An insider’s look into starting your website – find out what’s involved
Aagh …. time’s moved fast and four months have flown by already!
Sorry guys, this may turn into quite a long post to bring us up to date. It’s been a busy journey, but I’ll summarise as much as I can and you can use this as a guideline when starting your website.
Setting up this website has been
a WHIRLWIND of learning new skills and fighting fires!
When I first started, I would have loved to have read a blog journaling the progress of its website, from the perspective of a real beginner – not just someone with full-on media presence or mass marketing.
I couldn’t find any journaling blogs about starting a website and what’s involved.
So, I hope you find this Website Diary helpful as I’ll share my behind-the-scenes look as to what’s involved when starting your website – you can follow my thought process as I learn along the way.
You could use this as a timeline for starting your website, whilst flagging my progress and pitfalls. Please share this post to reach other website beginners.
Every so often, I’ll pick a topic from the Website Diary for a more detailed post or tutorial – let me know if there’s any in particular you’d like me to deal with.
Looking into the website blogging world four months ago, I had absolutely no idea of all that was involved when setting up and running a website – consistency, planning ahead, , drafting, designing, publishing, publicising… and then the wheels start again!
Is there really so much more involved
in starting your website?
I wanted this post to be brief but, at the same time, helpful. I’m not sure how I’ll manage “brief” when describing four months’ worth of website life, but please stick with me.
Let’s break it into 10 sections (and please let me know if you have the answer to my question at the end of section 9):
1. Choosing a webhost, installing Wordpress, using LiveChat and finding a theme when starting your website
Using Falcoda Internet as my webhost
Instead of having to budget for an ongoing monthly payment, I wanted to pay yearly for my webhost, so it needed to be one that was relatively low-cost. Falcoda Internet was the best value, offering 12,500MB webspace, unlimited bandwidth and a free co.uk domain name together with great reviews and a long list of other features, all for just £17.95 plus VAT for a year! (see my review). Yup, that’s a bargain, and it’s the one I chose.
I decided to use a basic webhosting package, and see how my first year went. If I later need to upgrade to managed hosting with an ecommerce/SSL site, I’ll do so.
Hey, I’m only a beginner; there doesn’t seem much point in shelling out more money whilst still finding my feet in this website world.
Falcoda advised me to install WordPress as it’s a free, stable content management system used by the majority of websites with lots of help available on forums.
It was surprisingly straightforward to install, especially with Falcoda’s LiveChat to help with any questions.
Believe it or not, before deciding to set up a website, I’d never used LiveChat before. I was the one who always telephoned companies, waiting in a long queue to speak to their Customer Services department.
I had no idea that, as well as not having to wait in a long queue to get help, one of the benefits of using LiveChat is that you can email yourself the transcript – hooray, no need to write notes of my conversation on paper that’s easily lost!
I’m hooked. LiveChat is awesome and so quick to use.
With Wordpress installed, I rarely need to login to Falcoda’s website, as everything I need is included in the WordPress dashboard – creating, editing, updating, files, formatting etc. It’s a very user-friendly interface and, if I can learn to find my way around it, I’m sure that any website beginner can easily do the same.
Choosing a theme
It took me a long time to find the ideal WordPress theme as there’s literally hundreds available. Eventually, I found a theme which has lots of features, formatting options and is mobile responsive – the Evolve theme by Theme4Press which is updated regularly and has good forum support. I’m using the free version, but there’s a premium upgrade available which includes ecommerce and advanced formatting options.
When I set up my theme, I didn’t know to consider the user’s experience, I just wanted my website to be functional.
I didn’t consider that I may need to change the layout in the future.
This meant I was stumped when I decided to change from a static home page to a blog page layout (see below) as I didn’t have a clue where to start.
Would I have to change themes? That thought made me nervous. Even though I’d read that changing themes was relatively straightforward …. what if it went wrong and I had to re-do all my posts and formatting?!
Fortunately, I didn’t have to. It turns out that I made a good decision by installing the Evolve theme after all – the options menu provides lots of formatting choices, and even includes a Custom CSS field to make additional changes when required.
