Website Building

Website BuildingFollowing on from our recent post about online marketing for virtual assistants, we take a look at how you can create a website for your business.

Designer or DIY?

Before you decide whether to pay a designer to create your site or do it yourself, there’s a big question to answer. What is the purpose of your website? Think about what you want to get out of your website. Will it be an online sales portal? A straightforward advertisement for your services, information about what you offer to customers? Or will it be more of a community, with forums, and interactive features?

Deciding on the function your site will fulfil is essential before you plan the actual work. More sophisticated features – e-commerce portals, for example, may make it necessary to hire someone with web design expertise.

Step 1: Buy a suitable domain name

Choosing the right domain name is important, because it forms the address of your website. Many businesses simply go with their trading name followed by .com or .co.uk. For search engine optimisation, and because people click on something related to what they’re looking for, perhaps something linked to your industry and area might be a good alternative – www.herefordvirtualassistants.com, for example, or www.vamanchester.co.uk.

Domains can be registered through any number of websites – google it and you’ll find plenty. Buying a .com or .co.uk is usually best, as they are the most widely used, but sometimes it may be worth buying up the .net, .org, .org.uk versions of your domain name as well, if only to prevent other websites using them later. Domain names can often be bought for less than £10.

Step 2: Buy a hosting package

Hosting is available for free all over the place – sites like WordPress.com, Blogger and Tumblr allow users to create simple websites from pre-existing themes and options. But these are a little bit too basic for professional purposes. If you want your website to stand out, you are better off with a paid-for hosting package.

The quickest and easiest way to buy online space for your website is through a hosting company. This could be the same company you bought the domain name from – many offer both services. Packages vary massively between providers, so shop around before settling on one. Many small businesses will be able to find a perfectly adequate package for around £5 per month/£60 per year.

Step 3: Install a Content Management System

A content management system (CMS) is like the control room of a website. It can be used to shape the content, appearance and usability of the site. Once you’ve signed up for a hosting package, you’ll see options that allow you to manage your new site, including the option to install a CMS. There are lots of CMS around, and all have relative merits and disadvantages. One of the most widely used, and perhaps the most straightforward, is WordPress.

Step 4: Customise your site

In a CMS like WordPress, the appearance of your website is customisable through the option to change the theme. There are thousands of different themes around, many of them free, though some of the best cost an initial fee to download. Many allow logos to be integrated, allowing you to maintain your branding across the website.

If the range of themes you find doesn’t seem inspiring, then it may be necessary to learn a little bit of code and customise the site yourself. HTML and CSS, two of the basic coding languages needed to adjust a website, aren’t as difficult to learn as you may think. Take a look at the W3 Schools tutorials for information on how to edit your site.

Step 5: Upload content

Once the look of your site is established, you can begin creating and uploading content. Remember to include a page with contact details. Websites that are regularly updated appear higher in search rankings than those that are rarely updated, so it may be writing a blog or posting news about your business.

Useful links

http://wordpress.org/ – A popular and easy to use content management system.

http://www.smashingmagazine.com/ – An online magazine for web designers, offering some great free themes for WordPress, and an annual list of the top 100.

http://www.godaddy.com/ – A domain registration and hosting company.

http://www.bluehost.com/ – US-based hosting company with a good reputation.

http://www.123-reg.co.uk/ – Popular hosting and registration site.

http://www.w3schools.com/ – Excellent free online web design tutorials, including interactive exercises to test your skills.

Virtual Assistance Professional will also be offering some WordPress training for Virtual Assistants, very soon.

Matthew Brown

4 COMMENTS

  1. I have read your post and I can see why some one would want to design/create their own website but I would always recommend using a professional or you will find 9 times out of ten your site will end up looking like you built it your self. Also if you want a truly bespoke website you will find it hard to find a theme that suits you perfectly and will end up tailoring your content to fit the site instead of the other way around.

    Having said all that I know some people just starting out can not afford to invest on a custom site straight away so I agree that WordPress is the best CMS choice as it is intuitive and easy to use and most of your questions on how to modify the site can be found on Youtube.

    One last comment, I would not recommend using 123-reg when choosing WordPress as they make it quite hard to install WordPress and i believe the easy install option only installs WordPress as http://www.yourdomain.com/blog instead of making it your actual website home http://www.yourdomain.com. That my experience anyway. I would recommend http://www.heartinternet.co.uk.

    Thanks for your post.

    • Thanks very much for your comments David. I haven’t used 123-reg for actually installing WordPress so that could be some useful feedback. I too would recommend heart internet. I’ve also been using 1&1 and Fasthosts for some time without much complaint, but do know that others may have had issues. Perhaps a list of recommended hosts would be useful to compile for other VAs at some stage.

      I do think that being able to use WordPress is a valuable skill that more and more VAs are finding they are needing. Even if they aren’t used for the initial design and setup, many clients need updates,articles and plugins adding to existing sites. Having a go at making one for yourself is one of the best ways to immerse yourself in how it works. I do think that it’s possible to find some great themes now that require very little modification and look fantastic, although as you say, a good designer should be able to provide something truly bespoke and not available elsewhere.

  2. I think the diy option is good for Virtual Assistants to use as a learning process, as you say more and more we are being asked to perform tasks within WordPress so to have had that experience is vital.

    Having said that I do agree with David that when it comes to building websites for clients or having your own site created – leave it to the professionals. Your site is your shopfront, the first few seconds are crucial and it makes a night and day difference. Personally I absolutely love WordPress for its ease of use, customisation and seo benefits.

    That’s my two cents anyhow lol. Have a great weekend all.

    Tracy

  3. I also agree with all of this. Having WordPress as a skill is a very valuable asset to many of my clients and I have to say that although my website is now designed & managed by a professional, all of my early attempts at websites and blogs were DIY, and the knowledge I gained from it has been so important.

    Re. hosting, I have found that 123-reg hasn’t been particularly easy to install WordPress, but have had a very good experience with Bluehost. They are US based, but really simple to use and one click install for a number of things, including WordPress which I think is great when you are doing your own website and don’t have a lot of technical knowledge.
    Steph

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