Websites are the building blocks of the Internet. But while you might have been tempted to make one for a while, you may have been wondering how to get one live. Thankfully, the basic setup process is straightforward. Even with absolutely no knowledge of code you can set one up, and initial costs could be as low as £20 a year.
Website builder services
You’ll often see website builder adverts from many different companies. While these can be useful to get something up and running, they usually come with strings attached. By using these services, you can become too wedded to one provider, and they are likely to have less flexibility over the long term. Also, they are comparatively expensive when setting up a domain and running hosting yourself. The initial savings could be in the hundreds of pounds a year.
The 3 essentials of building a website
All you need to set up a website is a domain name, hosting and then some information. You don’t initially need to worry about code and a nice design to start with. Once you’ve got something online, you’ll need a template or some coding and design to make it look good - but that’s for later.
You can register a domain with there are many more. If your domain name is available, then there isn’t any great requirement to shop around. You can likely get a .co.uk domain name for a little under £10 and a .com or .org for slightly over that. When you register the domain, you’ll need to enter some information about yourself as the owner.
If your domain name isn’t available, then you will need to acquire it from its current owner. You’ll find that a lot of domains are already taken.
Domain acquisition is often very expensive compared to registering an available one, and would very rarely be worth the price unless it is critical to your brand or marketing strategy. If you’re setting up a website for the first time and aren’t looking to build a business out of your presence, it’s strongly recommended you just search for a domain name variation that is available.
If you really have to get the specific domain, you’ll need to find the owner on whois.net and possibly contact them through the details listed there. Alternatively you could buy a domain from an auction site like sedo.com. Again, this could get very expensive compared with registering your own.
Once you’ve got your domain, you need server space to host your website on. Think of this as like the space on your phone or computer where you need to store information.
Hosting does come in quite a few shapes and sizes, and you’ll see that many of the companies selling domain names also allow web hosting. It can be efficient to have your domain name and hosting by the same company, but you don’t have to - it just adds a little bit of complexity to your website setup if you don't.
If you don’t setup domain and hosting with the same provider, you will need to point the domain to a different nameserver. The hosting company will have the address of the nameserver that you need to point the domain to.
Unless you’re launching a professional operation, you probably don’t need a large web hosting package. However, it still pays to shop around because prices can differ. Economy packages can be as low as £2.99 a month, and you shouldn’t need to go above £40 a year for a basic website. At least 1 GB of disk space is recommended in a basic package.
You’ll also see one of the setup criteria being ‘MySQL database’ - it’s worth getting a package that can run one of these. They aren’t completely essential for a website that is just a small number of flat HTML pages, but if you want to do anything like blogging or run a forum, they are essential. Without one, you won’t be able to install a platform like WordPress, which is a very user friendly publishing platform.
If you’ve setup hosting with your domain name provider, you’ll get access to cPanel. Here you need to setup an FTP (File Transfer Protocol) account - this is essentially a key to get into your website via an FTP client.
There are quite a few options for an FTP client, including one that is likely to be provided in your website’s cPanel. However, Filezilla is free and a straightforward application to use, and separate from a web browser. Download it, enter your login details, and you’ll be able to access your website’s folder structure.
You’ll normally have to navigate to a particular folder to begin uploading. It shouldn’t be very far from the root. Once you're in, you can begin uploading.
For the most basic of options, open a text file in Notepad and type in 'Hello world' at the top. Save the file as index.html on your desktop, then drag and drop this into your file structure. The file will upload. Then go to your domain in your web browser - you should now see a white page that says Hello world in the very top left hand corner of the window.
You can also use a content management system (CMS) such as WordPress. There are thousands of plugins and widgets and themes, so that you only have to type in information once the WordPress system is installed on your website.
Writing for Websites
When writing for the web, using plain language allows users to find what they need, understand what they have found, and then use it to meet their needs. It should also be actionable, findable, and shareable.
Why it Matters
People read differently online than they do when they read print materials - web users typically scan for information. In a study of online reading behaviour, Jakob Nielsen found that:
“on the average webpage, users have time to read at most 28% of the words during an average visit; 20% is more likely”.
