With simple drag-and-drop tools and affordable hosting platforms, most small businesses can easily set up and launch a website without a high level of technical knowledge. Here are the seven steps to create a website for your business:
- Choose and register your domain.
- Determine your goals for your website.
- Find a host.
- Choose a website builder or CMS if needed.
- Choose a theme.
- Customize your site.
- Add content.
7 steps to make a website
Although some small business owners market exclusively through social media like Facebook or Instagram, today, most reputable businesses want a website as their calling card.
A good website, backed by solid content and search engine optimization (SEO), can give your business a search engine presence that a social media channel may not. When you own a website, you own its content. It doesn’t belong to the social media company.
A website puts the online marketing efforts of your business in your control. And, with today’s software and web builder apps, it’s easier than ever to develop a website in just seven steps.
1. Choose and register your domain name
Choosing a domain name might be the most important step when you launch your new website. It should certainly be the first step, our experts agreed.
“Definitely make sure that your domain is similar to your brand,” said Ashley Fritsche, founder of Idaho-based Petal & Bloom Tech Marketing, a website design firm for small businesses. “What I like to do is purchase different variations of it so you’re protecting your intellectual property.” She also recommended purchasing the sites with the .co and .net extensions to protect multiple variations of your site and keep them out of the hands of competitors.
For tips on how to align your website domain and your business name, then protect both, read our business naming guide.
2. Determine your goals for the website
For some business owners, the goals for your site might be very clear. For others, you may need to think about what you want your website to do in order to determine the functionality you’ll need. Nailing down these goals will help you choose a hosting platform, CMS and/or website builder that can aid you in reaching them.
For example, Josh Ruby, IT manager of Maryland-based New Vertical Technologies, listed some of the types of businesses that may need a website: “Are you going to be selling e-commerce? Are you a service person like an electrician or a contractor, and you just need a landing page? Are you selling a product? Is it a blog? Is it a learning system? Are you teaching people stuff, so you need to upload a lot of content?”
Your answers will drive the type of site you need and the type of website builder or content management system (CMS) you can choose to help create it.
3. Find a host
You can often purchase and register your domain from the same service that hosts your website, such as GoDaddy. Who you choose as your host depends on a number of factors, including your budget, the traffic you expect to get on a regular basis and the level of customer service you expect and require.
Ruby said that one of the first things to consider is whether you want dedicated hosting with a provider like Amazon Web Services or shared hosting, such as with GoDaddy.
Some of the best website builders even offer small business website hosting, including:
Ruby outlined a few of the factors you want to consider when choosing a host:
- If it offers an uptime guarantee.
- Its scalability as your business grows.
- Its security features.
Even if you’re on a budget, there are some areas you shouldn’t skimp on a website for a full-time business that is your livelihood. Ruby said, “Some people want to save money, but does your provider have good reliability and uptime? Will your website go down [frequently]? Do they have 24/7 customer service?”
Fritsche said that, in a worst-case scenario, if your website goes down, “amazing customer service” is key. “You have to be able to get hold of them right away,” she said.
She also pointed out that you should find a platform that you’re comfortable working with, especially if you’re the one managing your domain name system (DNS) through the platform.
In addition, make sure your host provides SSL certificates, encryption and all the necessary security measures to protect not just sensitive financial information like credit card numbers but also personal information.
“Google may block you, or people won’t be able to look you up on certain web browsers if you don’t have the SSL certificate,” Ruby said.
4. Choose a website builder or CMS if needed
Once you’ve got your domain name, your host and your clear purpose, it’s time to pick a website builder. You may have already chosen one in conjunction with your hosting provider. If not, Companies like GoDaddy, Shopify, Wix, Squarespace and Showit let you build a website for free or for an affordable price.
“The majority of our clients are on Shopify for e-commerce and Showit/WordPress for service-based,” Fritsche said. “There has been a huge upswing in Showit this past year with the design capabilities and mobile to desktop independent design functionality.”
Ruby suggested Elementor, a website builder, as an intuitive application that works with WordPress. “It allows you to create and manage and modify digital content on your website without the need for special technical knowledge,” she said.
5. Choose a theme
Whether you choose a plug-and-play website builder like Shopify or Wix, or choose to go with a CMS, you’ll need to pick a theme (sometimes called a website template). A theme dictates the layout, appearance, style and even capabilities of your website. Shopify, for instance, offers a selection of over 10 free and over 150 premium themes ranging from arts and crafts and restaurant to consumer-product ecommerce website themes.
If you’re using Shopify, Fritsche warned against third-party Shopify themes, although they can expand your potential choices for the look of your site. “Go directly to Shopify and look for the themes sold there for the best functionality,” she said. “See which ones align with your brand.”
