If you work in the creative industry, having your own website is now a necessity. But building a new website from scratch can sometimes seem like an intimidating task. Thankfully, today it's possible to build a beautiful, elegant, and highly functional website for yourself with little technical knowledge.
Building your own website has several clear advantages overpaying a professional web designer to build one for you. First, completing this task yourself is significantly cheaper than paying a professional. Second, you will have total, unfettered control over the look and feel of your site. Third, you'll be learning skills that can be beneficial to you in the future.
Building your own website is also fun. As a creative, it makes sense to draw on your skills and experience, and once you get started with the website design process you'll find that designing web pages draws on the same principles as a lot of creative work.
In this guide, we'll take you through all of the steps in creating your own website, from the basic design decisions you will need to make, right through to ensuring that your website performs well. These steps are common across all websites, so whether you are designing a website for photography, to showcase your artwork, website for your small business, or for any other purpose, follow these steps and you'll soon have a great website.
Most guides to creating your own website will tell you that the first step is to choose a web host and website design software. Here, we'll start at a more fundamental level. The truth is that the work of creating a truly great website starts long before you start building pages and formatting images. It starts with a clear vision of what you want to achieve.
Vision and Purpose
Before you even boot up your computer, take a moment to think. What is the purpose of your website? Do you want to sell artworks, products, or photographs? Or is this site more of an online portfolio of your work?
This is a crucial step and one that many creatives skip. If you don't know what your website is supposed to do, it can be tempting to start adding pages that are not relevant to your visitors. Instead, it's best to start with a narrowly defined focus on what you want to achieve, write it down and stick it to your desk.
The best examples of beautiful eCommerce websites display this narrow focus. Any information that is not directly relevant to your purpose should be excluded.
Next, you can start to plan the structure of your website. There is a trick here that may seem a little counterintuitive at first: pen and paper. Drawing a diagram of the structure of your site is the best way to see how your pages link and interact with each other, and will be an invaluable guide once you get stuck into designing individual pages online.
At this stage, make sure you don't forget a few critical elements of your site. Make sure you include ways that you can be contacted - effective communication is key to customer retention in the creative industry. Equally, if you are using your site as an online store, use this planning stage to categorize your products: not only will this help you to organize them on your website, but it will also make it easier for your customers to find what they are looking for.
With the planning stage out of the way, it's time to start building. The first step in doing this is to gather the tools you will need.
Choose a Web Host
The first step to building a website is choosing a web host. Your web host will provide the servers that store your pages, and if you are building your own site, web hosting will be the biggest component of your website costs. Because of that, it's very important to choose well. The best web hosting providers are those that perform well against two key metrics: "uptime", which is a measure of how often their server drops out, and speed. Some will also offer extra services like SSL certificates (see below) which will ensure that your site stays secure.
Next, it's time to choose a domain name. When it comes to registering a domain name, you have two options. Some web hosts will allow you to do this directly from their hosting interface. Others will require you to register your own domain name, and then transfer it to their servers.
Whichever approach you take, it's important to spend a moment thinking about your domain name. It should be as short and relevant as possible, of course, so that your customers can remember it, but ideally, it should also contain some basic information about your business: mynamephotography.com, for instance, makes it instantly clear what you do.
Finally, choose a platform that will allow you to quickly and effectively build a beautiful website. The platform you choose should provide you with elegant templates to act as the basis of your page design, but should also be adaptive enough that you retain control over your design. It should also let you build your site with the minimum possible coding knowledge: this will let you focus on what is important, rather than getting distracted (and frustrated) playing with code.
Pixpa offers all of these features and plenty more. Our drag and drop website builder gives you powerful features that work intuitively, and we offer an all-in-one package that will take care of hosting, security, and domain name registration all in one go. Here is why Pixpa is the best website builder for small businesses to build a strong brand, increase traffic, and drive sales.
Building your site
Now you have the tools you need, it's time to begin building your site. If you've followed this guide, you'll already have a detailed plan of which pages you need to build, and how they relate to each other. Make sure you keep this plan to hand throughout the website building process so you don’t get steered off track.
Structure and Navigation
The best way to start building your site is to create the pages you need in draft form and link them together. This way, you can see if the structure you have planned is as intuitive as you thought. Designing pages in draft form, before you start loading them with images and text, will allow you to iron out any issues before you start finalizing and publishing them.
