Start Up Websites – The Do It Yourself Guide
I'm going to show you how to set up your first WordPress website for a business for about £50 tops. Why? Because a friend messages me on Facebook. He says...
“I'm finally sticking it to the man and quitting my employment of 21 years and starting my own business to open in the new year. My domain has been registered by a local IT company. They seem nice enough but want £500+VAT per year just to host the domain, with email and a full-content website. I'm too mean to pay that when I know I can do it cheaper using Google Apps for email with all the trimmings, plus get the website hosted for as little as £4.95/month. So can you give me any advice please? What I am after is a recommendation for an easy to use hosting service where I can develop a fairly flat website, but definitely one that can be viewed on PCs, tablets, smartphones etc. Where you come in is for advice on how I should set things up to get the best out of our friend google. Once I am making a healthy profit I can make professional use of your company and get advice on the best way to promote my site and attract customers, but before that is there any things I need to bear in mind when I develop my site so that that job is easier to do later on?”
My friend is a pretty smart guy (smarter than me) who's willing to get his hands dirty and learn new stuff, which sounds like most of the people who I meet who run successful start ups. It makes sense therefore to answer his questions publicily for all those start ups who want a new website that they can build themselves, but have a healthy fear of the tosh they see advertised on TV.
First things first though – Actually,£500 +VAT per year for a content managed website, email and hosting is not bad at all. Noisy Little Monkey pay just over £1,000 +VAT currently and that doesn’t include domain names. What it does include is SUPPORT on the PHONE from REAL PEOPLE who fit in with our ethos to continuously improve their service. The computer stuff doesn’t cost much, but clever, dedicated people who know how to make it all run super efficiently do cost us money, but it's a shrewd investment for a growing business like Noisy Little Monkey.
But – when you’re a start up £500 +VAT is a lot of money. You need something low cost but effective to help you prove that the concept of your business will work and once you have some money for marketing, you can upgrade to something whizzy right? Right. So, follow these instructions and PAZZOW! You’re on your way to controlling your online destiny. By the time you finish you’ll be reclining on your motor cruiser, moored in Nassau with bronzed lovelies of various genders lighting your hand-rolled cigars because that’s how the internet works, buddy.
Obviously, that’s not totally true. What I’m saying is that this is how I would do it. It’s not a get rich quick scheme, it’s a set of good practices to follow to get the business in through the door. If you don’t follow the instructions absolutely perfectly, you’ll simply end up with a really good, friendly looking website that performs well on Google and Bing and brings in more enquires / sales than you expected.
Step 0 – Research.
Since 1997 I’ve been working in the online space, so lets shortcut the first bit of your research. Use WordPress. Nothing beats it for ease of use (for you and your clients) and visibility in search engines. Choose the right theme and it will tick all the boxes for responsiveness to device (phones, tablets and desktops), but we'll come to that later.
New to WordPress, Where_to_Start is the best place to start your WordPress-centric research. It looks complicated if you’re a beginner, but knowledge is power and understanding 20% of this guide will stop you believing 80% of the Internet Marketing and SEO bullshit you see on YouTube.
Step 1 – Stop thinking about your website, start thinking about your users.
Think “What sites do my customers love?” Sure, Amazon. Definitely, eBay. Ipso Facto, Google… but are there others in your niche (or related sectors) that are particularly good? Think about what makes them successful from a design, navigation and layout perspective and take your inspiration from them. Copy the good bits, discard the bad and start to sketch out your main pages on paper. Don’t colour them in and get all arty – just think about where the content will go, where the menu will go and how many items you need therein. We call this process 'wire-framing' and if you want to do it amazingly, read this beginners guide to wireframing.
Make the logo smaller. For some reason most people thing the logo is important and should be big. But people won't come to your website to gaze in wonder at your WordArt creation, they'll come because they think your products, services or both will make their lives better in some small way, so come on, make that logo smaller.
Step 3 – You’re probably still being a dick.
Repeat step 2. In my experience, your second attempt at layout will still contain a logo that is too big. Look at the business pages of Amazon, eBay, Google, BBC, et al. The logo is tiny.
Step 4 – Think about your brand.
Have you chosen your company name? It has a pretty hefty impact on what Google thinks your site is about. Branded company names and domain names are OK (for example, noisylittlemonkey.com) but if your brand can also include some element of doing what it says on the tin you will more likely rank on Google (for example, labelszoo.co.uk). Ideally, register a domain name that matches your company name, without hyphens, as that’ll probably help in the long run.
Step 5 – Register your domain, get some Linux hosting.
