ultimate guide to building a successful website

You’ve got an idea for a web property – whether it’s for a business, to share your thoughts and ideas with the world, or to simply find and connect with other people who share your passions.

The challenge now is to build your website.

If you don’t know anything about web design or HTML, then building a website can seem like a daunting prospect. But getting all the elements of a successful website into place is just a matter of knowing the right steps to take and tools to use.  

This guide will cover all the main things you need to know to get started.

HostGator Website Builder

Step 1: Determine Your Website Goals.

You’re starting a website for a reason. What is it you want the site to accomplish?

Before you actually start working on the website itself, sit down and really work out what you want your website to achieve.

If it’s a business website, your main goal will be increasing your business profits, but you’ll want to break that down into more specific and transitional goals as well, such as raising brand awareness or driving traffic into your store.

If you’re hoping to write blog posts about what you love and eventually monetize your blog, then your goals will be based on driving traffic and building a community.  

Even if you just want to use your website to put your thoughts out into the world or share your creative projects, you probably want other people to find and connect with them.

Successful website design depends on what you want to get out of the website. Whether you want visitors, sales, subscribers, fame, community, or something entirely different, you have to start by clearly defining and writing out your website goals.

 

Step 2: Pick a Domain and Hosting Provider.

While you can take each of these steps separately, they’re lumped together here for a reason. Most hosting providers include a domain name (or multiple) in the cost of hosting, so you can save yourself some money by registering a domain through the hosting provider you go with.

 

Picking Your Domain Name

Choosing the right domain name can be challenging. You need to pick something that makes sense for your websites, is easy for your visitors to remember, but that’s still available. With millions of websites already out there, a lot of your options are already taken – especially if you want to use a .com option, which is recommended since it’s what your visitors will automatically type in when looking for you.

If you have a business name already, you’ll ideally want to come up with a domain that matches it or is at least similar. If you’re still figuring out what to call your brand or blog, then you have some more room to get creative here.  

Brainstorm different keywords and concepts that you like and that are relevant to what you’ll be offering on the site. Put together different combinations of terms that you like the sound of and check the availability with HostGator’s domain name search until you find an option you like that’s available.

register new domain name with hostgator

Some domain registrars, including HostGator, allow you to bundle your domain purchase with your hosting plan. Let’s review how to choose a hosting plan next.

 

Choosing Your Web Hosting Plan

When you start looking at , you may find it all overwhelming at first. The main things you need to cross off your web hosting checklist are:

  • Does the provider have a reliable server? Research a web hosting provider’s uptime to make sure you pick one you can be confident will keep your website consistently active.
  • Can the plan handle your traffic? Unless you have an established brand, your website probably won’t get that much traffic to start. But you want to make sure you choose a plan that can handle the amount you plan on getting.
  • Is the plan compatible with your web design needs? If your website will be on the simpler side, then you don’t have much to worry about here, but if you have a developer that insists on using a specific type of programming language or software, you may need to choose your web hosting plan based on compatibility.

A good web hosting provider will have salespeople that can help you navigate the differences between the various plans they offer and customer support that will help you learn the ropes when getting your website set up.

If you’re considering HostGator for your provider, our staff can help with any questions you have and most of our plans come with at least one domain name included.

 

Step 3: Plan Out Your Site Organization.

A successful website design requires proper organization. You need the website to be intuitive to users. And if you care about being easy to find, you also need it to be organized well for SEO.

Before you work on the website design itself, sit down to figure out the main pages and categories your website will have. The most important pages should go in your main menu, which should be included on every page so it’s easy for visitors to navigate to the most important parts of the site.

If your website will just have a few main pages and be pretty basic, figuring out your site organization won’t be too difficult. But if you’ll have a bigger site with a lot of different pages, categories, and subcategories, then it’s even more important to get a plan into place for how it will all be organized now.

Think first and foremost when planning out your site’s organization about your future visitors. What are the categories that will make the most sense to them? What site structure will make it easiest for them to find what they’re looking for? You’ll be doing some guesswork at this point (and your analytics after you launch will show you if you got it right or need to make changes later), but do your best to put yourself in their shoes now.

 

Step 4: Develop a Successful Website Design.

Once you know the main pages you’ll be creating and the way you’ll be organizing the site, it’s time to design your website. If you’re not adept at web design yourself, you have two main options here:

 

Option 1: Using a Website Builder

You don’t have to learn coding to build a success website anymore. Now you can turn to website builders that make creating a website on your own much easier. Website builders usually offer a number of templates you can choose from to start with and let you make tweaks to personalize the site from there.

