Ultimate Guide to Launching Your Website
Launching a new website can be a scary undertaking for most. It can seem overwhelming and it’s a lot of work to get it right. More importantly it takes a wide array of skill sets to get a website off the ground. You need a good understanding of web design, web development and marketing. If you don’t have these skills you’re going to need to hire someone to build your website for you. This means, you at least need to be able to speak the same language as your web designer so you can make sure to get the best product that’s right for you.
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The following guide is a comprehensive overview of building and launching sites for the last 5+ years.
How Much Does it Even Cost to Build a Website
Building a website is a lot like building a house. The cost of a house is very much determined by the size, features and quality of materials used to build the house. A website is no different. Thus, the pricing for a website is very fluid. However, any website can be broken down in to labor and material costs. Essentially, all website costs are based on the time it takes someone to build the website plus cost of licenses for software and photography.
A typical website is built by two (2) people – a designer and developer. Designers are able to take on more of the development for basic websites but for larger projects or more difficult projects – a designer and developer is needed.
Web sites can take anywhere from 2 – 12 weeks for a full-time resource to complete a website. We’ll use an average hourly rate for design and development at $75 per hour. Therefore, the typical cost for a website is $6,000 – $36,000. I know it’s a pretty wide range. We suggest getting a couple bids to get an idea of the general cost for your particular project.
Building a Project Scope
In order to start building your website you first need to a good grasp on what you’re actually building. It may seem like common sense but alot of people skip this step and it often means having to go back and redo work because the scope wasn’t completely defined up front or worse ballooning cost that were never identified. Building a scope is actually pretty painless as long as you know what questions to answer.
WriteMaps a great website planning tool that let’s you build out sitemaps with detailed notes. You can also share your sitemaps and collaborate with other team members.
What Needs to be Included in Your Scope:
- What are The Pages that Need to be Built?
- What Functionality do You Need?
- What Goals are You Trying to Accomplish?
- What Does Success Look Like?
- How Will Content be Prepared for the Pages You’ve outlined?
- Who are My Competitors?
- What are Some Websites I Think Would be Good for Design Inspiration?
- Do You Have an Idea of What Technology or CMS you Would Like to Use?
As your building out your scope you may ask yourself a question that a lot of people struggle with…
Should I use a template or should I build something 100% custom for my business?
This question is actually quite easy to answer. Don’t lock yourself into a decision either way until your designs are completed. You may find that this process will guide you to an end decision pretty easily once complete. If you can accomplish what was built out in the designs with a template then go for it. If you find that it’s just easier to build out your designs from scratch because there are no templates that meet your needs – so be it. See that wasn’t hard at all!
Buy Your Domain
Buying your domain can be one of the most rewarding parts of this process. Getting that shiny new domain name just makes things a bit realer. Your new business is getting closer to being an actual reality.
- Don’t be worried with buying every domain variation you can think of. That’s a rabbit hole you don’t want to go down. Most importantly it can be pretty costly over time. Trademark your company name and mark instead for protection.
- If your domain name is taken, try adding a word to the beginning or end.
- Buy your core domain for at least 5 years. Domain name registration length is a ranking factor with Google.
GoDaddy is the biggest player in the domain space. Chances are your designer will have worked with GoDaddy quite a bit so they’ll be familiar with the platform. Their pricing and selection is pretty competitive and comprehensive. We suggest simply using GoDaddy just to be safe. Pay the extra $2 for reliability. It’s just not worth making your web designer use a platform he/she isn’t familiar with.
Setup Your Hosting
In order for your website to be public to the world, you’ll need hosting to store your website. Ideally this will be setup prior to development. Your web designer may choose to stage your site on your hosting or they may stage it themselves and push it live to your hosting.
Media Temple is the most reliable hosting company out there. They provide fast servers and a plethora of hosting options. Whether you need a dedicated server or a cloud hosting solution, they got you covered.
What Content Management System (CMS) Should I Use?
OK. This will probably be the trickiest decision you have to make in the process. The good news is, if your web designer is worth his weight then he should be able to easily walk you through this decision and why the CMS he/she is suggesting is the best fit for you. We’ve listed four (4) CMS platforms that should be able to work for 90% of the websites built.
Popular CMS Platforms We Like
Which CMS is right for you?
We’ve written a pretty comprehensive blog about choosing a CMS platform – CLICK HERE
Design Your Website
Now, the fun starts. Your web designer will start designing your site based on the scope you built out earlier. Typically, they’ll follow the following process.
Web Design Process:
- Home Page Hi-fidelity Design
- Internal Page Design
- Interactive Prototype
- CMS Integration
Most designers use an agile design process which means you’re brought along and asked for feedback at every stage. While this process can be rewarding it also requires your attention. Your designer is putting his blood, sweat and tears into this design so you should be ready set some time aside yourself to provide some meaningful/thoughtful feedback.
This is a great collaboration tool that can be used by your designer to show you how your website will interact before it goes into development. It also provides some great collaboration tools to provide your designer feedback.
BugHerd lets you tag bugs and notes for your website right in your browser after it’s been developed. You can tag elements and leave detailed notes so there is no confusion by the designer about what’s broken.
Woohoo! The time has come to release your website to the world. But, wait hold on there cowboy. You’ll first want to do a private beta launch to your personal network and to select individuals. This will help gauge demand for your product/service, work out any bugs for launch, and get feedback on what features customers like and what they don’t like. This will help you prepare for a stronger hard launch.
The beta period can be anywhere from 1 – 3 months typically. Maybe slightly longer if you find you have a number of improvements you want to make before launch. Below are some great tools to get the word out about your beta product.
