You want to have a website! Yay! I am truly, truly delighted because to me that means you want to do something amazing, and share it with the world.
You have a gift and you’re ready to give it. That’s exciting!
However, if you are not technical at all, or maybe a little bit but not really, then designing, creating, building, and then maintaining a website can seem a little daunting.
If you’ve never touched a website before other than playing on Facebook or laughing at YouTube (or reading Medium!), then delving into making one yourself could be a little scary.
And it should be. Websites are powerful.
But if you don’t know what you don’t know, you could make a lot of costly mistakes that could stop you cold before you even start.
There are a few things you need to know that should make the process a little easier for you, and ultimately, allow you to be more prepared.
I mean think about this: your website could be the ticket to your financial freedom. You don’t want to take it lightly!
So here we go: 8 things you really ought to know if you want to own a website:
1. Building and managing a website can be a GIANT hangnail on your toe.
I don’t care what companies like Wix or Squarespace or even GoDaddy are saying about their cute little site builders, websites can be difficult and complicated to build on your own, if you don’t know anything about it.
I’ve been building them since 1999, so I know a little bit about it. 😎
There is a lot more involved with putting together a website than just choosing a template and a domain name and then telling everyone you have a website now! Whooooo!
What happens if you get an error message? What happens if it looks like shit on your mobile devices? What happens if the image you uploaded jacks up the entire page layout?
It’s not always as cut and dry as the happy advertisements say.
And while I appreciate these companies are doing some good in the world, if you don’t know anything before you begin [to pay their monthly fees for the rest of your website’s life], you may find that you’re spending a lot of your “free” time on their customer service line or watching their tutorials.
And then you end up frustrated and disillusioned.
That’s no fun.
Just be prepared. Do a little research first. If you go into it thinking it will be a breeze, you may be verrrrry disappointed. If you go into it thinking it might be an interesting challenge, you can get excited about what you can accomplish.
Which one feels better?
2. A website is not simply a Word document pulled up on a browser screen, folks.
A lot of people actually think this.
I suppose technically you could create an entire website of just Word documents linking to each other, but… yes… the world would die laughing.
So what is a website really? Well, it’s actually a composition of files. It is series of coded and linked page files, that may or may not include other embedded files and/or programs within them, that when rendered in a browser application, will translate onto the screen as readable and interact-able pages.
Wah wah wah wah wah wah wah wah wah wah wah wah wah wah wah wah wah wah wah wah wah wah wah wah wah wah wah wah wah wah wah wah wah wah wah wah wah wah wah wah wah WAAAAAAH.
Yeah, I know. But that’s what a website really is.
Why do you need to know this? Simply because when things don’t go your way in the process of building a site — and that will happen — you have a shot in hell of finding your way out. Knowing a little bit about how websites are constructed helps a lot in diagnosing that goddamned WTF error message along the way. 😉
So if you looked at the backend of a website, you would see a bunch of files in a directory, just like you would see in Windows Explorer or Finder on your own computer. See here:
Look at all those files and folders! And that’s for a website that isn’t even really built yet.
And then, look at the backend code of just this paragraph put into a website blog post:
<div> <h4 class="graf graf--h4">2. A website is not simply a Word document pulled up on a browser screen, folks.</h4> <p class="graf graf--p">A lot of people actually think this.</p> <p class="graf graf--p">I suppose technically you <em class="markup--em markup--p-em">could</em> create an entire website of just Word documents linking to each other, but… yes… the world would die laughing.</p> <p class="graf graf--p"><strong class="markup--strong markup--p-strong">So what is a website really?</strong> Well, it’s actually a composition of files. It is series of coded and linked page files, that may or may not include other embedded files and/or programs within them, that when rendered in a browser application, will translate onto the screen as readable and interact-able pages.</p> <p class="graf graf--p">That’s what you see when you go to a website online.</p> <p class="graf graf--p">But if you looked at the backend of a website, you would see a bunch of files in a directory, just like you would see in Windows Explorer or Finder on your own computer. See here:</p> <figure class="graf graf--figure"><img class="graf-image" src="/uploads/UTEbu5.png" data-image-id="1*UTEbu5.png" data-width="972" data-height="1156" /></figure> <p class="graf graf--p">Look at all those files and folders! And that’s for a website that isn’t even really built yet.</p> </div>
Kinda crazy, huh. It is not just flat text like a Word doc. A website page is actually a program file that has to be read, understood and rendered (i.e. translated into a viewable and readable page) by a slew of different browsers (and nowadays, devices!).
