Building a website from scratch? Look before you leap.
So, you want to create yourself a website, eh? Better yet - you’re wondering how to create a website for free! Well, we have some great news for you: Building an attractive, budget-friendly website has never been more achievable.
That’s not to say there’s at least some work involved, of course!
Depending on your end goals - it’s entirely possible to achieve professional-looking results, reach new audiences and get yourself or your brand out there without having to pour piles of cash into high-end web design and coding.
But before you launch yourself headfirst into your first, full-fledged website build, it’s never a bad idea to take a breath, and do a little self-reflection. Here’s what you need to consider:
What are your needs?
First - (in Arnold Schwarzenegger impersonation voice): who are you and what do you do?
Are you a hobbyist photographer who wants to take their passion online? An independent travel blogger documenting the most beautiful, far-flung corners of the planet? Or are you a small business owner that wants to branch into e-commerce?
Once you’ve nailed down what you do (or offer), now you can start thinking about the type of website you need.
For example, you might want to create a “digital portfolio”-style website to showcase your work, or a full-fledged digital storefront where you can display products and process transactions.
What kind of content are you planning to feature?
Take a good, hard look at the copy, images, video content, banners (and more) that you’ll be using to bring your website to life.
Now is a great time to address any potential gaps and give your existing material a judicious clean-up before posting. Nobody likes stumbling over glaring typos or getting distracted by low-quality images.
What is your budget and time commitment?
Depending on how ambitious your website build gets, there are going to be certain set costs, like web hosting, website builder platform subscriptions, apps, and transaction fees.
Yes, it’s totally possible to build a basic website for free. But there are going to be tradeoffs - particularly in your ability to add custom domain names, or in accessing more “premium” or advanced marketing and e-commerce features.
Like anything worthwhile, creating a good, professional-looking website requires regular care and feeding.
Consider how much time you can realistically commit to building and maintaining your website, creating new content and optimizing to attract more traffic.
With all that in mind, you should also decide whether you’re going to build your website yourself, or hire someone else to do it.
Scope out your peers and competitors
Sure, you’ve probably got your own ideas for your website. But it never hurts to scope out a few of your peers’ and competitors’ sites. This way, you can see what kinds of information your visitors or customers are most interested in, as well as the type of content being served up.
Checking out competitor websites can also help you decide which design styles and visual elements appeal most to you.
Pick a web building platform
To keep your first web build as straightforward as possible, we recommend you go with a web building platform, versus coding and designing everything from scratch.
With so many great options to choose from, we’re willing to bet dollars to donuts you’ll find a web builder that perfectly suits your needs.
For example, if you’re looking to sell physical products online via a digital storefront, you may find that an e-commerce specialist platform like Shopify is your best bet.
If you offer a service, like personal training or wedding photography, you may gravitate towards platforms like GoDaddy, Wix or Squarespace for their slick, easy-to-edit templates and low startup costs. Heck, if you want, you can even get Wix’s AI-powered design tool to create your entire website based on your answers to a quick questionnaire.
Because we’re kind, considerate folk here at CIRA, we’ve created a detailed comparison of all the major platforms (including GoDaddy, Wix, WordPress, Weebly, Squarespace and Shopify) along with links to detailed, step-by-step build guides!
Choose and register your domain
Aim for domain names that are short and memorable. Remember: the stronger your domain name, the better it is for search/SEO (search engine optimization).
For your top-level domain (TLD) - go for .CA if you’re planning to provide services or sell products exclusively in Canada.
Need to be persuaded of .CA’s supreme awesomeness? Here’s our definitive guide to why .CA is best for your website. And if you’re debating registering a .COM versus .CA domain, we’ve got more info that can help sway your decision.
Once you’ve done the polite Canadian thing and chosen .CA, perform a quick search to ensure your desired domain name is still available. As for hosting - most domain sellers will include hosting as part of the package. Also - depending on which web builder platform you choose, hosting may be included either for free, or a low additional monthly fee.
Start creating and editing your website
With your chosen web building platform in hand, start by picking an overall template for your website. Most platforms will offer a wide range of templates that can be filtered by interest, industry, colour schemes, desired features - and more. Once you have your template, design your website’s homepage.
Make sure that the homepage is cleanly designed, puts your brand front-and-centre and offers straightforward (and obvious) navigation to the other parts of your website via a navigation bar or menu system.
An “About Me/Us” and “Contact” page are also must-haves. If applicable, it’s always a great idea (and source of fresh content) to connect your social media feeds to your site.
For a more detailed breakdown of all the elements you may need (or want) to incorporate, head over to our handy Professional Website Build Checklist.
Publish your creation…then optimize and improve!
Unless you’re some kind of web builder savant, you’re not likely going to achieve perfection on the first go-around. That’s okay - there are always going to be elements to tweak and refine over time.
Using free tools - like Google Analytics - in tandem with straight-up, face-to-face surveys of trusted friends/colleagues can quickly paint you a picture of what’s good - and not so good - about your site. More importantly, you can address any content or feature gaps quickly.
Alright - now go, build and make the whole gang here at CIRA all misty-eyed at the beauty of your website creation!