Above all, your website should be easy for visitors to navigate and find what they’re looking for. A menu at the top is a good place to start. If you have a lot of content, you might want to put one at the bottom as well. Try to lead visitors through your website using internal links taking them where you want them to go – to contact you, order your services, read your blog posts, sign up for your newsletter, purchase your paid content… With each part of your website, think about what you want visitors to do next, and make it easy for them to do just that without a lot of clicking and searching. You can use CTA (Call To Action) buttons with links leading visitors to the page they need next. The bottom of the page (footer) is often overlooked, but serves as an excellent place to put the most important information and contact details.
Try to make your website user-friendly – don’t overwhelm people with too much information, and lead them where they need to go.
This is closely related to the technical side of things. Forget about a free website and buy your own domain and web hosting from a reliable provider. The annual fees are not high and you’ll have a website without pesky ads that look unprofessional and don’t do your reputation any favors. Go for a short domain name that’s easy to remember, without dashes if possible. You can check for availability on any web hosting service website. If you decide to make your domain name your real name, make sure to register any domains people with the same name as you might “grab” out from under you (I registered the .cz domain as well as .com, even though I don’t use it). Your new domain will come with your own email addresses, which are safer and look more professional than those from free services.
Web administration shouldn’t pose much of a problem, as the WordPress dashboard is fairly user-friendly and intuitive. This is where you put your content into your chosen template, create each page and blog post, translate content into your working languages and edit and move things around as necessary. You can also add photographs and media files, change your website appearance, download and manage plugins, create a contact form and link your website to your social media profiles.
The dashboard will show any available updates to templates, plugins and WordPress itself. It will also warn you of any potential security risks and notify you of new comments on your blog.
SEO (Search Engine Optimization) means designing your website to make it easy for search engines to find. We make websites to show the world who we are and to find new clients. This means we need to be visible when people are looking for us. Search engines have special programs that go through websites and assess content using their algorithms. Better SEO means a better ranking in search results. It’s incredibly complicated, and if you have a large, multi-part website, you’re going to need a SEO specialist. Even a small website should follow a few basic rules, though:
- high-quality content – your website content should be unique, well-written and relevant to your visitors’ needs. Update your website regularly with new posts to let your readers – and search engines – know you’re still around
- keywords – consider what keywords your potential clients would put into their search engines to look for the services you offer, and make sure to work them smoothly into your copy. You can find plenty of articles on the internet about keyword analysis, so read through a few and try to follow their advice
- internal links – as mentioned above, make sure to link pages on your website to each other to help visitors find their way around and get where you need them to go. Search engines will also appreciate not winding up in dead ends on your site
- responsive design – the site’s appearance and font size adjusts automatically when displayed on mobile devices. This should go without saying for a website in 2018, but many sites out there are still not fully responsive. Since more and more users are on smart phones and tablets, Google has begun penalizing websites that do not adapt to these devices
- metadata – website name and description shown in search engines. Don’t forget about this important detail when putting your website and individual pages together. Describe what each page contains in one or two sentences
- headings – for ease of navigation, each page should have headings following a certain hierarchy. You can only have one main heading (h1), with multiple subheadings (h2, h3 down through h6) if you wish
- photograph names and alternative descriptions so search engines can “see” them
- external links – links to your website from other sites lend credibility. If you write a blog, for instance, your readers might link to your posts from their own websites or social media.
- social media activity – when people share your content or comment on your posts on social media, this shows that your website is active and trustworthy. This is a plus for search engine rankings
If you want potential clients to find you, then you need to make yourself visible. Link your website to your social media profiles and keep them updated. You can let followers know about new content, blog posts or other updates. Promote your website in the heading of your profiles on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ and any other social media sites you use, and link back to those sites with social media buttons on your website. This makes your website look more authentic, and lets visitors see that you are a human being with hobbies and things to say.
You should also activate the website plugin that lets visitors share your content on social media and let their friends see what caught their attention on your website.
And now for the big test
Once you have everything set up, you can start testing your website. Tools like GTmetrix, Nibbler or Google Analytics will let you find out how quickly your website loads, how it stacks up in SEO rankings and any major flaws you may have missed. This will help you understand how a website should work and advise you on what aspects could use some improvement.
So about that “quick and easy” website…
This has been an extremely brief overview of what you should expect and what I had to learn and do to make my own website. If you are reading this post on my website, you might be thinking the final result is pretty nice. But I’m afraid I have to disappoint you. This whole saga didn’t have quite the fairy-tale ending I envisioned at first. I did indeed manage to build a website that other people thought looked good and even tested well using the tools mentioned above. Yet I still felt it wasn’t quite right, even though I couldn’t put my finger on what needed to change. It wasn’t until I hired a skilled graphic designer, who designed all-new visuals, and an experienced web designer, who simplified and tweaked the structure (and shot the videos where I welcome visitors on the landing page), that my website took on a form that I am happy with. Even though I wasn’t satisfied with my own design, I certainly don’t regret the time and energy I put into it. I really got down to the nitty-gritty about how websites work, and I can update and administer the site myself.
As you can see, my website was neither quick nor easy to build. I didn’t manage it in 30 days or even 60 – in fact, it took a whole year from start to finish. And yet I still believe that anyone can learn to make a functional, attractive website if they follow the principles outlined above and are willing to spend the time and energy it takes. If you don’t have your own website yet, then just take a deep breath and dive in – maybe you’ll be more pleased with your first try than I was. And if not, then at least you’ll have learned a lot and you’ll be more prepared to make a second attempt or work with a designer. Because a freelancer with no website? You might as well not exist.