Building a new website that can make money isn’t easy for beginners. Internet entrepreneur and web publisher, Shilpa Ahuja, discusses 15 steps to build a website from scratch, with every detail you need to know.
A website has become a basic necessity for every business and brand these days. For many businesses, a website is their main storefront or face through which they make the first impression on their customers.
From NGOs to magazines to stores to celebrities, everyone needs a website. So it’s hardly surprising that while it’s easy to make a website (because everyone’s doing it), it’s not easy to make a great website (because you’re up against tons of competition).
Good news is that if you make a great website, all your hard work will really pay off. A great website will not only help you sell your product or service, it’ll make your brand name popular. And it’ll actually grow your brand to be what you hadn’t even imagined!
15 Steps to Building a Great Business Website from Scratch
As the founder of a digital media company, building websites is my daily job. By that, I don’t mean I build a website every day, but that I build websites that I actually care about. I put years of my work in each of them and that’s why it shows. That’s why they rank, and they attract employees and clients.
So many of my friends show me their websites for review, and I’ve seen many mistakes beginners make. Don’t worry, all of them are easily fixable. So today, I’ll try to put all my knowledge from 7 years of experience into a guide on how to build a website from scratch.
1. Plan Your Website – Purpose, Audience & Competition
Set your website’s goal
The very first step is to be completely clear on why you want to build a website. The goal should be clear, like selling a product, promoting an online or offline business, building your personal brand, creating a blog, etc. It’s ideal to have just one main objective, and not try to do everything in the same website. One priority will help you have a focused approach, rank better and even measure your ROI easily.
Do a consumer analysis
Another main thing while you plan is to do a thorough consumer analysis. Who do you want to build a website for, and are you understanding and fulfilling their needs properly through your site? Here are the 3 main things you need to know about the audience:
- Demographics: Age group, gender, location(s)
- Interests: What products and services they use, their online consumption and shopping habits, their influencers, lifestyle, priorities, etc.
- Approach: How will they discover your website (social media, word of mouth, online ads or organic search)
Again, try to be as focused as possible – don’t try to make it for ‘everyone’. The best idea is to make a chart of all these points by talking to some of the people in your target group (TG) and doing online research.
Do a competitive analysis
The third step in your planning is competitive analysis. See other websites of your competing businesses or those in your niche. Find common things among them – you may or may not want to do it their way, but you should know what your TG expects when they visit a website in your niche.
Try to get an idea of the content, sections & at least a basic feel you want. The most important thing to understand here is how you want your website to stand out & differentiate. Is there a market gap you can fill?
2. Get a Domain Name
A domain name is the URL address of your website. It is a very important decision, as it will become the name of your site, and your business’s online presence. So think about it carefully before you settle down on it. It should give the customers a clear idea about your business, and the product or service you’re selling.
The main problem you’ll face is that with countless websites already in existence, it’s almost impossible to find the name you initially plan for. You can check available domain names on a website like Godaddy or Google Domains.
Here are the basic criteria you should keep in mind while looking for your domain name. It should be:
- Descriptive – it should let the audience know what your website is about.
- Short – ideally one or two words, and 9 letters.
- A .com, which is the easiest to remember and also the default for browsers.
- Without hyphens or dots in between the name.
- Easy to remember and catchy – you should be able to tell it to customers without struggling.
- Hopefully not difficult to spell – you should not have to clarify the spelling again and again to customers. It should ideally not seem like a typo or ‘wannabe’ spelling. Although a deliberate alteration of spelling may be okay as long as it’s catchy and meaningful.
- Unique. Do a google search for the name you’ve selected before purchasing it, to see what search results you’ll be up against, as it’ll become your brand name.
- Be available in social media too – most likely you’ll want the exact same name as your social media handles on all major platforms, so it’s a good thing to check if they’re available.
3. Get a Hosting Plan
A hosting server is where all your website’s files, like HTML codes, scripts, images and content will be stored. The server ensures it is able to be seen on a browser, so it should be a good server, and fast.
