Last updated on September 20th, 2023 at 05:27 am
If you’re at the beginning of your journey as a webmaster, there’s a lot to learn! It can be overwhelming if you don’t have any support or resources to tell you what to learn first. But that’s what this webmaster blog is for!
Often, when you first start out, the hardest thing is to nail down the first few steps. Web development is complicated and there are endless options when it comes to building a website. The goal of this article is to tell you the actual steps you need to complete to you build your first website… and help it succeed!
As with anything, not everything is “Click this button, turn that dial.” There are conceptual decisions to make, marketing principles and other bits and bobs that professionals pick up over time, and that it will help you to know from the beginning. That’s why Studio O’Riley doesn’t just stick to technical steps. This blog is dedicated to teaching you how to think like a webmaster, as well as get the job done.
What Does It Take to Build a Successful Website?
The short answer is time, dedication, and a good attitude. But don’t worry, I’ll give you much more than that! Here’s what you need from start to finish:
Basic Marketing Plan
- A niche in high demand (a general subject that describes your work)
- A catchy name (for your brand/blog/business/domain)
- A well-designed logo (to make your brand more memorable)
- Basic social media skills (to market your website)
You’ll need to register a domain name with a domain provider.
Your website will need somewhere to live. You’ll connect your domain to your host.
CMS (Or Equivalent)
Your website will be a lot easier to manage with a Content Management System to help you build pages without code.
You won’t be surprised to hear that the most important part of building a website is content. If your content isn’t good, or is non-existent, there’s not much point to the site in the first place! Content can mean just about anything that users might look for on a website: articles, videos, images, podcasts, downloads, etc.
There’s no point in creating great content if nobody sees it! Search Engines don’t show every website that exists. They don’t have room to keep track of websites that aren’t providing enough value to their users, so you need some basic SEO skills at the very least. The abbreviation stands for Search Engine Optimization, and it has to do with making your content worth showing to searchers and making it easy for search engines to find.
The goal is that if you read this article through, you’ll come away with actionable steps that will take you all the way to publishing your first website! And that’s just the very beginning of online success, so make sure to check out future posts, which will cover all these topics in greater detail.
The first step is just to take a step back and scheme a little bit. I call this step scheming because it usually involves a good deal of wild ideas, some diagram-drawing, and a fair amount of manic cackling when no one is watching.
Don’t forget to rub your hands together ominously at this stage.
It’s all too easy to get over-excited and go too far down the rabbit hole before you consider things like why you’re building your website in the first place, how you’re going to compete with other sites in your niche, how much time you have to create content, which features you should implement, etc. Just like with any other professional project, it’s important to take some time to outline your end product because it can help you evade easily avoidable mistakes.
So to get started, write down the answers to these questions:
- What is my website about? (What is your niche?)
- What audience is my site for?
- What kind of information will people find on my site?
- What do I want my visitors to do on my site? (Buy products? Read posts? Visit links?)
- Does my site need to look particularly professional? (Should I really build it myself?)
- What basic features will my site have? A blog? A gallery? A store?
Building Your Brand
You’ve created the beginnings of a Brand Bible. This is a collection of rules that you can reference in the future as you make decisions that will affect your brand or your business. Your brand is more than a logo and a color scheme though. In truth, a brand is whatever people think of when your site’s name comes up in conversation. You want to avoid creating a brand by accident, because the results of an unintentional brand are usually sad at best and disastrous at worst.
Remember that understanding your niche and your audience are the first steps in building a successful website. The most important aspect of your content is how each piece is intended to benefit your visitor. If it doesn’t brighten their day in some way, it shouldn’t be on your website. So take some time to think about your ideal users, what questions they have, their daily struggles and high points. Try to understand what would lead them to your site in the first place and what they would hope to find there.
SEO and Serving Your Visitors
SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization, which is the process of making your content and your site attractive to search engines like Google and Bing. No one is going to see your carefully curated content if it doesn’t show up when they search in their browser, so it’s important to ensure that your work comes up to the search engine’s quality standards.
For a deeper dive into SEO, see my article, Understanding Google Search and SEO.
It’s tempting to simply make the content that seems the most fun to you, but remember that you are not your primary audience. Most visitors are not as well-versed in your niche, which is why they came to your website, to learn more! For that reason, and for SEO reasons, it’s best to create content with a directed approach, using keyword research and search analysis to determine the topics of your content.
In the meantime, here’s a quick glance at the most important things to consider when optimizing your site. All of your content should show the following qualities:
EEAT (Experience, Expertise, Authoritativeness, Trustworthiness)
Whether your content is an article, video, podcast, or another medium, it should be evident of the author’s credibility. A reader’s first need is to be able to trust the information they find on your website, so show them that you have enough experience with the subject to speak about it with expertise as a trustworthy authority. 😉
In other words:
- Tell anecdotes that show your experience and explain your personal perspective of the topic. People will feel more brand loyalty if your personality shines through your work.
