Let’s face it. Building a website is not easy. The layout, the photos, and ugh, the copywriting.
I get it. I feel that same tiny sense of panic every time I build a website. And I build websites for a living! But, over the years, I’ve developed some “tricks of the trade” that have gotten me over the hump and started me on track to building a beautiful and inspiring website.
Here’s what I’ve learned.
Commit to Imperfection
This is mantra #1 for me. The website will not be perfect – not now, not ever. But guess what? A website doesn’t need to be perfect, because it’s meant to be a work in progress. Thanks to the dynamic technology behind your website, it’s so easy to update content, swap out photos, and change out colors. What’s most important is to just get something started. Reacting to what’s on an actual web page is a lot easier than reacting to the swirling ideas in your head.
Find a Toe-Hold
I recommend you start with the home page. Pick a theme that feels right (at least for now), and then just focus on the main “beauty shot” photo and the headline. I either choose a great headshot (especially if it’s a website for a coach or solo professional where the company is really about the owner), or I choose a stock photo from Unsplash.com. Unsplash is a great place to find gorgeous photos shot by real photographers who truly care about their craft. Sometimes I don’t even search for a particular type of photo. I’ll just scroll through their main home page to see if a photo jumps out at me and starts my creative wheels turning.
Once I choose the home page photo, I write a headline that’s short, but very sweet. When you find that perfect rhythm between the photo and headline, you’ve created a welcoming door in for any website visitor. And given that you’ve only got three seconds to create an impression, that “front door” is pretty important.
Start Writing in Bullet Points
Now for the hard part: the content. At this point, I recommend you step away from your website editor and start writing your content in a Word doc. To start my Word doc, I refer to a series of questions that get me thinking about the details of the business I’m writing about. These questions include: “What makes the business owner excited about what they’re doing?” or “What background and experience does the business owner have?” or “Who’s their ideal customer and why?” And then, I jot down bullet points. Right now, I don’t try to make the copy sound good. My brain can’t handle doing everything at once!
Limit the Page Count
Once you’ve got a starter home page in place, plus bullet points of information, this is a great time to decide how the site will be architected. I used to get caught up in the idea of lots of pages. But you know what, your visitors don’t want to read lots of pages – especially if they’re looking at your site on their mobile phone. I keep myself to a 6-page limit, unless the site is crying out for more pages. Generally, every site follows a similar pattern: Home / About / Services / Clients / Blog / Contact. If you’re at a loss for what pages to include, start there.
Gather All of Your Photos and Design Assets
Create a folder and stuff it with photos – formal headshots, candid photos, stock photos. Also gather up any design assets like your logo and any “bugs” you’d like to add to your site.
Start Putting It All Together – But Let It Be a Jumble
Now you can start putting together the pieces. At this stage, I go back to Weebly and start plugging everything in. I create my five or six pages. I plug in all bullet points from my Word doc. If I discover that I still have information left in my Word doc, I might create another page, or I simply add new sections to existing pages. I plug in photos. I plug in the logo (if there is one). I plug in a contact form for the contact page.
What’s most important is that you keep going until you’ve plugged everything in. And don’t worry about what it looks like or sounds like! Just get it in there.
Now Put On Your Editor’s Hat
At last. The time to start refining. Now you can look at each page and start massaging the content. Think about each page as a separate “chapter” in the story your website is telling. The home page should introduce and invite. The about page should inform and intrigue. The services page should explain and engage. The clients page should paint a picture of your ideal customer. The blog page should share your personal perspective. And the contact page should be direct and to-the-point.
Once you’ve massaged your copy, now you can start playing with your photos. Perhaps you move a photo up or down. Maybe you swap out a headshot if it’s not showing the personality you bring to your business. Maybe the main “beauty shot” isn’t doing what it’s supposed to? No problem. Go back to Unsplash.com and find something else.
Experiment. Refine. Decide. That’s what this stage is all about.
Take a Breather
After a round of editing, step away from what you’re doing. Drink a cup of coffee, walk around the block, pat your dog on the head. Now come back to the site with fresh eyes. You’ll see things you haven’t before. Words will magically appear that had been stubbornly hiding.
Once I get a site to a final edited stage, I never go longer than five days before going live. Remember our mantra of “it doesn’t have to be perfect”? This is the best way to test that. Just go live and remember that you can always come back to your site. It won’t run away. In fact, it will welcome you and will appreciate your continued attention.
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