebly or SquareSpace.
storethat sells lots of physical or digital products, pick BigCommerce, Shopify or WordPress + WooCommerce.
When to Involve a Designer
When your business is going great guns and you can drop a couple thousand on a really good redesign. If you have plenty of traffic you can have a conversion expert working with them. These are instances where it becomes substantial that you have an orange button instead of a green one and all the little nuances that get people to buy make it worthwhile.
The other time you might get some help is when you've got your website almost the way you like it. There's just some little issues that you can't get resolved. Then grabbing some quick help will not cost you much, make you feel ten times better and often you can see what they did and go "Ohhhhhh!" Well worth the money.
Full Disclosure About
Articles Like This On the Internet
This post is chock full of affiliate links. That means if you click and buy on certain links in this post, I get money. Many of the articles you read "reviewing" software and hosting are nothing more than people trying to get you to sign up under them and guess what? The company that pays the highest gets the top reviews! This is why you'll see so many people raving about Bluehost and Shopify. They pay much better than Siteground and BigCommerce. Sorry, I cannot in good conscience recommend Bluehost. My friends who like them are either people who do not monitor their downtime, are on more expensive plans (therefore not comparable to the type of hosting you need when you're just starting,) and do not understand what efficient tech support can be like. Just something to be aware of if you go reading around online. Those review sites are heavily biased towards their own gain.