Arguably, the first thing you’ll need for your business is a website. Nowadays, there are free options, but you get what you pay for. You can hire a designer and a new website can set you back thousands, even tens of thousands of dollars. Today, I’ll show you what I do for most projects, and even if you have no clue how to code, I’ll show you how to launch and create a website under $100… and yes that includes marketing because Google, Facebook and Twitter often have vouchers for free advertising. But before we delve into the guide, please take the time to read these next few paragraphs as I help you determine what you need. Not every business is alike, and starting a website with the wrong technology can cost you a lot of money in the long run. I’ve used a lot of different technologies for creating websites, and studied graphic and web design since college. But this won’t be any sort of a veiled pitch for my services, as a matter of fact, I’m going to tell you that if you’re starting a business, spending thousands of dollars on a new website is one of the biggest mistakes you can make. But before designers and developers alike start roasting me in the comments, let me explain:
- I’ve worked with a lot of businesses and I think some mistakenly believe that “If you build it, they will come.” And that couldn’t be any further from the truth. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the art of increasing a websites position in organic search results. Web design and SEO are two completely different arts – and seldom do individuals, or even companies master both. And that’s just one source of traffic.
- Optimize for conversions. From an ROI perspective, there isn’t much of a difference between a $500 website, and a $500,000 website. Amazon.com converts right around 5-6%, a little above the average conversion rate for eCommerce (3%), I could launch a website in a razor concise niche with an eCommerce platform like Shopify, and get a conversion rate of at least 5%, even higher depending on where I get my traffic from.
- In the “Lean Startup” world, the idea of the Minimum Viable Product (MVP) came about as a means to test your idea to prove that it’s viable before plunking down money developing a business. Some of the most popular websites today were hideous when they first launched. Take a look at Facebook:
See other examples on BusinessInsider’s post on “What 14 Popular Websites Use to Look Like.”
So I should launch an ugly website?
Of course not! Keep in mind that most, if not all of the companies listed in the BusinessInsider post were created by programmers (back-end web development), not designers (front-end web development). Technology startups have different requirements than most businesses, and as such are often built from the ground up. But most businesses don’t need that, as a matter of fact, more businesses today are choosing WordPress. Matt Mullenweg recently stated at a conference that WordPress powers 18.9% of the web. Even the NYTimes, Forbes, and CNN use WordPress.
What was considered a blogging platform, WordPress has now expanded into being able to launch websites for portfolios, small business, corporations and even eCommerce. As such, that’s my primary recommendation to anyone who needs to create a website. Keep in mind that I’m referring to the open source WordPress.org and not WordPress.com (self hosted with limitations).
Pros and Cons of Wordpress as your CMS
- Plugins – Need social sharing buttons for your posts? No problem, there is a plugin for that (dozens, actually!). Need help with the technical side of SEO? There are plugins for that. Need to backup your website? No problem, a plugin will do that automatically. The open sourced WordPress has attracted many developers to create and submit plugins that help fellow webmasters, so that if you need a function/feature, chances are you don’t need to hire someone ($$$) to build it for you.
- Easy to use dashboard, even if you’re non-technical – Here’s a screenshot of my WordPress dashboard as I write this post, it literally has access to everything you need, whether you want to add a new post, picture, sift through comments, etc. The visual editor within posts is awesome and everything is Apple-esque in the sense that it is very intuitive.
- WordPress Limitations – WordPress is perfect for displaying information, which covers a wide range of businesses. And while WordPress offers a myriad of customization options, you’re still based on their framework and that does come with limitations. If your a tech startup you might want to look for programmers. A good way to help you decide is too see what your competitors are using with a tool like BuiltWith.com.
- Dealing with WordPress Updates – WordPress is consistently upgraded which requires plugins and themes to be updated accordingly. Sometimes making sure everything works with the latest version of WordPress can be a pain, but as long as you make sure everything is backed up you should be OK. I’d also purchase a theme for a reputable developer (examples later) that has a history of keeping their themes up-to-date.
At this point, this post will focus on WordPress, which is what I use for most projects. If you’re thinking you’re more of a startup and/or want more flexibility that WordPress allows, checkout our post on How to Hire Freelancers Online without Losing Your Sanity where I show you how I’ve hired programmers in the past… and if you’re pre-launch you can use LaunchRock to get a landing page up that can help collect email addresses for your launch.
