10 Things You Need to Know to Start a Successful Website from Scratch

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I’m going to be completely honest…knowing how to start a successful website with no prior knowledge of the “techy” lingo is tough. I found that out the hard way when I decided to start my blog back in 2016.

I literally just woke up one day with this hair-brained idea that I would start a blog. I figured it wouldn’t be that hard; I’d just write some pretty words, maybe mention some interesting stuff, and people would love it.

Ahhhh, gotta love naive 2016 Jennifer…she was just so clueless.

What I discovered was a seemingly insurmountable learning curve that I almost quit on at least 50 times. Every single task was new; the language was new, the platforms were new, and I knew absolutely zero about any of it.

I spent hours every day trying to figure out what I was doing, and those hours turned into days, weeks, and eventually months of learning.

Now, you might be wondering why after all that struggle I would suggest that anyone else dive into the deep end on this whole website and blogging gig.

Well, I’m so glad you asked because even though you are jumping into the deep end, I am going to teach you everything you need to know to stay afloat and be successful in the process!!

That was the key part I was missing.

Today we are going to talk about the 10 things you need to know to start a successful website from scratch. There is a lot to it, but I promise, it’s totally doable once you know the language and understand the central focus.

The Difference Between a Blog and a Website

The very first topic I want to address is the difference between a blog and website because it’s very common for people to use these words interchangeably. While they can be synonymous, it’s important to understand the differences between these two entities.

By definition, a blog is “a single entry or post on a website.”  This can range from an online journal or “a day in the life” style of writing to heavily researched or topical articles.

A website, on the other hand, is defined as “a connected group of pages on the World Wide Web regarded as a single entity, usually maintained by one person or organization and devoted to a single topic or several closely related topics.” 

Well that seems fairly straightforward…until you read this definition. A blog is defined as “a website containing a writer’s or group of writers’ own experiences, observations, opinions, etc., and often having images and links to other websites.” 

Now it’s easy to understand how we can get the terms confused.

But for this particular podcast episode, I want you to think of a blog as all of the articles you have written on a particular topic. Then think of the website as the place where you keep all of those articles in addition to all of your other digital assets like products, courses, etc.

Website Hosting

The second thing you need to know to start a successful website is website hosting.

According to this article by WebHosting.com, “Web hosting is a service that allows organizations and individuals to post a website or web page onto the Internet. A web host, or web hosting service provider, is a business that provides the technologies and services needed for the website or webpage to be viewed on the Internet.

Websites are hosted, or stored, on special computers called servers. When Internet users want to view your website, all they need to do is type your website address or domain into their browser. Their computer will then connect to your server and your web pages will be delivered to them through the browser.” 

Now I know that’s a fairly complex definition, but I tend to think of my host as my landlord.

I pay my hosting company (landlord) money to ensure that I can continue to be found at that particular location. I can receive my mail here and my friends can find me at this specific place I call home.

Then if I have an issue, I can contact my landlord (hosting company) to deal with the issue immediately.

My absolute favorite hosting company, and the one I have been with since 2016 is SiteGround. They have excellent customer service (with a chat feature that I basically used daily in the beginning of my journey) and minimal down time, which translates into a website that is always accessible and keeping you front of mind with your readers.

Domain Name

Next is your domain name, and this is basically your own little piece of virtual real estate.

It’s where all of your thoughts, ideas, and creations are going to live online. To me, this is one of the most exciting parts of the whole website and blogging game…choosing your name.

When I coach clients who are wanting to start a TpT shop or blog, my first suggestion is always to research names for their potential shop or business.

Creativity is great, but you don’t want to choose a name that is already being used because that is copyright infringement. And just as importantly, you don’t want one that when put together in web address form spells something totally different than what it is supposed to say.

Let me give you an example.

Say you’ve decided that you want to sell your art online and you want to use your name. After doing a bit of research, you realize that your name Mackenzie Graf, which would be mackenziegraf.com, is taken. 

You decide to just add the word “art” to the end. To be honest, this makes total sense. But when you put all of the words together into a url, look at what you get…mackenziegrafart.com. (Just me saying this name on the podcast should give you an idea of what the url itself would look like.)

So as you think of a domain name, put all of the words together and see what it looks like. Have a friend look at it too to see whether they see something you might have overlooked.