Register your domain name. If your business and website is mainly selling to clients in the UK, get a .co.uk - if you’re targeting a worldwide customer base worldwide, go .com. I use Freeparking.co.uk* to register my business domains, but since they do pretty poor hosting and this is your first business website, somewhere like Cloudnext will give you web hosting which is reliable and a domain name in the bundle price and it’s all pretty decent, so go with them. Currently their entry level web hosting costs £19.99 per year and includes some domain names. Choose their Linux option. Why Linux? See Step 6.
Once you've signed up for hosting you can choose to Register a new domain with CloudNext or transfer in an existing one from another provider.
I need to transfer mine in, as I already purchased it. Just clicking Validate Domain at CloudNext doesn't get the job done. Here’s how I did it… There’s probably a variation of the same process to change from 1&1 or some other cheap (crappy) hosting company, or you may want to email your IT Support company (if you bought it from them) and tell them you want to transfer your domain and to follow the instructions below, IT bods will think this is TL;DR and skip to the Name Server Addresses.
Step 5a -Transferring your domain to CloudNext.
WARNING - IF YOU ALREADY HAVE A WEBSITE, EMAIL OR ANYTHING ELSE THAT IS ASSOCIATED IN ANY WAY WITH THE DOMAIN YOU ARE ABOUT TO TRANSFER IT WILL ALL DISAPPEAR FOR EVER. If you are starting from scratch, this is all Kool and The Gang. If you have an existing company though, with email and stuff, this will be an almighty balls up, so do not do it unless you are absolutely sure.
If you've registered your domain directly with CloudNext, or have decided to stick with your existing hosting company then you can skip straight to Step 6 - Install WordPress
In this example, I'm going to change the DNS servers of my domain name (digitalbuffet.co.uk) from Free Parking (the company from whom I registered / purchased it) to CloudNext (who have the hosting service I want to use). Since I am only changing the DNS Servers, Free Parking will continue to remind about, and bill me for renewals for this domain, which is useful because I have dozens registered with them so it keeps payment simple. If I wanted CloudNext to bill me for hosting AND remind about, and bill me for renewals for this domain then I would need to change something called the IPStag (for a .uk domain) or unlock the domain and do a more complete transfer of DNS (for .com, org) - there's more margin for error there, so I'm going for the simple way. Keep it registered with Free Parking (who I'll pay to renew it, periodically) and get CloudNext to do everything else because the DNS Servers are pointing at them...
i - Log in to Free Parking and go to My Domains > Maintain A Domain - then locate the domain I want to change.
ii - There's loads of things you can do with a domain at this level! Scary isn't it?
iii - Scroll down to Change DNS Servers - DNS = Domain Name Server. It's a computer that holds all the info about that domain, like where the website lives, where the email should go, etc. In the next steps we give that responsibility to CloudNext
iv - Click into Change DNS Servers section and put in the new Name Servers addresses (your new host will give you these from your control panel on their site). Currently for CloudNext these are ns1.cloudnext.net and ns2.cloudnext.net. There are usually two Name Servers so if the primary one falls over or is slow to respond, there's a secondary one to take over.
Finally, click Next and then agree to all the worrying looking warnings you get. It'll all be fine (probably).
This transfer is likely to take 48 hours or so, so take a break and come back to this bit later.
Step 6 – Install WordPress.
This is how to do install WordPress on CloudNext if you really don't like them, WordPress recommends some other hosts here: http://wordpress.org/hosting/
CloudNext assumes you might want lots of websites and lots of hosting, so it gives you a Control Panel to manage all your domains. You only have one website and one domain right now, so log in to CloudNext click on Manage Hosting & Domains and then click Manage next to the domain you just set up. You'll get to this screen:
Click on that bit I've highlighted (with all the sophistication of a cat with a marker pen) to get to the Direct Login URL. It'll save you having to use loads of passwords and stuff.
You'll get to this:
Which is the Control Panel specifically for the web hosting you've purchase for your domain. It's another scary one with loads of options. Scroll down to the CGI Scripting bit.
And click on the WordPress Blog option. It'll take you through a couple of steps which are pretty self explanatory, but make sure you click to only install a Single WordPress Blog:
In the next screen, use your company name as the Site Title but set up the username as yourself.
I'd UNTICK the Privacy box. Prior to launch you don't really want search engines sniffing around and you can encourage them to come in later, once you're happy with everything.
That's it. Once you've pressed Next or Save or whatever, your site will get set up. While it does, you can enjoy the thought of how much cash you've just saved - then you'll be presented with your WordPress Dashboard, see the name of the site (you chose it earlier) in the top left? Click it!
and you'll get taken to your new site:
"Hello world!" is actually a hilarious joke for programmers. You can go in and delete this post and its comment later, as well as the words "Just another WordPress site" (the latter is in Dashboard>Settings>General>Tagline). In the meantime, *HIGH FIVES* your start up, do it yourself website is now live, but hidden from search engines, so you can fiddle about with it.
