You’re sure you want to build a website, but you find the whole prospect intimidating. You don’t have any coding skills or experience with graphic design. You have no idea where to even start.
If you have a budget, you can consider hiring a professional web designer to do the work for you. This option has some real advantages—you’ll have more power to customize it just as you like, and you’ll get the input of someone with relevant experience. But hiring a skilled professional comes with a high price tag.
For many people building a website for the first time, a graphic designer is cost prohibitive. But that doesn’t need to stop you—you don’t have to hire someone to build a website for you. You can build one yourself. You can now find numerous tools and tutorials available that provide all you need to create a high-quality site in minimal time—even if you have no coding skills.
If you’re looking to have a professional website up and running as soon as possible, you have options. Below we walk you through the process of building your first website.
Why Build a Website?
A website is the best way to connect with a relevant audience online.
If you have a business, building a website is important to reach your target customers, and increase your visibility online. It provides your brand legitimacy. Consumers are more likely to trust that a business with a website is the real deal. And a website gives you a chance to present your brand the way you want people to see it.
For customers that do research in advance of a purchase, a website gives you a chance to prove yourself and present the best side of your brand. Without a website, people will still talk about your business online in reviews or on social media—you’ll have an online presence regardless. But you won’t have much control over the way your brand is presented online.
And for any business that sells products, building an eCommerce website gives you a whole new revenue stream. That’s a move that could have increased your earnings at any time, but as we face the continued risks of life during a pandemic, an eCommerce site can become a lifeline to making continued sales as customers stay home.
But a business isn’t the only reason to start a website. If you have a passion you want to share with the world like photography or video game reviews, a website is the best way to put your work out there where other people can find it. Building a website can be a way to build community and find people with similar interests. And for job seekers, creating a personal website can be a good way to set yourself apart from other candidates.
Whatever your personal reasons for considering building a website, now’s as good a time as ever to follow through on that impulse. With the help of intuitive website builders, creating a website can be affordable and easy, even for beginners.
The length of time it takes to build a website will depend on the type of site you’re building and how particular your vision for it is. A simple 3-page website will be much faster to build than an eCommerce site that’s selling dozens of products. If you just need a basic website, you could potentially have it up within a day. But even if you want something more involved, building your own website is still attainable.
Step 1: Determining Your Niche
The first step to building a website is clarifying what kind of site you want. Your website needs to match your goals and intentions. The process of starting a personal blog looks different than building a site for a physical storefront, which varies from building an eCommerce store.
Review the questions below to gain clarity in what you want your website to be and do. It will ensure you’re building the right kind of site the first time around, which saves time over the long run.
Who’s Your Audience?
Every successful website serves a specific audience. By taking the time to understand exactly who your audience is, you’ll improve your chances of creating a website they want to visit and interact with.
If you’re creating a website purely for fun—say, a personal blog to practice writing in public, or a site to share a podcast you’re recording with friends to pass time during the pandemic—this is a step you can potentially skip. But if getting people to see and visit your site is a priority, as it will be for any business website or personal website you hope to grow and monetize, understanding your target audience is important.
Spend time browsing through other sites in your niche to learn what kind of audience they’re serving and how they communicate with them. Competitor research can provide a shortcut to understanding what your audience responds to, since your competitors are likely trying out different messaging and content and measuring what works already. Learn from their experience, and analyze what types of content and topics your audience responds to.
You can also find the most popular accounts and most-shared content in your niche with the help of tools like Buzzsumo and Followerwonk. Learn what your audience likes to consume, and use that information to brainstorm the best direction to take with your own site.
How Are You Serving Them?
Once you’ve clarified who your audience is, you can start to figure out the best way to serve them. For example, maybe you’ve found that your niche loves video content. In that case, build a site that’s oriented toward videos. Or maybe you’ve uncovered a ton of related eCommerce products you can sell, in that case, build a site that has eCommerce capabilities.
Spend time browsing through other sites in your niche to get an idea of certain site elements you’ll want to include. Maybe you’ve found a similar site that you love the layout of, or whose messaging you like. As you browse through competitor sites take note of the things you like and other elements you think you could improve upon.
