Building a website from scratch can feel like an enormous task, especially if you have limited technical know-how. But don’t skip it! A website is your digital storefront, a central place you can control and send people to.
Even if you sell services instead of physical products, a website is a prime place to show examples of your work and communicate the benefits you offer. A website also gives you the chance to rank for the target keywords your potential customers might be searching for, such as “speech writing for weddings” or “bespoke bowling shoes Chicago.”
Your website doesn’t have to be perfect when you launch it (hint: it won’t be!). But if you spend the time to make it look legitimate while answering your customer’s most pressing questions, it’ll set you up for success.
[Side note: Many businesses put up a Facebook page and call it a day. There’s nothing wrong with that; however, having your own website will be a stronger asset in the long term because YOU control the content and you have the power to make your site rank on Google.]
Here are nine steps that’ll show you how to make your own website for a new business or project.
- Step 1: Buy a domain
- Step 2: Decide how you’re going to build your website
- Step 3: Plan your site structure
- Step 4: Choose a theme or template
- Step 5: Write copy and calls to action
- Step 6: Source and add visual content
- Step 7: Optimize for search engines
- Step 8: Add the functionality you need
- Step 9: Test, tweak, and launch!
Step 1: Buy a domain
Assuming you know your company name, it’s time to buy a domain! To give your business a leg up on search engine optimization, you want your full name in your website URL, ideally with the .com extension. So if your business name is Yummm Catering, look for yummmcatering.com.
NameMesh is an excellent tool for checking and exploring domains. Type in your company name and see if the .com address is available. If it is and doesn’t cost a fortune, you can purchase it from GoDaddy or another domain or hosting site.
If it isn’t available, don’t worry — you still have options. The first step is to go to the .com address and see what’s there. If it’s a company that would be in direct competition with your business, you probably want to rethink your name.
But if it’s a parked address or something unrelated to what you’re doing, you can:
- Try to buy the URL – If you really want the .com address, this could be an option. See if there’s contact information on the parked site and investigate. But be warned: this option could get expensive.
- Find another domain extension – NameMesh is useful for providing other ideas for your domain using different extensions. There are regional ones like .ca or .uk, or more generic ones like .net, .org, or .io. See if any of these make sense for your company.
- Add a word at the start or end of your name to try to get the .com URL – Try adding words like “hello,” “get”, “app” to the start or end of your name. You could also try adding your product or service offering (smithopdesigns.com) or your location (smithoptoronto.com) if your customer base is local.
If you opt to use a website builder (more on that in Step 2), you could buy your domain directly from them. However, if you buy a domain from somewhere else first, you can still connect it to your website builder or a content management system like WordPress.
Even if you’re not 100% ready to build your website, we recommend securing the domain if it’s available — it’s one less thing to worry about.
Got it? Onward.
Step 2: Decide how you’re going to build your website
Once you’ve picked your business name and secured an available domain, you have three main options for building your website:
- Use WordPress
Using a content management system (CMS) like WordPress is usually the cheapest DIY option, but often requires more setup than a website builder. You’ll have to purchase a domain and hosting service separately (these will renew monthly or annually) and then connect them with WordPress to install a template, add content, and manage your site.
- Use a website builder
Using a platform like Squarespace, Shopify, B12, or Looka’s website builder will cost a bit more than Option 1, but you get hosting, security, and more in one place for a monthly or annual fee. A website builder usually provides a “drag-and-drop” editor, so you don’t have to write any code (phew!), and you get more customization options, including different templates and add-ons for functionality (more on that later).
- Hire someone
Don’t feel confident building your own website? You can hire a freelancer on platforms like Upwork. This will, of course, be a more expensive option than doing it yourself but it can save you time and hassle. If you choose this option, you should still learn the basics of the platform your website is built on so you can make updates yourself. The more you know, the easier it’ll be to tweak and optimize your site as your business grows.
Remember: A lack of confidence is a big reason why people begin making websites and fail to finish them. If you’ve started building a site yourself, but haven’t made a lot of progress, determine if:
- You’re willing to put in the time and effort to learn the platform you’re using
- You’re too frustrated to continue with said platform, meaning you have to switch to something else
- You’re only going to get your site done if you hire outside help (you may also want functionality that requires developer assistance).
Decide on the next step and move forward — it’ll feel good!
