Building a website scares me worse than the boogeyman.
I’ve been fleeced, lied to, cheated on, extorted, and punched in the balls by web developers from all over the world.
In the process, I wasted tens of thousands of dollars. I’m a sucker.
But today I launched a proper website after 8 years.
There are loads of lessons that’ll change how you think about publishing content online, and whether you need a flipping website.
Build in public to solve hard problems
By writing about my website disasters something odd happened.
One writer wrote a takedown. They thought, frankly, that I’m not just a writer seeking a website, but completely stupid.
I read their critiques. They were bang on.
So …. what did I do?
Messaged them and asked them to put their skills where their mouth is and build me a new website.
And, to my surprise, they did!
In the process I found an angel from heaven. Web developers should all get down on their knees and pray to her like a god.
Here are the short lessons from the build.
Know what the heck you want
I’m like a 5 year old trying to choose ice cream flavors when it comes to websites. No wonder I had so much drama.
This time I got clear on what I wanted.
I created a folder of websites I loved. Then I chose one as the basis for my website. Whenever my web developer was in doubt, I simply said “make it like the example site I sent you.”
You can always start with a partial copy of another site and then change it over time to suit your tastes. It’s way cheaper too.
Originality with websites is overrated.
Make one goal for your website
The goal of most websites is a fantasy. Website owners think they’ll launch a site and hit the jackpot. Hardly.
A website needs one goal. Too many goals and you confuse users.
The goal of my website is to get email addresses. That’s it. I post my content there for free and ask for the email address at the end of every article. I ask for them … well … everywhere on the site.
Unlike most sites I’m not trying to make money directly.
I prefer to make money on the backend in private where it’s one big mystery and allows 95% of what I do to be free.
Expect it to take time
I expected it to take 14 days because I found a pro.
It took roughly 90 days.
When massive holidays like Christmas, Easter, or Valentine’s Day come around, the good web developers run for the hills to help their existing customers with their website campaigns.
That means your work in progress becomes secondary to a high-traffic website that is already making cash and pays the developer better than you do.
A good website is worth the wait. Be patient.
Choose hosting carefully
I chose WP Engine to host my WordPress site.
I found out during the build that they regularly block plugins on your website. If you don’t comply with their dictator orders they can do all sorts of nasty stuff.
They also don’t use CPanel which is how you configure most WordPress websites. And they don’t offer email hosting.
This is a pain because it means you need one lot of hosting for your site and another lot for your email address.
So, after I chose WP Engine and then learned of this nonsense, I had the web developer move the site to my current provider — except this time, I supercharged the hosting plan.
It’s worth spending money on good hosting.
A fast site makes love with the Google Search Engine for you and gets you lots of action with users. Action equals money.
Consider overseas users ya racist
I could have just hosted my website in Australia.
Aussies would have got a fast experience. Other countries would have got snail speed page loading. Through the process I learned that you can add the Cloudflare plugin for $20 a month.
What this does is place a copy of your website on servers all over the world. So if a user from Africa goes to your website, they access your site stored on an African server. This is what I’m about to switch on for my site.
When a user accesses a local copy of your website it loads faster.
Speed equals user orgasms.
The biggest pain in the butt
… How the website looks on different devices.
My developer and I took ages to get this right. If your site looks great on one device and terrible on others then users will abandon you.
Test your website on lots of devices. See what it looks like.
Spend more time on the mobile site than the desktop version
Most users will look at your site on a phone. Focus your attention there.
The fancy widescreen formatting you can do on a desktop will get chopped off on a phone. You could say a lot of the desktop hocus pocus is a wank.
Remove all the popups and sidebar BS. You’re not fooling anybody.
Annoying websites piss users off. Don’t do it.
If you’re a writer, be fussy as hell about the blog layout
Most of my time got spent on the blog page. I thought a lot about how readers will find articles to read.
I decided on a popular section with photos, a section with categories readers can click, and a timeline of everything I’ve ever written with nothing but plain text. The blog is the home of your content.
Make it sexy.
Get a copywriter to get 10X the conversions
If I want users to leave me their email address I have to persuade them. That’s what copywriters do for a living.
The better the copy, the higher the conversion.
So, I got a friend to write some of my copy. Already it’s converted way better than my old website that had copy written by an amateur (me).
Pay a copywriter. It’s worth every dollar.
Expect sh*t to go wrong
The day the new website went live I had a viral post on LinkedIn.
The CTA that led to my main landing page broke. LinkedIn users messaged me non-stop.
“Why doesn’t the link work? What’s wrong with you, man? Are ya stupid?”
I lost quite a few email subscribers. But it’s to be expected when you upgrade a website.
Make your website go live when it’s quiet — not when you’re going viral.
Google rankings will drop (temporarily)
When someone googles my name my website is always the first result.
Since the launch of the new website that’s not the case. This is normal. Your rankings will come back. Again — be patient.
Less is more
My new website looks stupidly simple.
It took hours to remove all the complexity and busyness. My web developer told me that the best converting websites are often the simplest without too much fancy design.
For example, I wanted to get custom illustrations. She talked me off the cliff.
“Illustrations don’t convert as well as an image of you that looks natural.”
Cut all the fluff. Remove all the gadgets. Simple works best on a dumb phone.
Traits of a great web designer you should marry and make babies with
- Can dumb down technical stuff into simple analogies
- Can respond to emails promptly
- Is funny AF
- Can write short emails
- Sets clear expectations
- Has some personality to make the build fun
- Tells you what can and can’t get done without the fluff
- Can reach out to support channels to get answers to questions neither of you knows without you becoming aware. (Badass)
Do you even need a website if you’re a content creator?
Content creators don’t need a website to start.
It’s a big project that will take up a lot of time. And launching a website doesn’t allow people to find it. No one is searching google looking for fresh websites to fall in love with.
Start with no website like I did.
Focus on publishing your work on platforms not owned by you. Then use a free tool like Substack to get yourself a landing page that allows you to collect email addresses.
Once you have some traction and you have your content system humming like a Ferrari, then add a website to amplify your work.
A website is also a good place later on to host all of your content. Then you can use canonical links when you share the same content in multiple places.
The best time to build a website varies. But it’s definitely not something you do before you’ve published a single thing.
That’s what you can learn from me losing tens of thousands of dollars on stupid websites that a kid could have built.