Here at StartUP LunchBox we focus on ways startups and small businesses can get things done easily and cheaply. Websites are a great way to spend a lot of money and not necessarily end up with what you wanted (previous experiences with overpriced and not that nice websites were a major inspiration for StartUP LunchBox!) So why not just build it yourself!
Our recent Blog article – “Why Startups Should NOT hire a webdesigner even if they have no design experience” explored some of the reasons why a startup might choose to build their own site. In particular low cost and easy of management are big reasons to do-it-yourself. Plus these days you really don’t need to know how to code.
Firstly, the easiest and cheapest way to build your startup’s website is with WordPress. While WordPress isn’t the only choice its by far the best if you are building your own website. Here’s why:
- It’s free (beyond hosting and your domain name of course)
- Community support and expertise – nearly 59 million websites have been built on WordPress so there is a wealth of experience and insight in the support forums (also free)
- It’s modular – There are 20,000 plugins that you can use to add funcationality to your website
- Straightforward and easy to use – it’s a bit like learning how to use MS Office, you just have to learn where different tools are kept but once you familarize yourself it’s easy.
So how do you go about building your own website? Start by breaking it down into two parts:
- Content and Design – what do you want it to do, what do you want to have in it and how do you want it to look?
- Technical stuff and building – put your plan into action!
We’ll look at Part 1 here and Part 2 in a subsequent guide.
First, let’s assume you’ve got your startup’s business name and you’ve registered your domain name. Or maybe your business is already up and running but you want to revamp or update your website.
A. Site Definition
First you need to define what the purpose of your site is and what you need it to do.
- Content or commerce – do you want to share information or sell products?
- What do you want the look and feel to be?
- What do you want to say to your visitors?
- How do you want the site to be divided up and organized?
- What functionality do you want the site to have?
- How do you want to interact with your visitors:
- For instance, do you want to have live chat functionality?
- Do you want to do surveys, contact forms, email newsletters?
It’s also a good idea to look at your competitor’s website too. What’s their setup? What can you improve on or how can you differentiate your startup?
B. Initial Sketch
Next, sketch out a first draft of what you want your site to look like. This outline should include the how many and what pages, how they will be arranged and broadly what you want to include on each one. Designing a website is an iterative process and the actual layout may well change as you go along, but it’s best to start with a plan even if you change it later.
C. Choose a Theme
Now you need to choose a WordPress Theme. The theme controls the style of the site and provides a template for the pages. There are numerous themes to choose from. They vary not only by style but also by functionality and layout. It’s a good idea to have a draft of your website done before you choose a theme because you will have a better idea of what you are looking for.
When assessing a theme you should pay attention to:
- Level of Support
- Price (there are plenty of free themes, but will not include as much support)
- Complexity of layouts
- Drag and drop vs static layouts
- Any special features offered through widgets or shortcodes
- You should also look at what plugins you use to add functionality. It’s unlikely you’ll find a theme with everything you want.
In order to pick a theme it helps to know a bit about how WordPress themes are setup and how the layouts are designed and functionality added in. Broadly speaking WordPress themes are divided into two groups: ones that have a set number of columns per page and those that are dynamic where the user can create a unique layout for each page. Let’s call the first group static and the second dynamic.
In the static group if you have a 2 column theme what this means is that you’ll get the main page area 1 column and then a sidebar as column 2 (excluding headers and menus which are part of the template). This is consistent for each of the theme pages but the homepage which is likely to have a different layout.
Dynamic themes or ones with a drag and drop layout will allow you to create completely different layout for each page.
Static themes are easier to set up but aren’t as flexible and can require greater knowledge of formatting and layouts to create unique pages. Dynamic themes can be harder to set up by the shear variety of configurations and pieces to put together but they can be easier to design.
Shortcodes allow you to introduce design elements or functionality that has already been programmed into the theme or plugin. They are generally denoted by one or two words in brackets – [shortcode] that you place before the text you want the shortcode to act on. Basically rather than the user having to code in the styling or functionality that’s all been done at the backend and the user just has to put in the “shortcode” or short hand. Shortcode can cover everything from formatting elements – text and message boxes, colored buttons to photo galleries and more. Both themes and some plugins (depending on setup) come with their own shortcodes.
While themes carry the major functionality for the site plugins can be used to add in specific features. Let’s say you have a fashion boutique and you buy an ecommerce theme for your online store, but you also want to let users know about various events your store will be hosting you can add in an events plugin to manage these dates and bookings. Or you want to have a subscribers only section to your site you can upload plugins for membership management or registration with Facebook connect.
Widgets are functional pieces that are added into defined locations in your theme such as your sidebar, footer or header. Plugins may also come with widgets. The ability to add widgets to different areas or your theme will be hard designed into the theme itself. Most will have a sidebar and then some will have a widgetized footer or header. The widgets themselves can include things like recent posts or most commonly used tags, top rated articles, maps etc etc. It just depends on what widgets your theme has enabled and what plugins you choose to install.
When looking for a theme you should note, what functionality comes pre-programmed, what you can add with plugins and how each and where each of these pieces can be enabled either through shortcodes or widgets.
Here are some places to look for themes:
Themeforest – showcase of premium themes by different developers, can be sorted by industry ecommerce etc. Typically themes range between $25 to $50 each.
Elegant Themes – $39 for access to 75 themes, excellent support but some of the designs are a bit more basic
Woo Themes – common popular theme
Frogstheme – popular themes
And for Plugins:
WordPress Plugin Database – WordPress plugin database with over 20,000 plugins
Code Canyon premium WordPress plugins - These will offer more support and more complex functionality. Prices range from $10-$20.
**StartUP LunchBox has no connection with WordPress or any other provider mentioned in this article. We really just think it’s an easy platform to design your own website with.
D. Develop Content
You’ve not got a draft of your website and the theme you want to use. Now you need to develop the actual content you want on the site. What do you want on each page of your website and how do you want it to be laid out?
In order to attract visitors to your site you will need to pay attention to the Key Words you use. You can research which words or phrases people looking for your products and services use most and by including these words in your text you will increase the search rankings of your site.
Key Word Research Resources:
Will you need images for your website. Do you have them already? are they of your products? If you need images but don’t have a huge budget you can use WordPress Plugins like Photodropper that allows you use over 2 million photos for free under the Creative Commons licensing scheme. These photos can even be used for commercial websites.
Have a look at what other free image plugins are available by searching for “free photos” in the WordPress plugin search.
Now it’s time to build your website!