I’d advise using a child theme so that your live theme is protected from any update changes. I use the Child Theme Configurator plugin by Lilaea Media.
2. Finding a maintenance splash page
Although I’d paid for the webhost and installed WordPress, I still had no idea how long it’d take me to get the website up and running. I needed a maintenance splash page which told the search engines and visitors that the website would be available soon.
I came across a brilliant, free plugin called WP Maintenance Mode by DesignModo, which I’d recommend. It includes many settings, such as to allow/disallow search bots, meta tags, redirects, countdown, google analytics, subscriptions and social media. It also provides free background images on which you can add some lines of text.
Checkout DesignModo’s website for some helpful screenshots of the plugin’s set up and splash pages.
3. The background work to setting up and starting your website – what’s the law?
There are a handful of laws and regulations that website owners need to adhere to. Some are for behind the scenes, and others need to be explained and shown to your visitors.
Laws and regulations to consider when setting up a website:
- cookie law – applies to all websites in and/or targeted towards the EU
- website disclaimer – to specify or limit the rights and obligations of your website to a third party
- affiliate disclosure – let your visitors know that you’re an affiliate who earns commission by promoting an advertiser’s product/service
- website guidelines – see Internet Advertising Bureau for information about rules, regulations and policy issues regarding digital advertising
- FCA regulations – required if dealing with financial products or services on your website
- tax and VAT thresholds
- registering as a sole trader or company, if necessary
- home insurance and mortgage terms – check you’re covered to work from home
- website insurance – cyber liability insurance
As you can imagine, it took quite a while to sort through and decide which of these would be relevant for my website as there was so much reading and cross-referring. I’ll write a separate post about where I found the information required.
4. Designing a logo for free when starting your website
I mentioned how I chose the name PeasOnToast.co.uk in my first Website Journey post. The next thing to do was to find a logo. I wanted to keep costs down and needed a free alternative.
Unfortunately, there were quite a few logo design websites advertised as being “free”, but which charged you to buy the logo you’d just created. Other websites gave you beautiful ready-made logo options, but again, they charged you and/or restricted their use. That wasn’t what I wanted.
I spotted Serif DrawPlus starter edition which is a free download for creating designs. However, without using the paid upgrade (which was heavily advertised each time I opened and closed the Serif program) several functions were restricted. The main restriction that I noticed was that you can’t create a .png with a transparent background – which I obviously needed for my logo.
I decided to search elsewhere.
I eventually came across Inkscape which is free and open source for Windows, Mac OS X and Linux. I watched a couple of demo videos on YouTube and read tutorials to find my way around the design screen. And, unlike other design websites, it doesn’t have restricted functionality, premiums or a copyright licence. Perfect for the DIY logo designer.
I used Inkscape to create my PeasOnToast.co.uk logo and exported it as a .png file to use wherever needed.
I totally recommend using Inkscape to create your logo or re-size images.
5. Contacting the companies and joining affiliate programs
Emailing the manufacturers
I planned to have at least a handful of posts written before my website went live, otherwise there’d be nothing for people to read. I had a good idea of which products we already owned that I’d like to write about, and set about contacting the relevant manufacturer.
I don’t know if I’m legally obliged to tell a company that I’d like to write about its product as I couldn’t find such confirmation on the internet (but, bearing in mind the way that social media and newspapers work with freedom of speech, I’m guessing that I don’t).
However, out of courtesy I think it’s best to contact them anyway.
I wasn’t sure whether the companies would welcome a complete novice writing about their products. After all, my website is new, I have no impressive stats or large social media presence, and no media kit… and probably won’t have thousands of daily visitors for quite a while.
Everyone has to start somewhere, but I wasn’t sure what to expect. Will they say a flat-out “no”?
I was pleasantly surprised – every company I contacted, including the startup companies whose products were still being tested, were more than happy for me (the new kid on the block) to review their products. They allowed me to use their logos, images, videos and quotes which made the post look more professional and interesting.
Once published, I email the company a link to the post and ask for their feedback. Apart from one company which, for SEO purposes, asked if I’d lower the number of links to their website, I’ve never had a company ask for any changes in my review.
I had no idea that it wasn’t a good idea to link a few times to the same website. Unaware of any negative impact on SEO, I naively thought I was helping my visitors quickly access the website I was referring to.
At the end of the day, all feedback’s helpful.
Joining the affiliate programs and including your disclosure notice
I started by contacting the manufacturers of the products I wanted to review, asking if they had affiliate programs – some did and others didn’t. Some had unfavourable terms and conditions, so I chose to give those a miss too (although I still reviewed the product).
Later, I realised that a quicker way was to join Skimlinks, an affiliate program which includes hundreds of companies, and Amazon which includes thousands of products. This meant less admin and only one application form. Bliss.
With a review website like mine, some links are automatically provided by either Skimlinks or Amazon. A small commission is earned from any purchases made (at absolutely no extra cost to you, the visitor).
Not all of my posts have affiliate links, however, the law states that websites need to make the consumer aware of affiliate links before clicked, and should therefore include a disclosure.
Some websites use a short disclosure, but:
- Amazon stipulates specific wording in a disclosure paragraph must be shown on every applicable page
- FCA states that I need to make clear that I’m not FCA regulated
so, unfortunately, my disclosure’s a bit wordy and has to be shown on all relevant pages.
Yup, I know it seems like overkill, but I’ve tried to make it look pretty (!).
Who knows which page someone’s first going to visit on your website?
6. Starting with social media
Social media is a good way to promote a website – but where to start?
Having not properly used social media before, I did some basic 101 training to find out which one to use (by reading about them on the internet), and figured that, time-wise, I’d be best off using just one to begin with.
I chose to use Twitter first, and created an account – you’re welcome to follow me: @PeasOnToastMrsP.
After about a month, I’d gained 100 followers and was gaining more each day. Hey, I thought, this is easy. I haven’t got thousands of followers like other people, but I’m obviously at a point at which followers keep flocking without having to put in as much work. WRONG!
The only reason I’d gained followers in short bursts, was because I’d had retweets by people with lots of followers. Of course, when that died down, so did the influx of new followers.
I also noticed that last month quite a few were unfollowing me. I was forever teetering at about 250 followers.
I did my homework to see where I might have missed it.
Here’s what I was doing wrong… I think:
- mainly followed people whose topics interested me, but weren’t relevant to my target audience
- other than tweets linking to my website, most of my tweets were SEO related – which isn’t of interest to my target audience
- tweets of my own posts became repetitive – there’s not enough posts to be tweeting them all on a regular basis
- didn’t always acknowledge retweets
- didn’t check to see who was following me – I just counted the numbers
- didn’t find and follow people using keywords relevant to my target audience
I needed a plan:
- balance my tweets so that they’d be of interest to a broad audience but primarily to my target audience – previously, the people I followed were those whose articles helped me with my website, ie mostly SEO posts and bloggers. However, my website reviews household products so I guess that SEO articles aren’t much interest to my target audience. Having said that, alot of my followers are now SEO oriented
- reach out and start following other mums and families who’d be interested in reading helpful reviews
- follow people connected with household products, budgeting, good value, consumer information etc as they’d probably have followers who’d be interested in my website too
- use Buffer and Feedly to find and schedule relevant posts or comments to tweet about
After a few weeks, slowly the followers started to increase.
I learned that social media doesn’t run itself. The effort you put in, is what you’ll get back
Pinterest is the second social media account I started to use.
At first, I created boards for each of my review categories but soon realised that, at this stage, there wouldn’t be much content in each.
Who’d want to follow a board with just a few pins? Not me.
So, I joined them together in a “Products Reviewed” board instead. I also have a board for this Website Journey blog (which includes other websites’ blogging tips), as well as boards of amazing houses, awesome products and motivating/inspiring quotes. You can follow me: @PeasOnToastMrsP.
