How to Launch a Killer Website

Weebly website-builder in action. (Image source: websitetooltester.com)

Weebly website-builder in action. (Image source: websitetooltester.com)

Maybe you’re trying to throw together a portfolio before your first real job interview. Maybe you’re starting your own company or introducing a new product. Maybe you’ve been asked to help redesign a crummy home page for a nonprofit you work with. In any case, putting together a website is a big project, and a great way to add valuable skills to your resume.

Whether you’ve dabbled in the art of html in a previous life, or you’re starting from scratch with little idea of where to even begin, there’s a place for you in the world of web design.

Here is some advice from a fellow just like you, who started designing websites a few years ago without a lot of experience under his belt. Now he has his own brand and product to promote, and a great site to house it. His name is Jared Smith. He is a BYU student and an entrepreneur.

“My suggestion is to watch a basic tutorial before you start creating your website, and once you get bored or feel like you know what you are doing, start creating content.

Inevitably, you will run into a problem and you can watch a tutorial about how to solve the problem. I watched lots of website tutorials before I was done completing my first website.”

Jared is right. When you first start out tutorials can be helpful. Unfortunately, they won’t solve all of your problems. If you’re not quite sure where to start, here are three things that will set you on the road to success. 

Step 1. Pick a Platform

WordPress, Wix, and Weebly. Three of the most popular site-building tools, boasting 194 million combined users*.

WordPress, Wix, and Weebly. Three of the most popular site-building tools, boasting 194 million combined users. (Sources: wordpress.com, wix.com, and weebly.com)

There are tons of different content management systems, and they’re all built for different types of people. Some of them are incredibly straightforward to use (at the price of limited functionality), and others fall on the opposite end of the spectrum.

I’ve chosen to focus on three big ones.

WordPress: Easily the most versatile of the three platforms I’ve chosen to focus on, it’s also the most difficult to use. This is because with WordPress, you make all of your changes to the web code on the backend of your site**.

WordPress is the most popular website-building application by a long shot, and according to builtwith.com runs about a third of the world’s websites (at least the ones built using a content management system). While not the easiest to navigate, it’s a valuable platform to learn. WordPress is a free, downloadable application, so comparing it to Wix and Weebly is kind of like comparing Microsoft Word and Google Docs.

**Web code is html or CSS, which is just a way to tell your website how to look using a series of commands and encoded links.

Weebly: I’ve used Weebly quite a bit. It’s my personal favorite if I’ve got to throw up a basic site in a few days, or if I know the person managing site content in the future might not have a great eye for design. It offers tons of free themes with pre-matched fonts and color schemes. You can change the theme presets if you like, but changes apply to the entire site. This is valuable, because uniformity in site elements helps maintain a professional, consistent feel.

Wix: This is another simple and user-friendly interface, but instead of having to use a template, you start with a blank page and drop different elements onto the screen. This way, you can create your website entirely from scratch, the way you like it. The user base is growing fast; this year Wix hit 90 million users. Its cheapest user package starts at $4 a month.

If you’ve never built any sort of website before, and you’re not willing to commit the time to learn a new system, it’s best to stick with Weebly, Wix or a similarly intuitive, drag-and-drop application.

If you’re interested in adding more complex features, like carousels or real-time graphics, and you’ve got the time to take on a heavier project, it might be worth it to delve into the world of web code and learn to use WordPress. There are tons of tutorial videos on YouTube, and forty-six thousand plugins to browse if you’re looking to add interesting features.

Pre-built website themes and templates to choose from. (Source: Screenshots from both wordpress.com and weebly.com.)

Pre-built website themes and templates to choose from. (Source: Screenshots from both wordpress.com and weebly.com.)

Step 2. Have a Plan

Just because you spent eight hours watching web design tutorials, doesn’t mean you’re ready to churn out a professional-grade website. You need a plan. Keep in mind your website’s purpose, as well as your brand’s personality and color scheme. What feelings do you want to inspire in your audience when they’re looking at your page?

Most of these web design sites have themes for you to browse. As you are scrolling through them, decide which layout best conveys the message you are trying to send.

If your brand demands a clean, sleek design, don’t choose a theme that crowds information onto the page. If your brand calls for bright colors or a trendy feel, avoid themes that come only in greyscale and serif fonts.

As you begin the web design process, you need to choose one or two fonts, a solid color scheme and a few basic page templates for the different kinds of pages your site needs to support (for example your home page will be different from your blog page). You should also have a consistent footer on every page. 

Hex color code generator—extract colors from an image. (Source: Screenshot taken from html-color-codes.info.)

Hex color code generator—extract colors from an image. (Source: Screenshot taken from html-color-codes.info.)

Step 3: Stay True to Your Brand

If you’re trying to include colors from your logo subtly across the rest of your site, run it through a color code generator so you can match them exactly.

I worked for an organization once whose logo included a soft lilac, but their website headings were the theme’s default purple, which was a brighter magenta. The logo was on every page, and it was not only distracting; it was glaringly unprofessional.

Sites like html-color-codes.info or imagecolorpicker.com can help you avoid this problem, and replace the theme’s default colors with exact color tones of your choosing. Some content management platforms offer more flexibility with this, so look into color manipulation options when selecting your particular site-building application.

Let’s Review: Launching a Killer Website

First, make sure you’ve got the right tools. Choose a platform you feel comfortable with, or one you are willing to spend time learning. Second, you need a plan that dictates how you visually want to represent your brand. And finally, stick to that plan. No buts about it.

Whatever platform you choose, and however simple your brand identity, you’ll run into problems that make you want to rip your hair out. But the internet is full of answers and you, my friend, are resourceful. You’ll figure it out. There are few things more satisfying than scrolling through a website you’ve created that looks absolutely stunning, and the only way to get there is to start.

So get yourself a domain, and get going.

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