Step 3: Plan your site structure
After you’ve done your research, it’s time to decide what pages your website will have. When figuring out your site’s structure, think about the most important information your potential customers are looking for, and make sure that information is easy to find.
Kick off your website planning process by looking at other sites in your industry or niche to see how their information is organized. You’ll see patterns in what content is included and what makes a good or not-so-good customer experience.
Start with the basics — these pages are familiar landmarks in the online world and can quickly orient someone visiting your site:
For any type of business…
Write a concise description of what you do and how you help people (think mission statement!) at the top of your homepage. You should also include at least one call to action (CTA) button or link. Examples:
- Get in touch or Request a quote that leads to an email form
- Book a call that connects to a scheduling tool (or an email form)
- Shop now that goes to a category page of products
- Work with me that goes to a page that explains your services, process, and pricing
- Sign up for updates if you’re in the pre-launch phase of your business and want to capture email addresses
Beyond the messaging and CTA on the homepage header, decide what other information you want to include on your homepage. You could include benefits of your products or services, how it works, or testimonials from customers. Remember: Your content should answer your user’s most important questions about what you offer.
Tell your story! This page can expand on your mission, explain why you started your business, and outline your expertise and credentials. You can also include contact information on this page or create a separate contact page (see below).
You can include contact information on your About page or build out a separate page if it’s more important (for example, if you run a cleaning service who wants to generate leads through your website.) Most contact pages include a form that connects to your email address. You can also show a phone number, physical address, and hours of operation if relevant to your business.
If you’re a service-based business…
Outline all the services you offer and the benefits of each — remember, it’s all about how you help the customer. If you provide packages or plans, such as a personal training or coaching package, include the pricing on this page.
If you charge custom or hourly pricing, you can ask visitors to contact you for pricing or book a consultation or put a “starting at” price. Remember: most people are looking for pricing information online and will be frustrated if they can’t find it!
If you’re an ecommerce business…
Product and category pages
If you’re running an ecommerce business, product pages are the meat of your website and include imagery, description, attributes, pricing, and a Buy now or Add to cart button. If you’re selling many different products, you can create category pages to organize them; for example, if you’re a jewelry business, you can have category pages for necklaces, earrings, rings, etc., with individual product pages under each category. Product pages can also include videos, reviews, and shipping information.
Pages to add or include later
Portfolio, Case Studies, or Testimonials/Reviews
If you’re a service-based business, it’s a good idea to add a Portfolio or Case Studies page as you grow your client base. This page should demonstrate your work and how you help people achieve results.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Find yourself getting the same questions over and over? It’s always good to look for ways to clarify your products, services, or shipping/return policies on your homepage or product pages. You can also add an FAQs page to provide more detailed answers and eliminate barriers to purchase.
A blog is an excellent way to build organic traffic to your site, show expertise on particular topic, and keep the content your website fresh. Most website builders will give you the option to add a blog to your site, but you’ll want to make sure you have the time to learn the basics of adding and posting content before you commit to a regular content schedule.
Once you’ve decided on the pages you need, it’s time to sketch out a wireframe, which is a basic illustration of the structure and image/text components on a webpage. We like using pen and paper because it’s easy to visualize and iterate on — and you don’t need to worry about learning a new program or software.
Your wireframe doesn’t have to be anything fancy, but don’t skip it — doing this exercise will make it much easier to visualize each page on your website and how they’ll connect with other pages.
Most importantly, it allows you to put yourself in your customer’s mindset and think about how they’ll navigate your site and what you can do to persuade them to take the actions you want them to take.
After you’ve planned out your pages, you’re ready to choose a theme and start writing!
Step 4: Choose a theme or template
If you’re using a CMS or website builder, you have the fun (but sometimes overwhelming) task of picking a theme or template for your site. And if you’re working with a designer, you’ll still want to give them an idea of the type of site you want by showing them examples of other designs you like.
What are website themes?
Website themes are pre-made website designs that you can add your content to; they’re made up of fonts, color schemes, patterns, and other aesthetic and functional components, allowing you to get started with a professional-looking site without having to come up with (or code) your own design.
Many free themes are available on website builders. Depending on what you’re using, you may also have the option to buy a “premium” theme from a third-party vendor.
You can customize themes to an extent, but if you’re a non-technical person, this could be tricky and frustrating, which is why it’s important to pick a design that fits with your website’s content and appeals to your target audience.