All of this will come in handy during the design phase.
Step 2: Planning Your New Website
Now put all that initial research toward crafting a basic plan for your website. Creating a plan before you start building will make the website creation process smoother. In particular, you want to figure out two key things:
Across the web, most websites employ a few consistent web design standards. These standards exist for a reason. Users expect to find certain elements in specific places when they visit a website.
While you may like the idea of getting creative and bucking existing trends, you risk creating a less intuitive visitor experience when you do so. The last thing you want is to confuse and overwhelm your visitors the moment they land on your website.
Basic website design standards include having:
- An easy to use navigation bar, typically at the top of the site
- Homepage text and a sidebar, or no sidebar at all
- A search feature in the header, or otherwise high up on the page
- A responsive design
- Logical site organization that lets users intuitively move from page to page (as a bonus, this is good for SEO (search engine optimization) and human visitors.)
If you use a website builder or CMS (content management system), the theme or template you choose will usually have a site structure built in. While you may get excited about making the site your own as you get into customizing it, try not to stray too far from the initial build. These templates are created by professional designers and developers and have web design best practices built in.
Essential Website Pages
Which and how many pages to include on your site will depend on what you need your site to accomplish. But most will have at least the following:
- Homepage. This is the first page your visitors will see, so you want it to represent your brand effectively. A good homepage will typically be simple, concise, and immediately tell your visitors what your site is about.
- About page. Your about page is your chance to establish a relationship with your visitors. It’s frequently one of the most popular pages on a site, so spend time creating quality copy that draws your readers in, tells them what you’re about, speaks directly to their needs, and communicates how you’re uniquely qualified to solve them.
- Services/product page. If you have a business site, pages that outline the specific services you provide or products you sell will be an important part of your website. Use these pages to make the case for the benefits your products or services provide to your audience. And design them with conversion in mind—make it easy for visitors to take the next step, whether that’s adding an item to their shopping cart or setting up a phone call to learn more.
- Contact page. For business sites and some personal sites, you’ll want to make it easy for visitors to contact you. Put the contact information they should use on an easy-to-find page on the site.
- Blog page. A blog is often a valuable addition to a website. If your website will be primarily content based, a blog is a natural space to publish new content as you go. If you have a business site, a blog can be a useful marketing tool to improve SEO and attract more visitors. A blog does take a lot of work to maintain, so it may not be right for you. But take time upfront to consider whether you want to include a blog in your website from the start, or if you may want to add one later.
Keep in mind that most website building software will take care of the basic website layout for you. Once you select a theme or a template, this will form the foundation for the rest of your site. However, by knowing what other pages you want to add and what site elements you’ll want to include, you’ll be able to speed up the process of getting your website into place once you start building.
Step 3: Setup Your Hosting and Domain
The third step towards building your website is to purchase your domain name, and get your web hosting set up. Figure out an available domain name that makes sense for the website you want to build. You may need to get creative if your first choice is taken, but aim for something succinct and easy to remember.
Register your chosen domain name. Then decide which web hosting provider to go with. In some cases, as with HostGator, you can get web hosting and a domain name in the same place, which makes it easier to keep up with managing your website accounts.
Once your website and hosting are good to go you’ll have all your basics in place, and can begin building your new website.
Step 4: Choose Your Website Building Framework
Next, choose how you’ll build your website. You’ve got a number of options, some of which will be far easier for beginners than others. Here are a few of your top choices.
1. Use HostGator’s Website Builder
HostGator’s website builder is designed specifically for beginners, and it makes the process of building a website so easy you can potentially have a basic site up within minutes.
The website builder comes with a selection of professional templates that span dozens of niches. The website editor is user-friendly and includes many ready-made elements you can add to your site like forms and buttons.
If your priorities are speed, affordability, and ease of use, a website builder is a strong choice for building your website. If you’d like more room for customization, one of the other top options may be a better choice for you.
2. Use WordPress
WordPress is the most popular option for building a website, and has a reputation for being relatively easy to use. Even so, if you’re new to creating and updating websites, WordPress still involves a learning curve and can pose difficulties.