Step 7 – Win on WordPress
Before you do ANYTHING ELSE: Go to the Dashboard>Settings>Permalinks section
and change the permalink settings to “MONTH & POSTNAME” like this:
Don't forget to press SAVE!
That bit makes your URLs (the addresses where your pages will live) friendly to Search Engines.
Now go to plug ins:
Search "Yoast SEO" and install the hell out of that.
Yoast's SEO for WordPress is DA BOMB for helping you get best practice SEO built into your website. Like all WordPress plugins once it's installed, you'll need to click Activate Plugin
Because you asked search engines not to index your site, Yoast is going to put up a huge red bar across the site. Don't worry, but do leave it there... It'll remind you AND help you to encourage them in when you're ready to launch.
While you’re here in the WordPress Plugins section – install Formidable Forms too.
Then upgrade to the paid version (it’s a tiny cost and it will allow you to measure success). You’ll have to restart the plugin or something… it’s fiddly but worth it. Keep flicking into the plugin section, then into Formidible and it’ll give you some instructions at the top of the page, follow them, click in and out of plugins again a few times and follow any more instructions and you’ll be up and running. OK - now go to these videos and click WordPress 101 from the sub menu and you'll get loads of additional info from the experts at Woo Themes (more about them later).
Step 8 – Structure your page types.
Imagine you are a user who knows nothing about your company who’s arrived (via Google or something) at a page on your site (without coming to the homepage first… most visitors will arrive at deeper pages). What do you need to see? What action do you want to take? If the page is selling me a product, I’ll want to see images, recommendations, price, descriptions, similar products… If it’s your contact us page, I’ll want a map and directions… maybe a photo of the people I’m likely to speak to on the phone? On all pages, I’ll want a way to get in touch. Unless you absolutely don’t want phone calls add your phone number to every page.
From here you should be able to separate your pages into different types – with different calls to action on each page. Typically sites have a minimum of 3 page types – A home page, a general info page and a contact page, but most sites have a lot more.
Go back to your wireframes and see which pages should share a page type.
A note about Posts vs Pages. In WordPress Dashboard you'll see Posts and Pages... Your more static content (about us, our services, contact us) are PAGES and news / blog posts are POSTS. The latter will normally organise themselves by most recent uppermost in various places you choose. Google likes websites to have UNIQUE and FRESH content, so while you need the static stuff, don't forget to produce news / blog posts to engage your visitors with timely, exiting content because it'll help you win on Google too :)
Step 9 – Choose a template.
Thinking about your page types and understanding that you're nearly set up and it's been quite a technical journey means that you can choose a theme (or template - basically a custom skin for your WordPress website) that won't tax you too much but meets your page type requirements. I'd recommend getting a non exclusive licence for a WordPress theme you like from Woo Themes. Make sure it’s responsive (works on phones and iPads and big screens) and if you’re planning to sell directly from the site, choose one with Woo Commerce built in. You shouldn't need to spend more than $100 USD, but I wouldn't bother with anything costing less than $29 USD.
They have plenty of instructions on all things WordPress but don’t plan to do masses of customisation. Customisation will pretty soon = web development and unless you can code in Java, PHP and HTML you're going to have to pay someone who can, so keep it simple! Choose a theme who’s colours and fonts don’t need changing and all you need to do is upload your logo. All you need is something simple today. Once you’ve got some enquiries / sales rolling in you can pay to have major edits made to your website, but right now, you need to get your simple, effective site live, so you can start getting visitors and measuring what works.
Step 10 – Build in the SEO and see if it works
Follow these guides to writing awesome web copy and ensuring the architecture of your site is optimised (the latter is an old post, but the ideas behind it are still sound) and then sign up for Google Analytics. Once you've signed up for Google Analytics follow Yoast SEO’s instructions (Find them in Dashboard>SEO) and add the Google Analytics code into your site.
For all your Formidable Forms set up a “thank you” page so the user knows their enquiry / order has come through (this isn't the default, so you’ll need Formidable Pro and to follow the instructions to make this happen), then make this new thank you page’s URL (normally www.yoursite.co.uk/thank-you/) a Goal in Google Analytics. There's a good how to set up Google Analytics Goals post over on KissMetrics. Boom, now you can see which websites drive the most visitors and which section of your website visitors is most likely to turn into foot traffic / a sales lead / sale! Yay!
That’s it – You’re all done. Well, I say "All done" when I mean "Just getting started on an exciting online marketing journey, where you'll learn about search engine optimisation, about social media marketing, about conversion rate optimisation, who Matt Cutts is, who Rand Fishkin is and loads of other amazing things". Welcome!
Any questions? Leave ‘em in the comments and I’ll get back.
Image Credits: Robert S. Donovan