I love checklists.
It’s not because I have an obsessive-compulsive need to lay out a detailed plan for everything I do – okay fine… I do, but it’s not why I like it.
It’s because checklists are great at simplifying complicated or overwhelming projects like building a website – into easily manageable steps.
Everything is nicely laid out for you like an organized roadmap – so it takes away all the guesswork out of building your website.
If you feel completely lost and don’t know where to start when it comes to building a website, you’ve come to the right place.
This checklist will show you exactly:
- What you need to get started with a website, and
- What you don’t need and probably never need for your website.
If you’ve already done some research and have a rough idea what it takes to build a website, this checklist can help you find out if you missed anything (just in case). We’ve also linked to some awesome guides to make sure you get off to a good start!
What You “Think You Need” vs What You “Actually Need” to Build a Website.
One of the biggest mistake people make when building his or her first website is trying to do too much.
What you end up with is an endless list of things you need to do and things you need to pay for.
Soon you are overwhelmed and end up doing nothing – does this sound familiar?
We know this because we’ve been there before. We were completely paralyzed by endless questions and options when we were building our first website.
After making our fair share of mistakes, we learned that you should just get started with the bare basics to build a website, and add more features as your website grows.
Why? Because “you don’t know what you don’t know.”
Consider This: Have you ever packed for a vacation to a place you’ve never been to, and for weather / climates you have little experiences with?
Last year we went to a Caribbean island for a vacation. We rarely travel to destinations that are humid and scorching hot, where we feel like we need a shower after stepping outside for just 3 minutes.
We wanted to do a bunch of water sports (paddle boarding, snorkeling, jet skiing, etc.)
Like any excited vacationer, we went out and bought a bunch of aqua outfits (such as rash guards, aqua shoes) and gears we thought we needed.
We felt pretty smart, as buying this sort of stuff on a remote island is going to cost an arm and a leg for sure!
Sure enough, half of the stuff we bought we never used.
We thought we needed all the gear and outfits (based on what we saw on TV, some websites, etc.)
Hey, we just didn’t know any better – I’m sure this happens to everyone at some point, right?
Just like packing for a vacation to a new place, how do you know what features and tool you will actually use for your very first website?
- Will you waste time and money on creating a website with tools and features you won’t end up using?
- Will you spend hard earned money on a custom website design and advanced features, and only to find out later that they don’t work for your target audience?
- Will you end up re-designing your website because your custom design didn’t work, only to pray that the new design will give you better results?
Here’s the embarrassing thing – we were guilty of all 3 points when we first started out!
After building more than a dozen different types of websites, we learned a golden rule when starting your first website:
What you think you want is often DIFFERENT than what you actually need.
So, start with a basic version of the website you think you need.
Test to see what works and what doesn’t on your website with minimal time and cash investment.
Once you know what works, you can then invest smartly on your website.
Checklist – What You Need to Build a Website
If you want a website where you are not accepting any payments online (not an online store), don’t need the capability for people to book appointments online, or managing paid members, you will find the bare basics below are often enough for you to build a good, functional website to get you started.
9 Things You Need To Start a Website
#1 Get a Domain Name
A domain name is often the first thing you need when starting a website. It is your digital address that people will use to get connected to your website.
For example, the domain name for this website is www.websitebuilderexpert.com.
We have an ABC Guide to Domain Names for Beginners where you will learn everything you need to know picking, purchasing and registering your domain name.
#2 Get a Business Email Address
I am a believer of business email address for anyone who is serious about building a business.
There is nothing more effective in crushing your website’s or your business’ credibility with emails like “email@example.com” or “firstname.lastname@example.org”.
The first question that pops into my mind is – “wow, they can’t even afford $5 a month on a business email? This doesn’t look very professional. Is their service or product even reliable?”
I know that sounds harsh and judgmental, but that’s how a lot of people think!
It’s not easy to build trust and gain credibility on the internet. When I see businesses using free email accounts for their business website, it really makes me question how robust and trustworthy is the business.
This creates unnecessary doubt that you really don’t need – especially if you are starting a new business.
Sure, if I already know your business and I’ve been using your service for years, I can care less about what email address you use.
However, that is not always the case – most of your website visitors will be finding more about you for the first time. They won’t have a prior relationship with you, so there is more room for doubt.
