Setting up a private or business website can be a daunting task for many people. This article outlines the most important 21 things to do and to watch for when setting up your site. There may well be more things to consider, but these 21 points will go a long way towards getting the basics right and preventing the cost of unnecessary changes.
After a number years of working with clients and dealing with the issues that arise just because they were not aware of what to expect, I decided to write a short blog article with my recommendations on what to watch for when taking that leap onto the web. The target audience for this post is people who are not IT experts, but want to set up a website and don’t know what to expect or what to ask for.
These 21 points are important because they may save you a lot of money in the long term and will help to ensure that your infrastructure will serve you for a long time and can be upgraded to keep up with the times.
Design is all about creating a blueprint for the website that represents your brand or product line or your subject matter. This should be created before any programming is done as it will define what is needed to best suit your requirements.
- Never assume that Designers and Developers can be the same person (see https://abcdigital.ie/website-design-development-analogy/). Some web companies provide both of these specialist skills but there are usually different people to do the design and the development. In my opinion, each of these fields is so intricate and they change so fast that even the most talented people can only really excel at one or the other. I have never come across anyone who excels in both. They can be good at one or the other or are at best OK at both.
- Make sure you have a finalized color scheme and logo before you start (or you need to work with the designer to provide these before you design the website). The website design relies heavily on the logo and the color scheme, so it is important to get these right.
- Always look at other sites to get an idea of what you want and like before you start designing. This way you will have a good design in mind before you engage start working with the designer. You should try to have a good picture in mind of how you want the site to look before you start.
- Sign-off on your design before you start development otherwise the costs may increase dramatically if you tweak the Design during the Development phase.
- If you would like to save some money on design costs, consider choosing a good off the shelf design template. These can be very well designed and are usually well supported. You can find a huge selection from companies like Evanto Themeforest.
- Don’t listen to criticism after the site is built. Everyone has an opinion and there will always be people who will not like your design. Once you have a design, believe in it and be proud that it is your creation.
The domain is the name of your site (e.g. abcdigital.ie). This name is like an address that allows users to access your website by typing in this domain name. The name usually represents your company or product and may even be trademarked to your company.
- As the domain name represents your company, product or the purpose of the website, it should always be owned and payed for by you. The Developer should not buy this for you unless you are involved in the transaction and are sure that the purchase is made in your name. Otherwise, if your developer is no longer available or decides to ‘hold you to ransom’, it will be very difficult and expensive to get your domain back.
- Your domain does not need to be purchased from the same company that provides your website hosting, but there are benefits to keeping everything under the same roof (in particular it will be neater and easier to manage your resources if you can choose a hosting company that provides all these resources).
A web host is a company that provides the technology and services for a website to be visible on the internet. The host provides the physical space where the website is stored (on the web servers). These connect to the web through the hosts broadband. Therefore it is important to select a hosting company that can provide good, reliable servers and connections.
- Choose a hosting company that is not oversubscribed. The larger hosting companies may provide good products but their customer service may suffer due to the huge volume of calls that they receive every day. On the other hand be careful not to choose an unproven hosting company that may not have a good infrastructure and may not be around for the long term. Shop around and choose carefully. I tend to target the medium sized hosting companies (like Myhost.ie in Ireland).
- It is very, very important to purchase and own your hosting. In other words, ensure that your hosting is in your name or your companies’ name and that you have the login information for your hosting control panel. Never accept a developer offering to sub-host your site on a server that he / she rents! The developer may take it personally if you refuse their hosting, but blind-trust can (and invariably will) be expensive if you decide to change hosting or you fall-out with your developer. I would never recommend to anyone that they go for sub-hosting (not even if this is offered by a friend).
Once you have a design and have purchased your domain name and hosting, the next step is to turn this design into a functioning website that can be maintained and updated into the future.
- The website must be developed on a tried-and-tested Content Management System (CMS). My CMS of choice is WordPress because it is free, fast, secure and very well supported. This ensures that your website is supported into the future and reduces the cost of ownership of the site.
- Make sure the Developer uses an off-the-shelf (i.e. supported) theme. Good themes are updated monthly or more often in order to keep up with changes to the CMS and for improved security. Bespoke themes are not supported and you will almost certainly end up having to redevelop your theme in the future if your developer does not maintain and keep the theme up to date. Also, it is worth knowing that some developers use their own bespoke theme to get lock-in from you the customer. In the medium to long term, an off-the-shelf theme will reduce the overall cost of ownership (see for example Evanto Themeforest for the wide range of off the shelf themes).
- Almost any theme can be modified to suit your site style (i.e. your website look and feel). It is good practice for these modifications to be done using a child theme that is linked to the main theme. This keeps style changes separate from the working theme and ensures that the main theme can be updated without losing these style changes. I suggest that you insist that your developer creates a child theme and that changes are not made directly to the main theme.
Content is the text on the pages of the website and is probably the most important part of the site. This content may change or be added to over time in order to keep the website current and interesting. In addition to the text, content may include images, video, podcasts etc.
- It is always a good idea to create a map of the content topics that you have or you plan to write for the website. Arrange the topics into a hierarchy and then categorise these into up to 5 ‘silos’ that define your content site. This ensures that there is a structure to your site that is easy to understand by visitors and by search engines.
- Never plagiarize your content. Invest the time to write unique content and you will enjoy the benefits over and over again, through your improved ranking.
- Organize your content into the silos discussed in the previous section and make sure that the menu topics align with these silos.
- Always have a unique title and description on every page of the site.
- Make sure that there is one major (h1) heading on each page and two or more sub headings (h2, h2, h3, h4, h5).
- Keep your paragraphs short and write for a wide, non-specialist audience. Try to get to more than 300 words on any major page but be aware that this may not always be possible.
- Label any images on your site using title and alt tags.
- Create and submit a sitemap to the major search engines.