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So you want to build your own website?[ 10 min read ]

Hands up who’s built their own website, or wants to build your own website? Come on, we can see you at the back! Or maybe you’re thinking about it? Well, please read this before you make that final decision to go it alone.

Yes, we have a vested interest here, but bear with us whilst we explain why we think you need to employ the services of a web developer (note the developer, not a designer, more on that later!) We decided to write this post as part of #MicroBizMatters day.

Here are our 11 tips for you to consider if you’re thinking about building your own website. You can check out their website here

Go grab a brew and settle down… It could be a long one!

Are you ready for a full blown website?

This is perhaps the biggest question you need to answer. We often get people who come to see us as they want us to build a website for them, but they’re not really ready. Websites need to contain a lot of content to make them interesting to the reader, and also useful. Many clients come to us without enough content to build a site. Not only does it make it hard for us to work our magic (or any designer or developer) It also means it’s not visually engaging for the user either.

Content is not just about the words and images, there is also the optimisation to think about too!

Choice of platform

There are lots of different ways you can build a website. There are platforms like Wix and Weebly which actively encourage people to build their own site. There is Shopify too which is a dedicated eCommerce platform. There are even funded schemes which allow you to get sites at a reduced cost too. There really is no end to the choice these days.

The downside to some of these is that you are limited on what you can change or there are restrictions on what you can do in terms of SEO.

A word about WordPress

Did you know there are two versions of WordPress which you can use? There is .com and .org

.com is for people who want very little control over their website. Everything is hosted on their servers, and depending on the service you pay for, you can get access to use things like themes and plugins. The free version is very limited, and that is the trade-off.

The free version is ideal for bloggers, it’s how it started out. But if you’re wanting to run a business site here then you need to either pay for the business advantages – about £20 a month payable upfront – or move to .org.

.org is for people who want full control, but with that control, you need to have a lot of extra knowledge. This is where it gets a little tricky, and you’re likely to need some help. You have to provide (and manage) your own hosting and domain. You also now have the option for various themes, plugins and widgets. The world is your oyster – but it can be full of surprises!

Designer versus a developer

Now, this may sound like splitting hairs, but this is a really important thing to note. I am a designer. Suzi is a developer. The difference? A lot of experience and some coding skills. Suzi has over 15 years of web development experience, and a degree to back it up. I have over 20 years IT experience, with a high degree of specialism in SQL and servers. I coded in the days of black and white television (well, OK 1996 ish) but I have not coded a lot in CSS or PHP, which I need to be able to do in order to be a web developer. This means that I have no right to call myself a developer, I just don’t have that skill, yet.

But this is an important distinction. If someone calls themselves a developer, but they don’t have that skill, then would you want to work with them? The chances are they cannot create any custom code on your site. They also potentially do not have the skills to fix things should they go really badly wrong. It really makes us sad when clients come to us with sites which were built without the attention to detail which we offer.

HTML book and mac

Technical SEO

So this is where we sort the men from the boys, so to speak. Designing something that looks pretty is fairly easy to do. You can get a nice theme from WordPress, make your site and off you go. But hold on… There is way more to it than that.

SEO is the stuff which is enough to make a grown woman (ie me) cry! SEO is a massive topic and one that generates a lot of debate. It is also changing constantly. There are different levels of SEO which you need on your site to make sure you rank well. If your designer does not understand how this impacts a site, then you’ll not rank well at all and you’ve technically wasted your money.

Think about it this way. You make something really beautiful, and you want a physical shop. You can’t afford the centre of Manchester, so you look elsewhere. You end up in a small shop, with a great rent. It’s in the middle of nowhere. No one comes out there to shop, so no one buys your beautiful things. This is what can happen with bad or no SEO. You’ll not rank high enough for people to find you, and in the worst case – bang goes your business.

Security

Is your site secure? We have experienced first hand the damage that hacking can cause on sites. And sadly, these sites were not cheap, and yet they were not secured correctly.

We’ve had a customer recently with a site hacked so bad, he was told it needed to be scrapped and he would have to start again. In this case, the previous developer had left a migration plugin live, which opened up a vulnerability in the site. Hackers don’t play nice, and we saw the result of that.

Incidentally, we, well Suzi fixed the site and everyone was happy again! (more info here if you’re interested)

Free Themes

Did you know that free themes can be an open door for hackers? There are a number of reports of themes being hijacked, and these opening up the site to being hacked. There are some good free themes out there – but make sure you get something from a reputable source or pay for one!

Are you selling things?

This is where things can get really complicated if you decide to go it alone. You probably know by now that we prefer WordPress, but it really does depend on what you are doing. For example, if you’re a creative and you make things then a full-blown WordPress with WooCommerce site may not be appropriate and Shopify may be the way to go. It depends on how much you are selling and how much time you have for the administration of the site.

Shipping

Shipping can be the easiest thing in the world or a complete nightmare depending on how you work out your shipping costs. The easiest way is to do it with a flat shipping rate. So, no matter what you’re selling the postage is the same. What gets more complicated if multiple weights and destinations being used. It can be a lot to work out and is usually guaranteed to make even the most placid of bears a bit grouchy.  Our advice would be to think long and hard about the shipping before you either dive into building your site or engaging with a designer or developer.

Cashflow, or lack of it!

Yes, we know when you startup spending cash is a big consideration. We were lucky, in some respects in that we both have the skills to be able to build our own websites and manage them. But, we know that not everyone can do that and cost is a big factor. That is why most people decide to build their own.

You need to remember that your website is a business asset. It is the first thing that people see if they search for you online. It’s the window into your world. If you want people to take you seriously, then you need to look at getting a good quality website from the outset. Spending some money now could save you a lot of money and heartache in the future.

WordPress Settings

Cheap websites and why we don’t like them

So you’ve ruled out building your own site, are you tempted by a cheap site? Yes? You can get someone to build you a site for £200, heck you can even get your mate to do it for free. But is it really worth putting so little value on your business?

A word of warning, a hefty price tag doesn’t always mean good quality either. You could pay well over £500 for a really simple site, and it still not be ‘technically’ that great.

We’ve written before about picking a developer to work with.

Now I know all this sounds like a massive rant, and in some respects it is. I am known for my passion, but I mean no harm by this.

We both genuinely don’t want anyone to have a bad experience with their website, but we felt the need, to be honest about this. We work with a number of clients who have been either stung by a cheap badly built site, or worse an expensive badly built site. A lot of time we end up talking to people when they are in a position of desperation, and it doesn’t need to be that way.

You may not agree with all that’s been said here, and that is fine. But please, think about long and hard about how you want to get the website of your dreams.  Saving money at the start may actually cost you a lot of money down the line.

Are you still on the fence?  Why not get in touch? We’d love to talk to you about how we can help.

Suzi Smart Bear

I'm Suzi - the owner of The Smart Bear.

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