New Blog or Website? Do it Right (part 1)

By in Methods on October 18, 2013

responsiveI’ve been developing websites for a long time – since the days of Netscape Navigator and Alta Vista. And, I’ve managed to learn a thing or two along the way. Recently a few of my friends have asked me for advice on how to get a blog or website up and running, where to find good deals, good customer service, what to look out for, etc. 

I thought I should put this info online rather than repeat the same answers over and over, so here it is. I’m not going to give you a lot of background and explanation because I just don’t have the time. I’m going to tell you what you need to know, give you some advice, and keep it simple. Here’s what you need to do:

1. Get a domain name

Try to keep it short and memorable, 8 characters or less (preferably 6 – which btw fits nicely on a license plate). Stay away from hyphens in your domain name. It may be tough to find a .com domain that short anymore, but be creative, and don’t restrict yourself to .com. Use a site like Domai.nr to help find creative domain names and TLD combinations (one I’ve always liked is del.icio.us). Register your domain name through a reputable company, not some fly by night reseller that may disappear and leave you hanging. I recommend Network Solutions or Register.com. This will cost you about $12 per year.

2. Get Managed DNS service

Trust me – you need this. If your web hosting company ever gets hacked (and it will) you’ll wish you had this. I’ve used DNS Made Easy for years, and I love these guys. Big companies like Under Armour, Sony Music, and Rutgers University use them. And now you can too –  it’s only about $5 per year for one domain and $30 per year for 10 domains. Well worth it – great customer service and helps me sleep at night.

3. Get Hosting that will Scale

Hosting has become commoditized to such a degree that providers are practically giving hosting services away. Don’t get suckered in by shared hosting deals just because they’re cheap, or even free. You will regret it when your site visitors start complaining about performance, and you start losing business. Which they will do when some other site that sits on your box gets a traffic spike – or runs a crazy script – that consumes your server resources.

Spend a few dollars and get hosting that will scale as your site grows, can handle traffic spikes seamlessly and keeps your site(s) segregated from others. I use Media Temple and highly recommend their $20 per month Grid Hosting service if you’re just starting out. You can easily host 100 sites with this plan if you wanted to.  And you’ll be in good company – Samsung, Red Bull, CBS and NBC all host sites with Media Temple.

4. Use a Content Management System

Whether you decide to build your blog or website yourself or hire a developer, insist on using a popular, free CMS. WordPress, for example, is a great CMS with a huge user base and extremely active developer community (in fact, this site is powered by WordPress). WordPress has great functionality in the base install, is very stable, and is easily extensible through any number of plugins. It’s also easy to customize the look and feel of your site with a plethora of themes and templates, most of which are free.

I used to hand-code sites and web applications myself, but with free tools like WordPress, why reinvent the wheel? In case you’re not convinced, sites like The New York Times, CNN, IZOD and Cloudera all use WordPress.

5. Use Responsive Web Design

This step is critical – we’re in an age of tablets and cell phones that will be accessing your site in addition to laptops and desktops. You need to meet the needs of all the devices that are clamoring to access your amazing content, without having to develop different versions of your site for every possible screen size, resolution, browser capability, etc.

Enter responsive design – which uses HTML 5 and CSS 3 media queries to dynamically morph your site to render beautifully on any device. The benefit is that you only have to design once for any type of device, and only have to update and maintain one version of the site. Not comfortable coding yourself? Fear not – there are numerous responsive frameworks and themes out there on the web. And if you’re using WordPress, you can download and install one that you like in about 3 clicks. Google “wordpress responsive themes” and you’re on your way.

And that concludes part 1. I didn’t plan on splitting this up into multiple posts, but this seems like a lot of info to digest at one sitting (and I’m tired of typing). Actually this is a logical place to stop, as the above 5 steps are what I consider foundational to any blog or website.

In part 2, I’ll introduce various strategies to increase traffic to your site, such as Search Engine Optimization, utilizing Social Networks, and using Google AdWords. I’ll also go over ways to measure your web marketing prowess using Google Analytics.

Then in part 3 I’ll talk about monetizing your content and getting your site ready for online commerce – creating a storefront, shopping cart system, accepting credit cards, securing your (and your customer’s) information, and so on.

If you have any comments or suggestions, please don’t hesitate to share!