Here are some questions to answer to help you choose a theme:
What type of website are you creating?
This is the biggest question to tackle when starting a website project, and it comes down to the industry you’re in, the audience you’re targeting, and the primary purpose your website is going to serve. For example:
- Are you a tutoring business that needs to explain the packages you offer and give people a place to contact you?
- An ecommerce business selling custom T-shirts directly to customers?
- A not-for-profit that needs to tell stories, explain your mission, and accept online donations?
- A travel blog that wants to attract subscribers with beautiful photography?
- An app developer who needs a portfolio to show off their work and attract clients?
Look at businesses similar to yours for inspiration and take note of the website designs you like and the way the content is structured. This will give you a better idea of what you’re looking for in a website theme.
How do you want your homepage to look?
Your homepage is the centerpiece of your website — it has to make an impact right away by communicating what your business is and keeping visitors engaged.
First, decide on if you want your homepage header to be static or rotating. Static imagery is the simplest choice and will work for most businesses. However, if you’re offering multiple services or product categories, or cater to different segments of customers (e.g. a photographer that does weddings and portraits), you may want rotating images — or even video — and messaging to reflect this.
You also want to decide if you want text on your header image — this is important! In most cases, you’ll want the ability to write a key statement and call to action on your header image, as a standalone image may not communicate enough information when someone lands on your site.
How do you want your navigation to look?
Depending on how many pages your website has (see Step 3!), envision how they’ll look in your navigation at the top of your homepage and every other page of your site. Decide if you want your navigation menu to be horizontal across the top of the page (as seen above), vertical on the side, or hidden in a drop-down menu.
How do you want your logo to appear?
Do you want your logo in the top left or centered in your homepage header? While the top left is the most popular (and safe) place to put your logo, you may prefer it in the center of your website header. Make sure the logo is big enough to read clearly, but not so big that it overwhelms your navigation, imagery, or messaging.
Is the theme responsive/mobile friendly?
With mobile traffic on the rise, you’ll want to make sure the theme you choose is responsive, meaning it will adapt to different screen sizes and make your content easy to view everywhere.
Does the theme allow you to add custom colors?
Many themes have a built-in feature to add custom colors to the design. So, for example, if the design has blue buttons and header copy, you could change it to your brand colors (which you’ll have the hex codes for after you design a logo). Look for this feature when choosing a theme as it’s a free and easy way to add brand personality to your site!
Once you’ve answered these questions, it’s time to narrow down your search and choose a few themes that meet your requirements. Spend time to preview different designs in your browser so you can envision how they’ll look for your business.
With most website builders, you can switch website themes after you’ve picked one. That said, it’s easier to confirm the one you want from the start. You can then move on to the next steps: planning your site structure and populating your site with content!
Create a logo you love, then start building your dream website!
Step 5: Write copy and calls to action
Writing website copy from scratch can be tricky — especially if you haven’t researched your target market or figured out what makes your business different.
The good news? With your theme chosen and your wireframe complete, you have a roadmap to the pages you need to write content for. We recommend setting up a project plan in a tool like Trello (or even a notebook or spreadsheet) to move your pages along in the process:
The most important thing to remember when writing your website copy is that you’re talking to your potential customers. You want to sound friendly, conversational, and genuinely interested in helping or delighting your customer. What you don’t want to seem is dull, robotic, or overly sales-y.
Here’s how to write website copy that resonates:
- Create a detailed buyer persona. Fill out their age, occupation, gender, likes and dislikes, fears, and hopes. What motivates this customer? Why do they need or want your product or service? Whenever you’re writing copy, think about writing to this one person!
- Pick a target keyword for each web page you’re creating. Do keyword research to find out what terms people are using to find your product or service. Try a free keyword tool or a website like Answer The Public. For example, the target keyword for your home page could be “portrait photography Newark” or “natural deodorant.” Don’t worry too much about your target keyword when you’re writing your first draft of copy — you can work it in when you’re revising your copy and plugging it into your website (see step 7).
- Aim to keep each page focused on one specific objective. Website visitors are task-focused and easily distracted. Your copy should answer your users’ most pressing questions and prompt them to take action.
- Spend the most time on your homepage — remember to speak to your audience and keep it simple, using the word “you” more than “us” or “we.”
