I’ve designed and developed websites of all types since the early days of the Internet, and over the years countless people have related their experiences (good and bad) in getting their websites created and launched. I’ve made my own mistakes, of course, and learned from them, and I’ve discovered what works and what doesn’t.
If you’re in the process of planning a website, here are some things you should know, and some pitfalls you should avoid. Note: I’m not talking about content or strategy in this post. That’s for another day.
In the olden days of the 1990’s, domain names were more expensive and there was only one place to get them. Today there are plenty of places to buy domain names and they’re relatively cheap. I use GoDaddy. Their prices are competitive, and their tech support has always been great. Seriously great.
Things to consider when buying your domain name
- It’s important that you buy your domain name directly from an established domain registrar like GoDaddy or NameCheap.
- Try to find a unique name with the “.com” extension. This may be difficult! If someone is already using your preferred domain name with the “.com” extension, you might need to rethink your domain name, especially if the business is your competition. For example, if your business is “Friendly HVAC” and someone already owns “friendlyhvac.com” I would not recommend buying “friendlyhvac.net” because the “.com” competitor will likely be gobbling up your traffic. In that case you’d be better off trying something like “mycityfriendlyhvac.com” or “hvacmycity.com.”
- If possible, keep your domain name short, memorable, and use real words. Ideally your domain name will pass the “phone test,” meaning you won’t have to spell it out to people constantly. For example, something like “pheenixphunkeec8tring.com” would be a nightmare.
- Never let anyone register your domain name for you! Never, ever. Don’t let your web designer do it, don’t register it while signing up for web hosting, none of that. Just find a registrar and buy it yourself so that you can be certain that YOU own and control it.
- During the checkout process when buying your domain, avoid buying any add-ons like web hosting or email, unless you know exactly what you’re doing. Otherwise you may be spending money on something you don’t need. Consult with your web developer before buying hosting, email, security, maintenance or other services.
Website Builders, Do-it-yourself, or Hire a Pro?
So many variables play into deciding how you want to build your website. I’ll briefly explain a few common options to give you a better idea of which course might be best for your particular website project.
1. Website Builders
For the purpose of this post, Website Builders are template-based websites by companies like Weebly, Wix, Square, etc… that offer pre-designed website themes for you to basically fill in with your own content.
- Straightforward set up. These services are great for people who don’t know how to code and perhaps can’t afford to pay a developer.
- Relatively inexpensive. If you don’t mind ads on your website, you can actually get a Weebly site for free! From there, prices increase depending on your feature set.
- Customization can be a challenge. You get what you pay for. The designs are attractive, but one of the most common complaints about these services is that they’re difficult to customize, especially as your business grows and you need to add special features.
- It’s proprietary software. If you ever decide to cancel your account, you’ll basically have to recreate your website from scratch! The company owns the software that your website is built with…
I love the do-it-yourself mentality. Autodidacts of the world, unite! If you want to get in and get your hands dirty, I say go for it.
I still write code of some sort almost daily, but there are a few frameworks that I’ve come to rely on to get the job done. WordPress has been my tool of choice since 2004. WordPress powers about 27% of websites on the Net, and is used by multinational businesses as well as the little bistro down the road from you. Foundation CSS and Bootstrap are also “honorable mentions” in the toolbox.
- Total control. Since it’s yours, you can make it look the way you want, and do anything you want it to do.
- It’s free. Well, your time is worth money obviously, but if you have the time and don’t want to pay someone, then it’s essentially free, and free is good.
- Time sink. Unless you know what you’re doing (coding, designing, hosting, migration, etc…), you’ll spend a lot of time getting your website built and launched. Oh, and your work doesn’t end once you go live. Now there’s regular maintenance, security, marketing, analytics, and more to contend with.
3. Hiring a Web Pro
If you have the budget and are serious about launching a website that will succeed and has the capacity to expand with your business, then hiring a seasoned professional is the ticket.
- Knowledge and experience. A good web pro has been through this process many times. They know the pitfalls. They know what works for their clients, and they have the tools, systems and strategies to help your project succeed.
- Customization. Unlike the aforementioned Website Builder services, a web pro can customize your site to do practically anything current technology will allow.
- Saves time. Having a pro design and develop your website will save you tons of time. And trust me, you’re going to need that time for creating content and focusing on marketing.
- Education. Not only does a pro know how to create a custom website, often times they can teach you how to use it and offer ongoing support. We do.
- Open source. Most web pros use open source software for developing sites. We certainly do. That means you’re not bound to one company’s proprietary system. You’re free to work with other developers if you want to, and to move your site to any compatible web host. Open source is awesome!
- Cost. Hiring a web pro will cost more up front than your other options.
- Trust. It’s hard to know who to trust in this business.
Things to consider
- Decide if the company courting your business is really interested in helping you get a return on your investment, or just interested in taking your money. For us, success is a partnership.
- I’ve met loads of people over the years who’ve been burned by web designers. Protect yourself, get things in writing and know what you’re buying.
If you don’t quite understand it, here’s a simplified explanation of web hosting. A web host is essentially a company with computers (servers) connected to the Internet, who for a monthly or yearly fee will “host” the files and code that make up their customers websites. When someone types a URL in their web browser, that request gets routed via DNS (like the Internet’s phone book) to the corresponding web host’s computer and “served” back up to the requesting browser.
That’s the basic concept. Actually, with a server and an IP address, anyone can be a web host. You could do it. So, web hosts can vary wildly in terms of quality, speed, uptime, tech support, security, and pricing.
I’ve worked with lots of different web hosts over 20 years, both for my own business websites and on behalf of clients. So, who’s the best host? Ask 10 web developers and you’ll get 10 different answers. Since 2014 I’ve used SiteGround for my own sites and have referred many clients there. In my experience, SiteGround has the best tech support of any web host I’ve used, ever.
Things to consider
- You don’t need to purchase hosting before your website is built, so if you’re not sure which web host is best for you, your best bet is to wait until consulting with your developer.
- If you absolutely need hosting, I recommend SiteGround. WPEngine is also good, and I’ve been hearing good things about Flywheel.
- As I mentioned earlier, don’t buy your domain through your web host, and don’t buy web hosting through your domain registrar. Sometimes specialization is a good thing.
There’s obviously a lot more that goes into building a website than what’s written here, but hopefully you’ve learned a few things and I’ve pointed out a few common pitfalls for you to avoid. Good luck, and feel free to post your replies. Don’t spam us though, please.