In this phase you’ll also want to start building out your marketing strategy. You’ll want to ask yourself, who are my customers and how do I reach them?
Build an email viral program to get users to share your product and capture their emails for remarketing.
Submit your website to get early adopters looking for the next cool thing.
Another website to submit your shiny new website. The team at KillerStartups will review your business and do a nice write up for you. We suggest doing the fast track submission since you want to start building buzz in the beta stage.
You can’t actually submit your site to ProductHunt.com but doing some influencer outreach to some of the sites approved posters in hopes of them sharing your product can drive 10’s of thousands of new users to your site.
The time has come for an all out assault. It’s time to start executing your marketing plan you built in the beta stage.
You can use Moz.com to get valuable insights on ways to improve your websites search engine rankings. While SEO is great to get right, often times what actually gets your site ranking is simply building a great brand. People want to link to brands they love and they want to share things they love with others.
Buzzstream is a super valuable tool to build contact lists of potential influencers, writers and editors. We like to use BuzzStream as our go to PR tool and relationship builder.
Retarget customers that have been to your site and remind them of your product or service. This is a great tool because you know these users are interested in your product or they wouldn’t have visited your site in the first place.
Epom display platform is an all in one solution to push out ads to Mobile, Video, and Display networks. This integration helps you keep your advertising architecture relatively simple.
SpyFu is a great advertising competitive analysis tool. While it doesn’t provide you with the full picture, it’s a great gauge of advertising competition and copy samples from your competitors. You can quickly gauge your competitors search ad budgets which is great for benchmarketing and setting some internal expectations.
After your website is launched you’ll be getting valuable data. It’s important to capture as much of this data as possible so you can build some actionable items around your user’s behavior. The great thing about the digital world is you can track everything. You just need to take that data and refine it so it all makes sense.
You can pull all your data from every tool you use into Geckoboard dashboards. While Geckoboard doesn’t actually capture the data it does provide you with a nice way to present it so you can get a heartbeat of your online presence.
Install Google Analytics on your site and quickly pull that into Geckoboard using Geckoboard’s prebuilt Google Analytics dashboard.
Unlike Google Analytics which is great for more general analytics like the number of users, geographical area, and user source – MixPanel helps you track actual behavior on your site. Determine how many people interacted with your contact form or click various buttons on your site.
So your website is launched but what do people think? What do they like? What don’t they like? Why aren’t people buying your product?
Well, why don’t you ask them yourself? Once again, the great thing with digital is it’s very easy for you to have conversations directly with your customers. Leveraging user feedback tools and surveys can get you priceless insights in a matter of minutes.
UserVoice provides an easy to setup suite of communication tools for you. With UserVoice, you can get feedback from your customers, provide customer support and build a knowledge base for common questions.
Qualaroo is a simple tool that lets you embed surveys on your site. Quickly ask your customers the questions you need to be answered to improve your brand.
Engagement and Nurturing
Getting users to your site and signing up is only half the battle. I know what you’re thinking, but I’ve already got their money what else do I need to do. Once you’ve been in business a while, you’ll quickly notice that getting people to use your product is not as hard as getting people to use your product over and over again. That’s why it’s important that you get an engagement and user nurturing strategy in place.
Every time a user inputs their email you should be capturing it in Mailchimp with the goal of continuing to engage that user over time. But sending emails with Mailchimp is only half the battle.
Probably the most underutilized piece of Mailchimp I’ve seen is the Automation functionality. With automation lists, you can build out a year long automation campaign with set content and release times so you don’t have to partake in the ongoing email marketing drudgery every month.
For simple customer management, you can push your website contacts to a CRM tool like HubSpot to manage your relationships. Anytime you can get communication out of Gmail or similar email client is a win for your business.
If you want to get a little more technical you can send your users to a tool like Customer.io and foster relationships based on user behaviors. This is a great tool if you have different products users sign up for.
OK. At this point, you’re getting new customers and engaging them with effortlessly. It’s time to take your game to the next level. In order to do this you need to optimize the places where your customers are making decisions on your site.
First, make sure you have landing pages for your various customer segments. If you market to Doctors, Lawyers and Engineers, you should have a specific page that addresses the concerns of each of those customer segments.
Once you have a clear and concise conversion funnel, you’ll want to build out some hypothesis to test to see if you can drive greater signups. Is it clear what to do when you get to your site? Are you confusing your customers with too many decisions? These are just a couple examples of the hypothesis you’ll want to test. Most importantly, make sure you only test one hypothesis at a time to ensure you know what is having a positive or negative effect.
We mentioned this above, but Qualaroo is a great tool to get feedback. Thus, if users aren’t contacting you, the quickest thing to do is ask them why. A survey that says something like “Why didn’t you contact us today?” is a great start.
Optimizely is simply a tool that easily lets you split test different versions of your web page. You need little to no coding knowledge to use Optimizely which is awesome if your not a technical wiz.
CrazyEgg is a great place to start your conversion optimization tasks. It helps you see how users are viewing your site and what they’re interacting with by tracking mouse clicks and movement. I say this is a great starting point because it can validate whether your hypothesis is worth following.
Improve the sections that are getting the most engagement and rework other segments or get rid of segments that aren’t getting any user love.
As you can see building a website can be a lot of work to do right. Make sure you have the bandwidth to take on the project before you start. Even if you’re hiring a designer to build it for you, you’ll need to make sure you’re available to provide meaningful feedback along the way.
What are some other useful tips when getting ready to launch a website? Did we miss anything you think is important?