What You Need to Know to Build a Website (A Book Excerpt)
Updated: Aug 11
The following is an excerpt from a book I recently published called The DIY Website Workbook. The book has evolved from my work with clients (stretching back to my days offering branding and marketing services to small businesses). It is meant to help people create a website that engages and converts viewers and builds a robust, compelling online presence. It is not so much a technical manual -- although it does get technical to a point -- as it is a seven-step guide to help you thoughtfully plan your web content and craft a website that proudly represents your brand and offerings.
Below is an excerpt from Step One: Pre-Planning Your Website. If you enjoy what you read, you can download the entire book on Amazon. (If you have Kindle Unlimited, you can read the book for free. If you email me at email@example.com, I can make sure you are alerted about the five days I will be offering the book for free on Amazon.)
(Photo by Domenico Loia)
What You Need
Trust me—you’ll never regret taking the time to plan your website well and lay a solid foundation for a website that will create a dynamic experience for your clients, authentically reflect your brand, and stand the test of time. But there are a few requirements that you would do well to reflect on before you dive in.
At a minimum, you need:
A basic understanding of how a site works
A willingness to get somewhat comfortable with data and analytics (or hire someone who is and can tell you about these things clearly and compellingly)
A clear purpose for your site (drive sales, attract attention for a product or a book or podcast, provide a blogging platform, raise awareness about your business, attract a referral network, etc.)
The drive to thoughtfully dive into the exercises here and plan your site well from the get-go
Beyond the Basics
Ideally, you’ll have:
A willingness to learn a little HTML
An understanding of your target market
The self-awareness to take constructive feedback from others who know more yet the clear-headedness about your company vision to stand firm in your conviction about the best way to represent your brand
A drive to make your website a dynamic, engaging tool to grow your business and not only make it pay for itself but make it something you’re incredibly proud to have represent your brand
A small team “board of directors” you can check in with – a data person, a web designer, a graphic designer, and a writer. If you can find someone with a passion for SEO, you’ll be cooking with gas. (SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization and is just a slick way to say that you design your site and write your copy so that people can find your business on Google. More on this in Step 5: Creating Dynamic Content and Step 6: Getting Your Website Built).
Unless you are building a company with a national presence or that needs to have incredibly sophisticated e-commerce and database capabilities, you should be able to build a website for $5,000 to $10,000 at the most. If you are willing to build it yourself on a platform like WordPress, Wix, Weebly, or Squarespace, you can get away with paying less than $500 in setup fees (including hosting and domain subscriptions) and around $9 to $50 per month, depending on the platform.
Depending on your technical acumen, you may or may not possess the desire to update your own website, but I invite you to consider it. Whether you update it once it is constructed or you hire someone else to do so, you should at least know the platform on which it is built so you know whom to hire if your website person quits or completely disappears one day. (It happens.) WordPress, Wix, Squarespace, and Weebly are among the easiest to update. Try to hire a website developer willing to train you on how to update the website. Request this service before she quotes the job. If she isn’t willing to do this, find a different developer.
(Photo by KOBU Agency)
Why Your Website Matters
If you didn’t think your website was important, you wouldn’t be working through this workbook. I try to keep the planning of a website fun and engaging, yet from the outset, I want you to reflect on why it is worthwhile to take the time to plan your website well.
These are the most common reasons to build a website.
Sell Services, Products, or Both
I’ll say it again—your website is not just a brochure. It has the capacity to do so much more. I love Apple products, and I’m an introvert, but when I walk into an Apple store, I want there to be people around me, and I like that there are different products for me to try and play with depending on my mood and ADD level. Your website should be the same way—be willing to respond to an individual’s neuro-sensibilities in the moment and lead her where she wants to go.
I want you to think of your website as a place people will experience your business, either for the first time or as an extension of a brand they have interacted with in person. Either way, you will want to do everything a storefront would do: project your values, quality, and personality; invite viewers to spend time and get to know your offerings; convert your viewers to clients; and encourage them to make a mental note or bookmark your site to return to it soon or follow you on social media.
In Million Dollar Website, Rebecca Murtagh wrote, “The website is a fluid reflection of your brand within an ever-changing marketplace, the Internet. Just as your offer, service, brand, promotions, and price must continually adapt in order for your organization to maintain its competitive edge, your website must also evolve.”
While you may want your website to convert users to customers, you will need to be thoughtful and constantly refine your site to keep it responsive and ensure that it leads users to a landing page where people will book a session or buy or download a product. It’s called a landing page because it’s the page you’re ultimately leading people to. Think of it as your cash register and make sure the pages that lead users there are fluid, uncluttered, and streamlined. (We’ll talk more about this in Step 4: Building Your Architecture, in which you will determine how users will navigate the site. Don’t worry too much about it for now).
UX (user experience) design refers to a style of design that deeply considers how a person responds as she interacts with a product or tech tool. UX (sometimes called UI, for “user interface”) references touchpoints, which are the various ways people will interact with your brand before they are ready to act. These can include visual displays, online ads, word of mouth, print marketing materials—anything that leads people to your business. Your website is arguably the single most powerful touchpoint for your client besides you personally.
Make sure your website does all the things you would do if you were in the room with a visitor:
Communicates what you stand for with consistency, respect and inclusivity
Project the emotions and values of your brand (warm and approachable? edgy and irreverent? sunny and high-spirited?)
Answers all their questions thoroughly and quells their concerns
Introduces your business with authenticity and a sense of helpfulness
Gives them a chance to get and keep in touch.
When you feel yourself getting overwhelmed, remember that you don’t need billions of viewers—you just need the right ones. Among the people you want to reach, be thinking about what you want people to know. As a career counselor, I want stay-at-home moms who want to relaunch to know that most of the barriers to workforce reentry are internal and that most employers are happy to employ people who have taken a break if gaps in employment are explained and candidates are qualified. Think about the things you not only want potential clients to know about you but what you want them to know in general. This will make you stand out and establish your authority and potential to connect with your audience.
1. What are some other reasons you think building a website is worthwhile?
2. What will “sales” look like on your website (product sales, sessions booked, digital downloads, event registrations, etc.)?
3. List some ways your website can engender trust.
4. List some things you really want your clients to know about you. List some things you want your clients to know about your area of expertise. What problems is your business seeking to solve?
5. What do you consider the mission of your website? (Ideally, you can describe your website’s mission in 3 minutes or less.)
(Photo by William Iven)
Research the Competition
Visit 3 websites and go through their sites thoroughly, jotting down notes along the way about what you do and don’t like about their sites. Ask yourself, “What would I ‘steal,’ and how would I make it mine?” and “What would I not do?”
Write down overall aesthetic impressions and how well (or not) the writing and look represent the brand. What can you learn from them?
1. Is it hard to find contact information?
2. Is it helping me close the deal (buy products, book an appointment, raise awareness, etc.)? Why or why not?
3. Are clients finding what they are looking for?
4. Is it confusing or hard to use any forms or shopping carts?
5. Am I enticed to stay on the site and spend more time on it?
6. Am I impressed? Why? Am I at all put off? Why?
7. Are any of the links broken?
Step away from this exercise for at least a day after completing it and then ask yourself how you might remedy each problem in one sentence.
If You Have a Website Now...
Go through it as if you were looking at it for the first time, as if you were a potential customer, and write down notes about what you do and don’t like about the experience. Do this in a quiet, uninterrupted space.
1. Am I proud to have this represent my brand? What would make me prouder?
2. Are any of my links broken? Are there typos? Does anything slow down the load time? (Make a note of these and fix them later. Focus on just experiencing the website right now.)
3. Can people find the specific information (my rates or prices, whether I offer cranial sacral massage, if my bar serves hard cider, etc.) they might be seeking?
If you enjoyed what you just read, you can download the entire book on Amazon. (If you have Kindle Unlimited, you can read the book for free. If you email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, I can make sure you are alerted about the five days I will be offering the book for free on Amazon.)