ARTICLES | WEBSITE DESIGN
How to design your own website
By Gary Bloomer
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Today, right now—the task of designing your own website—something that for many business owners was once a daunting, time-consuming, cost-prohibitive task—is now easier, cheaper, and faster than it's ever been.
For most small business owners, consultants, and entrepreneurs, the best time to start a website was a few years ago. The second best time though is now.
With a wealth of intuitive, accessible, cost effective, and easy to use tools, platforms, and solutions available for what in reality is not a lot of money, and with a little effort, organization, planning, and creativity on your part, you could have a fully-functioning website up and running in a matter of hours.
So why is the prospect of setting up let alone designing your own website do daunting? Is it really as easy as it's made out to be? Can anyone do it? Well, yes, and then again, no. Let me explain.
I'm a seasoned, experienced graphic designer with 30+ years experience earning a living as a professional creative. Most of my
experience has been in creating design for print, and while many of the principles of graphic design carry over from print to digital, many of the processes of creating website layouts based on elements that you can easily move around a page and manipulate in real time do not.
However, many of today's website design platforms are making the process of creating your own website faster, easier, and more intuitive.
If you're fairly confident with a keyboard and a mouse or trackpad
and you can find, download, and import images; if you're comfortable selecting, pairing, and adjusting font sizes, and if you have a decent sense of visual space, proportion, symmetry, and layout you can absolutely design your own website.
However, if you're less than comfortable with all of the points above and while I'm not suggesting that you cannot design your own website, because you certainly can—you though be may be better off working with someone who has a more skill.
If an hour of your time is worth more than an hour of someone who could design a website for you and you can afford to pay someone to do the work, hiring someone will save you time, money, and frustration.
I'm suggesting this because for the less creatively inclined and the somewhat more technically challenged (or for the complete novice), the options of do-it-yourself website design can be confusing and demoralizing.
So, bearing this latter point in mind, and as someone who's spent the better part of 30 years working as a graphic designer (though not, I hasten to add, as a website designer) here's my personal take on designing your own website.
Of the 30 to 40% of small business owners who report not having a website, many of them cite technical difficulty and cost as reasons to avoid setting up a website of their own.
As someone who’s put off all kinds of similar business decisions my thoughts here are that these aren’t reasons to avoid acting, they’re excuses. I resisted setting up my own website for years because I lacked the skills and finances to move forward, so I get it, I really do.
And yet, when it dawned on me that the only way to make progress was by taking action—even if that made me uncomfortable—I found ways to make the process work for me.
Has it been super easy? No. Has it been frustrating? Let me count the ways. Was it a quick, painless, fruitful process and an easy learning curve? Hardly. Has it been worth it? Oh, yes.
If you’re pondering whether you need a website and you’re finding it difficult to gain clarity, consider the following points before you get stuck in:
Do you really need a website? If you’re happy with your business as it is, if you don’t want to expand, if you’re not looking for new clients or customers, and if you’re happy with your business as it is, there may be no reason for you to have a website.
This is your business and if you choose to keep things as they are, that’s your decision. If you’d like to generate more business, sell your business, or expand your scope of services, you might benefit from setting up a simple website.
How fancy do you want things? You've probably seen websites positively caked in visual gizmos and chicanery. You know, image sliders, pop-ups, animations, automatically playing videos, and images and doo-dads that move one way while you scroll another!
From the points of view of website and page design, site architecture, and user experience, few of these things add to the overall experience of visiting a website and fewer still make a difference in terms of converting visitors to repeat visitors and in terms of persuading people to sign up to receive your newsletter or to get a special offer.
The nub of the matter here is simplicity; in keeping the overall experience of visiting your website informative, constructive, pleasurable, and memorable for all the right reasons.
You want your website visitors to think good things about you.
You don't want people thinking "Holy crap! What fresh hell is this?" You want your website visitors to to come back. You don't want to frighten them off for them never to return.
How big does your website need to be? By big, I'm referring to the number of pages. My website—the one you're reading right now—has five basic pages. You may only need a one-page site on which you list who you are, what you do, and how to contact you.
If you need a blog or if you want to share articles, a one to three page website may be all you need, with a main home page, an about or contact page, and a page for your blog or articles.
If your business offers a range of goods, products, and services and you want to offer online shopping, a website with more than five main pages might be the best option for you. For this solution you’ll need an online shopping cart through which you can take credit card payments and arrange online downloads or physical shipping of products via the postal system or through a delivery service.
