Tuesday, March 27, 2012

How to build a website in ten easy steps

I recently stumbled through the process of creating a website for my new company.  I thought I'd consolidate my learnings into a blog post in case they're helpful to any of you.

  1. Write down what you want to say.  Before you start designing anything, sit down with a Google doc and write down your marketing message.  Imagine you're telling your ideal customer what you can do to help her.  To cover your bases, answer the basic "who, what, when, where, why, and how" questions and let your story unfold from there.
  2. Organize what you've written down into a logical collection of web pages.  Sort out what you want to say into a set of pages that makes sense.  
  3. Purchase a template that basically gives you the architecture your content requires.  Alternately, if you are an uber-designer, you can design your own site. Or you can find a design for free somewhere on the internet.  I am not a designer, by any stretch of the imagination, but realize that a good design goes a long way towards an effective first impression, and wanted to minimize the time I spent hacking my content into a site that someone else designed.  That's easier with a template that's designed to be flexible and extensible.  Therefore, I purchased a template.
    Regardless of where your design comes from, make sure that the site is mobile-friendly.  (In other words, Flash is out.)  If you can find a good HTML5 design, that's your best bet.
    I did a lot of searching before I stumbled across ThemeForest, which is ultimately where I found the design for my site.  The templates they offer are well designed and competitively priced.
  4. Add your content to the template; adding, subtracting, and moving things around as needed.  
  5. Customize the site design using custom graphics and fonts.  This is not actually as difficult or expensive as it might sound. iStock Photo is a great resource for graphic art. Google WebFonts let you do amazing things with fonts. (You might notice that after this step, you've drastically departed from the template you originally purchased.  That's how you get a custom website out of a template someone else designed.)
  6. Set up tracking so you can evaluate and optimize traffic to your site. Generate Google Webmaster Tools and Google Analytics tracking codes and include them on your pages, as explained on the linked sites.
  7. Think of, and reserve, a reasonable domain name.  Good luck.  Finding a good domain name that hasn't already been reserved is next to impossible.
  8. Find a web hosting provider and upload your site.  I chose Bluehost and have been happy with them.  Their customer service was helpful when I was having an FTP problem.
  9. Set up domain-specific email and calendar accounts.  A domain-specific account is much more professional than a generic web account. Google Apps gives you the convenience of Gmail and Google Calendar for domain-specific accounts.  
  10. Drive traffic to your site.  Use Search Engine Optimization best practices to drive organic traffic to your site, and paid advertisements to include your site in targeted ads.
Here's what I ended up with: DevComm: Engage Your Developers.  Comments and feedback welcome!

What other great website development resources do you know of?

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