10 Steps to Making a New Website (Without Any Knowledge of Code)
If you have your website’s copywriting and logo good to go, this entire process could take you less than an hour. If you don’t have a logo, we’ve highly recommended 99designs in the past.
I consider 1-3 impossible to screw up, from there if you want you could just hire someone to do the rest – which a basic install with your logo and text shouldn’t cost more than $100.
If you struggle somewhere along the way, just post a comment below and I’ll help you along. Or feel free to contact me directly and I’ll do it for $100.
1. Buy Your Domain (~$13). Stick with a popular registrar, I use GoDaddy because they’re the cheapest and I’ve had zero problems with them. If you do use GoDaddy, skip all the extras and upgrades that they offer, you don’t need them.
2. Buy Web Hosting (~$4+/mo). Don’t put all your eggs in one basket… meaning don’t buy your hosting from the same place you bought your domain. There are a lot of bad hosts out there, your website is your business and you don’t want any unannounced downtime. I use Hostgator, they promise a 99.9% uptime and with the five years I’ve been with them, I think I’ve only had one prolonged downtime (~5 hours) when something happened (hurricane?) to their primary data center. Plus they have an online chat that I use whenever I have problems – something I wish every company has! I hate having to call in for support.
I have had problems with other hosts. Whoever you decide to host with, use a free tool like Pingdom to monitor downtime for the first month. If your website goes down for more than 5 minutes twice, I’d switch hosts. Because chances are that particular they put you on sucks. And with shared hosting, it happens. You could jump up to dedicated hosting, but I don’t think it’s necessary unless you’re over 100k/mo.
3. Buy Your WordPress Theme (~$25-55). Here’s the fun part, browse the ThemeForest WordPress Marketplace for a website that you love. Every website is customizable and most come with page builders to customize each page to your liking. I’d start with themes with good reviews, then double check the comment and support threads to see if the developers are responsive.
Note: If you will be using WordPress, make sure you’re looking under the WordPress themes section. Otherwise, pick the appropriate theme for your CMS.
You can find free themes on the internet if you just search “Free WordPress Themes,” but they’re often limited and they’re seldom updated. WordPress updates every few months, and if your theme isn’t up to date – it could break your website. My advice: Spend the $50 for a new theme. It will save you a lot of time in the long run.
Steps 1-3 are the easy part. Actually installing your website really depends on the documentation for your particular theme, some are more detailed than others. But this is a general guideline on how to proceed:
4. Point Your Domain to Your Host. In your welcome email from Hostgator, you’ll receive information about your server including the nameservers you need to point your domain to.
5. Install Your Theme. Here’s instructions from WordPress, you can also your documentation.
6. Sample Data or Start with the Barebones. When you first install your theme, it’s pretty barebones. If you want it to look like the demo (which I recommend for rookies), install the sample data.
6. Theme Settings. Refer to the theme documentation.
7. WordPress Settings. Most of these are personal preference, but I would at least recommend changing your permalinks to post name.
8. SEO Considerations. Out of the box, WordPress is pretty good with SEO. One plugin to take your SEO to the next level is WordPress SEO by Yoast.
9. Essential Plugins. There’s tens of thousands of plugins to choose from, and the plugins I use vary from website to website. This post can give you a good start.
10. Graphics and Stock Images. Chances are your website still doesn’t look like the demo even after installing the sample data. This is because the demo uses stock images that the developer had to pay for to use in the demo. Most of the time this is removed from the theme for legal reasons and replaced with placeholders. Thanks to a growing number of photographers, there’s also a growing number of websites that offer free stock photos… one such example is Pexels, who offer free stock photos (even for commercial use). There’s also paid stock websites like iStockPhoto if you can’t find what you’re looking for.
The Launch Process
We’ve talked about SEO before, but that’s for the long game. We’ve also talked about press releases before, and the best press release services. But that can be a hit or miss depending on your type of business. There are a few gigs on Fiverr that are worth checking out for $5. But the first thing I would do is search for free vouchers from Google AdWords, Facebook and Twitter Ads. It won’t cost you anything and allows you to test different channels for your business.
For more on the launch process, read our post on the 50+ Must Read Resources for Starting a Growing a Business.