Just a few years ago, if you wanted to create a website, you either had to pay through the nose for a web design company to do it for you… or try and design it yourself. Back then, designing a simple DIY site meant learning HTML.
That leaves you with more time to focus on the look, feel and graphical elements of the site, as well as adding content and marketing it.
Buy a domain name. There’s no use putting the cart before the horse. You need a domain name (unique website address) for your finished website to work online, so picking out and buying a domain name should be tops on your to-do list.
If you don’t know anything about domain names, spend a few minutes and read this domain name tutorial. If you’ve already got a domain name in mind, then go to How to Buy a Domain Name to find out how to pick the best available name.
Establish your website marketing plan. Even if you are not planning to sell a single product or service, you’re launching a website for a reason and that means you have to have a game plan.
Do you want a static online business card, a one-page sales letter or a way to generate a mailing list? Do you want to sell products online? How about a content site with articles and tutorials? The list is endless, but the structure, theme, size and type of coding to use should be centered around what you want to accomplish with your website.
Visit existing sites similar to your ideas. If this is your first attempt at creating a website, then researching sites similar to what your design concept is will give you some good ideas. Make a list of what you like and dislike about the sites you visit and use the list to avoid the pitfalls of designing your website.
Make a model (storyboard) of your site. Now plan the layout of your website’s main pages and outline how you want your visitors to navigate through it. A storyboard is merely a system of placing scrapes of paper on a large bulletin board that depicts the proposed pages of your site.
Use the research you uncovered when you visited the websites that are similar to yours if you get stuck. Be sure to plan your navigation menu for expansion of your site’s scope and content.
Get the tools needed to build your website. This will probably be the time to buy your website building software. Adobe’s Dreamweaver is considered more of a commercial/professional product and carries a hefty price tag and a learning curve that goes along with it. You have to seriously examine your long-term commitment to owning/operating a website before making a $400 software investment.
There are some really good budget-conscious WYSIWIG website creating programs available online. I use EZGenerator website building software, but CoffeCup is also a good product. Microsoft Front Page has been around for quite a while and offers a lot of features, but make sure your hosting company supports Microsoft Front Page extensions.
Another popular choice, especially if you don’t know anything about developing content, search engines or site promotion -- and the idea of an all-in-one solution makes sense to you -- is Site Build It. Along with the free business and promotion tools, Site Build It will also host the site for you.
Whichever program you choose, be prepared for a little bit of a learning curve when using the software and tools for the first time. There is a lot of free information online and within these programs to help you get started and take advantage of all their features.
Of course, you can learn HTML coding or just invest in HTML editor software sans all the bells and whistles like Macromedia’s Homesite, but doing most of the heavy lifting of coding your website is better left to software that does most of it for you. A WYSIWIG editor is highly recommended.
Finally, if you’re a masochist and a real piker when it comes to spending money, you can make a go of it from scratch using some of the many Free Online Web Design - HTML & Graphics Tools available online.
Get your web hosting account. A web hosting account is merely the rental of hard disk space on a server where you upload your website’s files so they can be displayed on the Internet in a web browser.
Many tutorials say to get a hosting account right after the domain name. I disagree with this, especially if you haven’t laid out your plan for how your website will function.
If your site is coded in PHP, you need a server that runs PHP software. If your site is coded in ASP, you’ll need a Windows-enabled server.
Along with choosing the right type of hosting company, I suggest opening a starter account that’s easily upgradeable if your site/business grows. If there’s a good chance you might be launching multiple websites, be sure the company allows multiple domain hosting. All that means is that you can host two or more websites in the same account.
You can get more information about the types of web hosting in this web hosting tutorial.
Start actually building your website. Find out where and how to use free online webmaster tools. This includes image editors, HTML code generators and flash generators. Finding and using these tools along with your site building software will allow you to add some of the latest web design features and make it more interactive
I’d also suggest signing up with a couple of the many royalty-free photo websites like iStockPhoto.com or 123rf.com if you plan on having third party images on your site.
Royalty-free images for web page run about one or two dollars a pop. Much cheaper than getting hit with copyright infringements.
Publish your website to the Internet. Publishing your website is the same thing as launching it. Most of the software programs mentioned in the software tools section of this article have a self-publishing interface built right into the software. Just punch your web hosting account login information into the settings and the software will drop all the files in the correct folders up at the server.
If you built your site from scratch or by using an HTML-only editor, then you’ll need to FTP the website documents up to the server by hand. Well, it’s not really by hand, but you’ll need an FTP software client on your desktop to transfer the file/folders up to the server.
Either way, if you’ve got all the folders and files in the right places, just punch your URL into a web browser and Voila!! You have just created and published your first website.
Rick Contrata is a Certified SEO Professional, owns a domain registration website and owns or markets a number of other sites and businesses.