A Simple Guide for Non-Techies in Starting a New Website.

hand holding up a glowing earth globe to a high-tech laptop
This guide is specially written for those who are not computing techy and I hope it will help them gain some essential knowledge about starting a new website so that they will not be cheated by unscrupulous website developers who might exaggerate the technical skills needed to build a new basic website.

Getting Your Website’s Domain Name

website domain names suffix graphicsBefore you think about jumping the gun to the section where we compare between building your own website or hiring a Website Developer, have you considered your website’s domain name yet? This is the name that you want people to type into their web browser to visit your live website e.g. www.google.com, www.bing.com, www.yahoo.com, being some popular domain names that you probably typed in everyday.

For your own website to be publicly accessible to the whole online world, you need a domain name and you need to get it from a licensed domain name registrar. There are quite a few popular international domain name registrars that you can just simply get your domain name online without any complicated process, just like how you would buy something off eBay without needing to actually speak to the person on the other end but in the case of a website’s domain name, it only belongs to you as long as you keep on renewing it for a fee. If you stop renewing your domain name, it will be open to the public. So, apart from the domain name registrar, it is not necessary to go through an agent or some other intermediary to get your domain name that might quote you extravagent fees to get this done for you.

The domain name that you want to own must be absolutely unique in the entire world, thus you may find out that the name you want has already been bought up by others as there are people who buy up domain names in bulk for the purpose of reselling it at a high price. Let’s say your name is John Smith and you want a domain name that is synonymous with your own name and the asking price for www.johnsmith.com is just too expensive. You may then try variations such as www.john-smith.com or perhaps www.johnsmith.biz but if you think your customers will mostly originate from within your country, then you should go find out how to get a domain name with your country’s local suffix in it.

For example if you are living in the United Kingdom, the domain name that you would probably like for your website will be www.johnsmith.co.uk – Local domain names are normally regulated by the local government and it might also involve a simple online process but that of course depends on your own country’s procedures and laws. There is usually a better chance of finding a unique local domain name that has not yet been bought up compared to a .com because local regulations usually make it more difficult for people to buy up domain names in bulk. One of the benefits of having a local domain name for your website is that it will indicate to customers that your business specialises in serving the locals and this is great for customers who love to search online for local businesses before giving them a call or paying a visit at their shop.

It is also possible to get free domain names but the company that provides this freebie to you will usually append their own brand name to your domain name (e.g. www.johnsmith.wix.com). This might be ok for you if you are perhaps just testing the market but just make sure that the proper domain name that you want is available once you decide to go full steam ahead with your brand name and business.

Extra tip: Try to pick a domain name that is easy to remember and vocally pronounce without having to guess the spelling and you might also want a domain name that gives an idea of what your business is about. This is because you would surely go around telling a lot of people about your new venture and you do not want them to keep asking you to clarify what your business is about or how to spell the name. So, don’t overthink the name and try not to be too quirky with it either as your brand name alone is not likely going to be a determinant factor that will make or break your new business. These days where many markets are already saturated and new businesses usually attempt to find their own niche to make a decent profit, thus it is far more important to make sure that your customers actually visit your website and TRUST your brand than having a brand name that sounds exciting.

Getting Your Website Live on the Internet

3D question mark symbol floating above crooked WWWHave you ever wondered what it is that makes a website live to the whole world on the Internet? For a worldwide giant such as Google, they need vast amount of high-tech computers locked up in highly secured buildings where it was reported by Wired that one needs to wear hearing protection before they step into a Google data centre due to the high-pitched noise generated by the multitude of fans that control the airflow in the data centre. These equipments are likely to be similar in Facebook’s mega data centres too and they are necessary as their mega websites need to be online 24/7 with minimal glitches in order to keep their billions of members happy all over the world.

For getting a small or medium sized website live though, one of the options available to website owners actually just involves setting up a regular desktop or laptop computer with some free software that can be legally downloaded from the Internet. This computer that houses a website is commonly known as a Web Server to differentiate it from the computers that we use for more common tasks and the process that makes your website live on the World Wide Web is known as website hosting. From what you read in personal blogs, it is even quite common for computer hobbyists to just use an extra unit of computer that they have lying around in their homes to setup as a Home Server. This Home Server can be used to house various servers such as a web server, a file server to share files with other family members within the household or an email server, which mean you may actually say goodbye to @gmail, @yahoo or @hotmail but…

HOWEVER, the home server option is not very popular because although the hardware of a web server need not be high-end but maintaining the technicalities of any server is certainly not an easy task for anyone who does not possess much knowledge about computer networking. Because of the widespread issue of spam, setting up your own email server can also be a seriously complex task. If you having been using emails since the 1990s, you would surely still remember how email inboxes were easily bombarded with spam in those days but thankfully, the hardworking software enginners out there had significantly scaled down this problem in recent years which now gives us much peace and quiet from unwelcomed strangers. All this is attributed to better data security and with that comes along more complex programming to setup any Internet systems.