I enjoy using Pinterest but haven’t yet moved full speed ahead with it, due to lack of spare time.
7. Changing from a static home page to a blog page, and using one sidebar
When I started my website, I chose a static home page with a large slider and large icons linking to each review category: Shortlist Review, Products with a Purpose and Products in the Pipeline.
I thought it looked great but soon realised that a website’s aim should be to help the visitor’s experience – you want to find information quickly with the least number of clicks. So… out went the large slider and large icons, and I reverted to a blog page layout.
I also tested whether to have one or two sidebars. I found that a sidebar on the right works well.
Reading from left to right makes it easier on the eyes to have the post on the left of the screen, and any images and a sidebar on the right.
8. Using Yoast SEO plugin and my writing style
I’d recommend using the Yoast SEO plugin to quickly update your meta data, link your website to social media and search engine analytics, select keywords, and gain insight into what your headings and descriptions look like in real time. There’s tonnes of other useful features as listed on the Yoast SEO plugin page.
After about a month of running the website, and having read more about search engine optimization (“SEO”), I decided to change my writing style from that of a typical product reviewer, to being a bit more chatty – which I hope is nicer for you to read.
9. Publishing by mistake
How did that happen?
Well, I was busily making a small update to all my posts and didn’t notice when I got to the Juicer or Blender posts that they were still in draft.
I clicked on “Publish” instead of “Save Draft”. Oops.
Unfortunately, it was instantly posted to Twitter, got shared and retweeted (I’ve since disabled the auto-tweet feature). That wouldn’t normally be an issue, but I’d not yet received confirmation from Sage, Breville and Ninja that they were happy for me to use their images and logo for the review.
I don’t think there’s a way to return a post to draft once published, so I needed to prevent it from being easily found on my website, until it was ready to show (of course, it still could’ve been found by whoever saw the tweet link, or typed in the URL).
To hide the post, I placed it in the Uncategorised category and removed all tags.
I installed a really handy plugin called “Ultimate Category Excluder” by Michael Clark. The plugin allows you to select which categories you want to exclude from your home page, feeds, archive and search results.
I use the same plugin to permanently exclude my Website Journey blog from the home page, so that it’s kept separate from the Product Reviews.
Then, when Parts One and Three of the Juicer or Blender series were ready to be published, I released Part Two on to the home page.
Does anyone know if there’s a way to put that series of posts back into the correct order on the home page?
What’s been learned?
- don’t link to the same website more than once or twice in any one post as the search engines may consider it as spam
- put more thought into social media aimed at your target audience
- when formatting your website and writing posts, consider SEO and the user’s experience
- double-check before pressing Publish or Save Draft
Honest stats – June to September 2015
Monthly website traffic has steadily increased to about 1,600 in August since starting the website. Bearing in mind that I’m working full-time and have posted on average twice a month, I guess that’s not too bad a figure. Then, in September, the traffic nosedived to just over 1,000. I assume most website traffic fluctuates throughout the year, so I’m not too concerned, although I’m not sure why it happened in September.
To counter the nosedive, I re-jigged some of my posts and used different keywords so that they’d be found quicker in search results. At the moment, the most popular posts are the Revolut and Saving Stream reviews.
Affiliate revenue has been slow. In fact, let’s call it what it is – about £3. It’s actually £0 in reality as it’s below the payment threshold so remains unpaid.
So, no, the website hasn’t yet paid for itself.
I would have liked it to recoup its costs but, hey, I’m setting up the website, loving all the learning and enjoying the process.
Remember to join my mailing list so you don’t miss new reviews and blog posts.
How’s your first website going? Leave me a comment below, as I’d love to hear from you – and let me know if you have the answer to my question at the end of section 9.
Note: This article is intended to be a general resource only and is not intended to be professional advice.
- Monzo Bank review – 100% smartphone banking exceeds expectations - 16th October 2016
- Atom Bank review – the new player on the banking field - 4th September 2016
- How to use SendinBlue email automation – step-by-step guide - 19th August 2016