In the past designing and constructing a website was something of a black art practiced by denizens of the web who understood a strange language called HTML. Today things are somewhat different, with the market open for website builders.
There are therefore a number of options when it comes to creating and designing your own website, and which choice you make largely depends on how much control you want with the underlying code of your site, and how much you want to be able to personalize it.
Many services completely stop you from writing a single line of code, with others offering a hybrid approach. Or if you wish, and are proficient in coding, you can get stuck in with a more hands-on approach.
Let's go through all your options in more detail.
One of the most popular ways to create a website is to use web hosting services. To use this method of website design you just need your favorite browser and a connection to the net, as all the design work is done online. Some of the most popular services include:
All of these services make developing a website a point-and-click affair with all of the main site components available via menus or as elements you simply drag and drop into place.
Often you can set up your site by simply completing a form with your information, which is then populated across your site. This means website design is fast and efficient when you're using these services.
Note however than virtually all of these website builders offer multiple plans priced differently. The cheaper (and sometimes even free) plan will work for people looking for a simple personal website or an online portfolio.
But if you want something complex, you’ll probably have to subscribe to the more expensive plans after carefully perusing through the features they offer. As a general rule of thumb we’d advise you to start with the cheapest plan and then upgrade as per your requirements.
Content Management Systems
If you already have a blog the chances are you use WordPress. This application has become synonymous with blogging, but WordPress is also a great application for building fully functional websites.
To use WordPress as a website building program you just need to choose a theme that reflects the kind of website you want to produce. There are literally thousands of themes to choose from. You can download many from the WordPress site and also from third-party theme retailers such as Template Monster and Theme Forest.
Things to consider before going ahead with WordPress
One of the most powerful aspects of using WordPress to design your website is the instant feedback you receive. You can make a change to the theme you are using and see how this will look on a test version of your site. Content can also be developed and then scheduled to be released over time to keep your site looking fresh.
It is important to appreciate that WordPress builds the pages you have created for your website from a database of components. Just as with the images, video and so forth that you may have on your blog, when you use WordPress for a website the same principle applies with all page elements held on a database that you will have to host.
When you are developing a new website using WordPress as a CMS, there are a number of important issues to be aware of that include:
1. WordPress is constantly being upgraded by its developers, which can mean that when you upgrade the version of WordPress you are using, some widgets or plugins may stop working.
2. The hosting of the database that powers the new website must be robust and reliable. Consider a dedicated server if you are building a website for your business to ensure that disruptions and downtime are minimized.
3. When your business is thinking about its data backup options, don't forget your website. WordPress may also be your blogging platform, but when used as your enterprise's main website system, backing up your WordPress files is vital.
4. Always test a new theme on a test version of your site. New themes may not have placeholders for the content your site currently displays. Some tweaking of the PHP code that each page is constructed with may be needed to get the new theme working as you expect.
5. Using WordPress as a CMS can mean that multiple users can update content on your site with ease. Ensure your business has a clear policy about these updates to avoid security issues.
6. The user interface is a key strength of the WordPress platform. The ability to change a page by just clicking a few buttons, or choosing the correct option, makes WordPress a superb CMS especially for smaller enterprises.
7. There are other CMS available. Check out our pick of the best content management systems.
Power of WordPress
The power of using WordPress as a CMS is the ability to extend and expand the system to deliver precisely the website you or your business needs. And due to its usage as a CMS, WordPress has attracted the interest of developers that have created add-ons to expand the CMS capabilities of WordPress.
The number of plugins that are now available can seem bewildering. The best way to approach your choice of plugin is to have a clear design goal for each page. Once you know what each page of your website needs to contain, you can search for the most appropriate plugin. Tools like Visual Composer enable you to take a basic page on your website and create unique content without the need to know any programming languages or have any design skills.
WordPress isn't of course the only CMS available. You could also use Joomla or Drupal to build your website. As they can be installed for free, you can test these services and see first-hand if they have the features you are looking for.
Unlike a business website, a personal site can be an extended online CV, or just a location where friends and colleagues can find you online. Some of the most comprehensive personal website/brand creation services include:
If you haven't already claimed your part of the web you should try and register your name as a domain as soon as possible. Your internet service provider may offer a domain registration service. This is essential, as you will need a domain to link to your website when it goes live on the net.
Usability and design
No matter how you construct your website it must ultimately be attractive, engaging and intuitive to use. If you confuse your visitors or frustrate them with over the top design, they will simply click away to another site.
There are a number of fundamental principles that have emerged over the last decade that you can use when designing a website for yourself or your business:
1. Don't overly complicate your design. Never confuse or frustrate your visitors with unnecessary design elements.
2. Use flashing banners and other animations minimally – i.e. only to draw attention to short-lived special offers, or a one-off sale.
3. Always have the same navigation on each page, and ensure there is a 'home' button on each page.
4. Ensure that pages download quickly. Research has shown that eight seconds is the maximum that users will wait, but you should aim for even faster downloads as that figure is reducing every year.
5. Use Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) and not tables to layout your web pages, as CSS will ensure your pages load faster.
6. Text should be written so it can be scanned. Most users will look for headlines and subheadings before reading the rest of the text on a page.
7. Make any shopping cart and checkout system you use easy to navigate. Irritated users will simply abandon their baskets, which is a lost sale.
8. Always include Alt text on each image. This helps improve the SEO (Search Engine Optimization) of your site and also ensures that people with visual impairments can still access your site.
9. Your website should be designed so it can be viewed by anyone. The law states every site should have high levels of accessibility for everyone including anyone with a disability.
10. Make your site responsive so it loads quickly and looks great on a variety of devices with different screen sizes.
One of the most important aspects of website design today, whether you are designing for yourself or your business, is to ensure your site can be viewed on multiple devices. More people now view online content on their smartphones than on their desktop PCs, so it's vital to ensure your site looks great on smaller screens.
The good news is that if you use a template for your website design, or a theme for WordPress for instance, most of the currently available themes and templates will be responsive, which simply means the site adapts to the screen size it is being viewed on.
If you happen to be proficient with HTML and CSS you can of course hand code your website using nothing more than Notepad on the PC or TextEdit on the Mac. With so many web design software applications available, some developers still like to get their hands dirty with the code. There are also applications that allow a level of visual design, but don't forget that you may need to look at and modify the website's code:
These applications are ideal if you have a background in web design. However, they offer a level of control that can be rather daunting for anyone that hasn't coded before.
And if you’re experienced enough to hand code your website, you can also host it from your computer. In fact, one of the most popular uses of the Raspberry Pi is as an always-on web server that’s more than capable of hosting small personal websites. You can follow the Raspberry Pi LAMP Server tutorial on the official RaspberryPi project’s website to host a fully functional WordPress-powered website on the tiny computer.
Note however that by default your web server will only serve requests from your local network. If you plan to allow access to your personal web server from anywhere on the Internet, you’ll have to set up your router with a static IP address and configure port forwarding.
No fuss websites
Creating a website can be a straightforward and efficient task once you have chosen how you will design your site. Hosted services are clearly a convenient way to achieve your goals, and many of the services available today offer sophisticated design elements you can use.
Bloggers that have experience of using a CMS should investigate how they can use their favorite platform as the basis for their website design. Often this will involve just choosing a theme you like or that complements your business. But don't forget the code that underpins every site on the web.
The visual tools are great at hiding the code as you develop your site, but getting to know the underlying code that your site is created with enables you to quickly fix the problems that often occur.
No matter what techniques you use to construct a website for you or your business, always remember that every page is for your audience. Think about what they want to see on your website and deliver this with engaging content.