10 essentials for a successful DIY site

Create the site that works for you!

Making your own website can be as rewarding as it is frustrating. With so many ready-to-use platforms available (like Squarespace, Wix, Weebly etc), you can get some pretty good looking pages online in a matter of hours. But what really makes a website successful? In this article, I’ll go through my top 10 essentials for your website. Let’s get stuck in.

1. A content management system (CMS) that suits you

Figure out what you need the site to do! Make sure the system you choose will allow you to achieve your business goals without having to start again!  There are options out there for almost every skill level and budget. If you plan to manage your own site in future, your choice of platform is really important so that you stay in control and on-budget.

Related Website strategy: Why you need one and how to write one

Popular website platforms

  • WordPress(.org) self-hosted
  • Wix
  • Weebly
  • Squarespace
  • Strikingly

Many of these platforms have a version that you can try out for free or a 14 to 30-day free trial. Check them out. See what feels right for you. Taking your time at this stage and thinking about your long term goals will get you on the right path. Free versions can always be upgraded as your needs change in future, but migrating to a different platform altogether can be a real pain!

2. A good domain name

Your domain name should be memorable and easy to type. Try to avoid hyphens and numbers. Keep it as short as possible. Choose an extension that suits your target audience. A .com is the standard extension, but you also have the option of choosing a country specific domain name (for example: .co.uk, .ie, .fr) which may open up some more possibilities for including keywords. Just be sure to check who else uses that name.

3. Original content

Once you have chosen your platform and domain name, you should start getting your content together. It can take a surprisingly long time to do this! As a starting point, I always recommend writing your Home, About and Contact pages first. Your site will almost certainly end up with more than 3 pages, but these are the bare essentials.

Home

Your home page is likely where people will meet your site for the first time. First impressions count. I always say:

When a potential customer arrives at your homepage, they have to feel like they have found what they’re looking for, so that they don’t bounce away and forget about you.

If your message is not clear upfront, visitors to your site will just continue their online search. A Home page should present your offering, set the tone for the kind of product or service you offer and grab their attention long enough for them to browse a while, sign up to your mailing list or even get in touch.

About

The About page allows your potential customer to meet you (or your business) and understand a bit more about what you do. A good About page helps the reader to relate to you, so try to talk as much about them as you do about yourself. How can YOU help them? You can still talk about yourself, but try to let them know that your product or service is perfect for them.

Related “So what do you do?” 5 steps to your perfect elevator pitch

Contact

Contact pages are often overlooked. Obviously, they should include an email address, or physical address for a bricks and mortar business, but they can also be a place where you invite people to get in touch. Why should they contact you and how? Do you have social media profiles they can follow?

4. Social media buttons

There are 2 types of social media buttons; social follow and social share.

Social follow buttons bring the reader to your social profiles (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Linkedin etc.) so that they can follow you.

Social share buttons allow the reader to share your site (or specific page) on their own social profiles in a few clicks.

Social media is a great way to spread the word about your site, so make sure these buttons are easy to find and that there is actually something to share, like an interesting article or offer.

Related: Growing your social following media following (+ Free Cheatsheet)

5. A call to action (CTA)

When somebody reaches your site, what do you want them to do? Maybe you’d like them to leave their contact information so that you can get in touch. Maybe you’d like them to buy a product or subscribe. In marketing terms, that’s a “Call-to-action” or “CTA”.

A really common CTA is a subscription to your mailing list. Capturing an email address allows you to follow up with the potential customer so they don’t forget about you. Can you offer some kind of incentive? How are you going to grab the readers attention?

Note: “Subscribe for updates” (yawn) is vague and uninspiring! If you offer something exclusive or a useful freebie, you’re more likely to capture those details. If you use some enticing wording, people are more likely to engage with your CTA.

Hubspot has a great set or sample CTA pages from big brands: 30 Call-to-Action Examples You Can’t Help But Click (external link).

Sample call to action from Treehouse

Source: blog.hubspot.com

Source: blog.hubspot.com

6. Analytics

Terrifying word, analytics! But once you get into it, even a little bit it can really help you understand what’s working on your site and what’s not.

Set up Google Analytics on your site so that you can see how many hits you get per day. What pages people are looking at and if they’re coming back for more. Google analytics is free and relatively easy to set up. It works for almost any kind of site. When you have access to this kind of information, you can see what works and do more of it!

7. Basic optimisation

Optimisation, most commonly referred to as SEO (search engine optimisation). It’s the process of making your site more visible in search engines like Google. SEO is a vast area with loads of options and strategies. If you’re working on your own site, my advice is to get started with some basic optimisation techniques and build from there.

So you probably already know the drill about finding stuff on Google… you type some text into the search field and Google kindly lists a load of sites for you that correspond to the words you’re searching for. If you want your site to be listed in these search results, your site needs a bit of SEO. Here are the very basics:

Keywords and phrases

Basically, the vocabulary that you use on your site should be made up of words and phrases that people are likely to be searching for. Think of the people who are searching and words they will use to search and that’s the first step in choosing your keywords.

Repetition (but not how you think)

Don’t use the same flippin’ phrase on every page of your site! Google will get bored of you and readers will think you’re weird. Choose a key phrase per page and try to use it in a heading as well as in the first paragraph of text. Your text content should naturally include your keywords and phrases. Write for humans, not robots.

Your listing

The title and description for each page of your site should be figured out before you publish. If you don’t define it in advance, Google (and other search engines) may pull in the first bit of text that it finds on the page, which could be your menu, which just looks rubbish on a search results page and doesn’t encourage anyone to click through to your site.

This is the tip of the iceberg when it comes to SEO! But basically, choose your vocabulary, repeat it, but not too much and make sure your page descriptions make sense. Text content should be original and natural.

8. Responsiveness

It’s so very very, very, very, (very) important that your site works as well on mobile as it does on bigger screen devices. Check your analytics (Audience > Demographics > Mobile) and you’ll see what percentage of visitors to your site are browsing on mobile devices. It’s often more than half, depending on your audience. Many web designers now design for mobile first. So as you develop your site, at every step, test it on your phone.

Quick definition

A responsive site is one that is as easy to use on a small screen as it is on a big screen.

Source: commons.wikimedia.org

Source: commons.wikimedia.org

9. Style

I’m trying not to use the word branding here, because it can be an off-putting term, but basically, you should have a consistent style throughout your site. The fonts and colours should follow at least a basic set of rules. Images should be good quality and look like they belong together. As I mentioned earlier, first impressions are really important, so your site needs to look good and suit the audience that you are targeting.

Related: Free images: Where to find them and how to use them

10. Legal info

Cookies, terms and conditions, site ownership details. This stuff is a wee bit boring, but you’ll probably only have to do it the once. Websites based in the EU are required by law to tell people if your site uses “Cookies” (most sites do use Cookies). Cookies are lIttle bits of data collected by the website to “improve the visitors experience”. You can link to a page on your site with all this information via the footer, or in a pop up or banner.

This little list should help you to get the first draft of your website up and running, with tools to monitor its success. A website project is never really finished, though. No matter what platform you choose and who your target audience is, you should always check in with your site and stats to be sure it’s performing it’s best. I’ve listed some basic information here, that should help you get started, but if you have any questions, please pop a comment below. I’d be happy to help.

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