Here are my best FIFTY tips to help you with your DIY website. Yes, fifty! If you haven’t yet begun building your website, reading through them will help you as you go along, and if your self-built website is already up and online, check you haven’t fallen into any of these traps.
1. Make sure you’re clear on the goals for your website before you begin. If you don’t know what you need your website to do for you, it’s very hard to make it a success.
2. Make sure the platform you choose fits with your abilities. Otherwise you’ll get in a tangle and wish you’d never started.
3. Make sure your platform will work with your long term goals. It would be crazy to have to change your site just six months down the line.
4. Don’t let your neighbour’s nephew create your website. He’ll be busy with his own stuff soon and have no more time to help you – which will leave you totally high and dry.
5. Don’t let anyone else register your domain name for you. You need to have control over it. You don’t know how many times I’ve seen people lose track of who registered their domain name, meaning they can’t renew it when the time comes. This means they need to build their website all over again, and they lose their original domain name, which they’ve been quoting everywhere, for good.
6. Don’t register your domain via the platform you’re using (or via your host). You want to be able to change easily if you need to. It’s not that it’s impossible to change registrars, it’s just that it can be a major pain.
7. If you get stuck, pay for help. You can’t always do everything you want to, by yourself.
8. If you know you’re not good with design, don’t make changes to your template just for the sake of making changes. It was designed by a professional, so why not leave it that way? It won’t look like a template once you’ve got your own content and images in there.
9. You absolutely need your own domain name. (Never “yourname.wordpress.com,” for example.)
10. When choosing your domain name, try to avoid hyphens. It’s so boring to remind people of the hyphens each time you tell someone your domain name.
11. When choosing your domain name, avoid anything that’s hard to spell. (Don’t do as I did!)
12. Always pay if you need to, in order to remove ads from your website. Having other people’s adverts on your website is really not what you want.
13. Make sure your website works well on mobile.
14. Don’t clutter up your webpages. Leave plenty of white space.
15. Don’t use too many colours. If you need more than three (not including the background colour and the colour of your main text) choose a lighter or darker variation of one of them. Too many colors looks messy and cluttered.
16. Don’t use too many fonts on your website. Usually just two is enough – one for your headings, and one for the regular body text. You really don’t need any more.
17. Don’t centre everything. Some headings can be centred, but your main text needs to be left-aligned, as you can see in the example below.
18. Don’t change the colour of your text, even for extra emphasis. It looks so unprofessional to suddenly get something written in red, for example.
19. Avoid using two or three primary colours together. This looks as though you’re setting up a kindergarten.
20. Avoid chunks of text that go the whole width of your website – these are hard to read. (Put white margins if you can, or write your text in short columns, if appropriate.)
21. Avoid tiny text, but don’t display all your text in header-sized lettering either. It’s makes for very uncomfortable reading to feel you’re sitting too close to your computer screen, yet you can’t get further away.
22. Always make sure your images are resized correctly so they don’t appear squashed or stretched. I see this so often! Just crop them to the right size before you upload them, using a tool like Pixlr (or any other tool you can use for simple image edits).
23. If your site uses full-width images, make sure you obtain them at a big enough pixel width. If the image isn’t big enough, it will look blurry. You can’t make an image bigger than it is – if your image looks blurry, you’ll either have to get hold of the larger original of the image, or find an alternative that is big enough.
24. Make sure your logo isn’t squashed into a tiny strip at the top of your website. Always leave some space around it so it’s nowhere near touching the edges.
25. If you’re including press logos on your site, make them the same size and consider changing them to “grayscale.” Too many colours can make your page look incoherent.
26. Don’t put too much movement on your site. One slider is enough.
27. If your website background is anything other than white, don’t display your logo on a white “patch.” Make sure you obtain it (or make it) on a transparent background, so the website background colour can show through.
28. Avoid black backgrounds, unless you have a totally minimalist photography website. Any other kind of site just looks old fashioned.
29. Your home page needs to make it 100% clear what you do.
30. Make sure your website visitors can find your contact details easily. Don’t make them search around.
31. Display an email address so people can email you directly, as some people don’t like using forms on the web. (Ideally you should provide both.)
32. Check your contact form regularly to make sure it’s working. Contact forms have a tendency to go wrong. Send yourself a message from your website from time to time to check all is well.
33. Make sure you keep your WordPress website updated, including theme and plugins. If you don’t, you’re making yourself extra vulnerable to hacks.
34. Make sure you schedule regular backups of your website. If you do get hacked, and this does happen, you need to make sure you have an up-to-date, undamaged copy of the site to hand.
35. Use “calls to action” on your website. Spell out what you want your site visitors to do.
36. Make sure your navigation is clear and avoid it “wrapping” onto two lines. This just looks unprofessional. The easy solution is grouping your headings into a dropdown format. All website systems will let you do this.
37. If your site is based in the EU, you need to display a cookie statement. If you use WordPress, you’ll need a plugin – other systems usually have a built-in system to comply with this ruling.
38. Less is more! Don’t clutter your pages with disparate elements.
39. Put signup forms (for your email list) in multiple positions on your website.
40. Make use of headings and bullets to make your text more easily readable.
41. Break up your text with images and plenty of white space.
42. Create professional-looking graphics with Canva.com (or hire a freelancer). Good graphics breathe life into a website.
43. Make both your content and images shareable. This may mean installing a plugin so people can share images on Pinterest, for example.
44. Include social share and follow buttons in multiple places on your website. This needn’t be overkill – people expect to be able to share what they want to share, easily.
45. Flaunt your testimonials. Other people’s endorsements carry a lot of weight.
46. Write your text from your visitors’ perspective. Make it clear what’s in it for them. Don’t talk about what you do – talk about how you can help them. This goes for absolutely every kind of product or service website.
47. Include an FAQ page to increase sales and reduce time spent answering customers’/site visitors’ questions.
48. Work out your keywords before you start writing the text for your website.
49. Put keywords in your page titles so that Google can grab them.
50. Use meta descriptions to entice visitors to visit your website when they view your listing on Google. (This is just the text you see explaining each listing.) You can even include calls to action, phone numbers, dates, opening hours, special offers, etc. within these descriptions – think about how you yourself choose which link to click on when you do a search. (If you’re using WordPress, you’ll need the Yoast plugin to specify your page titles and your meta descriptions; every other system has a built-in way of doing both these).