“How do you eat an elephant?
…One bite at a time.”

It can be intimidating to start your own website. Where do you begin? There are a lot of elements to consider but when you break it down and approach each item individually you’ll be up and running in no time!

Before I got into website design I didn’t understand how it worked. The internet seemed like a magical encyclopedia of information and images. How did it work, this magical entity? How can you possibly set up and control your own information and images from your own computer at your desk for everyone in the world to access at any time? How can the world still see the information from my computer when I turn my computer off? It’s not magic – it’s very simple, really.

The internet functions as a web of connected servers, each passing information along until it arrives at your computer or device. Your website data and images are located on a server which is always on, always passing information to other servers. When you make changes to your website, you login to that server, change the data or images, and that updated information is then passed on through the web. Your site has a designated address, your unique domain name assigned only to you. That domain name is assigned to a server of your choice, a host for your site where all of your website files are located.

It all starts with you. Below you will find 5 steps that are required to build your site. You are not alone – your web designer should be able to help out with any of these items upon request.
1. Domain Name
2. Hosting
3. Content Preparation
4. Implementation
5. Publicity

Your domain name is a unique address, registered only to you. It should be short, relatively simple, and relate to your business. When choosing a domain name be sure to write it down, all lower case with no spaces, so that you can be sure there are no surprises later. For example, “Sno Trips” is a fine company name for a winter guide business but as a url it can take on a different meaning, “snotrips.com” it’s all about the space, or lack thereof. Try different variations and come up with a shortlist of 3-5 potential names, in case your favorite is already registered by someone else.

There are many places you can register your domain name online. GoDaddy.com is very reasonable when it comes to pricing but be aware of their checkout process – it can be confusing as they try to sell you upgrades and extras that you don’t necessarily need. Domains are registered in year increments – it is not a one-time, forever fee. You will have to renew your domain registration down the road if you want to keep using it.

Your web host is the company that provides space on their server for your website from which everyone in the world can access it. In addition to web space, you are also paying for bandwidth (data transfer from the server to the world) and other features that your host may offer as a part of their hosting package. Keep in mind that your registrar does not have to be the same as your site host. When you register your domain name with a company it does not bind you to them for hosting your site although they may give you a good package deal for domain registration + hosting.

The most important (and sometimes the most intimidating) element of your new site is content. Make it interesting and useful. I talked about this in a post called Engage Yourself, Engage Your Visitors. You are the expert when it comes to your business – take an active role in how it is portrayed on the internet. Take a look at your competitor’s websites as well as any other sites you admire. Note the design, navigation, and content elements you like from those sites and consider how you can incorporate them into your own unique company website.

What colors do you want to use? Do you want to include a blog on your site? What elements should be highlighted in a sidebar or footer area? Do you want photos in the sidebar, or a photo gallery page to display your work? Do you want to offer an email newsletter your visitors can sign up to receive? Do you want to have a calendar of company-related events on your site? If you think you want these things, be sure you have the content to back them up – why have a calendar if you don’t have any events to list?

Start with a basic outline/list of the pages you want on your site. From there you can start filling in content for each item on the list. Brief is best – if there is too much information on a page your visitor will move on.

Here is a very basic sample site outline to start from:
– Home
– About Us
– Services
– Testimonials
– Contact Us

Write the page content for each item on the outline, referencing photos or graphics you’d like to use. This will save you money by saving your web designer time when building the site. Remember, the more organized you are, the less time it will take and the less it will cost you. Time spent by your web designer researching your business and creating content is money spent by you.

Go to a web designer with experience. Choosing to use your neighbor’s cousin’s boyfriend who will do it for $100 may not be the best decision in the long run. Will you be able to find him when you need to make that emergency adjustment to the site in a month or will he be pursuing his career as a sandwich artist by then?

Your designer should be able to take your content and the list of elements you’ve noted from other sites to create an original website that will help sell your company. The more direction you can provide regarding your needs and goals related to your new website, the happier you will be with the outcome. If you ask your designer to “just come up with something you think would work,” it will take much longer to arrive at a final product you are truly satisfied with – you’ll end up telling them what you don’t like each step of the way, which can take forever!

The site is done but no one knows about it. In most cases, visitors won’t flock to your site simply because it’s there. You have to let them know about it!

Take an active role by getting on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, YouTube, and other social networking sites. Make sure there are links on your site to “follow me on Facebook,” “check out our YouTube channel,” etc. Make frequent (but not annoyingly frequent) posts that link back to your website. If you don’t think you have time to participate in social networking sites, assign someone in your company to do it. It is an essential part of getting your business out there.

Offer an email newsletter via an online sign-up on your website. Constant Contact is a great e-newsletter service that is fun and easy to use. They have wonderful tips that help you succeed and they offer plugins that work in conjunction with your website, making it easy to manage mailing lists and collect new sign-ups.

Talk about your new site. Make sure the address is on everything you have printed. Make your site informative, current, and useful so that your visitors will return over and over to see what’s new. 5 steps… and you’re off!