- Cite your sources. You don’t have to use APA or MLA, but it’s a best practice to tell your readers where your information comes from. This shows trustworthiness and gives readers a chance to verify the information if they want to. Make sure you actually link to important sources!
- Don’t contradict yourself. Do your research so you can speak plainly without qualifiers and know that you’re speaking the truth.
- Proofread all of your content and correct any typos, grammatical or spelling mistakes, or unclear sentences before publication. This shows your readers that you care about your work and that you respect their time as visitors. For a digital grammar aide, use Grammarly!
Search engines use keywords to determine what a webpage is about and when to show it as a search result. “Keyword” is a bit of a misnomer because they can actually be more than one word. For example, “animation” is a keyword and so is “best animation software 2023.”
The first would be considered a short-tail keyword and the second, a long-tail keyword. You can guess why. Short-tail keywords get a lot of traffic, but it’s usually better to use long-tail keywords because they’re more specific. They get fewer searches overall, but more of those searches are relevant to the specific sub-topic your content is about. We’ll talk more about keywords in a future article.
The internet is just a big collection of pages that link to other pages. That’s how the game is played! If you want your content to be useful to your visitors (and you do), you need to provide lots of links. There is such a thing as too many, but it’s unlikely you’ll get there.
Every page you build should link to at least one other relevant page on your site, and ideally to several pages on other websites. This helps users navigate and find information that’s helpful in their search, and it contributes to the interconnected community of related websites within your niche, which is always good.
Eventually, when you’ve been creating content long enough, other websites will start linking to you!
These are called backlinks, and they’re an important part of SEO because search engines see them as a huge vote of confidence in your content. The more backlinks you have, the more authority your domain has and the more often you’ll be featured in search results, and the more backlinks you’ll get! Backlinks have the added benefit that some of the other website’s audience will find you and become your audience, too!
For a deeper dive into backlinks, read What Are Backlinks? Introduction and 17 Effective Link-Building Methods (2023 Guide).
Now that we know how to run your website afterward, we’re ready to actually build it!
Building Blocks of a Website
Contrary to popular belief, building a website is actually pretty simple! There are many ways to complicate the process, but their are really only three base components that every website needs: a domain, a host, and a CMS (Content Management System) or some other way of creating content. In this section, we’ll talk about each and show you how to build a WordPress website, step by step!
Registering a Domain Name
Every website lives on a server with an IP address (a string of numbers that identifies the server). But since long strings of numbers aren’t exactly easy to remember, we map IP addresses to domain names, which then point back to the IP when a user searches for it.
You just need to know that a domain name is the web address that’s assigned to your website, something like myflowershop.com. People will find your site by typing it into their browser or by searching for keywords that are found on your site. The domain is the most important part of a URL, and other pages can be appended to the end using forward slashes, like myflowershop.com/about or myflowershop.com/how-to-grow-begonias.
To register a domain name, you’ll need to choose a domain registrar (or domain provider). Some good options are name.com, domain.com, Ionos, and Google Domains. Keep in mind that as of June 15, 2023, Google Domains has been acquired by Squarespace, so there may be changes coming to that service soon. Follow these steps to register a domain with name.com:
Step 1: Create an Account
Visit https://www.name.com/ and Login using the button at the top right of the screen. If you don’t have an acount yet, create one by choosing Create Your Account and filling out the form on the following page.
Step 2: Search Your Desired Domain Name
Once you’re signed in, there should be a search bar with a prompt like, “Search Domain Names.” Type your desired brand name into this field to be presented with available domain suggestions based on your input. The results will feature pricing and any available deals or sale prices. When you’ve selected a domain, choose Add To Cart.
The button will change to Checkout. Click or tap it one more time to move on to purchase details. Complete your purchase.
That’s it for now! We’ll connect the domain you’ve purchased in steps to come.
Connecting Your Domain to a Hosting Provider
Understand that your domain is not your website. It’s not event where your website lives. A domain is simply the address of your website, like the address on the front of your house, telling a user’s machine which server (another machine) to connect to when they search for your content.
The “brick and mortar” where the content actually “lives” is that server. That’s why you need a hosting provider. They house thousands of servers, from which you can purchase space and bandwidth for your website!
Web hosts are getting pretty sophisticated, and many provide CMS support as well, all wrapped into one service. In fact, almost all of the CMSs listed in the next section are also hosts if you choose to use them that way.
These combined services make life easy as long as all of the features you need are provided, but let’s talk about some hosts for when you need more flexibility and don’t want to be locked into a single service for all of your website needs.
