If you’re asking the question, “Why even build a website?” I have two good reasons.
1. Because your competition is already taking full advantage of their own.
2. It’s easy to do.
Why do it yourself?
One of the main reasons I chose to build my own website is so that I could always maintain control of it. That cool new tech company that offers a world of services may not be around next year when their funding runs out and they can’t find more funding. That’s just one potential scenario but it’s enough for me to want to own and maintain my own website, especially since it’s so easy to do these days. There are plenty of other reasons including just for fun but I’ll save that discussion for another time.
Today we’re going to just get to it. I’ll be showing you an easy way to build your own great looking website. We’ll be going through a short series of steps using WordPress, a popular blogging platform used by millions of individuals and companies. Don’t let the idea of a blogging platform fool you. That’s just how WordPress got its start. Today WordPress can be customized to power everything from news sites to e-commerce shopping carts. It boasts thousands of free as well as paid themes and plug-ins making it very easy to customize right away. Some of the recent upgrades provided in WordPress 3.0 and beyond have provided functionality that goes far beyond a simple blogging platform. One major advantage WordPress over other content management systems is it’s user base. There are a lot of people out there that are very talented at WordPress customization so if you end up needing a little help it’s probably just a tweet away. If you’re a do it yourselfer, the WordPress Codex has all the information you need and more. We’ll take a look at some of the different ways in which you can use WordPress in a future blog post but for now we need to just get started.
1. Register a domain name. Your first step in launching your new website is figuring out what your domain name is going to be. There are a lot of places to register your domain name. Let’s just get going with godaddy.com and type in a few ideas. There’s a good chance your preferred .com domain name is already taken but it could be for sale. Before giving up on your ideal business name, use Domain Tools to find out more information about who’s in control and it’s history. If not for sale at a good price, you might have to get creative. The .com extension is still the preferred option so for some other ideas head over to NameBoy and try a few keywords to see what may be available. Many new businesses have launched successfully with .tv, .net, or other creative uses of those that are available. Check out domai.nr for inspiration with these types of domain names. If you haven’t chosen a name for your business than you have a lot more options. If you business is already established than you may have a tougher time finding a domain name that works for you. Some more tools for finding available domain names or coming up with creative ones are: dotomator.com, and bustaname.com.
2. Picking a webhost – There are a lot of options out there but I use mediatemple so that’s my recommendation. The Grid Service is easy to use and has one click install options to get up and running with wordpress in under 5 minutes. This tutorial assumes you’re choosing a host with one click installation options but if not, a regular install is pretty easy. Just head over to wordpress.org and follow the tutorials. Make sure your domain name is being directed to the right server by setting your nameserver records with your registrar of choice. Before installing you’ll want to make sure you have a working e-mail address. I suggest creating a unique one for your new website. I often use firstname.lastname@example.org as a starting point.
3. Installing wordpress – If you chose mediatemple as your host, login to your account then click on the admin button which will take you to your Grid-Service Control Panel where you will find a link to 1-click applications. Follow the instructions and in just a few minutes you should have a fresh install of wordpress ready to be customized.
4. Getting setup. Tour the dashboard – Clicking on the login button will get you to the admin panel of your wordpress install but you’ll need to know how to get there without the link as your design might change and no longer display it. Just type in www.yourdomain.com/wp-admin into your browser and you’ll be taken to the login screen where you’ll need the name and password you provided during the setup process. Bookmark this page as you’ll visit here often. Once you’ve logged in you’ll be greeted with the WordPress Dashboard which provides all sorts of useful and useless information depending on who the user is. Lucky for us it’s very easy to change. I suggest just poking around to get a feel for the power that is now at your fingertips. A couple quick pointers will help you get started. Click on Pages and you’ll see a default About page already there. You can edit this page or just create a new one. Typically pages are setup to be used for navigation and static pages like the About Us page or Contact. But like many things about WordPress, this too can be customized. Another tool you’ll use often are posts. Click on the Posts menu, then add new. You’ll be presented with similar options but when you publish content using Posts it shows up more like news on your website. Finally, make sure you spend some time checking out the appearance tab. Here you can activate new themes from a variety of sources. There are plenty of free options to try right away but you may find yourself wanting something a little more professional looking and customizable.
5. Looking Good – Your site design. depending on the functionality you’re looking for, pre-made themes may not work with certain plugins. It’s best to consider both of these options at the beginning. The plugins and themes you’ll be using need to work together. Thankfully WooThemes has done a lot of the heavy lifting for you. If you can’t find something that fits your business there just google wordpress themes and you’ll be greeted with overwhelming variety. Before you do that though, make sure you check out the WooThemes Showcase for plenty of ideas and inspiration on how you might customize your own. I love the consistency and support I get from WooThemes but everybody has their own preference.
6. Creating great content – Nobody is going to come to your website unless you provide them something of value. In my opinion this is one of the most important steps in promoting your business on the web. Almost every person with a dream has a website or e-commerce shop these days. You need to differentiate yourself somehow. Writing what you know about and what you care about is a great way to get people interested in what you’re doing. In a sense you could call this search engine optimization but I think it’s really just being human. The old days of the mom and pop, brick and mortar store down on main street seem to be fleeting but you can almost present that same personal touch on the internet these days with a blog, social media, video, audio, interactive web apps, and who knows what’s coming next.
7. Making Money – My guess is that if you’re still reading you’re probably not wanting a new website just for fun. You actually want to make money with it. One of the most straight forward ways is to sell stuff. Be it an expensive tech item, a book, your music or a handmade craft trinket, here are some suggestions for tools to sell products both virtual and ‘real’. e-junkie, shopp, wp-ecommerce, woocommerce, or sell your own branded products with cafepress.
Another way to offer value is by sharing your expert opinion and promote other peoples products, sending your readers to merchants through affiliate links or ads. It’s easier to do this if you’ve actually used the product which is the path I recommend if you take this route.
If you’re creating an informational site and relying on advertising, many of the themes from WooThemes provide widgets for ad insertion. Some options for affiliate link partners include, LinkShare, avantlink, ClickBank, shareasale, and commission junction
8. Following through. Once your website is up and running one of the first things you should do is start creating your contact list. Get your mailing list started with MailChimp or any of the other email list managers but just get started. It’s also very difficult to improve on what you don’t know is working so make sure you have some analytics installed. StatPress is a good free plugin. All of the WooThemes have a place where you can just place Google Analytics code. I recommend using both as they can yield different results. It’s nice to have a couple data sets to look at. Some free plugins you might consider depending on the theme you’re using are: askimet, contact form 7, next gen gallery, wp-ecommerce, wp-db-backup, statpress, sexybookmarks, subscribe to comments, and almost anything you can think of. Just do a search and see what comes up.
Promote your new website using any outlet you can including print and virtual. Social Networking is a great way to get people to visit your website. Then make sure to take a look at your analytics to verify that what you think they’re most interested in is what they’re actually checking out. If not, make some adjustments.
If you find that what you’re doing is working, you should make sure you’re fully registered as a business with all of the appropriate parties and maybe even consider further protection such as trademark registration for your new brand. I’m not a lawyer so you’re on your own with these matters.