Identify Your Users’ Top Tasks
People come to your website with a specific task in mind. When developing your site’s content, keep your users’ tasks in mind and write to ensure you are helping them accomplish those tasks. If your website doesn’t help them complete that task, they’ll leave. Conduct market research, perform a task analysis and other types of user research, and analyse metrics to better understand what users are looking to accomplish.
Knowing your users’ top tasks can help you identify:
- Content to feature on your homepage or landing pages
- Page headers and sub headers
- A logical structure to each page’s content
It’s important to target your audience when writing for the web. By knowing who you are writing for, you can write at a level that will be meaningful for them.
Use the words your users use
By using keywords that your users use, you will help them understand the copy and will help optimize it for search engines.
- Use the words your users use. By using keywords that your users use, you will help them understand the copy and will help optimize it for search engines.
- Chunk your content. Chunking makes your content more scannable by breaking it into manageable sections.
- Front-load the important information. Use the journalism model of the “inverted pyramid.” Start with the content that is most important to your audience, and then provide additional details.
- Use pronouns. The user is “you.” The organization or government agency is “we.” This creates cleaner sentence structure and more approachable content.
- Use active voice. “The board proposed the legislation” not “The regulation was proposed by the board.”
- Use short sentences and paragraphs. The ideal standard is no more than 20 words per sentence, five sentences per paragraph. Use dashes instead of semi-colons or, better yet, break the sentence into two. It is ok to start a sentence with “and,” “but,” or “or” if it makes things clear and brief.
- Use bullets and numbered lists. Don’t limit yourself to using this for long lists—one sentence and two bullets is easier to read than three sentences.
- Use clear headlines and subheads. Questions, especially those with pronouns, are particularly effective.
- Use images, diagrams, or multimedia to visually represent ideas in the content. Videos and images should reinforce the text on your page.
- Use white space. Using white space allows you to reduce noise by visually separate information.
Designing for Tablets and Mobile Devices
There are two schools of thought when designing for mobile devices:
- Creating native applications (apps)
- Producing web content that is responsive (adapts to fit the screen size of the device being used)
There are advantages and disadvantages to both.
The advantages to native content built right into an app are immediately obvious: users download the app once, and they are good to go once installed. No connection? No problem! The app has you covered, so users can check that their children are indeed on holiday until Wednesday, whilst stuck in the signal-less area of their getaway cottage.
Keeping content native also makes it easier for you to control the style and look of the app, keeping the feel consistent and having a more satisfying user journey. There are, however drawbacks.
Native content on apps gets out of date, sometimes all too easily! In the space of days from initial creation of a page, content can already be out of date.
There's also the sheer workload required to upload the content in the first place, and then keeping it up to date. Content that exists on a website already will then have to be updated on the native content: twice the workload.
Developing native applications also requires a greater amount of technical skill, and often cost to register as an app developer.
Many of the disadvantages to native apps are the advantages for a responsive website. Content updated on the website is accessible to all, on any device - there isn't a separate app to update.
There's also nothing extra to learn in addition to your website, as the responsive nature of the site is determined by correct use of Cascading Style Sheets (CSS).
Content management systems are often already adapted to provide responsive views, with the majority of the WordPress themes self-adapting to the end user's individual device.
Search Engine Optimisation
Are you on Google?
Determine whether your site is in Google's index - Do a site: search for your site's home URL. If you see results, you're in the index. For example, a search for "site:staffordshire.gov.uk" returns these results.
If your site isn't in Google, although Google crawls billions of pages, it's inevitable that some sites will be missed. When their crawlers miss a site, it's frequently for one of the following reasons:
- The site isn't well connected from other sites on the web
- You've just launched a new site and Google hasn't had time to crawl it yet
- The design of the site makes it difficult for Google to crawl its content effectively
- Google received an error when trying to crawl your site
- Your policy blocks Google from crawling the site
How do I get my site on Google?
Inclusion in Google's search results is free and easy; the vast majority of sites listed in their results aren't manually submitted for inclusion, but found and added automatically when they crawl the web.
Here are a few basic questions to ask yourself about your website when you get started.
- Is my website showing up on Google?
- Do I serve high-quality content to users?
- Is my local business showing up on Google?
- Is my content fast and easy to access on all devices?
- Is my website secure?