Furthermore, a page might consist of a grouping of other files, within that one page file. Here is a list of some of the different types of files that might be linked to within one page:
- Images — images are the best example of embedded files within a single page file. Image files download separately to your browser, which is why a heavily image-intense website might take longer to show up on your computer than a text-heavy website.
- videos (can be linked from another provider like YouTube or uploaded to your own server)
- audio files
- contact form
- external code files to be referenced when called to perform an interactive function (like validation of a form, sending a completed form, looking through a calendar of events, or even payment processing)
- social media feeds
- style sheets (external files that give the page its rockin’ style)
- custom fonts (like Google fonts)
These are just a few examples of things that can be embedded into a website page. There are many more. ☺️
So yeah, a website is not just a Word document pulled up in a browser. It’s a living, evolving piece of custom software, built just the way you want it.
And seriously, it can be really fun to do (and no, you don’t have to know code to build a website — there are ways around that.
You just have to know about them!).
A little background knowledge goes a long way. 🤓🤓🤓
3. The right domain name can make the difference between traffic to your site, or having a site that makes sense to no one ever.
Choosing a domain name can be completely fun, or a total drag.
The thing is, your domain name can make or break your site, in two main ways: it has to make sense to people, and it has to represent your content properly.
Otherwise, people will just think you — as the site owner — don’t make any sense. So why would they think your content will?
And that’s what they come to your site for. Content that makes sense.
So don’t pick a domain name that isn’t even a word. I mean, if you didn’t know what Nike, Nintendo, or Oreo were — if you had never heard of these brands before — what would you think they were? I’d have no idea.
And I wouldn’t go to their sites. Why would I? I don’t know what they offer.
Same with using your own name. Lots of people start blogs using their own names, because, well, the blog is about them. And… so… why would anyone read that? Who gives a damn about you at this stage? Try… no one. [see #7]
Give people something you know they want, NOW.
Unless you are mainstream established in some manner, pick domain names that reflect your audience, or their problem, or the solution you offer. Something that makes sense.
Like SmartBlogger.com. Or SmartPassiveIncome.com. Or CraftsbyAmanda.com. Or FitBottomedGirls.com. Or EpicGardening.com.
I could go on forever, but you get what I mean. Pick a domain name that makes sense to your target audience.
And then, your readers will read.
4. If you don’t choose a good hosting provider, you could unknowingly find yourself the next online Viagra drug lord.
Yep, this is true. Hackers are always out there dying to turn your innocent site that teaches parents how to potty train their two-month-olds in less than a week into an online pharmacy selling Mexican Cialis.
So when choosing a hosting provider on which to build your site, make sure security is a top priority for them. I had to leave the ever-popular Bluehost several years ago for exactly this reason. The hacking was so intense, the additional security programs installed on my sites couldn’t even keep up (and yes, I use good security programs).
Choose wisely. There are a lot of good providers out there, but you have to find them. There are a lot more bad ones. Don’t assume the most popular is the best.
Admittedly, expensive isn’t always better, but cheap is always cheap. Be aware, and do your research [I recommend Siteground because their security is far better]. Be willing to pay a few extra bucks a month to not have to worry about Kevin Mitnick turning your site into MEGAPORNNOW.COM.
5. You must know the purpose of your website, otherwise none of your visitors will know either.
I realize this might seem obvious, but most fledgling online business owners don’t actually know what the purpose of their site is. They know all the reasons that having an online business would benefit them (and that they have to have a website to get there), but they haven’t gotten so far as to discover what having an online business would do for anyone else.
And you can’t make any money only thinking of yourself, sadly.
Also, you can’t build an effective website if you don’t know what you want the site to do. And when I say “do”, that can mean several things:
1. the actual functionality that the site will require to operate effectively;
2. what results you want the site to produce for your readers;
3. what results you want the site to produce for you.
Even to answer those three simple questions, you have to know what the purpose of your site is. Otherwise your site will produce nothing at all (except maybe crickets 🦗🦗🦗).
6. Website design is as important as your wedding dress or rented tux: it had better look good or all the guests will laugh.
This is so true, I can’t even believe I have to say it. But I see SO many ridiculous websites out there that aren’t just poor design, they are ABOMINABLE design, that apparently it has to be said.