Therefore, most website owners pay an annual fee upfront to a professional company to host their websites for them because it not only makes life easier with one thing out of your care but professional website hosting companies are also able to provide better worldwide loading speeds for your website as long as you are prepared to pay them the right price. So, if you are paying a website hosting company to maintain the web server computer for you, it is also NOT a highly technical task and you can simply buy the website hosting service online without a middleman. A first-timer will need a bit of time to get used to setting up and customising a website hosting account but the popular providers will usually provide round the clock support services to assist website owners.

The hosting fee for your website usually depends on how much memory space and speed you need as well as whether you want a domain name and email service included in the package. If it is just a basic website that you need hosting for, it may start really cheap at less than $20 for the first year to entice you to sign-up but the price usually increases for the subsequent years. When you first sign-up, you most probably do not need those deluxe/premium/advanced/add-ons/etc stuff that the website hosting companies will try to persuade you to include. Just try searching “Website Hosting Services” yourself and the first few companies that pop-up should be the popular companies that provide website hosting services e.g. Bluehost, HostGator, NameCheap, GoDaddy, etc

New website owners usually choose the shared hosting option because it is the cheapest form of website hosting due to the fact that you will be sharing the resources of one web server computer with other websites that belong to other owners. You can imagine it as a big box that has been divided into many compartments so that more things can be put into the big box. From the perspective of the website hosting company, the more things (websites) that can be squeezed into the big box without compromising on the core integrity of the box means more money is saved for the company.

Shared hosting is usually fine for new websites that receive relatively low numbers of traffic in the initial stages but you should expect a little bit of downtime with shared hosting, meaning your website will not be live for a few minutes every now and then and the speed of loading your website will probably not be fantastic too. You should take note of the loading speed of your website especially if it contains many images and animation effects because a slow loading website will cause you to lose visitors and search engines ranking among some of the negative consequences.

The reasons for downtime of web servers would vary and it could be due to periodic technical maintenance or the web server just temporarily could not handle the load of all the traffic coming into the websites that it is hosting concurrently. If you really don’t like sharing, you may ask the website hosting companies about dedicated website hosting which certainly will improve the hardware performance of your website but be prepared to pay a higher price as you will be leasing the whole computer to yourself.

Just like building a new house, there are also security considerations that website owners should take note when their website is live to the whole world but in the early stages where a new basic website typically only receives very little traffic, security need not be a major investment but if you are storing any data about your customers, then it is of course not a laughing matter if your website gets hacked. Some countries such as those in the European Union recently imposed more strict laws against data privacy and not properly safeguarding the data of your customers might certainly get you sued. Do not assume that you need not be concerned about data security just because your business is small because hacking attacks against small businesses have increased over the last few years.

At the very least, you should take necessary basic steps to protect your website such as using a strong password, changing the default username for your databases and updating the plugins (e.g. for WordPress powered websites), using https for your website and activating a free plugin that will help prevent typical brute force attacks. Don’t forget to take note too of who has access to the data in your office as it is just too easy now for anyone to think about selling data in the black market for a bit of fast money. Some of these website security terms might sound alien to you now but you will definitely hear more about them as your website expands.

Anyway, it is a FACT that any data stored digitally on the Internet is NOT 100% impenetrable to hackers and this is why modern software and operating systems are constantly being updated as most of those updates are needed to cover up possible loop holes that could compromise the safety of the system. If you are letting a professional website hosting company do the job for you, the popular companies should take care of standard security for your website, so you should not have to worry too much about this as long as you are not storing sensitive data in your website’s databases.

If you are however still keen to explore about setting up your own web server at home or in your office, then you would need to learn some basics about the Linux operating system (Linux powers the majority of web servers in the world). Try searching for terms such as “Linux beginner courses” or “How to setup a LAMP server” and take a look at the search results. If you think you can handle the complexities of using the command prompt, then I guess there is no great harm in experimenting with setting up your own web server as long as you are prepared to spend some time experimenting with the system and risk losing some data. You might also want to search under “WAMP server” as this web server program is quite popular among Windows users and you do not need much programming skills to get a basic website live, though I would highly recommend that you go through at least a couple of beginner computer networking courses before you attempt to use WAMP server. Depending on the individual’s inclination towards technology, setting up and running your own server can be fun as you are in CONTROL of your own website.

Before you go ahead with searching for free computing courses, you might be interested to read my article on: ‘Reviews of Websites with Free Computing Education.’

Extra tip: A home or small office web server may suit new small businesses that mostly target customers from the local area as the loading speed of your website is partly determined by the physical distance between the web server and the customers who visit your website. The faster a website loads even if it is just a couple of seconds faster, the better it is not only for your website visitors but also in the eyes of the search engines such as Google and Bing. The search engines interpret fast loading speed of websites as a positive indicator and this is just one of the factors that will boost the ranking of your website on their search results. If you are interested to explore the works of setting up your own web server, then please drop a comment below and I will try to make some time to post another article about it.

