DIY website development: a master checklist
Whether you have decided to take on the challenge of building your website yourself or to hire a professional website developer, you will still need to put certain things in place to ensure as smooth a process as possible.
Even if you are clear about wanting to build your website yourself, I encourage you to work consider hiring a professional to turn to if you find yourself outside your depth. These professionals can save you vast amounts of time, so I urge you not to dismiss this tip. If you are patient, you can find a professional who will offer as much or as little assistance as you need. Just be clear about expectations and take care not to waste their time by soliciting free advice. Always pay them for their time and generously express your appreciation.
Whether you hire someone or not, this checklist will put you in the right frame of mind and equip you with the knowledge and confidence to create a website you will can proudly claim. In a soon-to-be-published post—Hiring a Web Development Professional Checklist—I will offer tips for working with a website development professional.
Another forthcoming post—The DIY Checklist—will familiarize you with the major steps in order to effectively manage the process.
ο Choose the platform with which you will build your website. This factor will affect all the other decisions here, so it needs to come first. If you are opting for raw coding of your website (coding your website from scratch instead of using a website builder like Wix, Squarespace or WordPress), this checklist will still serve you.
ο Find a hosting company that is highly recommended. I have had good luck with Bluehost, but I understand if you want to support a local company. Pick one that can support the platform you choose and offers reliable tech support that has tech support personnel with whom you can communicate easily and access 24/7. Always make sure your website isn’t locked to any one host so you can migrate your site, if necessary. When comparing rates, pay attention to what they charge to add customer emails and to add bandwidth.
Read the reviews of host companies you are considering and try calling a customer service representative to vet their client care skills. Ask them:
• How hard is it to migrate my site if necessary?
• Would you be willing to talk me through my hosting dashboard once I set up an account?
• What are your tech support hours?
• What is the process involved with resolving a tech support issue? (For example, do you have to email first and then wait for a call?)
• Are their tech support representatives in the United States or elsewhere in the world?
ο Reserve your website domain. Personally, I think it is convenient when the same company you hire as a host can reserve your domain. Bluehost offers this option, but not all hosting companies do. If this isn’t important to you, that’s okay, but it will give you more passwords and accounts to track. Keep careful records of all your accounts and passwords, keeping them in both a file on your hard drive and a physical file folder.
ο Hire a graphic designer to create your online branding. Not all graphic designers are web developers are graphic designers, and vice versa. Don’t assume your web developer will craft your brand, and if you have hired a graphic designer to do create your branding, make certain the graphics on your website (and other online presences like social media) are in sync.
ο Decide what kinds of images you will use. You may be planning to create a website with illustrations, photography, or a mix of the two but make some decisions early on about where you will source your images. If you are planning a photo-heavy site, Wix and Squarespace will provide an impressive photo inventory, but if you are raw coding or using WordPress, you will need to find images in places that offer free photography like Pixabay.com or paid stock imagery sites like GettyImages.com or iStockPhoto.com. (Most paid stock imagery sites also offer illustrations.) You can always, of course, hire illustrators and photographers, who would happily welcome the work and give your website a decidedly distinctive edge.
ο Choose an image editor. Image editors allow you to crop, rotate, resize, and reformat images. The most powerful one is Photoshop, but it is difficult to use and expensive. A free editor like Pixlr.com or BeFunky.com should serve your needs. Consider using Canva.com to create graphics too, if you have some comfort or familiarity with graphic design. It is free (or low cost if you decide to invest in paid images and illustrations) and can help you create truly stunning imagery for surprisingly little time (once you learn the tool).
ο If you plan to share audio or video files, choose the appropriate audio and video players. These files are notorious storage hogs, so try to find players that let you store your files elsewhere. If you plan to create a lot of video content for your site, invest in an account with YouTube, Vimeo, or Wistia and then embed your website with the code so that viewers stay on your website but the video isn’t taking up space on your host server. WordPress offers some excellent media plug-ins like WordPress Audio Player that allow you to embed audio without sacrificing bandwidth, and SoundCloud gives websites on any platform the option to embed and play audio while storing the files on SoundCloud.
ο Research website ecommerce tools carefully if you plan to sell anything. The right website development professional can help you make this decision, but make certain they have experience building ecommerce sites. This feature complicates website development, and you want to make sure this piece is implemented correctly to ensure secure financial transactions and a smooth shopping experience for your customers. If this is your first website and online retail will be a major revenue source for your business, hire a professional. Wix and Squarespace both offer online shopping features, and WordPress has several ecommerce plug-ins, WooCommerce being the clear favorite with Shopify quickly gaining popularity too.
ο Decide what social media links to share on your site. If you have Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest accounts (or other social media platforms) linked to your business, decide which ones you want to use to promote your site and how and where you will list them on your site. Do you want people to “share” images or posts or just know that you have social media accounts with relevant icons that link to these accounts? WordPress has plugins that let you integrate feeds from major social media sites, which I only recommend if you consistently keep these sites updated.
ο Nail down your architecture. Make a determination about the number of pages your site will be and how they will be organized. Create an architecture map with paper and sticky notes and then transfer it to an online tool like PictoChart, CardSmith.co, or Trello. Keep a hard copy ever-present to refer to as you work.
ο Create a binder. Even in this digital age, a hard copy of your content will help you more quickly organize and synthesize your content and track your progress as you create your website. Create a tab for each high-level button and plastic sheet protectors to collect magazine pictures. Place your architecture map at the front of the binder. Include a tab that stores technical information like domain registration, hosting details, and passwords. (If recording your passwords makes you nervous in case your binder falls into untrustworthy hands, use a password protection app like Dashlane or RoboForm instead.)