It's very important, at this stage, to also plan the way that your visitors will navigate your website. Quality website builders like Pixpa give a huge range of options for adding navigational elements to your pages: drop-down menus, site maps, and index pages that present visitors with the pages you would like to direct them to. A tip, at this stage, is to think about the pages that your visitors will want to visit most frequently and add links that take them to these pages throughout your website.
Build your pages
Now you can get down to the real design work: adding images, text, and other elements to your pages. Which elements you add, and the way that you arrange them, will depend on how you want your website to look, feel, and behave, and in truth, there are few hard-and-fast rules about how to build them. There are, however, two key principles that you should keep in mind.
First, keep it simple. The best websites out there – and the sites that win design awards – are those that take simplicity as their primary design feature. If you're unsure about whether to add an element, don't. Keep in mind the purpose of your site (see above), and be brutal with cutting out anything that doesn't directly contribute to it.
Second, trust your instincts. If you are a creative professional, your design choices at this stage are an important part of creating a personal brand and should reflect your aesthetic preferences. If you don't think that something feels right, cut it. Ultimately, only you can be the judge of how you want your website to look.
At this stage, you might also be building your online store. Building websites for online stores can be a little more complex than basic sites, but in reality, the same principles we've spelled out above still hold: keep your pages as simple as possible and make sure that you direct your visitors to the products that are popular or the products you want them to buy.
At this stage, you should also do some research into ways to grow your online sales. You should recognize the importance of product descriptions for everything in your store, and categorize your items logically so that your customers can find them.
At this point, with all of your pages built and linked together, you will have a fully functioning website. You can go right ahead and publish it, but don't stop there. It's also important to continually update and test your site so that it performs well. There are two major components to doing that: website speed, and SEO.
Image Processing and Speed
Website speed is an extremely important metric. Customers will expect your site to load quickly, and if it doesn't they are likely to click away from it and you will lose a potential customer. In addition (and as we will come to) fast websites normally rank better on search engine results.
Building fast websites can be particularly challenging for creatives for one major reason: images. If you are creating your own images, and if your website is primarily designed to display these to the world, it can be tempting to load down your site with hundreds of high-resolution – and therefore huge – image files. In reality, most of your visitors will be looking at your images on their laptop or phone, and any images that are more than 1500px wide will simply be scaled down and slow down your pages.
For this reason, take an hour or two to optimize your images. There are some tools or built-in plugins available that will show you which of your pages are loading slowly, and recommend which images you should re-size. You can then use graphic design software to optimize them for your site.
Another critical factor in optimizing your site is to ensure that it performs well on search engines. This is called Search Engine Optimization (SEO). SEO can be hugely complex, but the basic principles of it are easily understandable.
SEO for photographers, for instance, means making sure that your website contains the keywords that your visitors (and potential customers) will be searching for. You should also ensure that the "meta" text for your pages – the short description that search engines will use to rank it – are descriptive. If you are running an online store, ensure that your product descriptions give concise details for every item, and point out their benefits.
Once your website is live, you should start to track how it performs on search engines, and take some steps to ensure that it doesn't get pushed to the second page of the search results.
Finally, a quick note on security. Now you've spent hours designing, building, and optimizing your website, you don't want it to fall victim to hackers. For that reason, you should read up on the best cybersecurity practices for website owners, and take some steps to secure your new website within the first few days of it going live.
Some of these steps are obvious: you should make sure you use strong passwords for your website management system, and avoid the temptation to link your website to your personal online accounts. You can also take a few, more technical steps, though. One is to ensure that your website is encrypted using SSL certificates. The SSL system is the standard way to protect websites, and so many of your customers' web browsers will block your site if it doesn't have an up-to-date certificate in place.
Thankfully, a high-quality website builder like Pixpa will take care of this for you, providing you with an extra level of website security as standard.
A Final Word
If you've followed us all the way through this guide: congratulations! You'll now have a beautiful, functional website up and running. After all that hard work, you certainly deserve a week off, but don't leave it too long before you come back and look at your design again. Websites require frequent assessment and updating. It’s important to monitor how your customers are using your website and make any necessary changes to your website to ensure navigation is as easy and as simple as possible.
Ultimately, website design is as much an art as a science. Whilst it's important to get the best technical tools in place, it's equally important to trust your judgment and to have fun. As a creative, your website is the most visible part of your practice, so make sure you invest as much time and love into it as you do with the rest of your work.
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