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.
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.