Websites Overview

There may be many reasons for and differing perspectives on creating websites. While most people still do not create websites regularly, many more do today than ever before.

It’s perfectly normal to shy away from code or any other method for publishing your own website, especially since there are already so many ways to communicate online that some may find it unnecessary. However, there are good reasons to build your own website even if you find social media or email easier to use.

Table of Contents

  1. What are websites?
  2. Why should I care?
  3. What makes a good website strategy?
  4. What is the best way to get started online for cheap?
  5. What about domains & hosting?
  6. How do you know when your website is effective?

What are websites?

This might seem like a dumb question to some people, but sometimes it’s worth asking dumb questions, especially for those who may be too embarrassed to ask themselves. It may be surprising to learn what the founders of Google shared about the web in general:

“The web is a vast collection of completely uncontrolled heterogeneous documents.”

The Anatomy of a Search Engine, by Sergey Brin and Larry Page

So, a website is also a collection of different documents, and it makes up a part of the web, obviously. But what kinds of documents make up a website?

It may not be very interesting to everyone visiting this page to go over programming languages and their file extensions, but suffice it to say that if you got an account at most hosting companies, you’d probably eventually notice a file explorer much like you have on your desktop computer or cloud storage service.

Websites are basically folders with different kinds of text files and multimedia content like images, videos, and audio files. However, nowadays many business owners get their websites created on platforms like Wix and Squarespace, where you may not even access a file system.

Even WordPress creates much of your website content dynamically, but it is nonetheless a collection of text files and images, etc. that gets sent to your visitors when they click a link to your site.

Why Should I Care?

Websites are unique in online marketing. At this point, we aren’t referring to all kinds of websites, but rather a company’s own website. This is what we in the marketing industry refer to as owned media, which is a communication method that belongs to the business.

Understanding the nature and benefits of company-owned websites can help you start to get a better idea of how to properly build your web presence so that it benefits your business more rather than just being a source of income for a web developer or designer.

Some companies opt to not have much of any website at all. They function completely through social media and paid ads. Some only opt to have a single landing page for their entire online presence. This isn’t ideal for many businesses since most owners and executives would rather not constantly work on creating content for a platform that could someday go out of business (Google+, Vine, Periscope, etc.).

Also, some companies are becoming more concerned with the potential of getting censored on social media through big tech + big government collusion or cancel culture. Having your own website allows a bit of editorial independence but also provides a more permanent home for your online content, whether that means sales documents, blog articles, or conversion forms.

What makes a good website strategy?

There are several ways to go about effectively setting up a website for your business. The main questions have to do with your budget and the time and energy you are willing to put into creating and managing it.

Whatever route you take, your website should be capable of attracting visitors who will be likely to become customers (or otherwise accomplish some kind of goal, such as consuming content and viewing ads if you’re a publisher).

The best approach is one that will provide enough of what your prospective visitors are looking for that they find their way to your site rather than a competitor’s. This is not impossible to achieve using a variety of tools, but they basically boil down to whether you will create the website yourself or hire a professional.

Even some companies, such as ad agencies, may have an IT department and still outsource their website responsibilities and that of their clients as well. It just depends on your goals and how you plan to best focus your energy.

For those who are getting started in business, it is often attractive to start your own website and manage it yourself, at least for a while. It isn’t impossible to do this for nearly free (you always need a domain and hosting service at a minimum). However, it can be time consuming.

It is important if you decide to hire a professional to create and/or manage your website for you to carefully review their work samples, reviews, and references if they have any. Whether seeking a freelancer or agency, you will save yourself a lot of wasted time and money by putting in more work in researching the options.

What is the best way to get started online for cheap?

If you’d like to try to create your own website and manage it yourself at first, there are almost too many options to review them all. They basically fall into three categories:

  1. Learn to design and code and create your website manually for free, which can be difficult and time consuming.
  2. Use a content management system (CMS) with a page builder software included or as an add on, which is low cost, less time consuming, and still requires a lot of research and trial and error.
  3. Pay for a premium website design platform, which can get expensive, is faster/easier to start, but limited freedom/potential and may eventually require the help of a designer or developer anyway.

We’ll go through these options a little more in depth below.

Learn website design and how to write code

This is not a bad option for those with plenty of time who are technically inclined. However, it can be a time intensive undertaking.

We recommend folks who want to go this route to start really simple and just build a single-page site with HTML, CSS, and no JavaScript (at first), which will enable you to get started after a couple weeks of learning and doing small sample projects.

Codecademy is a great resource for learning the basics of code for free, but you will want to be able to devote at least a couple hours per night if you work a full time job to be able to gradually understand the content.

This route includes some similar steps with the next one, which is once you’ve written your code for free, you will then need to pay a small amount for a domain name and a web hosting service. You’ll learn more about that step after we go over the other two website creation/management options.

Use a content management system (CMS)

This is a very common route for many small business owners. Around 43% of all websites are built on WordPress as of this writing, which is one of the most popular open source, free, self-hosted website platforms.