Some of the websites to check out for the best hosting plans are Godaddy, Cloudways, Blue Host, and InMotion. A basic plan should cost you anywhere between ₹ 250 to 1000 per month, depending on the server specs, speed, support and other services included. It may even include a free domain name and email. It’s easy, although slightly time consuming, to switch servers, so it’s okay to start with whatever suits you first.
Even though you may want to purchase a pro and expensive plan straightaway, I would recommend starting with a basic hosting plan when you first build a website. Websites generally don’t attract much traffic in their initial months. Even if your content is ready, and even if you have a marketing budget, it still takes time (a couple of months at least) for pages to rank or for word of mouth to spread.
You can also familiarize yourself the difference between hosting companies; some are resellers (like Cloudways) & some are server Infrastructures (like Amazon Cloud, Google Cloud, Blue Ocean).
4. Install WordPress or Other CMS
Content management system (CMS) is what helps you manage your website’s files on the server easily. WordPress is the most common and my personal recommendation, although there are others like Wix, Squarespace, Joomla, Drupal, etc.
WordPress, for example, provides an interface where you can build blog posts and pages on a website, upload images and create login accounts for users. Usually, your hosting company will be able to install WordPress for you, although you can easily do it yourself with a simple tutorial.
5. Install Protection
Before you even make your homepage, it’s a good idea to secure your website and get the boring tasks out of the way. You’ll need 8 protection tools on when you build a website:
- A backup plan – backups help you keep a copy of all your content and code in a place online or offline so that you can reinstate your whole website or part of it in case it goes down or gets hacked. Your hosting plan may come with a free or paid backup manager, or you’ll need to learn to do it manually. It’s best to take a backup monthly, although when you have more content, you’ll need more frequent backups.
- SSL – an SSL certificate authenticates your website’s identity and gives your URL “https” instead of “http”. Most hosting plans these days come with free SSL, however it’s good to confirm.
- Firewall protection – firewall helps protect your website against unusually high bot traffic, hacks and other unwanted attacks. You can get a firewall installed on WordPress through a plugin like All in One or Wordfence.
- Caching – caching keeps your website’s visited pages on people’s browsers so that it can show up easily next time, and still show in case the site is down. You can get a caching plugin on WordPress too, like W3 Total Cache, WP Rocket or WP Super Cache. A secure admin login – your website’s main user is the admin, and it has the power to change or insert code. So keep it secure against bots and hackers. The basic thing to do is to use a secure password (mix of small and CAPS letters, numerals and special characters) and a not-obvious username.
- 2FA – 2 Factor Authentication gives you a 6 digit code on your mobile to build an extra layer of protection on your login. You can use the Google Authenticator or similar app for this.
- Comment spam protection – Apparently, people love to spam websites’ pages and posts with comments promoting their own websites and products. A spam filter plugin like Akismet or AntiSpam can remove bad comments automatically.
- CDN – CDN or content delivery network helps store your content on different servers located around the world so that your pages load faster everywhere. There are paid services available for high-traffic websites. However, in the beginning you can sign up for a free CDN service, such as Cloudflare.
- While you’re installing these tools, beware of some free services or plugins that can sometimes do more harm than good. They may ruin your code, slow it down, bring a virus or even make your site down. So make sure to always read reviews and test plugins before activating them.
- Be sure to update the plugins manually. Keep a track of new plugins and code you insert, so that you’re aware of what caused incompatibility issues, if and when they crop up.
- Update plugins regularly, as outdated ones are susceptible to hackers.
6. Add a WordPress Theme or Basic Layout
Now that you have a secure website structure you can log into, it’s time to get a layout before you put in your content. If you’re using WordPress, you can choose from amongst countless free and paid themes for every need, from e-commerce stores to portfolio websites to blogs and more.
You can simply start with a basic theme and then change it in a couple of months when you have more content, as the layout will properly show only then. Try simple themes like twenty twenty-two, Attar or Intergalactic 2. But of course, it’s worth trying out more, as there’s one for every need.