Build Your Own Website VS Hire a Website Developer

poster image with SEO related wordingsI am quite sure you would have heard how even non-tech people can “easily” build their own website without knowing any programming and it is definitely possible to do it nowadays and WordPress is one of those popular options now. Building your own website certainly presents some benefits as it will definitely save you some money if your funds are tight and you also get to put in your personal touch into your website which you may then proudly tell your non-techy friends and customers that you built it yourself. However, before you proceed with a DIY website with much enthusiasm…..

Some points to consider if you are building your own business website

  • How much do you understand about web development to be able to really produce a good looking and professional website that will suit the commercial market?
  • How would you promote your website? Once your website is live, web surfers are not going to just magically come across your website with tons of other competitors’ websites out there.
  • Do you possess sufficient knowledge about SEO, digital marketing and such topics to at least give you a headstart in getting some online traffic onto your website? (please refer to the blue colour image above to give you an idea of other website marketing topics.) If you only have very minimal knowledge about these topics, are you sure you will be able to find the time and energy to learn these topics while running your business?
  • What about multimedia contents like photos and videos for your website? Will photos and videos shot with your smartphone form a good enough impression among your customers? Depending on the type of business you are in, the photos and videos that you upload to your website could be a significant factor in the marketing of your website. A high-tech smartphone or DSLR camera by itself is not going to produce the elements of creativity that your website might need in order to attract customers to contact you.
  • What about maintenance and updating of your website? Do you have time for that when you are busy with your newly launched business? If you are going to hire someone to do all these tasks for you later, why not then just hire a website developer to build your website from the start and negotiate a good deal for follow-up services as well?

Some points to consider if you are hiring a Website Developer

  • Who owns the copyright of the website. You might after all pass the job to another Website Developer down the road and you do not want the original developer to be questioning you about stealing his work.
  • Once the website is complete, will the Website Developer train you on how to do basic tasks like uploading new images and adding in contents? You should not make assumptions that these services are included as time is money after all and not all website developers are patient enough to teach clients who do not know much about computing.
  • Remember that your website needs to be updated and maintained too after it is live. Will your hired website developer take care of this too? For more details about this, please read my article: ‘Five Points to Consider Before Starting Work on your First Website’ where you would find some points about why your website should not be left alone after it is live.
  • In this modern age, you should have a website that functions well and look good on desktop computers and mobile devices as this is another positive indicator for Google search results ranking. Just bear in mind that this might mean more work for the Website Developer and hence more charges. If it is however just a very basic website built with WordPress, then getting your website to work on mobile devices may not even require any additional work and it will be dishonest for a website developer to claim that they have to charge a lot more to enable this feature. (more details about building a basic website using WordPress in the next section below).

Before Handing Over Your Money…

big red alert button with money bag graphicHow much should one pay to a Website Developer is probably one of the most FREQUENTLY questions when it comes to building a website and honestly, there is no straight answer unless you are hiring a full-time employee that sits in your office on a long-term basis where there is surely an average market rate in your own country. That means as a boss to a full-time employee, you must obviously be prepared to provide continuing jobs and other perks to your employee in order for that person not to think about jumping ship. Therefore, I am not going to state actual rates of wages in this section but I will offer some guidance and advice about hiring a website developer.

Hire a local or remote website developer?

So let’s assume you are not prepared to hire a full-time employee just yet and you are thinking along the lines of a freelancer or a part-timer in the early stages of starting your business. You would probably have come across a couple of jobs recruitment websites that gave you a rough idea of how much you should expect to pay a non-permanent Website Developer but don’t just stop there as not all skilled website developers will register themselves on these websites. Some experienced website developers may just rely on a portfolio of clients’ websites and referrals to keep them going, so have you tried asking for personal recommendations from your business contacts yet?

If you are unsure of how to go about building a proper business website and you really need someone whom you can speak to face-to-face, try going to a local business or tech event in your city and find your Website Developer there. Before the event, just give a shoutout in the forum or discussion board that you are seeking to hire a website developer and those who are serious will surely attend the event to meet you in person. You would probably be able to get quotes on the spot from the serious ones and get things going right away. Just bear in mind that professional website developers usually charge by how much time they have to put in for your project and this is likely to include consultations time too, as well as the time needed to make the multitude of changes you asked for when you are not happy with the drafts.

If you however already pretty much know what you want in your website, then why not hire a a remote website developer that can get the job done for you more efficiently and probably at a better price and shorter time too. With today’s user-friendly digital technologies, it is very simple to share a screenshot or snap a photo of a hand-drawn sketch which you then can easily send over to your Remote Website Developer – a picture does tell a thousand words and that will save you hours of meetings! So, do have a think about whether you need to see that person in face to face meetings or are you perhaps more comfortable with just online communications, in which case a remote website developer will better suit you and the person might even charge a lot less.

