Creating your first website – Part 1/3 – Pre-Launch

If you’re building your first website, you’re maybe lost! However, building a simple website should be just that, simple. In this 3 part blog posts series, I’ll guide the novice out there in building a great first site. There’s no reason why your first website shouldn’t be a success. Whether it’s the first or hundred times, there are fundamental steps in building a great website.

I’ve broken down the creation of a new website into the simplest possible parts:

  1. Pre-Launch
  2. Launch
  3. Post-Launch

That’s it, 3 parts; before you officially launch your site, the official launch, and what happens after the launch.

Let’s examine the first part, for a content site, by breaking it down into 4 steps:

Step 1- Topic / Niche
Step 2- Domain
Step 3- Content, Content, Content
Step 4- Design

1- Find your topic and/or niche

Well, if you’re thinking of building a website, you probably already know what you want it to be about. Knowing and understanding exactly your niche is going to be is important as it will serve as your guide line throughout the process of creating your site. Your domain will relate to your niche, your logo is going to relate to your niche, your design, your content…

It’s easy to start with an idea in mind and get lost by going outside your niche and adding stuff just because you think it would look good on your side. Stay on topic. Start small and adapt later, once you can get a feel of what your audience wants or expect from your site. (Although, you could end up doing the inverse, starting with a niche that’s a little general, and focusing later on as a response to your audience).

2- Find your domain

Back in the days, you had an idea, you would go to a popular domain registrar and within 10 minutes you would get a decent domain name that fits the bill. Nowadays, it’s a little more complex than that. Most of the good names are already taken. This is where you will sometime need to tap on your creativity.

But, what if you can’t find a name that works? You can always try domain forums to see if a domainer (someone who buys domains just to resell them at a higher price) is selling a domain that you could use. Depending on your niche, there might be forums and communities of webmasters in that same niche – this is another good place to find related domains for sale. However, both these options can get costly quick and I honestly never buy domains from domainers.

Remember, while a great domain name can help, it is definitely not crucial. I would even say that well branded name, which, at first glance, has nothing to do with your niche can be much better. The name don’t make your site, the quality of your content will make or break you.

Once, you have your domain, I suggest throwing a single html page out there. Something simply saying what the site will be about and when it should be ready. This is not for your visitors – it will take some time before you get any – but, more of a SEO tactic, so that your site can already start to age and get crawled by search engines.

3- Content is king!

“Write it and they will come”. Now, some people nowadays don’t put as much importance on quality content anymore, because they feel that with so many sites around, the most important thing is getting people to find your site. Well, let me put it this way, if your site has the best content on a specific topic, people will bookmark your site, people will link to your site (or will steal your content!), people will refer people to your site for info…

When I talk about content, I don’t necessarily mean written content, although most of the time, that’s what we’ll be talking about. If your site is about pictures of the latest cool car, then, make sure to have great looking unique pictures. If your site is a myspace resource website, feature the coolest graphics available. If your site is an informative site, well, yes, you’ll need good written content.

What is good written content? Here is my 5 vowels rule of good written content:

It is Accurate – it could be used by Wikipedia
It is Exhaustive – it covers everything about your topic
It is Interesting – it doesn’t put people to sleep
It is Organised – it is easy for visitors to find what they are looking for
It is Unique – it is not stolen copy from someone else and can’t be found anywhere else

Simply put, to come up with the pages for your site, you should create a table of content for your own benefit. Envision your future website as a book on your topic, and create a page of content for each chapter and sub-chapter… Here’s an excellent article by Randy Ray to help you come up with ideas for pages for your site.

4- Your website’s design
Now, it’s time to build the box that will contain your content. If you’re not a graphic designer and have no experience building templates or website layouts, don’t despair, I don’t either. So, here are two available options:

a)    Hire a graphic designer to build you a site
Let someone more experienced than you build your website. If you have no idea what you want, make sure that your hired designer knows what the site is about and what your plans are with it. Remember your design must fit your niche.

This option means dishing out cash. If you have deep pocket, then, it’s not a problem. If you’re strapped, perhaps it’s not the best option right now, although, there are always way to find “cheap” designers. And “cheap” doesn’t have to equal “low quality”. Search on forums (i.e. DP, Sitepoint), or on designer communities (i.e. DeviantArt), and with a little patience and flair, you can always find young talented designers who are more concerned about building a portfolio than cashing in. More often than not, these young guns will give you a better return on your money as they will be passionate about your little project and genuinely concerned about your satisfaction.

Other sites like 99Designs or Digital Point, lets you post contest where you’ll be able to receive submissions from multiple talented designers, and will therefore have a big pool of great customs designs to choose from. (The logo of this very blog was done via a contest)

b)    Use a free/paid template / CMS

They are all over the web, and a lot of them look extremely good.

Meanwhile, CMS are Content Management Systems (i.e. WordPress, Joomla, Xoops, Drupal…). They allow you to create site easily without having to know much or anything about programming. Each CMS has its resource and support website and community to help you, and you can also find a bunch of free templates for each of them.

A lot of good CMS are free, and there’s also paid ones. Creating your first site using a CMS is a very good choice in my opinion. This blog runs on WordPress and uses a free template.

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