Once your site starts getting more traffic, it’s worth checking out paid themes. One good place to check out themes is ThemeForest. Paid themes generally provide lots of built-in options like designer templates that are ready-to-use, page builders and content blocks. You can also go for more high-performance fast themes like WP-Astra or GeneratePress that are more advanced and require more customization.
7. Put in Your Basic Content
It’s finally time to put in your website’s content and make the main pages. Don’t overwhelm yourself by sitting for hours at a stretch and trying to build a website in one go. It can’t be built overnight, so go slow and let it grow organically. Start with the following main 4-6 pages and sections:
- Homepage – this will contain your website’s name, tagline, details about your company and links to anything important.
- Contact page – this can contain your email address or contact form, business address and phone number, business hours and directions, or even a map.
- About page – this page should have the main info about your company, what you do and why.
- Team page – this can be included within the about page, and have a short bio about you and your team.
- Sections/categories – main sections of your website.
- Blog page – if you have a blog, you can put in your first blog post here, and give it a name.
- Shop page – if you have a store, include the basic info like product categories, etc.
- Header – this is the bar at the top of the website, which has the top menu that links to the different pages, categories, search bar, etc.
- Footer – this will have links to your main sections, blog page, social media profiles and/or contact info.
Look at the competition & similar websites to get a basic idea of what important content you need. The content should be 100% unique and not copied, so your site can rank.
8. Design Your Site
Here comes the fun part. You now need to design the look of your site. Here are the main things to do:
- Colors – pick a light background color, a dark text color and another dark accent color (for links, etc.) The whole website should have only 2-4 total colors in its main design.
- Fonts – again the website should have no more than 2-3 total fonts. You should pick one main font for titles, and another for the text. Another can be accent font, which is optional. Your site’s logo may be in one of these fonts, too.
- Accessibility – it’s important that everyone can view your website’s content easily. So pick a high contrast color scheme (like black text on white), a large enough font size for easy readability. Some website themes also have a built-in night mode, which you can explore. It should also have easy navigation in the top header and at the bottom, in the footer.
- UX – the user experience is very important when you build a website and should be given a lot of thought to. Plan the content keeping in mind visual hierarchy. The most important content, like the title of the page, should be at the top and large. Important content should be placed above the fold. Above-the-fold area is the screen space which the user can access without having to scroll down. Ads should not be obtrusive and annoying, if and when you put them in later.
- Menu – the menu can be designed using the accent color, and be sure to check it both on mobile and laptop (even tablet) so that it looks okay everywhere.
- CSS – you can use CSS (cascading style sheets) to add fun design elements, like the links can be underlined when rolled over with a mouse. Or a heading can showcase larger on desktop and smaller on mobile so that words don’t break.
9. Add Graphics
Making a website seem interesting and cool has mostly to do with graphics. Good visuals can help with branding and digital marketing. These can be blog post images, team or office pictures, logo, custom favicon, banners or background images, etc. Let’s discuss them in detail:
- Design a logo – Your logo should be simple, unique yet memorable, as it visually represents your company or product. You should have 3 versions of it – a square version for social media, a rectangular version for top menu and a dark background version for night mode or dark backgrounds.
- Add a homepage banner – this can be just your logo and tagline, or it can be a strong, bold image.
- Add content & other graphics – these can include your product images, your behind-the-scenes or factory/warehouse or studio images, your promotional material or posters.
- Team or office photo – these can be added in the about page
- Banners – you can make banners for each main page. These will include an image or background with main headings of main category pages like e-commerce store, blog, etc.
10. Make Your Website Legit
In today’s oversaturated market, there are countless websites available for nearly every type of business or for every niche. That’s why your website needs to stand out. One of the best ways to make it stand out is by making it seem authentic or genuine. You may already realize that some websites you’ve visited in the past seem very spammy, while others seem totally legit.
There are certain features you can use to make your audience feel they are actually connected to you and you’re a real business with real people they can meet. So here are some of the must-have basic features in a website to increase its authenticity:
- Help page – this can contain links to the contact page, about page, FAQs and search bar.
