As you might expect, First Site Guide is about helping people get their first website or blog up and running. Half the battle, when you’re starting out, is developing some context for what you’re doing right, and what you’re doing wrong. If you don’t know what you’re shooting for, it’s very hard to hit it.
There is an awful lot that goes into making a good website, and you should not be afraid to look for help out there. The good news is, the internet can tell you anything you need to know. The bad news is, it’s hard to tell what you actually need to know, so that you can find it.
Whether you’re doing it yourself, or bringing in help, we’ve put together a few questions to help you stay on the right track as you move forward. This is assuming you’ve already put some thought into picking the right domain name and such.
The Big Picture
1. Does Everything Work on Your Site?
This seems self-evident, but it’s definitely a case of easier said than done. Especially for beginners, it’s hard to even know where to look to find out if your site is working or not.
– Make sure your site itself loads. If not, you may have a problem with either your server or your platform.
– Make sure your social media solutions actually import/export/share content. If people want to share your content, they better be able to!
– Make sure that your subscription solution works, and sends out updates to subscribers. This is as easy as signing up for your own service.
– Make sure your content works on different devices and browsers. Check it on mobile, Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari, and Chrome. Check it on large and small displays. Most themes are responsive (meaning they change to fits screen size) now, but you can check how they look on various screens here.
– Make sure your pages load quickly. Google has a tool for this.
– Make sure your analytics are accurate. This means incorporating Google Analytics into your site.
If your site is broken, it doesn’t look good for your brand. You’ll want to make sure you know when it’s up, when it’s down. If you’re using WordPress, as of a recent update, Jetpack will let you know if your site is down, so you don’t have to worry about finding a third party site to do so for you.
Another great free toolset are Google Webmaster Tools, which will help you make sure everything on your site is secure and working.
2. Is Your Site Secure?
You need to secure your site. It’s critical, even if you’re not storing any customer data. If you’re on WordPress, I’d recommend WordFence, but there are several strong options.
Most of this is actually pretty easy. Make sure no one you don’t trust has admin control. Make sure that, if they do have admin control, it’s not through your account. The only person who should have your username and password, ever, for any reason, is you.
On the subject of passwords, make it something good, and something memorable. Which characters are allowed varies from platform to platform, but shoot for something in the range of sixteen characters, with numbers, lowercase, and uppercase. Here are a couple examples:
You get the idea. Something you’ll remember, but won’t show up on a list of the hundred most common passwords or be vulnerable to brute force attacks. To find out how long it would take to guess your password, check this out.
3. Can New Users Navigate Easily?
This one, you just need to Shanghai a few friends into. Dump them on the site, and use them as test users. See what makes sense, what they have trouble with, and then act to make it simpler.
A good idea is to write out your site flow, all the pages you need, and how they’ll connect on a whiteboard. Try to make it as simple as possible to get to everywhere on the site. Ideally, you want three or less steps separating any two places on your site.
While you’re at, make sure your employees can navigate it, and understand how it all works. Does your site have a blog? Better make sure everyone one your team understands how it works, so they don’t end up deleting posts, publishing drafts, and so on.
4. Does Your Site Portray Your Brand in a Good Light?
Remember, you don’t want to go through all this tie and effort to make yourself look like an incompetent wannabe, or a total jerk. Make sure everything comes across as clean, professional, and accessible. Exactly what those mean to you is up to you, but just keep them in mind as you go. No autoplaying music, pop-ups of kittens on looping gifs, or whatever. One good idea is to research competitors (or just other sites) to see what they’re doing. Figure out what’s working for them, figure out what’s not, and use that to decide how you want to push your brand forward.
5. Does Your Site Actually Accomplish Your Goals?
Websites are cool. They really are. We can do so much cool stuff these days that it’s easy to get carried away in videos, parallax effects, and all these shiny new toys.
Remember why you created the website. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t add new goals to the list, but if your website is supposed to sell doodads, make sure it’s optimized to be really great at selling doodads. If your site is a place for root vegetable enthusiasts to share pictures of turnips and remind each other that they’re technically tubers, not vegetables, well, make sure your site does a good job of that.
While it can be overwhelming to create a new website, if you stick with it, you’ll find yourself with a great website, a sense of accomplishment, and a host of marketable new skills.