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Website Structure

The fourth item on our list is website structure. Because this is a much more robust and complex section, I have divided it into three essential parts because each one has a distinct role within the context of your website. And for each of these particular pieces, I’m going to give you a relevant analogy that I hope will make them a lot more understandable!!

1. Content Management System

According to Kinsta.com, “A content management system, often abbreviated as CMS, is software that helps users create, manage, and modify content on a website without the need for specialized technical knowledge.”  

Essentially, the CMS is the infrastructure of your site. 

The most widely used CMS on the Internet is WordPress as it accounts for just under 45% of all sites. While there are other options like Squarespace, Wix, and Joomla, WordPress is by far the best option. 

Now, since this episode is intended to give you a bird’s eye view of starting a website, I’m not going to spend too much time comparing and contrasting all the different content management systems. However, I do want to make one specific clarification when it comes to WordPress websites.

If you want to be in the driver’s seat and customize your website (or have someone customize it for you), you need to have a self-hosted WordPress website. The good news is that if you choose hosting through SiteGround, it is as simple as clicking a button to have WordPress download.

So for our purposes, think of the content management system kind of like the school building where you teach.

2. Framework

The next level in our website structure is the framework.

So if the CMS is the school building itself, the framework is the school layout…and even more specifically, your classroom. The framework includes the location of the windows, doors, shelving, cabinets, closets, and even goes as far as how you have the desks arranged.

The most common frameworks for WordPress websites are Genesis and Kadence, and these have to be installed after the CMS in order for everything to work properly. In the website world, you might hear these referred to as “parent themes.” 

When I first started my website and blog, Genesis was the go to option for your framework. It was a one time fee of $60, but it wasn’t super-intuitive. In fact, it was a bit clunky and difficult to customize without a lot of coding knowledge.

Fast forward to recently and Kadence has come along. Kadence is an awesome alternative to Genesis because…

  1. It’s free!! Hallelujah.
  2. You have the ability to do all of the customizing you want without knowing the first thing about coding.
  3. It’s ultra lightweight, meaning that it doesn’t slow down your website.

Now we are going to talk about site speed in just a minute, so don’t worry if you don’t know exactly what I’m talking about yet. 😉

That brings us to the third component of our website structure which is the actual theme. 

3. Theme

 Honestly, this is my favorite part because it’s the pretty part you see when you go to a website including the color, design, fonts, images, etc.

But this might seem confusing since I previously mentioned how the framework can be considered the “parent theme.”  Well, if the framework is the parent theme, then the “theme” we are talking about here is going to be referred to as the “child theme.”  

Now don’t worry if you feel very unsure about all of this lingo because I want to revisit the original analogy we were using to clarify this.

  1. The Content Management System (WordPress) is like your school building structure itself. You need to have a place where students come daily to learn. You don’t do anything to change the actual school building structure, you simply use it as your meeting place.
  2. The framework (Kadence) is the layout of your classroom.
  3. The theme is…well, your classroom theme.

In other words, just like you choose the classroom theme that suits you, your website theme should reflect you as well. My absolute favorite theme developer is Lauren Gaige from Restored316. She and her team have gorgeous themes and the BEST customer service on the planet.

The Restored316 themes are the ONLY ones I use not only on my own personal websites, but as the basis for the custom designs I create for clients! The coolest thing about themes is how customizable they are.

You can change and manipulate so many pieces and parts of your theme resulting in a website that is beautiful and also functional!

Now that we have discussed the structure of your website, the next big category is the content areas of your website.

Content Areas

Your website is set up in content areas or groupings of blocks called widgets. These widgets are essentially placeholders for whatever content you want to put there, including text, images, videos, buttons, etc. Truly, there is no end to what you can put into a widget space.

In most websites there are a few distinct content areas or widget spaces with which you need to be familiar. So let’s look at the 3 most common ones.

Header

This is the uppermost part of your website. It typically includes your navigation menu(s) and your logo. This an important space because it will appear on every webpage of your site and it includes the links to all of the pages you want people to visit.

These are examples of two different headers. You can see how they are laid out differently, but the menus are still evident right at the top of the websites.

Footer

This is the absolute bottom of your website. It is where you usually find the copyright information of the website along with credits as needed. Many themes include three rows of content areas in the footer allowing you to put another menu (if you want) right in the footer space.

Because the footer space shows up on every webpage of your site just like the header, it is important that you use that real estate wisely.

