If you're like many new startup owners, you may have a great idea for a business but no idea where to begin when it comes to creating your online presence. Luckily, these days there are tons of great reliable website builders for you to choose from and you'll be well on your way to a great looking site in no time. However, there are a few things a lot of people don't consider when creating their first site.
Here are a few things I've learned along the way that I think would be valuable to share.
Choose reliable hosting
It can be tempting to go with the cheapest webhost available, but it's very important to do your research here. The last thing you want is to go offline during high traffic times, or worse for seemingly no reason at all.Luckily there are a ton of great, affordable hosting options these days. I've personally had great service from Siteground, even though my personal site now uses Bluehost.
If this is your first website, you may want to choose a web host with great customer service in mind. In my experience, Siteground is very quick to respond and offers 24/7 support, but Bluehost has been able to fix any issues I've had faster - once I got in touch with them, that is.
One more suggestion here: many web hosts offer a cheaper rate for new customers. Be sure to purchase hosting for the longest amount of time they offer this discounted rate for because when your hosting expires, your rate to renew may increase. If you do find yourself in this situation, migrating a website from one host to another isn't too difficult, even if you've never done it before.
Include a contact form
Even if you already list several ways to get in touch with you on your website - such as your phone number, email address and social media profiles - it's still recommended to include a contact form on your website. Some customers may prefer not to talk on the phone, others may have an aversion to their email applications. Give them an option to message you right from your website.
Not only is it good practice, but a good contact form can also improve conversions.
Write a perfect about page
It may seem like this is a page that no one is actually going to read and that you can fill it with fluff, but you really should invest a lot of time here. This is the place where you're going to lay down the foundation of your company mission, begin to develop your brand's image, and it's also where any press people are going to go to learn about your company for potential features in their media outlets. If you need inspiration, here are some great examples.
I see all too many sites that are hard to navigate. How do I get to the blog? Why are all the important links hidden under this drop down menu? No page on your site should take more than 3 or 4 clicks to get to from your home page. Be mindful of the links you're listing in your top menu.
Develop clean URL structure
Along the same lines of easy navigation, the URL structure of your pages should also be as clean, and ideally as short as possible. In addition to being clean and concise, your users should be able to have a good idea what any given page is going to be about just by looking at the URL alone.
I see a lot of websites that hide important pages behind their /about/ subfolder when it doesn't make sense to do so. I've seen sites which list their contact page after their blog. http://website.com/blog/contact doesn't make a lot of sense from a navigation, SEO, or user's stand point. Not only would that be bad for navigation, SEO, and usability, it just doesn't make a website appear as professional as it could if your URLs aren't clean.
If your website already has issues along these lines, they're not impossible to fix. But when building a site fresh it's best to avoid doing this by all means necessary.
Purchase your own domain name
Many web hosts offer a free domain name when you purchase hosting with them which is great to save a little bit of money, but I recommend purchasing your domain name elsewhere. If the domain name you're after isn't particularly popular or sought after, then your domain registration probably won't be more than $10-$20 per year. That's a small price to pay for owning a domain that is not tied to your webhost. Godaddy usually offers the best prices in my experience, however, for personal reasons I think Namecheap is best.
And if for some reason you have to migrate hosts, as mentioned earlier, then owning your domain elsewhere will make your life a lot easier. Beyond migrating from one host to another, here are a few more good reasons to register your domain separate from your web host.
Don't cheap out on your design
For your first website, it can be tempting to go with the cheapest design available. Usually that means free.
If you have experience designing and editing themes, you can probably get away with using a free template with your website builder (probably Wordpress, but Weebly, Wix, and a few others are good as well), but if you do go with a free theme you should try to choose one that isn't used by too many other websites. Using a popular free theme can present security risks and it also makes your website appear cheap if it looks like every other site out there.
If you do need to use a free theme, this is a great in-depth post to keep you informed on the pros and cons.
Avoid (bad) stock photography
Okay, stock photography is not always a bad thing. I used a free stock photo for this post itself. But I see all too many websites who are using popular stock photos which, much like many free themes, make the website look cheap. I've seen sites using stock photos in place of customer pictures in their Testimonials section, which makes the entire company and their product seem disingenuous. Really, it's best if you take and use your own pictures, or at least pay for your stock photos to ensure they aren't being used too many places around the web. If you have no budget for photos and cant take your own, I think Pexels has the best collection, personally.
No matter what software you're using to create your site, these tips should hold true for most of them. The important thing is to take your time. There's not much you can do that won't be reversible, but it's best to get it right the first time. Good luck!