So you want to make a website. You have an idea or bits and pieces of an idea, you get a cheap hosting account and a $9.99 domain name and you install Wordpress and a dozen plugins and you are in action. Nowadays, it really is that easy to create a new website. You don't need to know HTML or CSS even, you can just point and click your way through the whole process and be up and running within 5 minutes. Making the website is the easiest part. What happens after is a whole different story. Maintenance cost plus marketing and bug fixing was not in the playbook I bet. But it's a crucial part of any website.
Most people with a fresh new idea who have never made a website in their lives only see one thing. Success and money and getting carried away by the town folk in a rolling wave of "we love your Randy!" chants. But that's rarely the case. I've had friends who's websites took off, but only after years and years of daily work and errors upon errors to correct. On the other end, I've had friends who have spent fortunes on their websites, only to see it fail a year later along with a big pile of cash that was burned on it. So if you're thinking of making a website, these are the things that you probably haven't considered yet.
Let' run through a quick example to better illustrate the process. Here's a quick made up idea for a website someone can have. A movie review site. Sounds like a fun time. You watch a movie, write a review, and share it with the world. You add ads for movies and boom, you're rolling in imaginary online cash.
There are a few different approaches that you can take with making a website and financially supporting it. You can be a miser and create every single element yourself and maybe get a free, but limited, hosting account somewhere. But that usually takes a considerable amount of time, and time is money. Also, if you want a "good" website, you're going to have to spend money on it. Even with the cheapest of hosting accounts, at let's say 10$ a month, that's still $120 a year, plus the $10 for your domain. That doesn't include any software that you might need or any other service fees, like image licensing and such. You can think of it as an investment however, because you'll only need to get a certain amount of traffic to have the website start to pay for itself. Breaking even should be the initial goal for any web developer. I've spent several hundred dollars throughout the years in running my websites and have saved a fair amount by building needed applications instead of licensing them from others.
There's plenty of cheap hosting companies out there however. I recommend Arvixe as I've been using them for years and they offer great customer support and really good uptime. They also offer plenty of point and click plugins to set up your website, and if need be plenty of database space and email accounts for all your business needs.
Good Content Takes A Long Time
Our little review site is going to be pretty empty for a good while until we can add some useful content. This blog that I've had for about 9 months ago for example has about 90 posts to it as of this writing. Writing takes time, particularly when you're trying to write something useful that other people will find meaningful and fun to read. The more you write, the more Google has to analyze in order to determine your pages rank. I've never seen a successful website with 5 pages. You're going to need to write for a good long while. Taking our movie review site for example. You can write a quick 1 paragraph review for all of the latest movies, but is anyone going to read them? Or more importantly, is it good enough that they'll want to come back and read more? Content should always be the number one priority.
I'll mention one of my favorite blogs for this example. dannychoo.com. Danny Choo runs Culture Japan, a blog about, you guessed it, Japanese culture. He has thousands of blog posts. I know, as I've followed his work for a long time. If you compare the first thousand to the last thousand posts that he wrote, you'll see a world of difference. His old content was short and to the point with a few images thrown in for effect. His current posts are loaded with fantastic Hi Res photographs that he takes in Japan, along with plenty of stories about his personal experiences about living there. It's a fantastic read for anyone who is interested in Japanese culture. That website took years to get right. He made mistakes, he gained traffic, he lost traffic, but eventually he figured it out and now he's making robotic figures that will greet you when you get home. How awesome is the life.
It Will Get Worse Before It Gets Better
Every website has them, and tons of them. Bugs. No matter how hard you try your website will fall short in many places. Maybe it will be open to scripting attacks or maybe half of the pages wont load correctly. It comes with the territory. This blog itself suffered from several huge flaws, before I decided to sit down and track them all down. Keep track of all your websites errors and find time to sit down and fix them. Also, run Google PageSpeed every now and then to see how your website falls short in terms of performance. Your server is going to need to be configured correctly in order to serve cached content better. It's a long arduous road to having a good website. These are just a few of the things that you can do to improve your site. The more time you spend working on it, the more shortcomings you'll notice.
Google Is Your Friend
Alot of people think that if you just write anything you will get traffic and money and chants, etc. You can have the best website ever created, but if no one knows that it exists, it won't make a peep. People use search engines to find anything and everything nowadays. When I was looking for audio recording software earlier this year I Googled "Audio Recording Software". I then spent the next 10 minutes clicking on every link on page 1 to see which I would pick. Someone could have made the most amazing audio software the day before and released it for free to the public, but without proper ranking on Google, no one is going to know about it. You can help Google "find" your website by following just a few basic SEO guidelines and by having a website that performs well and has meaningful content. While very few people really know how Google ranks your webpages, it's probably safe to assume that "good" websites will do well overall. So add meta descriptions, use alt tags for your images and have good meaningful content. It can't hurt, that's for sure.
Hard Work Pays Off
Every blogger started off their writing careers with a single post. It was probably poorly formatted and offered little to no value to the average reader online, but they kept at it. Some bloggers took that and rolled with it for years until their writing was good enough that people started coming back to follow them. Making a website nowadays is the first step in a series of increasingly more difficult and more time consuming and frustrating steps, but the better your website gets, the better you get as well. You learned from your mistakes, you learned how to attract and keep visitors and you'll get to see those rewards in your visitor reports.
So don't be fooled by those "1 click 1 website" ads and commercials that are scattered through the interwebs. That's just step 0 in a 9 step process. Good websites take years upon years to develop, but if you're willing to go the extra mile, it's definitely worth it in the end! Happy coding!
Walter Guevara is a software engineer, startup founder and currently teaches programming for a coding bootcamp. He is currently building things that don't yet exist.