Feeling committed to making this year better than the last? You’ve probably got your personal goals all set for the new year: read more books, call your mom, eat less pizza, walk off that holiday pie.
How’s this for a New Year’s Resolution: build a successful website from the ground up. Sounds like a lofty goal, but trust us, kid: you’ve got the makings of a champion.
Building your website is like running a marathon. Those exhausting 26.2 miles require long-time endurance built over months of training. Marathoners train one step at a time and compete one mile at a time.
This guide is your training plan. As your trusty web host and coach, we’re here to keep you on track as you build, grow, secure, and promote your new site. We’ve broken this website workout plan into goals and tasks to complete each quarter throughout 2018, but feel free to work at your own pace. You do the sweating, and we’ll be right beside you with water cups and cheese-tastic motivational signs.
Sound good? Then tie up your Nikes, pull on your gym shorts, and let’s get to work.
First Quarter: Build Your Website
Step 1: Decide on Your Mission
Ready to race right off the starting block into building your website? We love the enthusiasm. But before even reaching the starting line, you need to get in some warm-ups and conditioning to establish a solid foundation. Every good website begins with a thoughtful plan. Open a fresh new digital doc (or grab a pen and paper if you’d prefer to go old school) and complete the following exercises.
Find Your Purpose
Why do you want a website in the first place and what do you hope it will accomplish? Ask yourself, “What is the purpose of this website?”
- Are you looking to sell a product?
- To share your art or writing portfolio?
- To share your thoughts on a blog?
- To promote your new business?
- Or create an online home for your brick-and-mortar store?
The possibilities are endless — but you need to spell out what you want. Write down what you decide; you’ll use this purpose to guide everything else you do this year.
Time to dive deeper into the reflecting and set some specific goals for your website. Grab your pen (or ready your typing fingers) and, below where you wrote your website’s purpose, jot down a few goals.
Think about things like how much revenue you hope your site generates, number of readers, number of website visitors, increase the number of customers in your store, build your brand, or engage with an audience. These goals should accomplish your website’s purpose and drive the rest of your plans.
Don’t lose sight of your finish line — and don’t be afraid to adjust your goals over the coming months.
Outline Your Content
You probably shouldn’t bake a cake without a recipe. Likewise, you can’t build your website until you know what components you need to make it a success. So go ahead and outline your content to make sure you hit your goals. Consider these components:
- Start with your website’s menu. What should its offerings include? And in what order? Rank what’s most important to you — and your goals — at the top.
- Do you want to include a blog? This will be helpful for search engine optimization (SEO) — more on that in a minute — encourage engagement and community, and establish you as an expert. If the blog is the cornerstone of your site, take some time to outline (or, for overachievers, write) your first few posts and plan some topics you might write about over the next year.
- The about me page is your place to tell your story and describe your business. Don’t skip out on this chance to connect with your customers.
- Do you need a spot to describe the products or services you’re selling, either online or in your physical store? If your objective is to drum up business directly from the web page, this is essential. Think about categories and subcategories of products, and consider how you might describe or sell them to your website visitors.
- What is included on the home page? Your contact information? Maybe, although that could easily be its own page. A catchy photo? Definitely. Another home-page must-have? A call to action (CTA). Your CTA should invite visitors to do something: check out your offerings, sign up for your newsletter, or delve into your blog.
Step 2: Choose a Domain and Platform
Ready. Get set. We are inching closer to launching your website, but before we can get going, it first needs a name, an address, and a place to live.
Pick a Domain Name
Basically, a domain is what you type into the bar at the top of your browser to point to a specific website. For example, to find us a DreamHost, you type in dreamhost.com. A domain consists of two parts:
- The top-level domain (TLD) — In dreamhost.com, the “.com” part is our TLD. More common TLDs include .net, .org, .info; and recently, a batch of new TLDs hit the streets: .party, .site, .pizza, .limo, .store, and more. At least for now, though, “.com” is still the most common TLD.