- Be crystal clear on your services or product pages. With your buyer persona in hand, talk about your customers’ needs or paint points, and present them with a solution in a way that clearly highlights the results and benefits that your product or service brings to them. They shouldn’t walk away confused about what you’re offering!
- Focus on completing one draft of each page. You can then put the copy into your template and revise until you’re happy with the length, tone, and messaging. (On that note, don’t be afraid to edit your copy several times or test it on other to get it to a place you’re happy with!)
- Don’t forget calls to action! The easier and clearer you can make it for users to take a next step, the better. (e.g. Book a call, Shop now)
- Edit! Run all your copy through a tool like Grammarly to ensure you don’t have any glaring spelling or usage errors.
Tip: When creating multiple product pages on an ecommerce site, take time to make your first page excellent, from the text, imagery, attributes, and costs. Once the first one is done, you can clone and edit for your other product pages.
Writing “technical” pages
Got drafts of all your pages? You’re in AWESOME shape. You can start populating your content into your website builder (if you haven’t already) or wait and do this at the same time you add visual content. We’ll also cover SEO and how to optimize your website for search engines in Step 7.
Step 6: Source and add visual content
When it comes to websites, good imagery is a must. It’ll help break up your text so you don’t overwhelm visitors and communicate your brand in a way that words alone can’t.
Based on your wireframes and copy, you should have a good idea of how many images you’ll need and where they’ll go on your web pages.
Here are four types of imagery to keep in mind (though you may not need all of them!):
If you’re a service-based business or blogger, there’s a good chance you’ll need a professional headshot and photos that demonstrate your work (e.g. food you’ve made if you’re a caterer, rooms you’ve renovated if you’re a contractor). Make a shot list and either schedule a day for a photo shoot, or see if you can dig up the visuals you need from past projects, editing them if necessary.
If you’re an ecommerce site, good product photography is a must. Decide if you’re going to hire a photographer, use vendor-provided or digitally produced images, or figure out how to take photos on your own (here’s an excellent guide to shooting them on your phone). You can also find inspirational lifestyle shots to show visitors what your brand is about.
If you don’t require original photography, use a stock images site like Unsplash, Pexels, or Shutterstock to populate your site with high-quality images.
You’ll need a logo for the header of your website, so if you don’t have it finalized yet, now’s the time! After the design is complete, use a PNG version of your logo to upload it to your website header — it should be legible but not obtrusive (check out more website logo tips). You can also upload it as your favicon.
Tip: Once you have your brand colors and fonts, you can apply them in other places on your site, like headings or call-to-action buttons.
Many businesses won’t have the time or budget to create video assets when they launch. But if you have a promo or explainer video that shows how your product or service works, you can host it on YouTube (or another service like Vimeo or Wistia) and embed the link in your website.
After you’ve saved images and graphics to work with, add them to your website template to see if they fit with the layout and objective of the page. Make sure the images you choose don’t slow down your site by testing it on PageSpeed.
Many website builders have size restrictions, or you can use a plugin to “smush” or compress images down to a size that won’t slow down your site.
Got copy and images in your template? You’re ready to edit and optimize!
Step 7: Optimize for search engines
Search Engine Optimization is the process of ranking for a keyword or set of keywords in a search engine results page (also called a SERP). It’s also called “organic search” because it doesn’t involve paying for keywords.
In short, it’s about finding keywords related to your business that are also relevant to your audience, then optimizing your website for those terms. You might call your services or products one thing, but is that the way your target customers search for them? It’s always best to check your assumptions.
SEO is a BIG topic so we won’t go in-depth here — but here are a few basics for optimizing your website:
Conduct basic keyword research. Use a free tool like Answer The Public to investigate keywords people might use to find your business, or Keywords Everywhere to see what keywords other sites in your industry are using. For example, if you’re an SAT tutor, you’ll want to search terms like “SAT tutoring online” or “SAT classes online” to see how people are searching for that service. Bonus: Keyword research is a great way to come up with content ideas if you decide to publish a blog or long-form guide in the future.
Find one target keyword for every page of your website. Choose long-tail keywords — ones with 3-4 words — as they have more commercial intent behind them and are easier to rank for, especially when you’re a new website. They often contain phrases like “how to” or specifics like “pink glass water bottle” (versus “water bottle”). Focus your homepage, about page, and product/services pages — these are the most important!
