Last week I wrote about marketing via social media, and this week I’m tackling a slightly more daunting project: launching your own website. By Abbie Golden.
Before you run away screaming, know this: It is easier than you think. There are a lot of great applications and programs that are easy to use, free or cheap, and will make your site look professional and modern without a web designer.
Actually building a site is easy with these programs, but I recommend doing extra research to make sure you fully understand the ins and outs of website maintenance. There are tons of online how-two articles about creating sites and trouble shooting design problems and a quick search will bring them up.
While I’m attempting to show you services that will allow you to build a website without hiring a professional, keep in mind that you may realize you want to hire a professional if you don’t feel the you can dedicate the time to building and maintaining your site yourself. It’s going to be a time consuming process, and depending on your situation it may be worth the money to pay someone else to worry about it for you.
Like social media, before you build a site you should consider the commitment required. You will need to make sure all the information on it is correct, current and updated regularly.
Once you have considered the responsibility of maintaining a site, it’s time to start building it. These days there are a lot of tools out there to help you design a basic site without the help of professionals, and they are definitely sufficient for the kind of website most barns, local businesses and blogs would require. Below are three companies that I found to be the simplest, most-bang-for-your-buck design and hosting services, but don’t think they are your only options. If they don’t suit your needs, doing a Google search will show you that there are plenty of others you can check out.
- 1. Weebly
Weebly is one of the easiest, most user-friendly website builders I have come across. It has an awesome help center that walks you through nearly everything you could want to do with screen shots of the process, and its easy drag-and-drop layout is very convenient. You can published your site for free, but some premium options like HD video require purchasing a Weebly Pro subscription for $8/month.
The Weebly tool bar
Pros: Like I said, you can build and publish a basic site entirely for free. Weebly has several themes you can choose from and customize however you want, and you can register a free domain or link the site to one you have already purchased. Seriously, I can’t stress how user-friendly the editing tools are, and there is also an option to directly edit the HTML text if you know how to do so.
There are blogging tools and social media integration, as well as easy-to-insert contact forms. Weebly automatically optimizes your site for search engine recognition, meaning it will appear higher in Google search results. Sign up for free and check it out yourself.
Cons: A lot of the themes are less professional looking. They aren’t bad by any standard, but when you compare them to some of the more professional equestrian sites that already exist they probably won’t measure up. Also, if you are planning to post sale videos of horses, you will probably want to pay the $8/month fee to get Weebly Pro and be able to embed HD videos.
- 2. Square Space
This is a relatively new company that has gotten a lot of media attention for its sleek layouts and easy design tools. For as little as $8/month, Square Space will host a website with up to 20 pages. There are two additional price levels that allow you more pages, storage space, and e-commerce capabilities, though unless you are planning on selling products that is probably unnecessary.
Pros: Really great layouts that are much better than the offerings of any other hosting service with comparable prices. Each layout is fully customizable and you can add and remove a wide range of content blocks (see photo below for a screen shot of their editing page). When you are choosing a theme, you can see customer sites that are currently using it with their own modifications. Square Space doesn’t require HTML or code knowledge, which you would probably need to know a little more about if you were using a platform like WordPress.
There are easy tools to integrate social media accounts, create a blog (entries don’t count towards the 20 page limit for the $8/month package), and insert a contact form. You can register a free domain and set it to forward to your Square Space site, and also track your site’s visitor analytics and use search engine optimization it to raise its standing in Google search results. You can sign up for a two-week free trial (though any site you design won’t go live until you sign up for a plan) and play around with your options before deciding to purchase a subscription.
Cons: Not free. Unlike Weebly, Square Space does require money to publish a site. In my opinion, $8 a month is a small price to pay for the ability to create such a quality website without knowing HTML, but if you are willing to do a little more work you can create a good website for free on other platforms. Another con is that many of the layouts are extremely image heavy and may not be appropriate for your goals or needs. Luckily, like I mentioned above, each layout is fully customizable so you can play around with the number of photos on the page.
Finally, the $8/month price requires a two-year commitment. You can pay month-to-month for $10/month, but if you are taking the time to build a site I would recommend purchasing the two-year option anyway. Once you put the effort into building a site, hopefully you won’t have to go through a complete revamp for a while.
- 3. WordPress
WordPress may be one of the most widely-known web designer services out there. Many people know it for its blogging platform which creates simple blogs commonly used by many in the horse community. However, if you wish to design a more sophisticated site, WordPress created a software that you can download onto your computer and use to build a fully functional website using your own code or by customizing one of over 1,800 themes.
Pros: WordPress is used by a huge number of people, which means it has expansive support forums, widgets, plugins, and themes that other sites don’t have. There is a ton of selection in terms of themes and that ensures your site won’t look just like 100 others because your design platform only has 11 layouts. The downloadable software is easy to use and so is the back-end page you use to update your site once its online (I speak from experience–Horse Nation uses WordPress, and I had no trouble learning how to use its blogging tools).
Cons: WordPress is not a host. While you can build a site using WordPress themes and software, you will have to pay another company to host your site. WordPress has several companies it recommends and they start at $4/month and up, depending on how what your site will require. In addition, it will be useful to understand HTML when using WordPress, particularly if you are going to be updating your site once it launches. Speaking from experience, WordPress can be temperamental sometimes and it is much easier to go into the HTML code and fix whatever problem you are having manually than dealing with clicking on different formatting buttons. HTML isn’t that difficult to master, but it’s another thing on your to-do list.
Abbie is a recent college grad trying to find a way to work full time and compete as an amateur eventer. When she’s not writing a post for Horse Nation, she can be found at the barn, working at her research internship, and studying for the LSAT. She competes at the three star level with her 13-year-old Canadian Sport Horse, Arundel, and trains with Boyd Martin.
Abbie and Arundel competing in the Bromont CIC3*. Photo by Samantha Clark.