Elle & Company

How to Create a Website from Scratch

Jessica FreemanLauren Hooker4 Comments

Laying out your website is a lot like moving into a new house. You have so many different moving pieces to put somewhere, lots of options in terms of organizing everything, and sometimes, you find yourself staring at the boxes because you have no idea where to start. Whenever I unpack a house, I like to sort all the boxes into their respective rooms. So, we’re going to take your business “boxes” and unpack them. 

How to Create a Website from Scratch - The Elle & Company Collaborative

Get Down to Basics

I always have a box of my “essentials” - phone charger, tape, scissors, etc. So, first things first, open up a Google Doc, Evernote folder, Word document, etc. Have a place ready for you to dump all the info in for your website! Let’s start with the basics. Some of these things you may just need to jot down, some you may have to put on your to-do list. 

  • Business name and tagline
  • Contact info (phone, email, address)
  • Social media URLs
  • Domain name 
  • Website hosting 
  • Third party integration logins (Mailchimp, CRM, affiliate links)
  • Style guide elements (fonts, colors, visual elements)

Do Some Planning

Hopefully, when you’re moving into your house, you have a plan of where your master bedroom, guest room, and office are all going to be located. You may make these decisions based on preferences, or the layout of the house. Before you can start preparing website content and laying out everything, you need to think about your audience and the goals for your website. Unlike your house, your website is not for you. Yes, your website is a representation of you and your brand, but it’s a place for people to learn from you, engage with you, and hopefully, hire you. As you’re planning and brainstorming, think over these questions:

  • What is one thing you want people to know about your business? 
  • What do you want to be known for? 
  • What is your brand’s personality or voice?
  • Who do you want to serve? Identify your target audience.
  • How will you serve them?

Prepare Content

A website can’t exist without content. (Unless you’re going super minimalistic and just want an entirely blank, white page, then do you, girlfriend.) The pages on each website will vary depending on your services, brand, and audience, but this list is a good starting point.

Homepage: Attention-grabbing, but also very clear to the audience what you do and who you work with. 

About page
This is not just about you - let your audience know that you understand their
problem and let them know why your services are the perfect solution.

How to Create a Website from Scratch - The Elle & Company Collaborative

This page can vary on your services, and your preferences -- some people have a longer sales page, and some just list a few packages. One way or another, you have to tell people what you offer! Some people also opt to have each service on its own page, with more details, photos, etc.

Terms of Services/Disclaimer
Cover your butt and let people know that you’re not guaranteeing your advice or services can and will change their life.

Of course, you want people to be able to contact you! Personally, I actually don’t have a contact form on my website. Everyone must come through my Hire Me form, which is set-up as part of my client workflow. If someone wants to “just chat” -- they usually hit me up on social media. (I took off my contact form when people opted to go there instead of the Hire Me form like they were supposed to… tsk tsk.)

These pages could be all you have for your website at first, and that’s totally fine. There are some other pages that might be good for you to consider adding, whether right away or down the road:

Blog - great for SEO, sharing valuable content, and engaging with your audience.

Portfolio - especially if your work is visual, this is really important!

Testimonials - if you don’t have a portfolio, having client testimonials on your site is a great way to show potential clients that you’re reputable.

Shop - whether it’s products or resources, this is a great way for people to find more of what you have to offer. 

Opt-in - some people just have a pop-up or a bar across the top of their site, but having an entire page dedicated to your opt-in page is great for getting more sign-ups! On the page, you can have a picture of it, a description, and a place for people to sign up. 

Press page - this may be something you add down the road, but it’s great for you to link up to places you’ve been featured!

While you’re working on these pages, remember to make them SEO-friendly. Use keywords, use page descriptions, and use alt tags on your images. Make your website work harder for you!

Remember that your website is more than just words, also think about the visuals! No matter what industry you are in, visuals are a great way to show off you, your brand and your personality. Photos of yourself are especially important, as they help your audience connect with you (and remind them that you are a real human, not just a robot). 

  • Headshots of yourself
  • Images for any page headers
  • Graphics you may want to incorporate into pages or sidebars
  • Will you have an intro video on your site?

Time to organize

My Type A personality loves this part - the organizing! Moving the boxes from one massive pile into smaller sets makes it seem less overwhelming. 

Start at the top. What will be linked in your main navigation? Typically, your About page, Services page, Contact page, and Blog are linked in the navigation -- but again, there are no hard and fast rules. You don’t want to put every single page in your top navigation, as that will become cluttered very quickly. I usually recommend no more than 4-5 links in the navigation.

There are a few ways to keep your navigation clean and simple:

  • Create drop-down menus, and have related pages grouped together. Example: About Me, History, and Mission can be in one drop-down.
  • If your website theme has a secondary navigation in the footer, utilize that space for other pages. Example: Terms of Service and Newsletter Opt-in are often found in footers.
  • Utilize sidebars, and link to pages within other pages. Example: I have a place for people to sign-up for my newsletter at the bottom of my About page. There’s not a lot of text on that page, so it helped fill some empty space.

Make It All Look Good

My least favorite part of moving? Hanging things on the walls. There’s so much measuring, hammering, and it’s hard to visualize if something that will look good in my head will actually look good on the wall. The same can be said for choosing a website design. 

If you use Squarespace, it’s easy to switch between templates and see what it will look like with your content. With Wordpress, you kind of have to take a gamble and hope that you (or your web designer) will be able to make it look as nifty as it does in the examples. 

Things you should consider when starting the design process:

  • Do you want your website to be more traditional? Modern? Minimalist? Portfolio style?
  • What websites do you love? Why?
  • What websites do you hate? Why?
  • How will you incorporate your brand into your website? 

I never, ever, ever promote copying others. But, it can be good to keep an eye on your competitors. (I know we’re all in this together, we can all succeed... but, they’re still competitors at the end of the day.) What are they doing that’s working? For example, are you a business coach and every single one of your competitors is blogging? Then, it’s probably wise for you to set-up a blog on your website.

How to Create a Website from Scratch - The Elle & Company Collaborative

Just Go With It

The great part about houses and websites - things can always be rearranged. I’ve changed around our home office three times in one year. Do you think I hid my office from everyone for the last year? No. Now, I wasn’t inviting friends over every week when only half the house was unpacked. But, when it got to a respectable place, I showed it off. The same can be said for your website. Launch it when it’s ready, not perfect. 

How to Create a Website from Scratch - The Elle & Company Collaborative

You can (and should) update your website later on, as needed. Put a reminder on your calendar to do a website audit every three months or so. Look at your page views, what people are searching when they find you, how many people are finding you on social media, etc. If you’re not getting much traffic from Google, you may want to take a look at your SEO. If you see certain peaks in traffic, determine why -- was it a particular blog? Were you featured somewhere? What might you need to adjust on your website? 

Live It Up

Just like a house becomes a home, you will soon feel more comfortable and confident about your website. A well-organized, well-designed website is key in attracting more of the right clients who want to hire you. It can be a daunting task to start from scratch - knowing what to include, getting all the content together, making it look good, etc. Set deadlines for yourself and call in the reinforcements if you need them! 

What tips would you offer those who are beginning to build their website?

About the Author

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Jessica Freeman is a graphic and web designer living in Atlanta, GA, helping entrepreneurs share their story. Whether you’re a one-person shop, or you’ve got a team - your brand is your livelihood - and it’s time to let you shine. After hours, Jess enjoys spending time with her husband, Aaron, their dog, Morgan Freeman, and #FranktheChair.

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