- Full address & contact info – Visitors trust a website if you’ve given your actual email address and/or address, instead of a contact form.
- Team members’ list & info – The full names and a short bio of each team member or key members is a great idea. The bio should talk about their role in the business and why they’re qualified for it.
- Team photo
- Footer links – I’ve already mentioned this in #7 above.
- Social media handles – you can include links to the socials, your latest Instagram images, or a Twitter feed, etc.
11. Add SEO Monitoring Tools
SEO or search engine optimization is the process of making your content easy to read for search engines like Google that can help it rank better. SEO is the best way to increase your organic traffic and grow your business. It can help you build a website that makes money; and build a brand online. So here are the 3 SEO monitoring tools I recommend that every website needs:
- An SEO plugin – a WordPress plugin like Yoast SEO or Rank Math can give you helpful tips to optimize your content. The most important thing to remember is that you’re still creating content for your readers, not for a search engine bot. You’re just making it easier for the bot to understand it, that’s all. You should also take some latest SEO tutorials to understand how all this works and how to make the best of it.
- Google analytics – this is a free platform you can sign up for, which provides insights about your website traffic, like audience demographics, page views, page speed, etc. It’s also helpful to learn some of the terms used in it that can help you improve your website like page load time, bounce rate, etc. It is totally necessary.
- Google webmaster – another tool by Google, this helps you easily submit your website’s pages to Google for ranking, and track the indexing, rankings, keywords, links to your website, etc. So helpful and important.
12. Keep Building the Content
Of course, your website isn’t going to rank on Google or any other search engine if you just have the main pages. Larger websites have a better chance of ranking and getting traffic. So keep building pages, blog posts or whatever it is your site needs, bit by bit & keep improving the design over the next 2-4 months.
13. Add Google Ads
If your site is content based and you want to monetize it, start by signing up for Google ads. The approval process needs your website to be ready and already have some content and pages. The pages should not be empty and the content should be unique. So this is the time to do it, now that you’ve built some content.
Later on, you can also try other ad platforms, and once your website grows, ad agencies or brands may want to collaborate with you or place ads on your site directly too. Although Google ads is currently everyone’s go-to place.
14. Make It Fast
The best way to improve user experience (UX) is to have a website that has no down time, high speed and is well-designed. We’ve already discussed a good server hosting plan that’ll minimize your down time; and the design of the site. So now you need to work on your site speed.
The key to minimizing page load time is to keep monitoring it on a platform like GTmetrix, Tools.Pingdom. Here are some factors that help keep page load time low:
- Less images – while you need good images when you build a website, don’t overload them.
- Optimized images – keep them lightweight so they load faster.
- Caching – use a caching plugin (I’ve already explained it in #5 above).
- Minify CSS & Java Script (JS), etc. – Usually when you build a website, there’s a lot of extra code that gets added through themes and plugins. Be sure to remove unnecessary items. And if you’re writing code yourself, avoid extra lines and keep it clean. A speed improvement plugin like W3 Total Cache or WP Super Cache can help with this too.
15. Make It Rank
It may seem that you’ve done all this work and now your website should already be ranking on Google. However, it’s still possible that your new website doesn’t get much traffic and doesn’t rank at all. And the simple reason is that you may not be catering to the right keywords in the right way. So go back to your website’s goal we discussed in point #1 above (see, we’ve come a full circle). Are you fulfilling your customer’s need accurately?
Think about what your potential customers are searching for, what keywords you want to rank for, and then search those to see what’s already there and why that’s better than your solution. Simply understand your customers’ intent when they search for a keyword, and make sure your pages answer that question, or provide them an exact solution.
Keep working on you SEO, observe competition and make a list of target keywords. Then keep improving your content through your learnings. Making the site legit, your content unique & helpful are the things that’ll help you rank. Also, older websites tend to rank better, so let your site “bake”. And while you wait, keep doing more awesome work as it’ll pay off sooner or later.
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