So, long story short, if you are serious at building a website that can help you attract new customers and grow your business, get a business email address with your website domain name. It’s very easy (and cheap) to get set up with Google’s G Suite.
Once you have a domain name, you use it to can create a business email like jonathan@ABCcompany.com.
#3 Choose a Website Building Software
A website builder software is what you use to build your website.
Some of the more popular web builders that you might have heard of are WordPress, Wix, Squarespace and Weebly.
I love using website builder software even though I can code up a website from scratch using just a Note Pad.
Because it is just so mind-blowingly easy!
Why give myself more work when I can take a short cut and still create a very professional website?
Depending on your skills level and what complex features you want on your website, some website builders will work better than the other.
Here are some of the most popular website builders, and what we think about them:
- Wix: Best All-Around Website Builder: They have the most features and tools when it comes to drag & drop website builders. Whether you need an online booking tool, insert video backgrounds, or want to create an online store, Wix has you covered.
- Squarespace: Best Design Oriented Website Builder: Their design templates are so good, they can make your website look as if you custom designed it.
- Weebly: Easiest to Use Website Builder: They’ve made it so easy for you to use, you can build a really good website even if you are deathly afraid of technology!
- WordPress: Most Flexible Website Builder: You can customize your website to your heart’s content, but WordPress is not easy to learn for beginners.
Here is a handy table we’ve put together that compares WordPress, Wix, Squarespace, and Weebly (click on image to see a full-sized image):
Why? Because WordPress has a much higher learning curve and setup costs than any fully managed website building software like Wix, Squarespace, and Weebly.
WordPress also don’t offer you a dedicated support team, whereas drag & drop website builders do.
I will only recommend using WordPress (aka self-hosted website builders) if:
- This is not your first website (assuming you are somewhat familiar with the technical aspects of building websites, including some coding knowledge).
- If you have very specific design or software need that only WordPress can provide.
- If you have both time and money to spend on learning, building and managing a WordPress website.
- How to Choose the Best Website Builder for You: 9 Simple Questions to help you find the best website builder for your needs – see this practical guide to getting started.
- Best Website Builders: See our lists of the top website builders by industry.
- Road Map To Building Your First Website (Infographic): An overview of what you need to build a successful website & keeps you on the right track.
- Website Builder Comparison Chart: Side-by-side breakdown of website builders and their features.
- Find Your Perfect Website Builder Quiz: 4 questions to guide you to the best website builder for you.
- WordPress and drag & drop website builders Comparison Articles: See how WordPress compares to other website builders.
- Guide to costs of building a website using WordPress and drag & drop website builders
- Coding for Beginners – Learning even a little bit of coding can be useful when customizing your design. Here are some awesome resources we used when we first started out.
#4 Get Website Hosting
A host is the storage unit where your website content lives online.
Whenever someone enters your domain name in a web browser, the browser will fetch your website content from your website host.
The type of hosting you choose depends on how many visitors you have coming to your website.
The cost of your hosting will increase when more people visit your website as you will need to upgrade from basic to advanced hosting.
There are 4 general types of website hosting:
- Shared Hosting: You are sharing a server with other websites. Imagine you are renting a small dorm room back in college. You get your own room, but you are sharing the common areas like the kitchen, living room and etc.
- VPS Hosting: You are still sharing a server with other websites, but you get more capacity to handle more visitors. Imagine that you upgraded to an apartment in a residential building. You are still sharing the building, but you now have the entire apartment all to yourself, separated from other people.
- Dedicated Hosting: You have a server all to yourself and don’t need to share. Now you are renting an entire building. This is often used by very large, enterprise level websites. For the rest of us, you will most likely never need dedicated hosting.
- Free Hosting: This is provided for all fully managed drag & drop website builder we mentioned above.
If this is your first website using a self-hosted website builder like WordPress, it is hard to know how much traffic you will have. So I recommend that you start with Shared Hosting.
Once you get a better idea how many visitors you get a month and how fast your traffic is growing, you can always upgrade to VPS hosting.
If you are using a fully managed website builder like Wix, Squarespace or Weebly, you don’t have to worry about hosting. They manage the entire hosting aspect for you so that frees up your time (and technical headaches) to do other things.
No matter how many visitors you get, they will have you covered and your monthly cost will never increase as long as you keep with the same monthly plan.