- The second-level domain (SLD) — In our domain name, that’s “dreamhost.” This is the keyword that will serve as the address for your website. Make sure it is specific, descriptive, and memorable so that customers can easily find and remember it.
Jot down a dream domain and see if it is available for purchase. If you can’t find (or afford) your first-choice domain name, we’ll help you find other great options.
Pick a Hosting Plan
If your domain name is your website’s address, hosting is the physical space (spoiler: a server) where your website lives. The hosting plan you choose for your website will impact many things — like how fast your site loads and what kind of maintenance you have to do.
DreamHost offers several great options to cover a variety of hosting needs (not that we are biased about this at all, ahem).
Choose a Platform
To build your website, you’ll need to pick a platform — and there’s no content management system (CMS) better, in our opinion, than WordPress. And 75 million websites agree with us. Like any powerful tool, there is a learning curve to WordPress, but the open-source software is free to use and pretty beginner friendly.
If you want an even easier way to get online, check out Remixer — our click-to-edit website builder. You can get a website online in literally minutes with our pre-designed themes.
For the rest of this article, we’ll focus on WordPress since it makes it easier to add a blog or e-commerce functionality down the road.
Step 3: Design and Launch
OK, with a set of goals; a content outline; and a domain, hosting, and platform picked for your new website, it is finally time to get building!
Build Your WordPress Website
Head over to DreamHost’s WordPress hosting page, pick the plan that’s right for you, and start building your website. Pull out the list of goals and content outline you made in step one, and use it to guide you in choosing a theme that matches your brand.
Learn About Web Design Best Practices
No, you don’t need to become an expert overnight. And never fear: those WordPress themes we just mentioned are beautiful and will save you from major design blunders. But here are a few basic pointers to keep in mind as you get started in designing your site.
- Keep things quick and simple — From blog posts to homepage copy to navigation options, think short and sweet.
- Don’t fear the blank space — Don’t feel the need to fill every nook and cranny; elegant emptiness can go a long
- Keep your menu front and center — Keep it easy to find or risk losing visitors.
- Mind your typography — What you say matters as much as how you say it — and what it looks like.
Need more tips? Here are 10 web design lessons from a galaxy far, far away.
Go ahead. Send your website out into the world. Take a quick victory lap — you’ve earned it! But don’t lose your momentum; the work has only started.
Second Quarter: Grow Your Website
So now you have a website. Yay!
Time to beef it up with some strength training. That’s right. Once your site is up and running, turn your attention to attracting more visitors and bringing in some income.
Step 4: Monetize Your Site
Ready to bring in the big bucks? Let’s get you set up.
- Review your offerings — Take a look at the products and service you are selling. Is there anything else you can add, especially to entice back past customers? Have you thought about adding an online course or premium for-pay content to your blog?
- Add some ads — Include a bit of subtle, tasteful advertising on your WordPress blog to bring in some additional revenue.
- Affiliate links — Incorporating affiliate links on your blog or website is another way to add to your revenue stream. Basically, you’ll promote another brand’s product and provide links to their site. If your readers click and make a purchase, you’ll get a cut of the sale in thanks for your referral.
- Investigate e-commerce solutions — How are you planning to sell and accept payment on your website? You’ll need to get that squared away before promoting your website. If you’re using WordPress, we recommend Woocommerce (so much so, that we’ve even got hosting just for Woocommerce users). Study up on the world of e-commerce and pick an online payment gateway.
Weigh your options with our Woocommerce vs. Shopify Guide!
Step 5: Adopt SEO Best Practices
Once your site is built and ready to be monetized, you are ready to reel in the traffic with SEO.
SEO is a group of strategies website owners can (and should!) use to appear closer to the top of search engine results.
Think about it: when you search for something on Google, you probably only scan the first the first few entries before clicking — and so will your clients. Since Google bases its results ranking on a variety of factors, it’s important to do the following:
- Brainstorm keywords relevant to your site — What search phrases do you think (or hope) would most likely lead readers to your website? Use Google’s Keyword Planner to research and discover new keywords.
