Starting your own website is exciting, but it's important to take your time and understand a few things first.
You had an epiphany last night and decided you want to create your own website. Whether you've got an idea for a product or service, or want to delve into the world of blogging, you've decided your next best step is launching your own website.
But how do you do that?
I'm here to help you understand the important things to know and consider before you create your first website.
As someone who works in the tech industry and is pretty tech-savvy, even I found myself a bit confused when I was launching my first website. It can also get a bit overwhelming and you might worry you're making a mistake.
First off, you're not making a mistake! You had the idea to create your own website in order to get your brand or product off the ground, so follow through on that. Don't let the techie stuff deter you because I can guarantee, once you get your site set up, you'll quickly figure out how to manage it going forward.
Consider your objectives
Why do you want a website and what are your goals for it?
Do you want to have full control over the design or are you okay with using templates?
What functionality do you need on your website? (shop/shopping cart, payment processing, invoicing, etc.)
The answers to these questions will help you determine what platform you should build your website on and whether or not you'll need to invest some money in it.
In terms of the popular platforms, the top three as of this year are Wix, WordPress, and Weebly. They all have free tiers, but as you build out your site and grow an audience, you'll find that some features aren't available with the free subscription. This is why it's best to review their subscriptions prior to getting started, understand the different offerings, and choose a subscription that will suit you best. You can always upgrade in the future, but I'm a huge proponent of planning ahead.
I recently started my Wix site and, after reviewing the options, settled on their Combo subscription because I wanted to connect to my own domain, I didn't want my site to have ads on it, and I wanted the free SSL certificate.
Because I work in InfoSec, I have to go off on a quick tangent here about what having an SSL certificate means. Have you ever gone to a site that says "Not Secure" in the address bar?
This means anything you do while you're on this site can be eavesdropped on. It's similar to if password fields weren't hidden and showed what you were typing in. Obviously, you wouldn't want that, so it's important that your site be secure and traffic encrypted, especially if you plan on processing account logins or purchases.
TLDR; Protect your website with an SSL certificate!
Platforms like Wix and Weebly are great for beginners or non-tech-savvy individuals. They offer plenty of website templates to get you started and all the site editing happens within your web browser. Creating, launching, and modifying your site is quick and painless in these tools.
WordPress is another popular platform and it's also free, but it requires a bit more knowledge of how to build a website and you have to host the software on your own device or pay for a hosting subscription. While I've never built a WordPress site, in my opinion, this isn't the best option for most people looking to create their first website. Unless you have a background in programming and technology, you will likely have a tough time getting started on their platform.
How much are you willing to spend?
Something I think a lot of people forget about is that launching a website will require some sort of investment. You can get a domain as cheap as $1 or $2 per year, but you get what you pay for.
If you're looking to spend the bare minimum, you can purchase a domain for that cheap with domain registrants like GoDaddy and Ionos. Where the additional dollars come in is whether or not you want to protect your domain from the constant threats that traverse the world wide web.
Again, being an infosec girl, I need to educate you a bit here. If you spend the bare minimum and opt out of purchasing a security plan, you're leaving your website open to being compromised. The most important things to have are domain protection, to prevent it from being hijacked and monitor it for upticks in reputation, and site protection via a firewall: a mechanism used to block malicious traffic and known exploits that are used to deface or take over your website.
I would highly recommend at least purchasing the basic security plans for both your domain and website that usually include domain protection and monitoring, a firewall, an SSL certificate (hint hint), and malware scanning for one website. If you're like me and want to ensure your site is as secure as can be, you can spend a few dollars more per month to get additional protection, storage for secure backups, and cleanup/repair capabilities in the event your site is somehow tampered with.
Do you know your niche?
If you're like I was a year ago when I started my blogging journey, you roll your eyes when you hear SEO (search engine optimization). Initially, I was of the mindset that if my writing and content were good enough, it would get views and I wasn't wrong. But the thing about the internet is there are so many other people out there that are writing just as well or better and ranking higher than you on search engines. The differentiator? Probably the use of SEO.
In order to get your website seen, you need to leverage keywords so search engines can properly index your website and it can be found through related searches. How does this relate to knowing your niche? Well, how can you determine relevant keywords if you don't know what your niche is?
Before you create a website, take the time to consider what content you're going to be putting out on the Internet. Are you offering a product or service or will it just be a blog? What product or service and how would you categorize it? If you're creating a blog, what topics will you be posting about?
Be sure to get as specific as possible. I recently had to do a bit of soul-searching myself to pick my site's keywords. It took me a few days to settle on my top five because even after choosing five, I'd plug them into keyword analytics tools and find myself changing my mind again.
If you have a pretty specific niche already, you might not have to think too hard. I for example used "infosec blog" as one of my keywords because infosec is already so specific. On the contrary, I also categorize myself as a lifestyle blogger and lifestyle is a very broad category. Instead of using "lifestyle" or "lifestyle blogger" I had to consider what lifestyle topics I'd be blogging about. One of the ones I landed on was "productivity", which is just one of many examples in the lifestyle category.
I know it can be exciting to start your own website, but it's important to choose proper keywords that really hone in on your site's purpose so it can pop up in the most relevant search results, and therefore get you more traffic.
How much effort are you willing to put into driving traffic to your blog?
While SEO can increase your chances of your site appearing on page one or two of search results, it's not a given and it takes a while for you to build up your site's content reputation. Search engines are smart and a site that was just registered two weeks ago isn't going to top a blog that's been around for two years and offering up the same information.
For this reason, you may want to consider other ways of getting people to actually navigate to your website. But how can you get people to your site other than via Google, Bing, or Yahoo Search? The answer might surprise you, but seasoned bloggers and content creators leverage Pinterest.
Pinterest is one of the top ways to organically grow your traffic and your customer base because it's such a hub for ideas. Whether someone is looking for beauty tips, workouts, outfit ideas, or recipes, Pinterest has it all. This is why so many bloggers use Pinterest's free business accounts to link to their website and social media accounts so their content can be pinned by other users and so they can create pins to share on Pinterest.
I, for one, was excited to learn that Pinterest is a blogger's best friend because social media is not my forte and with having a full-time job, I don't have the time it takes to really grow a following on there. It's also worth mentioning that seasoned bloggers claim less than 10% of their traffic and subscribers come from Instagram. The majority of their supporters find them via search engines and Pinterest.
My advice? Pinterest is easy enough to set up and integrate with your website and creating pins is even easier. I'd opt to promote my content on Pinterest over Instagram or Twitter any day, and it will save you so much time in the long run. As someone who's had blog accounts of Pinterest and Twitter for almost a year now, I can tell you between the two, they get me less than five views per post.
SEO is more important, and if you're willing to spend some extra time on it, Pinterest beats out Instagram and Twitter any day.
Creating your first website doesn't have to be overwhelming. I've been where you are and I know how easy it is to get excited and want your site launched as soon as possible, and then start pulling your hair out when you start seeing all the different options available to you. This is why you need to take your time and build out your plan before you even register your domain.
Consider your goals and objectives so you can determine which platform is best and ensure it has all the features you'll need.
Understand you may need to spend money and decide on your budget. Remember, you get what you pay for.
Figure out your niche and get specific with it so your site populates in relevant searches (SEO).
Determine the level of effort you're willing to put into growing your blog, SEO isn't the end all be all for getting people to your site.
I hope this guide was useful in providing you with the information you need in order to be successful with creating your first website. If you ever have any questions or would like some guidance getting started, please don't hesitate to reach out!