Good website design is vital. Why? Because unlike guests at your wedding looking at your bouffant-bottomed dress or frilly-fronted tux, your website visitors don’t love you [yet]. They judge you and your credibility instead.
So when someone comes to your site, if it looks like an idiot put it together, they will think you’re an idiot and they will not stay.
[even if there is an open bar]
Therefore it follows that also:
No one will read anything.
No one will sign up for anything.
Certainly no one will buy anything.
Having said all that, however, your site doesn’t have to be AMAZING award-winning art. It just can’t look stupid. So what do you do if you’re not a designer and don’t know the difference?
The short answer is, look at professionally designed sites in your genre, and emulate them. Don’t copy them, but work to mimic them, so to speak.
The good thing is that as you’re following the example of other sites, your own style will begin to develop. Emulation is a great start.
[I’ll write more about designing when you’re a non-designer and don’t have a clue, in another article]
Just remember, the consequences of bad design can be devastating… and far-reaching. 🤢🤮
7. Your website isn’t about you at all, Narcissus, it’s about your readers.
This one probably should have been listed first, because without this knowledge, none of the rest really matters. You shouldn’t even have a website if you don’t (or won’t) understand this concept.
The truth about website visitors is, none of them care about you, or who you are. They don’t even know you!
[unless you’re Beyoncé, of course]
What they care about, is their problem. And when they land on your website, it’s because somewhere on their online journey, they were forwarded to your site to answer their problem.
Their problem might be acne, or boredom, or difficulty meeting chicks, or needing a keto bread recipe that doesn’t taste like death.
People look to the internet to solve a problem.
[even if it’s to solve a fierce argument about pastrami]
Think about it — why do you run to Google?
A website is always about your visitors. Your readers. The ones who land on your site. And their problem!
It’s never, ever everevereverevereverever about you.
So before you even think about starting a website, figure out a problem you want to, and can, solve. Then beautifully design your site around how brilliantly you can solve it.
8. Your website is like a new house: just because it’s built, doesn’t mean you’re done. It’s a lifetime project.
This might be the most unpalatable part of owning a website: it’s never done. You can’t just build it once, and then never look at it again, thinking you don’t have to do anything anymore.
I mean, you can, but it won’t be too long before it breaks, causes error messages, or just becomes so outdated in design that every visitor will laugh themselves off their chair before bouncing out as fast as their 600mb speed will let them.
Kind of like a house.
So, like a house, you have to plan and budget for maintenance and upgrades, otherwise you’re going to be super-pissed when the time comes to fork out.
Because much as we grind our teeth when it happens, the stove in the house will wear out, and you’ll have to replace it, or risk burning the place down the next time you fry up some corn dogs. This is not advised.
The same applies to, say, your website’s plugins. If you don’t keep them updated, you may risk burning your website down if a security vulnerability is discovered and you ignore it. This is also not advised.
Furthermore, at some point you will want to update the design… just like you’ll want to gut your ugly avocado-tiled bathroom, on your site you’ll want to get rid of the [OMG] frames, or the non-mobile-optimized pages, or the terrifically annoying social media feeds [yes, users actually hate those].
Be prepared, and be okay with this. It’s not a bad thing, it’s just part of being a website owner (and like a home owner, the rewards can be very good).
Fear not, it’s still totally worth it.
Now I hope I haven’t scared you or put you off having your own website, because it’s one of the best adventures you can embark upon. The potential for creative outlets and possibly earning money (or an entire living!) doing and sharing what you love is boundless, and so exciting.
But like anything you want to be successful, the more you know, the easier it is.
And considering how many people are out there with their own websites doing wonderful things, there is no reason you can’t do the same thing.
However, there are infinitely more people out there with their own websites who have given up and abandoned their brilliant start, because they didn’t know what you know now.
So what to do next?
Don’t give up! If you take anything away from this article, please let it be that you can do this, and you can do it well — as long as you understand what is important to the success of your new site.
Don’t let your site end up in the internet graveyard like so many others!
And, if you decide you’d like some help building your new adventure, you can contact me over here at Websites Without Code, where you can get a pre-built WordPress website template installed by me on your hosting provider (if you don’t have one yet, Siteground is my favorite). Once installed, you will be able edit it yourself and make it your own with your content and branding.
I’ll show you how.
What are you waiting for? Go get started!