Though again, and to begin with—and even long-term now that I come to think of it—it's generally better to stick with a simple layout that's easy to navigate, that's easy on the eye, and that's not festooned with visual junk rather than going for something that's all-singing, all dancing, super sophisticated, and grandiose.
What else will you need to have on your website? What other online platforms (such as shopping carts, social media accounts, news aggregators, online reviews, and online listings) might you want to connect to your website? Will you want to share podcasts or videos through your website other than through your regular social media channels? All things to think about.
What will you say and what will you show? Here, I'm referring to the text your website will need and the images you'll share.
Who will write and edit your text? Who will proofread it and check it for typos and grammar? Will your text sound natural and fluid? Or will it sound wooden, awkward, and just a little bit off? These things might not sound like a big deal but they matter. They matter a lot.
What photographs, graphics, and illustrations will you use and who will take those photographs, create those graphics, and provide those illustrations?
If you're using photographs you took yourself, or if you;re using images and graphics you've created from scratch with your own fair hands, you're fine. Likewise if you've pulled images from public domain sources on which the images are freely available for anyone to use without permission: you're fine.
If you're using photographs someone else has taken, even if you've paid the photographer, and likewise with images or graphics you've acquired from a second party, and again, even if you've paid to have those things created, be sure you have the rights to reproduce those images or that you credit the originator on your website somewhere before your publish them on your website.
THIS NEXT POINT IS CRUCIAL: You must avoid at all costs simply taking any old image, graphic, or illustration from Google Images because even though those items may be easily available, most of them are protected by copyright which means you absolutely, positively cannot use them without permission.
With these points cleared up, what options do you have when it comes to designing your own website:
1. The easiest thing of course is to do nothing. It’s instant and lasting.
There are no skills to learn and no expense. The downside though is that you still don’t get a website. Not good.
2. The next easiest thing to do is to get by with your presence on social media. You’re still out there, being seen, and it’s free. The downside though is that you’re at the mercy of anyone who wants to take a swipe at you. Added to this, you don’t own domain name and you don’t control the platform: one breach of someone else’s terms of service and your messaging could be toast. Again, not good.
3. Next is the free website option through a platform such as Blogger.com, Blogspot.com, or Tumblr.com. While these are all good platforms, much like the social media option outlined above, you lack control over the platform and your website name will end with whatever the name of the platform is: YouBusinessName.blogger.com, etc. OK at a pinch, though again, close but no cigar.
4. You take the DIY (do-it-yourself) route.
5. You find (and pay) someone to build and maintain a website for you.
6. You opt for a hosted website solution. This is where things get serious. You find a website hosting company and you select, register, and pay for a domain name for recurring annual fee.
Your website then sits inside this hosted solution, usually on a shared server, which means your website files sit securely on a server with other website files (with your files being separate from the files for other sites). However, you will still need to build a website to go with your shiny new domain name and hosting, which leads us to our next option.
7. All in one solutions, including WordPress, Wix, Weebly, and SquareSpace. With the exception of the WordPress option (which needs its own domain name and standalone hosting), site builders such as Wix, Weebly, and SquareSpace usually include a domain name (subject to the name being available), while offering an all-in-one, WYSIWYG (what-you-see-is-what-you-get), drag and drop, template-driven solution that gives you a set of tools to create and launch your website in as little as a few hours.
Unless you’re going to hire someone to design and build your site for you, this last option is probably your best bet.
While the DIY and hire-an-expert options are both good solutions for many small business owners, each comes with its challenges and potential pitfalls.
With the DIY route you will have a learning curve. Even if you’re 100% confident in your technical skills, every web design platform has a learning curve: differences in the interface; specific processes; elements that require going through online tutorials before they become second nature, and so on.
If the platform you opt for has a free trial it's worth signing up so you can see which platform works best for you. I've tried out several DIY platforms, some of which I liked, some of which I didn't.
You must find the one that feels right for you, and bear in mind that if you know you're going to need help, a platform that comes with live chat, or 24/7 support is worth paying a premium for.
If you’re going to take the DIY route, just be sure you’re clear on
the simple skills you’ll need to keep you on the right track (even knowing a few simple keyboard shortcuts can give you an edge).
So, be sure you’re familiar with terms like: copy and paste; click and drag; snap to guides; WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get); file import and image resolution and image sizing and resizing; setting and changing type styles including regular (also referred to as Roman), bold, Italics, and underline; changing text colours; file storage (knowing where you’re storing files on your computer so you can find them again).
Just knowing these basics can save you hours of frustration. More so if you also know a few keyboard shortcuts. If these terms and processes are unfamiliar to you, take the time to find out what they mean and be sure you know how to use them to your advantage before you get started.