Put your keyword in the right places. How you add SEO to a piece of content depends on the website builder or CMS you’re using, but if you search “how to add a page title in XX,” you should be able to find the answer. Make sure your keyword is included in these five spots:
- Page title – The page title is what shows up as the title in your Google Search Results and on the tab at the top of your browser, and it’s the most important place to put your keyword! Keep it to 55 characters.
- Meta description – Meta descriptions show up as the page description in your search engine results pages (SERPs). Keep to 155 characters.
- URL – This is the text that shows up in your search/navigation bar – the end of the URL usually will tell you what the content is. Use hyphens to separate words, e.g. smithopdesign.com/interior-design-services-boston
- Image alt tag – Alt tags show up when an image doesn’t load on a page (or sometimes when you hover over an image). They’re helpful spot to add keywords, especially for products. (e.g. red tennis shoes).
- On-page copy – Headings show up on the page as headlines and subtitles. It’s also a good idea to include your keyword where it fits naturally in your body copy.
SEO can be daunting if you’re a beginner, but completing these basic steps to get your site launched will help put you on the path to ranking for keywords your audience is searching for.
And you can always continue to optimize your site after it’s launched — in fact, we highly recommend it!
Step 8: Add the functionality you need
If you’re running a basic informational website, you can skip over this section. But if you want to add a technical component like ecommerce or online booking, you’ll probably need to add a plugin, widget, or app depending on the website builder and template you’re using.
Some functionality to consider:
- Online payments – For if you want customers to purchase products or services through your website (this functionality will be available through a plugin or feature in the website builder you’re using). Check if you need to set up an account with a payment gateway like Stripe or PayPal to process payments.
- Online booking – For if you want visitors to book appointments or time with you online versus calling or emailing you. Research appointment scheduling systems or plugins like Calendly or SimplyBook to find a tool that’s right for you.
- Lead capture – For if you want to collect email addresses, either by asking visitors to subscribe to your newsletter or to download an asset like an ebook.
- Forms – Similar to lead capture, this is for if you want your visitors to fill out a form to get more information before you contact them (or if you have a standard “contact us” form instead of displaying your email address).
- Google Maps – For if you want to show your location on a map (if you’re a bricks-and-mortar business) or show stores that sell your product.
- Social media feed – For if you want to pull in your Instagram social media handle or Twitter feed at the bottom of your website.
- Security – This is important if you’re launching a WordPress site that doesn’t automatically include an SSL certificate or security feature. Find a plugin that can support this.
You can add many more plugins or add-ons, but it’s best to keep things simple, especially when you start out. Include only the functionality that makes the most sense for growing your business.
Step 9: Test, tweak, and launch!
After you finish uploading copy and images to your website builder, preview how each page looks and take the time to read the copy carefully and click on all the links.
It may take some experimentation and tweaking to get things looking the way you want them (it’s also common to want to change copy once you see it in a design).
A few questions to ask yourself:
- Is your most important and eye-catching content above the fold on every page?
- Does every page have a call to action?
- Does your website look good on different devices?
- Does it look good on different browsers?
- Do all buttons and links work and go to the correct pages?
- Are all the images loading quickly and correctly?
- Is your logo clear and in the right position?
- Is the favicon (the small image beside your URL) working?
- Have you proofread all the copy?
- Are all forms working and going to your correct email address?
- Have you enabled ecommerce and tested the checkout flow?
- Have you written page titles and meta descriptions for every page?
After you’ve run through all these questions, make a list of tasks to complete before launch, prioritizing them from high to low.
Let’s face it — there’s always going to be one more thing to add or improve on your website. The upside of pushing it live is that you have more incentive to optimize it because it’s out in the world.
As one of our customers said, “It’s hard to get your website 100% perfect first time. So don’t. Get it 60-80% right and then release. Get it live! You can make amends along the way.”
If you’re sure your website is going to take longer to finish and you need a web presence ASAP, you can create just one page a quick landing page with a tool like Carrd. Include your name, a quick blurb about what you do, and an email capture form so you can contact people who are interested when your website is live.
Once your website is live (yay!), here are some basic things you can do to promote and track it:
And to keep the content on your website fresh, schedule monthly or quarterly reviews to refresh your copy, check your links, and see where you can make improvements.
An up-to-date website will help you drive more traffic, connect with more customers, and rank in search engines — all things that are essential for growing a business. Make it a priority and give yourself a huge pat on the back when it’s launched!