Studio O’Riley is hosted through SiteGround. They have excellent hosting, several useful WordPress plugins, and knowledgable support—if you can get ahold of them. Yeah, I’m talking to you, SiteGround. That’s the one complaint I have as a long-time customer: They make you jump through multiple hoops to get ahold of someone for technical or account support. Though I have to say, their user experience is rather painless, with a thorough set of tools and documentation.
Step 1: Sign In or Create an Account
Navigate to https://www.siteground.com/ and create an account or log into an existing account.
Step 2: Create a New Website
Navigate to the Websites tab toward the top left of the screen. Then toward the top right, choose New Website.
Step 3: Choose a Domain
Like many hosts and CMSs, SiteGround can act as a domain registrar. This page will present you with three options:
- New Domain: Choose this if you have not already bought a domain elsewhere.
- Existing Domain: Choose this if you have already bought your domain through another registrar. Make sure to type in your domain correctly in the Enter Your Domain Name field. The rest of these instructions will assume you have already purchased your domain elsewhere.
- Temporary Domain: SiteGround can generate a temporary domain for you. Choose this if you haven’t decided on a domain name yet and would like to add a proper one later.
Step 4: Start Your Website
Again, SiteGround will offer you three options:
- Start a New Website: Choose this option to start a brand new website. The rest of these instructions will assume that you have chosen this option.
- Migrate Website: Choose this option to move an existing website from another host to SiteGround.
- Skip & Create Empty Site: Choose this option to create an empty website root file, to which you can upload custom site files at a later time.
Step 5: Choose a CMS
And again… SiteGround… three options… 😉
- WordPress: Choose this option to install only WordPress on your site.
- WooCommerce: Choose this option to install WordPress with the WooCommerce plugin preinstalled on your site. WooCommerce is the standard ecommerce solution for WordPress, so if you plan to have a store, this is the option for you!
- Weebly Sitebuilder: Choose this option to install Weebly on your site, as an alternative to WordPress.
Then choose an email address and password, which you’ll use to log into the back end of your new website!
Normally, using WordPress would be difficult for a complete beginner, because you would have to install a version of WordPress onto your server, which starts to feel a little bit like web developer work. Luckily, these days, most hosts perform this process for you with just a click of a button! That’s one of the benefits of using a hosting plan, rather than hosting your website yourself.
Step 6: Choose Any Extras
That’s the end of the required steps! The next screen will present you with some optional extras, which you can choose to install along with your CMS if you’d like. Simply choose Finish when you’ve selected any you’d like to install, and you’re done! Siteground will spend a few minutes creating your site.
When it’s done, you’ll be given the choice to view your site (an empty site with some default placeholders), access the WordPress Admin, or go to your SiteGround Site Tools to do your configurations. At this point, I recommend going to your WordPress Admin and getting started building your site!
Congratulations! You’ve just got your first website up and running! These steps should be similar, no matter what host you go with. Some hosts are better set up for certain features than others. If you’re looking for more host options that are separate from a CMS and offer better support, look into bluehost or HostGator, both of which boast 24/7 support and a slew of useful features.
If you’re comfortable doing a little more developer work and all you need is server space, GitHub Pages is a great option! As an added bonus, most hosts offer free SSL certificates (for site security), free tools for switching hosts, and other freebies to entice new customers!
Choosing a CMS
If you chose Skip & Create Empty Site in Step 4 of the previous section, you’ll still need a CMS to create your website. You’ll then simply attach your CMS to SiteGround. Most CMSs are pretty well-rounded these days, so the most important thing is just to pick one that has good support.
WordPress is free, easy enough for most beginners to learn, and any specific features you need are likely available via a free plugin.
Note: wordpress.com and wordpress.org are not the same, and you cannot switch easily between them. The .com version is a paid service with more features and support. The .org version is a free version of the same software, which you operate yourself, but which offers direct code customization if you have the skills. (You don’t have to use code. It’s just available for advanced users.)
I recommend .org in almost all cases because you can get many of the .com features through the Jetpack plugin and mobile app, provided by WordPress for .org users. It’s a very generous system! WordPress the world’s most popular CMS, but I’ve included some alternative options below in case you don’t want to use it for one reason or another.
- If your site is primarily an online store, consider Shopify, web.com, or Squarespace.
- If your site is primarily a blog or information-based site and you don’t need those dedicated ecommerce features, consider Webflow, Wix, or in very simple cases where you don’t mind getting your hands dirty with some deeper web developer skills, Github Pages.
No matter what tools you use, just remember that content is the most important part of a website. Make that your next chapter as a webmaster, and you’ll thank yourself.
Your website is up and running! The next step is to learn how to use WordPress, which you can read all about in my post, Your First Time in WordPress – Part 1: The Gutenberg Block Editor. If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment. Thanks for reading, and best of luck to you in your webmaster journey!
Not sure you’re up to all this? Just get in touch and Studio O’Riley can do it all for you!