The good thing about using a template-driven, DIY solution is that it saves you money because you won't ordinarily need to hire a designer (although for an additional fee, Wix and SquareSpace can connect you with a professional designer to help you out). The bad news is that the DIY option might take you more time to figure things out, time that is costing you money. As I said earlier: If an hour of your time is worth more than an hour of someone who could design a website for you and you can afford to pay someone to do the work, hiring someone will save you time, money, and frustration.
Hiring someone to design and build your website for you is where the inverse proportionality of money and time come into play. I first learned about the time vs money issue from Roy Williams, aka, The Wizard of Ads. It was Roy’s wife Pennie who came up with the idea that time and money are inversely proportional: you can save a lot of one by spending a lot of the other.
So on the point of DIY design versus paying a designer to create your website for you, it’s crucial to understand your value weighed against your ability to invest your time or your money to solve the problem.
Your value depends on how much an hour, a day, or a week of your business time is worth to you in terms of lost revenue compared to the amount of money it would cost to hire someone to build your website for you.
If you bill your clients or customers $100 an hour and a web designer charges $65 per hour for their services, is it really worth your time and lost revenue to design a website yourself if doing so cost you ten lost hours and the potential loss of $1,000 if a web designer can do the same work in the same time for $650 and you have the budget? I don’t think so. The choice though must be yours.
If you’re going to hire someone to do the work for you, it’s worth investing time to find someone you like, trust, and believe in who can also deliver the goods and who also understands the basics of your business.
This person needs to understand marketing and design, they need to understand that websites need to appeal to people as well as to search engines, and they need to understand that as well as looking good, your website’s role is also to build confidence, trust, and belief in the minds of customers about whatever it is that you do, make, offer, sell, or provide.
Whoever this designer is, they need to be willing to learn about you and your business and what you need, and they need to be capable of taking themselves out of the picture as the designer, meaning, they need to understand that they work for you, not the other way around.
If you can find someone like this and you’ve got the budget, go for it.
Just be aware that unless you also have administrative access to the back-end of your site and you’re confident enough to make simple changes without too much hand-holding (so you can make updates on your terms) you’re probably going to be dependent on your web designer for every page design and change, and for housekeeping tasks such as software updates, security upgrades, domain registration and upkeep, and the like. Fortunately, many website designers offer a maintenance service that takes care of all these things for a small for monthly fee. If your designer offers this service it's worth paying for because otherwise, every update, tweak, and change will require you emailing or calling someone and have you depending on them to make the update or change based on their schedule rather than on yours.
While paying someone to build a basic website can be expensive, it might be the best solution for you if you can afford the expense.
Depending on the kind of site you need (one page may be enough for you to begin with) website design can cost anywhere from a few hundred to several thousand dollars/pounds/euros (and often much more), with monthly service fees coming in between $25 and several hundred dollars a month.
This is a great option as long as you have the budget and that you understand what you’re getting yourself into.
To find a reliable, capable, knowledgeable website designer in your area, ask other business owners who they use and recommend, or search in business networking groups and in social media groups.
Don’t be afraid to interview as many website designers as you need to until you find someone you like and think you can work with comfortably.
Be clear upfront (and throughout the process) on all terms and on things like copyrights; back-end access; updates; errors and omissions (ultimately, you need to be the one signing off on all page content), along with all relevant terms and conditions, must-haves, don’t-wants, don’t-needs, expectations, accountability, and payment options.
If you are going to work with a website designer, be clear on your expectations and comfort levels, don't be shy about grilling them on their skills and limitations, and be clearer still on timelines, costs (upfront, month-to-month, maintenance, visible and invisible), all responsibilities (yours and theirs), all site access and updates, and on all deadlines.
And never—ever—work with a web designer (or with any vendor come to think of it) without a written, signed, and dated contract, the terms of which you both clearly understand and fully agree to in hand before any work is done and before any payments are made. A verbal contract isn’t worth the paper it’s written on.
If on the other hand you feel confident enough to take on the project yourself there are any number of software packages you can use to build a simple website (or even complex) site, all of which have their pros and cons to one degree or another.
The 900 lb. gorilla of them all is a self-hosted WordPress solution, which, combined with a great-looking template is a fantastic platform to build a small business website on. Self-hosted means you need to find a hosting company (which provides a server that your site can sit on), and a domain name.
Many hosting companies these days offer a one-click installation for WordPress (which you will need to download from WordPress.org), or you could go through WordPress.com, which is its own website builder.
