Web Design 101
Welcome to the first installment of CREATIVE BUSINESS SKILLS; an article series aimed at equipping creative entrepreneurs with the skills to take ownership of more facets of their business.
The first subject we'll be delving into is the bedrock of your business's online presence; your website! You may already have a strong online presence through your social media accounts, but a custom website can help to lend credibility to your business and brand. Here we'll look at the tools available for building your own site.
Can I/Should I do it myself?
There's no getting around the fact that web design is a huge subject in and of itself. Popular websites will have teams of people working to author content, write code, collect statistics, etc. etc. Whilst it can appear a daunting prospect to take on all of these jobs yourself, the good news is that it's easier and cheaper than you might think to build and run a pro website.
For those of us who need a website but don't have any web designer friends to call in a favour from, there are plenty of options available depending on how much money and time you're prepared to invest. You absolutely can build and run your website yourself, but the question of "should I?" is one that depends on you. If you would rather invest time than money, then you should investigate doing your own web design. If time is more valuable to you than money, then maybe you should hire a professional designer and webmaster.
How Do I start?
It's crucial to have a clear business plan before starting any web design work. It sounds like an obvious thing to say, but being unclear on exactly what your business is and what it offers could end up in precious time being wasted designing and building a website which doesn't satisfy the needs of your business. Your business needs will determine the type of website you need and the features your website should have. Consequently, the type of website and features you need will determine which tools you use to start building your site.
Once you have a clear business plan, do some research on the websites of businesses similar to yours. What features do they have? How are they laid out? It's useful to see what's working for your successful, established contemporaries. Once you've done your research and have some conceptual ideas it's time to pick a website building tool.
Choosing a Website Builder
In 2017 it's relatively easy and cost effective to build your own website, even with little to no prior coding knowledge. Services such as WORDPRESS or WIX can offer you all of the tools required to build, host and manage a professional website. There are lots of website builders to choose from, each with pros and cons. It's up to you to evaluate their merits and pick one which is going to allow you to build a website that ties in with your business plan and feature requirements.
The table below compares some of the most popular website builders available today and their key features. You will see that most services offer a similar range of essential key features that you would expect to be able to utilise on a website in 2017, features such as SEO tools, visitor statistics and blogging tools. The differences between the various platforms can seem small, but these small differences could be key features that your site would massively benefit from. It's all about weighing up what you need and which service will allow you to build it quickly and easily.
Tools for your trade
When picking a website builder that's right for your business, it's probably easier to narrow down your choice by looking at what isn't included with each platform. If you don't yet have a domain name, you may want to choose a service that provides and hosts one for you. If you plan to showcase a large portfolio, choose a service that gives you enough online storage space.
The comparison chart above is a good starting point for the majority of websites, but if the primary function of your website will be to sell products directly to customers, you may want to check out this similar comparison chart which compares the most popular website builders for e-commerce-optimised websites. Website builders optimised for e-commerce, such as SHOPIFY, benefit from features such as improved payment processing, shopping cart functionality, discount code creation etc., all features that may not be included as standard in other services, but could be crucial to your business and customers.
Choosing my website builder
When I started designing my own website I ended up choosing SQUARESPACE as my website build platform. Although I would highly recommend SQUARESPACE based on my own experience, I'm not suggesting that other services are inferior in any way. In this section I'll be covering why I chose SQUARESPACE and the features that made it the right choice for me. If you're still undecided on which service to use, this section might give you more of an idea of which features to look out for and my thought process.
A Template for Success
As a web design novice I was looking for a service that would offer intuitive tools and the flexibility to trial different concepts. I was drawn to SQUARESPACE due to the wealth of templates available, which allow you to jump straight in with a responsive, eye-catching site and start tweaking from there. Another reason behind my choice was that all SQUARESPACE templates are fully optimised for both desktop and mobile devices and handle SEO very well.
Upon choosing a template within SQUARESPACE it's very straightforward to start making it your own using the STYLE EDITOR, which allows you to change fonts, sizes and colours using a handy "point-to-highlight" arrangement. I found that SQUARESPACE made it quick and easy to achieve a general layout and style for my site. Like most other services, SQUARESPACE supports implementation of custom HTML, which can be added to specific pages or on a site-wide basis. This is a great way to further customise your site.
Features, Features, Features
Your choice of website builder will ultimately come down to three things: the price, the ease of use and the features on offer. SQUARESPACE provides lots of features I was keen to utilise, such as analytic tools, e-commerce support, an online image editor courtesy of Adobe Creative Cloud, and domain creation and hosting. I was also impressed with the ease with which you can integrate your other online accounts. As well as full integration with social media services, you can also directly insert and embed content from sites such as Flickr, Amazon, Opentable and Bandsintown. Another bonus for me, being a musician, was the SoundCloud and Vimeo integration, as these allow me to host my work elsewhere and then embed the media on my website.
As you can see, there are lots of options to consider when making the decision to build your own website. The key is to get a firm idea of the purpose of your website and the features it needs to fulfill that purpose. Once you have these ideas firmed up you'll be in a good position to start looking for a service that can provide the tools you need.
The result of my research was that I chose to use SQUARESPACE and it's served me well as I've built, managed and updated my website. The features on offer within SQUARESPACE have helped me create a site that enhances the online presence of my business. With proper research and evaluation you will be able to choose a website builder that is perfect for you, your website and your business.
In the next article in the CBS series I'll be sticking with the theme of web design and looking at how I built my website using SQUARESPACE. I'll be looking at how to go from template to custom website using the tools on offer within SQUARESPACE, so be sure to check back here soon.
Useful further reading: