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I need a new website, where do I start — The Definitive Checklist for Starting A Website

Starting a website, if you’ve never done one before, can be an overwhelming concept.  Where do you start?  What do you need to do?  Is there anyone that can help you figure this out?

In this article I’m going to shed some light on the basic concepts that you need to consider when setting up a website, either for the firs time or if you’re considering an overhaul.

Your Domain Name

What Is It Going To Be Called

It is important that you consider what your website name is going to be.

Too long, and no one will type it in.  Example: tropicalparkasnantucketmassachusetts.com

Too general, and it won’t be relevant for search keywords.  Example: robertsoninc.com

Too many hyphens and it will appear super spammy.  Example: hot-parkas-outerwear-innerwear-underwear-nantucket-massachusetts.com

You know what I’m talking about, you’ve seen it! And it screams “I’m trying too hard!” — to you, to your neighbour, and to Google. Just don’t do it.

Personally, I like to use Bust A Name when trying to figure out a good domain name for a new project.  You can combine different words together, and see if the domain is available.

I also, often, just go right to the source and use GoDaddy — they have a huge selection of different domain extensions (.com, .net, all the way through .it and .mx).  If you’re looking to really brand yourself, often you can find a great domain name with the new extensions such as “flooring.guru” or “northcarolinalawyer.online” — they may not be the most coveted “.com” domain extensions, but they can still be used to help further your branding.

Web Hosting

Where Is It Going To Live

Once you’ve decided what your domain name is going to be, you need to decide where it is going to be hosted.  You can get hosting for next nothing, but you really get what you pay for.

Shared Hosting

Shared hosting can cost as little as $4.95/month for a basic web plan (usually with reduced features), to as much as $19.95/month for something with more space and traffic, email, bells ans whistles.  The upside to shared hosting is that it is relatively low cost.  If your website is going to generate you thousands of dollars per month, $25/month overhead is a drop in the bucket.  The downside to shared hosting is that you’re on a shared resource, so performance can be an issue — many hosting companies stack thousands of websites on a single server, and if there’s more than a little traffic for a few of those, it can really slow things down for everyone.

On a side note, we do shared hosting at i3dTHEMES, however we focus on quality not quantity.  We only store a couple of hundred of clients per server to keep the load time of clients websites down.

It seems there are a billion web hosts to choose from.  These are just a few:

Dedicated Hosting

When you need to have dedicated bandwidth and a super charged server for a website that is expected to get 1000+ visitors per day, then you may want to look at going the route of getting your very own server.   Generally, you look at this option if you’re generating $250,000/year through your website.  There are different types of servers available, from managed (where you don’t have to worry about much of anything) to self-managed (where you are the IT department).

We ourselves have used Hostway for our own hosting needs for 15 years. We’ve used their dedicated servers for the last 10 years.  Highly reliable, and many automated tasks.

You can also get dedicated servers from most larger outfits such as GoDaddy or 1and1.

Cloud Hosting

If you’re just starting out your website, honestly, just stick with Shared Hosting.  Cloud Hosting is great for when you need to ramp up your traffic or space on the fly, but is a fair bit more technical to set up and manage, and in the end costs more than the flat monthly rate for Shared or even Dedicated hosting, as you’re paying for actual CPU cycles, and actual traffic used.  If your website is generating $1,000,000/year, then you would start considering this option.

Do It Yourself, or Hire Someone

Who Is Going To Build It

An analogy that I like to use is this:  When renovating your home, you could probably re-plumb the whole house, or re-do all of the electrical yourself (not being a plumber or electrician) however: a) how sure are you that you have done it correctly and to code, and b) how sure are you that your insurance is going to cover you if something goes wrong.

“Do-it-Yourselfers” CAN built a website, if they’ve got some experience, and can have great success.  We have thousands of clients, who are not web developers, set up their own sites every year.

However, if you’re one of those people who’s time is too important to be wasted learning the difference between a CANVAS tag and an OBJECT tag, then you should hire someone who will save you the headache and get the job done for you.  If at this point you think you need to hire, we offer a great selection of services to get your website online for you.

Web Development Platform

What Is It Going To Be Made Of

There are different flavors of of websites these days.  It used to be that all web pages were static (had no dynamic parts to them apart from flashy animated GIF images), and were all hand-coded (meaning they were developed using a plain text editor). There are a number of different platforms and software now for creating and managing websites.

If you are likely to have a fairly static website that isn’t updated on a regular basis, you may use Microsoft Expression Web or Adobe Dreamweaver.  These editors work with “Website Templates” and are the choice for those looking for a more customized solution, or custom built solution.