If you don’t want to set up your own site hosting and you want to use WordPress for your site, go to WordPress.com and follow the sign up prompts.
A premium WordPress.com site currently costs less than $10 USD a month. A basic account is free, personal accounts are $4 a month, business accounts are $25 a month, and an e-commerce version costs $45 a month. Learn more at https://wordpress.com/pricing/
WordPress’s scope is impressive, its open-source nature means there are tens of thousands of user-generated plug-ins, widgets, and templates, and, as if that wasn’t enough, there are some wonderful, real-time, front-end, WYSIWYG (what-you-see-is-what-you-get) website builders you can use with the WordPress framework to help you build out the site you want.
WordPress is a CMS (content management system) that gives you the ability to create standalone landing pages, full websites with a limitless number of pages, full scale article pages, and a post-based blog, all under one domain name.
My website is based on WordPress.org and is self-hosted through a company called In-Motion.
As fabulous as WordPress is, there can be something of a learning curve for the complete novice. There are lots of online tutorials available and lots of support, so the platform isn’t completely daunting. I do though think it’s good to know what you’re getting yourself into before you commit.
I use a site building plugin for WordPress called Architect from Thrive Themes. After playing with several website builders within WordPress I settled on Architect because of its flexibility.
While WordPress as a whole isn't without its stumbling blocks in terms of getting used to the way things work, with a series of simple saved templates I can now build out pages that each have a consistent look and feel without too much additional work.
In multiple online forums where the question of which platform to build a DIY website on comes up, responses that simply say “This platform!” (before going on to name WordPress, Wix, or whatever) without giving any context or explanation—these kinds of responses don’t help anyone because they don’t fully explain why any given platform is necessarily better than any other.
Instead, they assume the platform in question is super easy to use, which often isn’t the case, and these kinds of responses certainly don’t help the complete novice.
I am not disputing that WordPress is a great platform to build a website on. However, and even with my graphic design background, until I found Thrive Architect and became familiar with tweaking it to meet my needs, personally I found WordPress to be more complicated than it needs to be and at times it’s struck me as being downright frustrating to use.
Thankfully, WordPress is much easier to use these days than it was when I first started using it in 2008, but without a front-end design view (which is what Thrive Architect does, which means I can see what the pages will look like as I’m creating and working on them), for the complete novice, WordPress can be confusing and annoying.
Knowing what I know now, and given how non-WordPress site building platforms have progressed and improved in recent years, if I was starting again from scratch today, I’d opt for a simpler set up with a wide range of east-to-adapt templates.
In terms of saving time and facing a shallower learning curve, a platform with a more intuitive user interface may be a wiser option.
If I had limited to moderate technical skills and I had to start building a website today from scratch I’d probably shy away from WordPress and go with one of the solutions from Wix, Weebly, or SquareSpace instead.
If you can select, copy, and paste, and if you can point and click a mouse and use a search engine and find and download images, and if you have a credit card and don’t want to hire someone to build a website for you, Wix, Weebly, or SquareSpace are all be good solutions.
The scope, ease-of-use, template range, and flexibility of Wix, Weebly, or SquareSpace as all-in-one platforms have all improved dramatically in recent years making them all sound contenders if you’re going to build a site on your own. Right now my top pick from the three is Wix.
A Wix personal site currently costs $13 a month, with its VIP, Pro, and Unlimited levels starting at $39, $22, and $17 a month respectively. The email solution for Wix is provided separately through G-Suite through Google Cloud for an additional, though modest monthly fee.
Because Wix membership includes a domain name, the email option gives you mailbox capability through your domain name rather than through GMail, with access through desktop and mobile applications, along with 30Gb of storage space and host of extras, all included in the price.
To decide which DIY platform may be the best option for you, WordPress.com, Wix, Weebly, and SquareSpace all offer free trials (some of which may have limited functionality) through which you can kick the tyres and test things out.
Ultimately though the choice of working with a designer or doing things yourself must be your choice.
Setting up a website is relatively easy, it’s fun, and, once the site is up and running, it’s your little piece of virtual real estate through which you can potentially reach millions of people.
Even though the internet is a big place, there’s no reason why your business shouldn’t be visible online, and creating a website of your own can be a fun and rewarding exercise.
About Gary Bloomer
Gary Bloomer is originally from the UK. These days he lives just outside Philadelphia. Since 2009, he's answered over 5,000 marketing, branding, and social media strategy questions from small business owners from all over the world on the Know-How Exchange of MarketingProfs.com. His website is a love letter to the world of small business marketing.
To learn more or to get in touch, read the About page.
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