- Optimize your blog posts — Plan content around your keywords and make sure to use them in your posts and headings — but be careful and creative with your placement to avoid creating content that sounds forced.
Learn from today’s best content creators! The internet’s most successful bloggers share their top tips.
- Keep it fresh — Regular updates and new content will give you a search-ranking boost.
- Create a sitemap — Sitemaps, which are basically a hierarchical list of all the pages and content on your site, help Google’s search engine crawlers see and connect the pages on your site, making it easier to present relevant information in search results.
Step 6: Take Care of the Details
Now that your site has been up and running for a while, it’s time for some spring cleaning. Let’s make sure your website is up to par and easy to access for all your potential customers.
Clean and Polish
Start with a few routine upkeep tasks, and set reminders to do them again in another six months:
- Check for broken links
- Review and edit website copy and high-traffic blog posts
- Update contact information and your “About Me” section
- Test functionality of forms and checkout
- Review your hosting plan — are you ready for an upgrade?
Take a look at how your site looks on the small screen. If your website isn’t optimized for mobile — that is, if it doesn’t look as good and load as fast on mobile devices as it does on a computer — you’re missing out.
Some potential customers may use phones or tablets in place of a home computer, and many shop on the go. Plus, your Google search rankings could hurt if your website isn’t mobile-friendly. Pull your website up on your smartphone, and make any necessary changes.
Review Your Traffic
- Page views — At a glance, this stat will reveal your most popular pages and posts in the past day, month, and year.
- Unique visitors — Using IP addresses, Google Analytics will track how many unique visitors your site attracts.
- Bounce rate — Sometimes visitors will click away from your site after viewing only one page; this stat will let you know how often that dreaded “bounce” happens.
- Session duration — When someone visits your site, how long do they stick around? Check this number for the answer.
- Traffic source — You might suddenly see an increase in traffic to a particular page, and Google Analytics will help you pinpoint what link is sending the visitors.
Studying these statistics will help you find changes to make to draw more visitors and encourage them to stay longer (and hopefully make a purchase).
Data is everything — learn how to grow your website with Google Analytics!
Third Quarter: Secure Your Website
Time to work on endurance: you want your website to stick around for the long haul. Now it’s time to beef up your security practices and protect your data.
Step 7: Tighten Website Security
When it comes to security, you can rest easy at night: you’re already on the right track to keeping your information and customer’s data safe with WordPress and DreamHost. But there are a few additional steps you can take to tighten up security.
- Switch to HTTPS — The “S” in HTTPS stands for “secure,” and it is (surprise) the more secure version of HTTP, encrypting your data as it is transferred from your website to a user’s browser. Add that all-important “S” by getting an SSL/TLS certificate (offered for free with all DreamHost hosting plans).
- Enable a firewall — You probably have a firewall on your computer, protecting you from unwanted attacks. And, if you’re one of our customers, lucky you: DreamHost includes a built-in Web Application Firewall (WAF) to offer your website similar protection.
- Use two-factor authentication — This will require you to sign into your site with a code that’s first sent to your mobile phone. While it can be a bit of a hassle on your end, this step goes a long way in keeping your site secure. Use a WordPress plugin like Two-Factor Authentication.
- Backup your site — Hackers gonna hack. Even with all your efforts to secure your site, security breaches and other disasters are still a possibility. So make sure to regularly backup your website. That way, if the unthinkable happens, you won’t lose all of your digital property.
Step 8: Speed Things Up
Nothing is more of a drag than a sluggish website. Keep your website up to speed by:
- Installing a caching plugin for faster load times — The “cache” is where your computer stores recently used information, such as the files of a recently visited website. A caching WordPress plugin pulls data from the local cache instead of reloading it fully every time, thus speeding things up.
- Optimizing your images — High-res photos can take an extra-long hot second to load, but there’s no need to sacrifice quality.