Today, there are a number of popular Content Management System (CMS) platforms available.  This is where you manage your site using your web browser, and the focus of your website is more on content rather than the ability to change small design aspects.  This is where you may have heard of WordPress, Joomla, or Drupal.  We recommend WordPress ourselves, as it is the largest and most popular of the CMS platforms.

With WordPress, you can apply a “WordPress Theme” directly to your site, and instantly change the look and feel.  The downside of using a CMS solution, though, is that you are restricted quite a bit more regarding the look and feel of your site. The upside being that your focus is more on the content, and being able to regularly update the site yourself with fresh content and blog posts.

Another hugely popular platform, for eCommerce, is Shopify.  Shopify simplifies the entire process of getting a store online.  Quite literally, from signup to go-live, can be as little as a half an hour.  It is an extremely polished system, with thousands of third-party apps available to enrich your storefront.  It is extremely reasonably priced as well, and allows for a retail POS portal via an iPad App.  You can even try it out for free for 14 days to see if it will work for you.  The down side to Shopify is that it is intended primarily for sales, and not so much for blogging or content, so if you’re looking to dominate on the content-marketing front, a Shopify hosted storefront may not be the solution for you.  However, that said, Shopify has just launched a plugin for WordPress, so now you can get the best of both of these worlds.

From Scratch, or Pre-Designed

Custom Built, or Customized Build

Custom built, from the ground up, can run you anywhere from $2,500 to $25,000.  This is where you give examples of websites that you like, and then tell the designer/developer how you want it to look and operate.   I don’t know about you, but that’s a lot of cash to throw at  a new website if you don’t have a major source of revenue yet — we don’t recommend this option for new websites as it is cost prohibitive.

A customized build is where you take an existing website design, such as a Website Template, WordPress Theme, or Shopify Theme, and modify it and the content to suit your needs.  You can normally get these solutions colorized to match your company brand and set up with your content.  And in many cases you can get this all done for around $500.  This is a much more attractive option for most new website operators.

If you’re interested in Website Templates, Shopify Themes, or WordPress Themes, you can check out our storefront.  You can also get WordPress Themes and Website Templates from Template Monster or ThemeForest.   We cannot speak to either of those outfits for custom services, however if you need to have your site set-up, we do offer a range of services for you choose from.

Google, Yahoo, Bing

Getting It Into Search Engines

If there was a magic handbook for getting the top listing at Google, Yahoo, or Bing, it would be worth millions of dollars.  Just think, #1 position for your solution?  What is it worth to you?  Some might think it should be free, and indeed, if you had no other competition, it might be fairly easy to get ranked well for “tropical parkas made in nantucket” — but truthfully, it takes a lot of work.  You have to:

  1. do your keyword research
  2. set up your pages with the correct page titles, header tags, and content
  3. submit yourself to the search engines
  4. promote your website to others, hoping to gain incoming links from reputable sources
  5. promote your brand with social media

You can submit yourself to Google, Yahoo, and Bing using their respective tools.  But you should also sign up for the Google Webmaster Tools, and similar Yahoo and Bing programs.

With Google Webmaster Tools, you can submit a “google sitemap” which helps tell Google which pages are in your site, so they can more easily find you.

This type of task may be more than you’re prepared to take on in the beginning, so it may also be something you should consider asking your webmaster to look after.

Social Media

Getting The Word Out

“Social is the new search” — we hear this ALL the time now.  If you’re not active in social media, search engines may not consider your brand to be as active, and may end up giving your competitor a better listing given all other things equal.

Get a twitter account.  Set up a Facebook Page for your business.  Make sure you have your Google Business page set up.  And for goodness sakes, USE them.

How?  Fantastic question.  That is best left for a whole other article, but the first step is to get those accounts set up, link to them from your website, and post to them bit by bit about your brand.  With social media, the most important thing is providing meaningful and authentic content to your community, regularly.

So think about that, when you’re setting up your online brand and your domain name, and what your website is going to feature in content.

It used to be “build it (your website) and it will sell”.  That’s no longer true.  Now, it is “earn it (your reputation, being an authority in what you know) and it will sell”.

There are experts out there, such as Trool Social Media and Web Dev Company.  This may be something that you’ll want to outsource.

In Summary

TL;DR

Get a domain name and hosting, figure out if you’re going to go with a CMS or static solution, whether you’re going to build it yourself or hire someone, submit to to the search engines, and then get active on social media.

The rest, as they say, is in the details.  Call us if you have questions.  +1-866-943-5733