Pretty much every new business needs a website, whether it’s to market or sell products, build brand recognition, or simply to showcase their credentials. And while setting up a website is theoretically easier than ever before (with ready access to website builders, content management systems, domain name registration services, hosting providers and anything else you might need), it’s still fraught with potential pitfalls if you’re not fully prepared from the outset.
Before jumping in head-first and slapping a few pages together, there are a few things you should know about launching your first website:
Make sure your website has a clear aim
The first step in creating any website is to have a clear understanding of its purpose. What is the primary aim of your site? What exactly is it you’re trying to achieve? If you’re starting an ecommerce store, then that should be (at least fairly) straightforward – the overarching purpose of your site, of course, is to sell products to customers.
But not every website is created with the purpose of selling. You might simply want to showcase your business credentials to potential clients by creating a slick company website, create a digital portfolio to display your work, or start a blog so you can share insights and opinions with a wide online audience.
Whatever the purpose, keeping this at the core of your design and development will ensure you stay laser-focused on your intended outcome. Ultimately, though, a website with a clear and unclouded purpose will make for a better user experience (UX) (which we’ll touch on again later) for your visitors once the website is launched.
Choose a domain name and a host
When it comes to actually putting your website together, you need to decide where (and how) it’s going to exist.
You can choose to use a website builder with a content management system, such as WordPress.com (using the world’s most popular CMS) which offers packages that include the cost of your domain and hosting. You’ll start off with basic templates for your site, but you can pay more for more advanced designs, and add functionality with plugins and extensions.
Alternatively, you can choose to purchase hosting from a dedicated provider. Things to consider when looking at hosting providers are their uptime reliability, speed and performance capabilities, bandwidth limitations, security features, and technical support SLAs.
Whichever route you choose, you’ll have to decide on a domain name for the website. You might have your brand name all lined up, but can you get a suitable domain name for it? Come up with ideas and check if they’re available before you start planning everything around that name. You can register your domain name on registration sites (Name.com is among the cheapest) and then link it to your hosting provider.
Create your site design
Of course, websites are primarily a visual medium (especially now that most users will access the web using a smartphone) and therefore the design of your site is a crucial factor in creating user engagement and building brand recognition. When we talk about design, however, we’re not just referring to what a website looks like.
While the visual aesthetic is undeniably important (more than half of users say the main reason they don’t return to a website is the way it looks), your average web designer is tasked with far more than simply making a site look pretty. It’s about creating a consistent look and feel throughout – this will help to forge a clear brand identity and ease your users’ navigation from page-to-page – and laying out elements like menus, buttons and CTAs in a clear, visually compelling way. These tips will help.
Thinks about the user experience
We’ve touched briefly on user experience (or UX, as it’s more commonly referred to by web designers and developers), but it’s important to appreciate the importance of UX design in the creation of any new website – especially when you consider that 88% of online shoppers won’t return to an ecommerce site after one negative user experience.
Essentially, UX design focuses on the quality of a user’s entire interaction with a product or service (or in this case, a website), encompassing every touchpoint between them entering and leaving your site. It’s closely linked to user interface (UI) design (which focuses more specifically on the look, feel and interactivity of a site’s design) and will ultimately determine whether the browsing experience is effortless and rewarding (that’s the goal) rather than clunky and frustrating.
When mapping out your site, think about all the potential touchpoints a customer might encounter on the journey – this will include ensuring the site is visually engaging 0while not overly complicated), the navigation is seamless, the content loads quickly, and – for ecommerce stores specifically – the checkout process is smooth. Search engines value UX, too (Google’s Core Web Vitals measures loading times, interactivity and visual stability), which ultimately means a good UX will help to drive more organic traffic through SEO.
Plan out your content in advance
It might be tempting to just pull together a few pages and launch your site to get the ball rolling, but you’re unlikely to create a good first impression if your site feels half-finished or is lacking in content. That’s why it’s so important to have a solid content strategy in place before you launch: you’ll want to have a good bank of content already created, with a clear plan in place for growing your content output in future.
First, determine the different types of pages you need on your site, and think about how those pages will work together: of course, if you’re launching an ecommerce store you’ll need product and category pages as a minimum, but any site (ecommerce or otherwise) needs supplementary content to enrich the customer experience, boost engagement (i.e. keep users on your site for longer) and – crucially – drive more traffic through keyword-rich, SEO-friendly content.
That content could come in the form of a blog (a great way of providing your visitors with useful information while aiding your SEO capabilities), landing pages (often the first page a user will see when landing on your site), or videos (one of the strongest ways of driving engagement); either way, having a clear content plan will give you a better chance of engaging visitors while boosting your site’s ranking potential.
Think about other functions your site will need
Before launching, you’ll need to consider which other functions and features your website will need. Many website platforms (such as the aforementioned WordPress or Shopify) come with a host of apps and plugins designed to supplement the existing functionality of your site (you can add everything from contact forms to social media feeds, if you desire).
If your site is ecommerce-focused, for example, you’ll need to ensure you have the necessary tools (like a cart system and integrated payment solutions) to enable your customers to transact seamlessly (WooCommerce is the most popular ecommerce plugin for WordPress), while to elevate your marketing and growth capacity you’ll require the integration of an intuitive email platform.
Of course, you’ll also need to consider how your site will handle customer service enquiries: contact forms are fine in principle, but they often leave your customers waiting a while for a response; conversely, by installing a chatbot such as Crisp (with multi-platform support built-in) you can theoretically respond to your customers’ needs 24/7 using AI-powered, natural language processing (NLP) technology.
Test, test, test the site before you launch
So, you’ve designed a visually arresting, highly interactive website with all the features and functions you need to create a smooth browsing experience, and on day one your visitors are met with all manner of bugs, display anomalies and loading issues. If that’s the case, it’s probably because you overlooked one of the most important phases of website launch: the testing.
Before you hit that big green button, it’s essential that you carry out thorough user testing to ensure any kinks or defects are identified and fixed. Most platforms and hosting providers allow you to access a staging version of your site (essentially a ‘sandbox’-type area) where you can deploy and test functionality in a non-live environment before it’s made available on the public internet.
Testing also means viewing your website on multiple different browsers and devices before you launch, ensuring that content renders properly, images load correctly and that important aspects like links and forms work regardless of how a user is accessing your site. If you fail to test properly and your site offers a lackluster UX, the first impression that creates is likely to put off users for good.