Basic Hosting (for WordPress):
There are lots of website hosting providers out there. Bluehost is a great candidate to get started with. They have very affordable shared hosting plans that won’t break the bank.
Advanced Hosting (for WordPress):
For larger websites that demand faster loading speed and more hands-on support, check out WP Engine. It is a fully managed hosting provider which means they handle the security and software installation for you. If you are looking for more advanced, highly-tuned, dedicated WordPress hosting provider, WP Engine is excellent and has top notch customer service.
#5 Choose a Website Template Design
A website template is a pre-made website design that allows you to have a professional-looking website without the need of hiring a website designer.
It gives you a quick, easy and economical way to create your website design.
When you are starting with your first website, I don’t recommend hiring a website designer and spend thousands on a custom design website.
Because successful websites are built around real data on how your audience experience your brand, what are their interests, and how they interact with your website.
Without this critical information, how would you know what actually works and what doesn’t? Your custom design, based on what YOU think, is just guesswork.
You are potentially wasting thousands of dollar on a custom website design that most likely will not entirely pay off.
We have firsthand experiences with building a custom website too early, and that is why we recommend to always start with an inexpensive pre-made website template to test what you actually works and what you really need in your website design.
If you are using a fully managed website builder (Wix, Squarespace, and Weebly), they will provide you with free website template designs. Here is a summary of each website builder’s template design selections:
- Wix: Large website template library with over 500 professionally designed templates.
- Squarespace: Some of the best website design that can rival some custom designed websites.
- Weebly: Their templates allow access to the codes so you can make custom changes if you want to – an added design flexibility.
- How to Choose Your Perfect Website Template Design: This guide shows you 3 simple rules that you can follow to pick the right template design for your website.
- Collection of Free Website Templates – drag & drop web builders offer you free templates to choose from. Check some of them out.
#6 Logo Design
Using a Logo is a great way to help create a brand for your business and website.
There are 2 ways you can create your own business logo – even if you’re not great at design, or if you don’t know how to use any image editing tools:
Option 1: Hire a graphic designer: 99 Designs gives you access to 950,000+ designers. You can post a logo design project and just wait for graphic designers all over the world to apply for your project. You only pay if you like the final results – but it may not be the cheapest option.
- Don’t have time to post an ad, interview designers and wait weeks to get a design back (which you won’t even know if you like or not).
- Don’t have a big budget to spend hundreds of dollars on a custom logo.
- Don’t have any design chops or can’t use image editors like Photoshop to create your own logo.
- Don’t need a one-of-kind logo design, but still need a professional-looking logo.
How to Make a Logo in 1 Minute – Without Any Design Skills: Learn how you can create professional logos without using fancy (and complicated) image editors like Photoshop.
#7 High-Quality Images for Website
There is a secret to creating a professional-looking website without hiring a website designer.
Can you guess what it is?
It’s using high quality, unique images! Not rocket science, right?
Yes, using high-quality graphics and photography is the easiest way to help make your website look 100x better.
When you see a website that has fuzzy images of fake stock models, doesn’t that impact your perception or confidence in the website or the business it represents?
Of course, they do!
Not everyone is a gifted photographer (certainly not me), so finding professional images for your website can be a challenge.
No need to panic, though…. Here are some awesome sources where you can find beautiful images to boost the professionalism of your website:
- Unsplash (Free)
- 500px.com (Free & Paid)
- GettyImages.com (Paid)
- Shutterstock.com (Paid)
- Bigstock.com (Paid)
Not sure which of the website above works best for your website? Take a look at this guide where we go over the pros and cons of each of these image resources. This will save you some time in deciding which website you should focus on.
#8 Image Editors
An image editor is one of the most useful (and basic, must have) tools any website owner can have – especially if you don’t have the luxury of hiring a good graphic designer.
(Sidenote: if you have a good budget to hire a designer, here is a guide on how to hire designers the right way.)
Even if you don’t have a graphic intensive website, you still need to crop, rotate or resize images at some point.
Professional image editors like Photoshop are expensive and hard to use. For most website owners, it’s quite a financial and time commitment (or burden) to learn how to use Photoshop effectively.
This is where using Free Online Based Image Editors are great options.
True, they cannot do everything the full version of Photoshop can. But they are good enough to allow you to easily crop, rotate, re-size and re-format images.
