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10 Essential Steps For Starting A Website

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Are you thinking about getting or starting a website? If so, then the 10 steps discussed in this post will guide you through essential steps to figure out and do in order to make sure your project is a success. 95% of the projects we aren’t able to complete here at ACU Web are because the client wasn’t prepared to have us build their site for them. Most of the time this is because they haven’t thought out their goals and have not created, or even thought through, the content and message that will drive those goals. We end up working backwards because we end up creating a design and then they try to come up with content to fill the pages and areas on the pages when it should be the other way around. You need to know what you are trying to accomplish, what message and content will get you there and then decide how to package it and make it pretty. You can only accomplish this if you approach starting your website in an organized and planned way. Here are the 10 Essential Steps For Starting A Website;
  • Step 1 – Define Goals
  • Step 2 – Define Your Target Audience
  • Step 3 – Review Competition
  • Step 4 – Create Your Content
  • Step 5 – Know What You like and don’t
  • Step 6 – Define The Style
  • Step 7 – Choose Platform
  • Step 8 – Figure Out Who Is Making It
  • Step 9 – Get Domain & Hosting
  • Step 10 – Build It

Step 1 - Define Goals

In this step you really want to figure out exactly what you want out of your website. Are you looking to generate leads, sell products, get phone calls, educate people or just help people kill time with memes and auto correct fails. Though this may seem simple, it's arguably the most important step because it will guide everything else you do. It affects what content you create, what type of platform (CMS, programming language etc.) you use and what your sites main call to action is.
Action Fill in the blank: I want people to ______ once they visit my website.

Step 2 - Define Your Audience

Who is your site going to be for? Is this a B2B or B2C site? If you are selling a product who tends to buy it, men, women or both? If you are looking to generate leads for a service who needs that service? The more you know about your audience the better. If you are in the early stages of your business make assumptions but be prepared to adapt as your business grows and you learn more about your customers. This knowledge will allow you to really create a message that resonates with someone once they visit your site. It will also guide your design and color choices.
Action List three traits of your target audience. i.e. Males, Management Level, Likes Sweaters

Step 3 - Review Competition

These days people are able to compare several companies or options very quickly and easily. Take the time to look at your competition so that you know what your visitors will be comparing you against. How do they present their information. What are their feature and benefits, prices, calls to action, location and any other number of things that may be important to the decision process. When we review the competition for one of our clients, a dentist, we know that the three main factors people care about are price, experience and location. So we make sure we are competitive in these areas and we also make sure that we draw attention to the advantage we may have. For example the dentist I mentioned has 6 offices in Southern California so we make sure to point that out right away on the homepage because most of the competition has one location and people aren't looking to drive far unless they have to.
Action Identify your top three competitors, evaluate their offer and figure out what sets you apart from them.

Step 4 - Create Your Content

I won't sugar coat this one, it is the hardest part of the whole process. If done properly, it requires a lot of time and work but it's worth it though. Having strong content is critical on so many levels these days. It has to educate or sell your visitor so they trust you to provide them with what they need. It needs to be search engine friendly so that you can rank well and attract new customers , as well as completely unique and relevant, while engaging your customer. You should also organize it so that your visitors can easily find what they are looking for. After going through the previous steps you should have a good idea of what you content needs to be, what your message is and how you need to present it. You also need to strongly consider a long term content strategy. By this I mean you should plan out continuing to create and add new content to your site. This way, people will come to your site as a source for information and the search engines will know if they send people to your site they will find new content to digest.
Action Create a list of the pages for your site and what content should be on them. This can be done as a simple outline.

Step 5 - Know What You Like And Don't

Take the time to look at a lot of websites, not just your competitors or people in your industry, and figure out what you do and don't like about them. Also pay attention to how menus on sites are setup, how content is organized, how pictures are presented and overall how the site flows.
Action Create a list of 5 sites you like and 5 you really dislike. Include one or two lines about why you feel that way about them.

Step 6 - Define Your Style

Now that you know your goals, your audience, more about your competition, what content you need and what you do and don't like in other site designs it's time to define your style. The design and feel of your website should be an extension of the style and vision of your business. It should reflect the image and appearance that fits your companies' culture as well as it's audience.
Action Find 5 examples of web sites, print ads or other designs that reflect your style.

Step 7 - Choose Platform

Depending on the goals of the site you'll need to chose the platform it's built on. For example, if you are creating a blog you want to build the site on WordPress. If it's an eCommerce site you might want to use Joomla and Virtuemart. Take some time to read up on the options that are out there and decide which is best for you. You may want to talk to a few webmasters for input.
Action Look into popular CMS (Content Management Systems) platforms out there and get a basic idea of the differences between them.

Step 8 - Figure Out Who Is Making It

First decide whether you want to build it yourself or have a professional do it for you. We've been doing this for a long time and I have to say your friend or neighbors kid doing it for you almost never works out. I can't tell you how many projects we've had to save from that situation. If you are thinking about doing it yourself then think about a few things. Do you have the time? Do you have the technical ability? Do you have the patience? Even if you have all of the above is this the best use of your time or should you be focused on other aspects of the business? Even if you have decided to do it yourself take the time to get estimates from a few professionals. Going through the process of getting a proposal will really help you fine tune what you want and need out of your site and what you need in order to get it there. You'll be able to get feedback on your ideas and how feasible they are. You may also find out it's more affordable than you expected.
Action Create an RFQ (Request For Quote) and get estimates from 3 companies.

Step 9 - Get Domain & Hosting

You'll need to host your site somewhere after starting it and you'll need a domain name (i.e. acuwebservices.com). We suggest you never host or buy your domain from your webmaster. Considering how cheap hosting is and how much support hosting companies provide, there is no reason not to host with them but there are several reasons to not host with your webmaster. The primary one is that it gives them too much leverage. If you have a falling out for some reason they can turn your site off in an instant. If you host with a third party you can easily prevent that by simply changing your password. You'll also most likely get much better support from the large companies too, not may website design companies are taking email issue phone calls at 2 a.m.
Action Look into the hosting company we recommend, SiteGround,  so that you can get an idea of prices and options.

Step 10 - Do It.

Now that you know what you want and what you hope to accomplish it's time to dig in and just do it! If you decide to hire a pro here are some things to consider:
  • Know what you need out of your project, what goals you have, and what features it will take to make that happen.
  • Have a clear list of deliverable items including an outline of the pages and features you want such as contact forms, picture galleries, videos, etc.
  • Always have a signed contract clearly outlining the deliverables.
  • Always own everything, especially source files. Some files you cant edit, have the ones you can. Have them uploaded to your hosting or sent to you directly.
  • Back it up, over and over and over on the latest storage hardware.
  • Regardless talk to several pros, get feedback and ideas and estimates
Action Whether you are doing it yourself or not build your list of deliverables.

Here's your mountain bike, go fight crime!

Not sure how many of you will get that Dennis Leary reference but it's one of my favorites so I am using it anyway. Hopefully this has helped you prepare yourself for starting your website. It's a process and organizing and creating your content should not be underestimated. It's the most important part and the one that most people get stuck on. If you are not a writer then spend the money to have it written for you. Even I learned that the hard way!  
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Austin Coulson

Web Design and Internet Marketing have been passions of Austin’s for many years. While starting out by creating websites for himself, Austin ascertained many of the fundamentals and theory that constitute professional website development. Through networking and word-of-mouth, Austin soon began building and marketing websites for many different businesses and industries.

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