Content management platforms (CMS) like WordPress and Squarespace make it easy for almost anyone to design and launch their own website with little to no coding experience. That’s great for small business owners who weigh the necessity of a digital presence against the hourly rate of a contract developer and decide to save some cash, crack their knuckles, and go the ‘ol DIY route. After all, you’ve built this business on your own, certainly designing a simple website isn’t out of the realm of your capabilities, right?
Maybe so. And you should certainly give it the old college try. But, before you do, we want to help you avoid some common mistakes newbies make when taking on their first website. For this post, we’ll be focusing specifically on WordPress.
Mistake #1: Assuming a template will do everything
There they are, all those beautiful WordPress templates — so sleek and well-designed. They’ve got unique icon sets, parallax iridescent gradients, and — is that — a video background?
Yes. One can get lost admiring the full-featured functionality of endless WordPress templates, drifting towards the download button like a ship to a siren. But, before you think your job is complete once you figure out how to install that template file, be warned — all is not what it seems.
A template is not a solution— it’s a pattern, a jump-start. A way to get the gears going. It is not a one-size-fits-all, website-in-a-box deal. Be prepared for plenty of trial and error in order to turn any template into something you can use to sell.
Images may not fit just right, colors may be off, and that default typeface may not tell your story in the most you kind of way.
By all means, pick the template that speaks to you. But, be prepared to do some serious customizing to match what you see in the demo. Also, make sure to take a look at their customer support. Are they well-rated? Responsive?
A decent customer support team can be the difference between a simple CSS maneuver and your laptop flying through the window.
Mistake #2: Using plugins to solve every problem
Plugins are great. Remember the old Apple slogan, “there’s an app for that.” Plugins are the WordPress equivalent to that sentiment.
Need a form builder? There’s a plugin for that.
Want an Instagram feed slider? Get it with a plugin!
Seriously, the options are limitless. However, there is a dark side to this seemingly bottomless wellspring of functionality: conflicts.
Not all plugins are created equal and they don’t always play nice with one another. While the WordPress community does a pretty swell job of vetting and rating them, sometimes using a plugin to fix one problem creates two somewhere else. That’s why, as a rule of thumb, you avoid fulfilling every need and solving every problem using plugins first.
And just because it’s possible to rely on plugins for a particular site functionality — should you? If the functionality is key to your business goals and a temporary loss of that function would impact revenue or customer service, then the answer is no. Reserve plug-ins for less essential functions, and use a theme that has your key functionality baked in — or hire a developer to hard-code the do-or-die stuff.
If you’ve exhausted your options and decided a plugin is the best bet, make sure you check the plugins’ reviews and user count before adding it to your site. And make sure the plugin is still supported by its software developer. If it isn’t, then it won’t be updated to conform with future WordPress updates and might cause problems down the road.
Mistake #3: Starting without enough content
We often hear business owners say, “I just need something up” when talking about their website.
Because something is better than nothing, right?
Well, yeah — usually, but sometimes having “nothing” is better than nonsense.
When it comes to your digital presence, you want your brand appropriately represented. That means everything on your website has to make sense and elevate your brand. That’s why it’s important to have great looking photos and well-written copy.
Too many newbies make the mistake of putting something up in hopes of improving upon that something down the road. Then — business happens. You’re pulled in many different directions and you forget to turn that something into something better and before you know it, you’re sinking money into hosting for a site that doesn’t sell. Nonsense!
Take the time to curate all of your website content before you get started. Get some nice photos taken of your showroom, restaurant or retail space. Be prepared to carefully craft all of your website copy to really say what you want to say to your customers. If you wait to swap out those cheesy stock photos with actual images of your products or business, you’ll waste time losing customers on an incomplete story.
Mistake #4: Trying to do everything on the cheap
One reason a lot of business owners take on building their website themselves is money. Adding another expensive dynamic to the budget just isn’t attractive when elbow grease is for free. However, it is the mistake of many amateur WordPress developers to try and do everything for free or on the cheap.
While there are a ton of quality low-cost and free WordPress templates and plugins out there, by simply ignoring some of the best tools out there because of a money-thing, you could end up selling yourself and your website short.
Instead, give yourself a WordPress budget and accept the possibility that sometimes the best tool for the job costs a little money. You’ve already decided to save some change by not hiring a professional, you might as well make developing and maintaining your site easier on you by investing in premium quality tools. Doing so might result in a much quicker and easier process and a better looking, and functioning, WordPress website.
Mistake #5: Designing for looks, not purpose
This is probably the most critical and potentially harmful mistake one can make when developing a site: Putting form before function.
Your website is supposed to sell, not hang in an art gallery. When you first set out to stake your claim on the internet, you have to ask yourself this question — what do I want my visitors to do? Leading with the answer to this question, word by word, page by page, will direct everything you do creatively and (hopefully) will result in conversions on your site and/or people in your store.
If you try too hard to impress, you’re going to leave your visitors with just that: an impression.
You need more. In most cases, you need a conversion and in order to get that conversion, your visitors need to know what to do.
Maintain focus on your website’s purpose and, if you’re telling your story honestly, the positive impressions will come naturally. Make sure your site is easy to use and there are no broken elements. Test, test, test until you know it’s ready for your audience.
By minimizing mistakes and mitigating the inevitable frustrations with over-preparation, you can create a near-perfect website for your business and might just have fun doing it. Be prepared to spend a little cash and devote a good chunk of time to the hard parts. If you run into some tough snags or you realize you just aren’t cut out for the work, you can always consult with an experienced agency (hint hint) to get you over the finish line.
Good luck out there!