When you’re designing your site, it’s important that it’s optimized for mobile. Typically, this feature is inherent in the template or theme, so make sure the theme you choose is “responsive.” That means it works effectively, efficiently and looks good on mobile and desktop, regardless of the device.
6. Customize your site
Finally, we have arrived at the fun and creative part: customizing your site to match your brand. Plug-and-play website builder platforms make it easy for business owners to have a site up and running quickly.
Fritsche urged business owners to take advantage of tutorials while they’re building their sites, but start with out-of-the-box customization options that are available. Then, she said, “Understand how to adjust the colors, the branding and your logo to align with how you want to represent your brand.”
Likewise, Fritsche described some of her favorite features of Showit, which integrates with WordPress on the back end for blogging capabilities and with WooCommerce for e-commerce functionality. “The design capabilities on Showit are incredible,” Fritsche said, adding that it works best for service providers or e-commerce sites where aesthetics are crucial.
7. Add content
Finally, it’s time to start adding content, including images, landing page copy, blog posts, product images and descriptions, articles or customer reviews. Website builders like Showit and Elementor make it easy to add and adjust images, add text, add widgets and incorporate animations using plug-and-play functionality.
Depending on the time you have available and your level of expertise, you may want to bring in an outside marketing firm or writers and graphic designers to help create aesthetically-pleasing and SEO-optimized content for your website.
Types of websites to consider
Many types of websites exist to meet the needs of different businesses and their customers. Here are a few:
- E-commerce: A site designed for selling products, typically, Shopify is a common platform for e-commerce websites. These sites require shopping cart functionality, bank-level security and a user experience designed to drive conversions.
- Blog: Businesses start blogs to build their brand authority and improve their search engine rankings. Some businesses may use affiliate links or ads in blogs as a stream of revenue, either to complement their primary business or as their main means of income.
- Service provider: Service providers, from lawyers to landscapers, need a website to help their customers find them. These sites may be simple landing pages with an explanation of services and customer testimonials.
- Portfolio: Photographers, artists and other creatives may use a website to showcase a simple portfolio of their work and offer steps to contract them for services.
CMS vs. website builders: What’s the difference?
A CMS such as WordPress, October, Joomla or Drupal offers enhanced customization abilities beyond website builders like Wix, Shopify or Showit. Ruby pointed out, “A CMS is more sophisticated, rather than going on Wix or Shopify and building a super simple site.”
However, these advanced capabilities might mean you want to rely on a professional web development firm for more extensive design updates beyond just adding a landing page or loading fresh content to your blog.
Tips for managing your new website
Once your first pages of content are loaded, your work isn’t done. “You want to make sure you’re backing up your site and updating your themes and plug-ins,” Ruby said. “You want to have security monitoring and make sure you are paying attention to any alerts.”
Even if you haven’t focused heavily on SEO by writing keyword-driven content, you’ll at least want to make sure all your links work, Ruby pointed out.
If you run an e-commerce site, you’ll want to load new products to keep it interesting to your visitors. Other types of sites should also receive frequent content updates to build domain authority. The more content you post, the more Google crawls your site, which may improve your rankings if you are posting helpful, easy-to-read and on-topic content.
It’s a good idea, every so often, to view your site as a potential customer might, evaluating its useability, look and feel. “Test your forms,” Ruby said. “Send yourself a test email on your contact page every once in a while to make sure it’s working correctly and that messages are going where they should.”
Don’t be afraid to rely on professionals for ongoing website maintenance, either. In doing so, you can focus on the core competencies of your business.
Frequently asked questions (FAQs)
To create a website, you’ll need a domain name, a hosting service and a website builder. A content management system can help you keep your site updated. From there, you’ll need content to add to your website, such as blog articles, company descriptions and product or service images and descriptions.
You can build a website for free using a website builder, but you’ll still need to pay for hosting and possibly a domain name, although some website builders provide a domain name as part of their packages.
Strikingly is the best website builder, especially for creating quick and simple websites. Plans start at $12 per month and a free domain for one year. The drag-and-drop website builder also comes with a free 14-day trial.
By upgrading to its premium $59 per month, you will also get:
- 5 VIP sites.
- Unlimited products.
- 0% transaction fees.
- Unlimited bandwidth.
- A dedicated account manager.
However, its limited features do make it unsuitable for those wanting to create complex websites. Also, storage is capped at 100 GB, and a custom domain name is only available with an annual plan.
To learn more about other companies, read our list of the best website builders.
There are several ways to receive a domain name for free, including through:
- Your website hosting company.
- Your website builder.
- A domain registrar.
Typically, a website hosting company will offer a free domain for a specific amount of time as part of its web hosting plans. This is the same with website builders. You can also search for free domains online, like through Hostinger’s free domain names page.