Do not forget those Digital Nomads too as many of them are likely to be skilled in website development since websites are so ubiquitious today. It is a possibility that a Digital Nomad who is currently staying in a city with very low cost of living may charge lower than one who is living in a first class city. Where to find them you ask? Well, if you are in luck, you may come across a Digital Nomad in your city simply by walking into a co-working space that is popular online. You may also try giving the co-working spaces a call to ask for recommendations for website developers.

Hire a freelancer or a company?

It is no surprise that freelancers are more likely to charge lower than what a full-fledged design company may charge but the established companies are more likely to be able to offer a range of services that you might need down the road as your website and business grows such as SEO, digital marketing and round the clock tech support. Because established companies have full-time employees on their side, they are more likely to have access to specialists who are experts in all areas of web development but a freelancer might only know bits and pieces of everything but not truly expert in any specific area.

Needless to say, well-established companies can also be expected to be more dedicated to your job once you hand over the money but this of course does NOT MEAN freelancers are not dedicated workers too. You just have to make sure that the freelancer you hired is trustworthy and will not leave you hanging with an incomplete job. Consider too that freelancers might also be more flexible with their terms as they are not bounded by company policies, bureaucracies and such barriers that many of us hate and so, without these overheads, freelancers might also be more open to inputs from clients than a company filled with specialists.

Is your website going to be just a basic one?

If you are just beginning with a very basic website that contains just a few pages, a few images here and there and a couple of videos (what website developers call a static site), it should then be just a one man job and even a beginner freelancer can build that website for you easily.
Whether or not the beginner can actually produce a website that will look good in your eyes is another story as the beauty of design is subjective. What you consider as beautiful in your own eyes might be subpar when compared with competitors in your industry, so perhaps your judgment should not solely be based on your own perspective only.

Building your first website with WordPress

For WordPress powered websites which are very popular these days for new small businesses, the website developer DO NOT code from scratch as the WordPress system is bundled with loads of freebies that usually work fine straight out of the box. These freebies include making your WordPress website mobile responsive, meaning your website should be functional across most modern desktop computers, tablets and smartphones, thus the website developer whom you hired to build a WordPress website may not need to do any extra work to make your website mobile responsive.

Therefore, all you need to do then is just pass your contents to your website developer and that person probably just need to do some minor editing on your images and videos, do a few tweaking here and there and your WordPress website should be live in a day or two. If you want a WordPress website that is heavily customised though, then make sure you hire a website developer who is very familiar with the entire WordPress system and not just one who knows how to do the basic stuff. Note that a website developer who is very good at coding from scratch might not necessarily be very familiar with the entire WordPress system.

Because of this simplicity in WordPress, it is actually quite common nowadays for non-techy people with no programming skills to attempt building their WordPress website by themselves. So, if you want to try this DIY option, just make sure you are prepared to put in some hours learning and experimenting with the WordPress system. The support forums within WordPress maybe of help but if you are really a non-techy person, you should really try to get a friend who knows a little bit of things about web development and computer networking before attempting to build your business website via any DIY options. Such a friend will help you avoid frustrations that will surely appear as you go about fiddling with WordPress and other web development tools.

If you really cannot find a friend with computing knowledge, then personal consultation with a paid website developer may be a budget solution to your problems. If it is just consultation and minor assistance that you need from a website developer, you get to save some money as you do not require the developer’s full services and you also benefit by learning a bit of techy stuff yourself which will come useful later when your website and business grows. Anyone starting a new business in this modern era will surely run into a digital issue sooner or later so there is no harm in gaining a bit of techy know-how yourself.

Extra tip: Based on my own experiences hiring remote tech developers that do not originate from English speaking countries, I would advise you hire one who is fairly competent in written international English because you should not assume that someone who is tech-skilled is also able to communicate well in English. This is because some developers may have gained their tech skills via self-learning options without undergoing any formal education, so their English communication skills maybe a bit lacking. There is a good reason why many universities in English speaking countries insist that international students obtain a certain level of grade in IELTS before they enrol into the program. Your tech developer should also be able to explain computing technicalities in plain layman English and believe me, these two points alone will make your dealings with that person much more productive and pleasent.

We have covered in this guide how to buy a domain name and website hosting service, both tasks which can be easily completed online without the need for any middleman or advanced technical knowledge. Setting up a home or small office web server to host a basic website is also an option for those who are prepared to put in some hours to learn about computers networking. We have also covered some details that new business owners should consider when deciding between building a business website themselves or passing the job to a freelancer / professional company and the decision should NOT solely be based on how much money is needed.

Evan Multimedia-Programmer

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