It’s relatively easy to get started with WordPress or another similar CMS like Drupal or October CMS. After signing up for a hosting company that supports the tool of your choice, you can install the app and it will help you create your website through a guided wizard. Our favorite here at Woodruff Multimedia is WordPress, but others have merits worth exploring as well.

It couldn’t hurt to find a good tutorial to lead you through any potential sticky points or unforeseen hiccups. We’ve often found helpful articles on WPBeginner.

One thing to keep in mind is that these CMS tools sometimes do not include everything you will need for an easy experience out of the box. They may support simple blogs or brochure sites without any additional software, but sometimes a page builder plugin or add on is recommended.

Our preferred tool for adding functionality to WordPress is a theme and plugin combo from GeneratePress and GenerateBlocks. They have great prices and make the most difficult tasks in creating a super fast, high-quality website easy even for beginners by providing YouTube tutorials, excellent help articles, and top notch developer support.

There are many other free and paid plugins and other tools we recommend on our resources page.

Pay for a premium platform

This option is ideal for small businesses who are already making plenty of revenue and can afford the monthly cost of tools like Wix, SquareSpace, Weebly, Webflow, and others. We don’t recommend this option for most business owners who are just starting out because of two reasons:

  1. It can get expensive fast without any guarantee of bringing in revenue.
  2. You can easily become just as frustrated by using these platforms as going with WordPress, which is cheaper in the long run.

People often seem to jump to the conclusion that if you need a website, you can easily create a good one with one of these platforms. Getting started is easy, just like with WordPress or another self-hosted CMS option. However, making money with this type of website isn’t any easier.

In fact, you have to already be making a considerable amount of money to use these tools effectively because of their higher prices. On top of paying for domain costs, you’ll also pay for the hosting through their plans and there is a premium placed on top of that because of the page building software experience.

While this cost may not be much more than what you might pay on WordPress with some page builders, tools like GeneratePress are free to use up to a pretty high level, and the paid features are only needed for the sake of ease of use and depending on the complexity of your project. GenerateBlocks is also free and most businesses won’t need the paid version unless they have a fairly complicated website.

Wix starts out at $16/month with a free domain for a year. However, after using the tool it will become clear quickly that you will be pretty limited in what you can do with that kind of investment. Their recommended Business tier is $32/month, and if you look at the features, you may expect you’ll likely need to be at this point before a year has gone by.

The ultimate downside of using these kinds of premium platforms is that after all that investment and struggling, you may still need to hire a developer or designer to get help enabling your website to bring in revenue for your business. As an example, just check out the number of jobs for Wix developer on Upwork:

Wix developer jobs posted on Upwork

Domains & Hosting

Domain names typically cost anywhere from $5 – $35 per year depending on the company you go with. NameCheap is an affordable option, although their customer service isn’t to be relied on, whereas companies like GoDaddy will cost more. These companies will often try to sell you on extras that make that annual cost go up, which are not always necessary to get started.

In addition to getting a domain, you’ll need to subscribe to a hosting service from a company that will also likely offer to rent a domain name to you, which will make it easier to manage the domain in the long run, although it will probably be more expensive.

Some hosting companies specifically focus on supporting WordPress sites, which you don’t really need to use if you’re just uploading static text files and images after learning to code your own website.

My favorite examples are SiteGround and WPEngine, although they can get pretty expensive if you want any decent hardware and software features. NameCheap also does hosting, but again, you shouldn’t care about good customer service if you go that route.

How do you know when your website is effective?

Here at Woodruff Multimedia, we’ve created an acronym to help us easily remember what makes a good website. The way we remember it is by asking, is your website so bad that when your customer sees it, he “pouts”? POUTS is easy to remember also because of the similar acronym for web accessibility, POUR, which we can get into another time.

Here’s what POUTS stands for:

  • Performant:
    • Does the site load and feel fast?
    • If it gets a 90 or better in Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool, then we consider it fast.
  • Obvious:
    • Is the written content easy to scan? 
    • If yes, your pages and posts are written with web writing style rather than long form content like prose or essay style.
  • Usable:
    • Is the site content easy to find and use? 
    • If yes, the logo, site title, nav, menu buttons, headings, labels, etc. are all present and where you’d expect to find them.
    • Are users able to accomplish their goal?
    • If so, major pages (home, about, contact, etc.) have a clear purpose and path(s) to success.
  • Targeted:
    • Would your grandparents find the site easy and pleasant to use?
    • Is any of the language on the site colloquial, jargony, or overly technical?
    • Is it focused on the wrong demographic?
    • Could the content be considered offensive?
  • Secure:
    • Does site have HTTPS or an SSL/TLS certificate?
    • If yes, you should be able to find a lock icon in the address bar of Chrome.
    • Are some resources unsecure or are there mixed content warnings?

This is only a simple list of common issues/low hanging fruit and there are many more individual items that could be added here. Even though these are not necessarily things that will always directly lead to sales, if you have problems in these areas, that could lead to lost sales.

Conclusion

With this framework in mind, could you say that your web presence is well done? There are many ways to create a good website or improve an existing site, but the real question is, why wait?

We hope you found this information useful. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to contact us to ask questions about websites.