You can load your own images and copy, easily change out colors, and drag and drop images and other page elements to where you want them on the page.

For someone without coding skills that has a limited budget, sticking with a website builder is worth it to keep things easy, while still producing a website that looks good.

And if you chose HostGator to be your web hosting provider in step two, we offer a free website builder with many of our web hosting plans, so you won’t have to spend any additional money to get started. Here are just a few of the websites designed using our free templates:

Website builder templates

Option 2: Using a Professional Designer

For more complicated websites, a website builder may not cut it. If your website will have a lot of pages, include a difficult-to-build feature like creating a forum, or if you have a really specific vision in mind – then you’ll be better off hiring a professional to design your website for you.

Research the design firms and freelance web designers in your area and set up interviews with anyone whose style you like. In each interview, make sure you discuss your main goals for the website and clearly describe what you’re looking for. Pay attention to the questions they ask you and the tips or suggestions they provide – that’s how you’ll get a feel for their level of knowledge and whether they’re a good fit.

Developing a successful website design with the right professional will ultimately be a collaborative effort, and finding the right person to hire is the most important step of that process.

 

Step 5: Write Your Website Copy.

The design’s important, but one of the other crucial elements of a successful website is good copy. Website copywriting is a skill set in and of itself and, especially for business websites, the words you choose will make a big difference in how successful your website is at achieving your goals.

For many websites, your best bet at this step is to hire a professional copywriter who knows what kind of writing works well on the web and can help you clarify your business positioning and messaging so that it resonates with your target audience.

If your website is more of a passion project than a business website with a profit goal, then it might not make as much sense to spend money on a professional copywriter. If you’ll be writing your website copy yourself though, take some time to read up on web copywriting best practices.

 

Step 6: Optimize for SEO.

If you want people to find your website, then you need to be thinking about how to design your website for search engines as well as people (although people should always take priority!). That means learning the basics of SEO and optimizing each of the pages on your website before you publish it.

Search engine optimization is a big topic, but to give you the short version, it includes:

  • Performing keyword research to learn the terms your audience is using (and how competitive they are)
  • Including relevant keywords in your URL structure, title tags, headings, image meta tags, and copy.
  • Adding meta descriptions for every page on your website.
  • Including natural internal links on your web pages using relevant keywords in the anchor text.  

Start doing this before your website goes up on the web and keep doing it for every new page you add over time.

 

Step 7: Plan for Marketing.

A successful website doesn’t start and stop with a good design. You also have to plan on taking steps to promote your website. SEO is one part of that, but you may also want to consider using tactics like paid advertising, social media marketing, and content marketing to get users to your website.

New websites often need an extra push to get those first visitors. If gaining an audience is important for you to meet your website goals, then you’ll benefit from creating a marketing plan even before your website launches.

 

Step 8: Review All Pages for Any Errors.

With your web design and website copy in place, you’re so close! Now you just need to make sure everything looks good before you actually put your website out on the wide web.

Take time to read over every page and look for any errors. Make sure all your links point to the right place and all the information is accurate. Check how it looks on mobile devices and in different web browsers.

This is a good phase to bring in some outside eyes. Have a friend go through the website as well to see if they find it intuitive and everything looks good to them too. You’re so close to it that someone else will have an easier time spotting usability issues than you will.

 

Step 9: Launch!

Once you’re pretty confident that everything looks good and you have exactly the website you want, publish it to the web.

Make sure to set up a Google Analytics account and add the tracking code to your website at this point (or before) to help with our last step.

 

Step 10: Monitor Your Site.

No matter how hard you try, you won’t come up with the perfect website design on the first try. To fully understand what works on your website with your audience, you’ll have to wait and see what they do once your website is out in the world.

Pay attention to your analytics and use the data to find opportunities to improve your website’s design, your copy, and the marketing tactics you use over time.

A successful website is only a little bit about what you do when you’re building it (although all that matters!). It’s much more about what you do after it has launched. Make sure you build the best website you can, but also have a plan for what to do beyond launch day to achieve success.

Kristen Hicks is an Austin-based freelance content writer and lifelong learner with an ongoing curiosity to learn new things. She uses that curiosity, combined with her experience as a freelance business owner, to write about subjects valuable to small business owners on the HostGator blog. You can find her on Twitter at @atxcopywriter.