Here are some free editors we like:
- BeFunky: Best all round image/photo/graphic editor. It’s super intuitive to use and have lots of preset tools that make editing ridiculously simple. It has all the features offered by PicMonkey and most of Pixlr’s advanced tools with none of the complexity. It will be the last image editor you will ever need.
- Pixlr: Best Photoshop-like Editor. Great alternative to Photoshop. What it lacks in preset tools it makes up for its flexibility and advanced Photoshop-like tools. It does have a slight learning curve, so it may not be for everyone.
- PicMonkey: Simplest to use. It is great for touching up portraits or creating quirky ads, banners, business / gift / greeting cards and more. While PicMonkey doesn’t have as many features as BeFunky or Pixlr, their tools are idiot-proof. You can literally color outside of the lines and still get a great result.
Here is a comprehensive discussion on each of these image editors, and what they’re good / bad at.
Give them a try to see which on you enjoy working with! All of them are pretty high quality, free image editors.
#9 Get Google Analytics
For anyone who is serious about their business / website and have the ambition of growing the number of visitors year after year, you will need Google Analytics.
It is the data analytics tool you need to understand how your visitors are interacting with your website.
You can find out how many people are on your website, which page they visit the most, how long they stay on each page, which page do they visit next, which page do most visitors exit, etc.
All such data can be used to help you understand your visitor better and know which pages you need to improve.
For instance, if a specific page is highly visited, but the visitors don’t stay around for very long (compared to your overall website average) and it is an important page, then you can examine why this is the case, so you can improve your page.
Such data can give you incredible insights about how your visitors behave and surf your website so you can make improvements. This is especially important given you can’t physically see or speak with your visitors (like in a real physical store).
While Google analytics cannot give you ALL the information you need to improve your website, but it is a good place to start.
All the drag & drop website builders we discussed above (Wix, Squarespace, Weebly) have tutorials on how to get your Google Analytics set up on your website.
If you want to use WordPress, I recommend Google Analytics by MonsterInsights plugin.
90% of the non-ecommerce websites can be built with just these 9 things – it is that simple.
This is especially true if you’re building a simple company website where you are not:
- Selling anything online, or
- Allowing your customers to make appointments online, or
- Creating a paid membership website.
Use our resource list below to find all the tools you will need and you can get started right away.
Service Provider Resource List:
- Domain Names: GoDaddy & NameCheap
- Custom Email Addresses: Google G Suite
- Website Builders:
- Website Hosting (for WordPress): Bluehost & WP Engine
- Website Templates: Free templates from drag & drop website builders. For WordPress, see WooThemes & Mojo Marketplace
- Logo Design Generator: Squarespace Logo Generator (Free) & TailorBrands (Paid)
- High-Quality Images: See this page for a collection for free and paid images.
- Image Editors: Here are a few free image editors
- Google Analytics: See how your visitors are behaving on your website with Google Analytics.
What You Need to Build a Website – The FAQs
What is a domain name and why do you need one?
Your domain name is your digital address that people will use to access your website. You need one so that people can find you and get connected to your site.
How do you purchase a domain name?
You can purchase a domain name through your website builder or through third party such as GoDaddy or NameCheap.
Going through a third party is a good option as it’s much more versatile in the long run should you decide to change website builders.
What is hosting?
A website host is basically where you content lives online.
If you choose a drag and drop website builder, you won’t have to worry about this as they all include hosting (even on their free plans!).
What do you use Google Analytics for?
Google Analytics is a great tool to help you understand your customers and how they are interacting with your website. You can find out which of your pages are most visited and how long visitors spend on each page.
It can really help you improve your website and ultimately boost your bottom line!
How do you choose a website builder?
We recommend trying out 2 or 3 website builders before coming to a final decision. Think about things such as price, ease of use, template designs and how that website builder can help you grow your site.
Which website builder is the easiest to use?
If you’re looking for a really easy to use editor, Weebly is great. You can build a stunning website even if you’re really not good with technology.
Which website builder has the best templates?
Squarespace is the most design-oriented website builder. All their templates have the ability to give your website a beautiful and professional feel – all with minimal effort from you!
What is the best all-round website builder?
When it comes to drag and drop website builders, Wix has the most features and tools. Their App Market allows you to give your website advanced functionality such as the integration of social channels and email forms.
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