- Testing your speed — Even if it seems like your page is loading normally, get in the habit of regularly testing your speed. Simply type your URL into Google’s PageSpeed insights for a quick analysis and tips to get a faster score.
Step 9: Prepare for Trolls
By the time you’ve reached this step, you’ve probably got fans. But as your site builds a community, it will also attract some of the slimier creatures lurking in the anonymity of the web: spammers, trolls, and cruel commentators. Keep these thoughts in mind as you deal with the underbelly of the web:
- Don’t feed the trolls — This is rule No. 1 when it comes to trolls. Don’t engage; it will just feed the fire.
- Understand the difference between trolling and disagreement — Not everyone who disagrees with you is a troll — usually they are legitimate readers with a different viewpoint. Feel free to defend yourself and your arguments, and be open to changing your mind — and to reminding aggressive commenters to play nice.
- Establish a commenting policy — Spell out for your readers how you expect them to behave, what the consequences are for violations, and make clear that trolls are not invited to the party.
- Block or delete — If a trolling post gets too out of hand, don’t be afraid to step in and shut it down.
Fourth Quarter: Promote Your Website
Congratulations! You’re officially three-quarters of the way through this marathon [splashes water on face]. Don’t lose that momentum; continue strong and steady to the finish line. Think of all the orange slices awaiting you. To get there, your next task is promotion.
Step 10: Advertise
You’ve got a great thing going, and it’s time to tell the world. Advertising, even for the beginner website owner, is a no-brainer that can be simple, effective, and affordable. Try your hand at two basic types of targeted advertising:
A good SEO strategy will organically move you to the top of the search results. With Pay-Per-Click (PPC) ads, you’ll take matters more into your own hands by paying to land atop the searches. The best part? You only have to pay for premium placement if someone clicks on your link. You choose the keywords you want to bring up your ad, and you can set and limit your own budget.
Social Media Advertising
Facebook is a well-oiled, data-collecting machine, and you can use its power to target advertising directly to your ideal audience. You can create a Facebook ad that reaches users based on specific info such as age, gender, interests, etc. As with Google Adwords, you’ll set a budget and pay for clicks.
Step 11: Market with Email
Email is one of the best tools you have for finding new customers, bringing back previous ones, and maintaining relationships.
Learn the Basics
Study up on email marketing, a tried-and-true marketing method that involves collecting email addresses as a way to share content and build relationships with current and potential customers.
Collect Email Addresses
You can’t send any mail if you don’t know where it’s going. But don’t be spammy and shady about it; create opt-in forms directly on your site inviting visitors to subscribe. Try offering something in exchange for an email address, such as a discount off of a first purchase or access to a free ebook.
Create an Email Newsletter
Newsletters remain one of the best ways to connect with your customers, so create one and make it the center of your email marketing strategy. Use it as a way to showcase your voice and your brand, to share news and upcoming event for your business, and to introduce new products (but don’t be too pushy). Send it out regularly, loaded with fresh content, and then solicit feedback.
Want to get DreamHost’s hot-off-the-press news in your inbox? Sign up for our email newsletter today!
Bring Your Customers Back
Beyond a newsletter, what other types of emails will engage your customers? Always send purchase receipts and make sure to welcome new subscribers. Consider reaching out to past customers to announce sales, share discounts, and invite them back to the fold.
Step 12: Get Creative
Now that you’ve covered your bases with advertising and email marketing, dig deeper and get a little creative in extending your website’s reach. Try out these promotion ideas:
- Get yourself some non-spammy backlinks
- Add holiday cheer to your marketing and consider a Black Friday sale
- Register with online directories so Googlers can find your brick-and-mortar location along with your website
- Connect with micro-influencers, minor celebrities in your area of expertise, whose endorsements may point their followers to your site
You’ve made it to the finish line! You’ve worked hard and your website is certainly one to be proud of. Now, hit the showers, champ!
— Reporting by Sara Atwood