If you have a little more technical know-how or a willingness to learn, WordPress offers a full-fledged content management system and a massive library of compatible plugins and themes. With WordPress, you’ll have more flexibility and room to customize your website to match your exact vision. But the more specific your preferences, the more work and skill will be required to bring your website around to what you have in mind.
If you have HostGator hosting, then you can use the Softaculous Apps Installer process that’s located on your cPanel to install WordPress. Once you have WordPress installed you can customize your site by choosing from the plethora of paid and free themes. Just download the theme, and upload it by navigating to Appearance>Add New>Upload Theme.
You can then customize your theme by navigating to Appearance>Customize within the WordPress dashboard.
3. Build a Website From Scratch
Another option is to learn how to build a website yourself. If you’re starting from a place of not having any web design skills or experience, expect this option to take a lot of time and effort. But if you’re willing to commit, learning web design to build your first website will leave you with the skills needed to build additional websites down the line—whether for yourself, or as a professional designer.
And learning the ins and outs of building a website from scratch from day one will mean you know how to make updates to your website as needed, and can grow your website’s functionality and customize it to match your preferences.
How to Learn to Code
If you want to try building your website from scratch, then you first need to learn to code. While this is a time-consuming process, it’s one you can feasibly tackle at no cost. You can find a number of online resources devoted to teaching coding.
A few of the most popular free options include:
The languages you’ll need to learn to get your website up and running include HTML, CSS, and PHP. When you know these coding languages, you can create a website in the image you envisage.
Even with all the tools available today to build a website without first learning to code, knowing coding languages is a valuable and sought-after skill. It can open doors to new jobs and lucrative contract work. And of course, it puts you in a powerful position when it comes to creating any websites you dream of building and running for yourself.
Bonus tip: Even if you determine that a website tool like a website builder or WordPress makes more sense for you, learning the basics of HTML can be extremely beneficial in running and updating a website over time. Having basic coding knowledge enables website owners to become more comfortable with customizing and maintaining a site, regardless of platform.
Step 5: Test Your Site Before Launch
You’ve got your web design in place, your pages added, your original copy written, and your own images loaded in. You’re almost there. But before you actually launch your website and make it public, you want to make sure it all works as intended. That requires a period of testing.
Your website may seem to look great on your own screen, but you have to think about the variety of ways your visitors will encounter it. They’ll come from different browsers, devices, and screen sizes. You want to test out how the website looks and works in as many different formats as possible.
Visitors will also take a variety of actions on the site. You want all of their actions to produce the intended results. Do the forms work? Is the checkout process smooth and easy? Is it easy to navigate from every page to any other?
To simplify the testing process, take advantage of free tools, like these Chrome Extensions for QA testing. They can help you get a glimpse into what other people will see when they land on your site.
And enlist some friends and colleagues to spend time on the site as well. As the person who built it, you’re too close to it to see it with fresh eyes. Ask someone you trust to do some browsing and take a few specific actions on the site. They can send honest feedback that helps you get it working better before you release it to the world.
Bonus tip: If you’re anxious about your domain sitting empty while you perform testing, you can start creating anticipation with a Coming Soon page. Give visitors a tantalizing summary of what they’ll see if they come back, and a likely date for when the website will be up. You can even add an email signup box, in order to start building your email list early.
What’s Your Choice for Building Your Website?
The best option to choose for building your website depends on your overall goals. If you want a website that’s up fast, requires few skills, and is easy to manage, an intuitive website builder is a smart pick.
If you’re looking for a full-fledged website suite that enables you to build and grow an online business, then WordPress is a great choice, as it can grow with your company.
If you’re truly a do-it-yourself person and want to know the inner workings of your website, then get started learning to code and build one yourself. Just know that this will take a lot of time, and you’ll likely spend a few months learning the ropes before you get a website up.
Whichever option you choose, having a website can be a rewarding experience. For businesses, it can enable you to reach a larger audience and increase profits. For hobbyists or anyone looking to build community, it can connect you with others that have similar interests and values. By carving out your own space on the web, you can put your own messaging out into the world knowing it has the potential to reach people from all over.
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.