Sidebar

The sidebar is a feature that typically shows up on your individual blog post pages. While every sidebar is unique, some of the most common things to be found here are your picture and a blurb about you, social links, newsletter or email opt-ins, featured products, posts, or resources.

Knowing the most common content area names (as well as their locations) will help you understand website lingo just a little bit better.

Site Speed

Number six on our list of words and topics you need to know to start a successful website is site speed. In a nutshell, site speed is how quickly your website loads once someone has clicked a button, typed in the url, or searched on Google.

From the moment they click, the time starts. And I can tell you from my own experience if I click to go to a website and it takes more than about five seconds to load, I will hit the back button and go to the next website. 

You want your website to be super-fast so there is less time for a potential customer to get distracted by something else which is why I mentioned the Kadence framework earlier in this episode. 

Because Kadence is super-fast, you don’t have to worry about it taking forever for your homepage and other pages on your site to load. And trust me when I tell you that speed is key!

Niche

The seventh item on our “How to start a successful website” list is your niche. Now the first thing I want to clear up is the pronunciation of this word; it’s correct to say it two different ways including “nich” and “neesh.”

I literally go back and forth because I cannot ever decide how I want to pronounce it. But I digress…

When I refer to your niche, I mean what topics you will write about on your blog and what types of products you will create and sell to your specific audience.

Wix.com states it like this, “A blog niche is a specialized topic area that you’ll be focusing on when writing content. Blogging niches allow you to narrow down your audience and craft content that is much more relevant for them.”

So let me give you an example.

My niche is education, and my main audience is teachers and administrators looking to exit the classroom. Therefore, I talk about topics like…

Understanding the needs of my audience (the people who visit my website) is essential to creating content that is going to be meaningful and helpful. So as you think through how to start a successful website, consider what types of information and value you would like to share as well as the solutions you can offer to the problems your audience might be facing.

Email Service Provider (ESP)

This component of ensuring you start a successful website may seem strange because we are all familiar with email. But when you have a website or blog, you need more than just a Gmail account to connect with your audience. You need an email service provider (ESP).

While Gmail does allow you to send emails to various individuals and receive responses back from them, you need the ability to send emails to large groups based on a variety of predetermined information. And I know what you’re thinking…yes, I know you can technically send emails to groups with Gmail, but an email service provider gives you so much more than just that.

I really like the way this article from AdvisorPerspectives.com defined it. “An email service provider (ESP) is…a software company that offers an email marketing platform or tool that enables you to create and send bulk emails to a list of subscribers.”

The article goes on to say, “The purpose of using an ESP, rather than sending from your own email client, such as Gmail, Yahoo, or Outlook, is that it helps you create professional designs, manage subscriber lists, evaluate the success of your email marketing campaigns, and stay within legal compliance.”

And whether you think it or not, as a blogger or website owner, you need to be aware of the legal aspects of running your own business. So having a reputable ESP is essential not only to your marketing and financial goals, but also to ensure you are staying in line with the legal side of things.’

I personally use MailerLite as my ESP because they are more affordable than other options and they have plans that grow with you. This keeps you from having to pay soooo much right out of the gate. Plus, MailerLite has an awesome chat feature that allows you to get answers to your questions quickly.

Plugins

According to Hubspot, a plugin is “a piece of software that ‘plugs into’ your WordPress site. Plugins can add new functionality or extend existing functionality on your site, allowing you to create virtually any kind of website, from ecommerce stores to portfolios to directory sites.”

While I don’t want to get too technical with the website jargon, you need to be familiar with the functionality of plugins because there are several you will want to keep up to date on your site.

Some of the free ones you DEFINITELY want to add to your site are…

  • Yoast SEO
  • Google Analytics
  • Akismet Anti-Spam
  • Simple Social Icons
  • Grow Social

Now there are TONS of paid plugins (or pro versions of the free ones) that are useful for various things, but just know that plugins are an important part of ensuring you start a successful website from day one.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

The last component in learning how to start a successful website is understanding search engine optimization or SEO.

As I’ve mentioned before, for you to be able to have consistent traffic to your blog or website, you need to be ranking high in the Google search. To rank high in Google, you have to be seen as an authority in your particular niche.

To become an authority, you need to have robust content that is helpful and solves the problems of your readers. To have robust content, you need to have time to write and create as well as a website with the bandwidth to hold all that amazing content.

So understanding this dynamic helps you see how all of these elements and components work together to help you start a successful website and ultimately grow your website to its fullest potential.