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Having a well-designed website is an indispensable part of digital marketing. There are a wealth of web development tools and plenty of online resources to help you achieve a quality site and with some basic knowledge, it’s now possible to put together a great-looking website that does everything you need it to do. This guide will show you how.

Define your needs

As with any project, the first thing you’ll need to do is define the scope and function of your website. Is it going to be a simple personal page with basic information? Is it going to be an online store? A weblog? A portfolio site? You need to consider the kind of functionality that your site should have. You also need to give some thought to how your needs are likely to develop over time, and how your site will need to change and grow to meet them.

Platform

Once you’ve developed a general outline for your site, you need to choose an appropriate platform. You have a number of different choices here. You can purchase some webspace and create your own site from scratch  – not recommended, unless you already have some web development training –  or use an existing platform where much of the essential work is done for you. These platforms fall into two loosely overlapping categories: drag-and-drop site builders, and content management systems (CMS). Drag-and-drop builders are acceptable for quick, temporary sites, but lack any real customization. Having a site built in Weebly or Wix also looks unprofessional.

Content management systems (CMS)

The three most popular CMS platforms are currently Joomla, Drupal and WordPress. All of these are free and open-source, meaning that you don’t have to pay for the software and anyone can develop for them. Which platform you pick will depend greatly on your needs. Drupal is used for everything from ecommerce to online magazines; it’s a very powerful platform, but presents significant challenges if you’re not an experienced web designer.  Joomla is also very powerful, but like Drupal it comes with a steep learning curve. WordPress is the most adaptable and the most forgiving if you’re not a specialist coder. WordPress is also astoundingly popular — at the time of writing, around half of all websites use WordPress as a platform. This means that many people are developing for the platform, and you can find an abundance of themes and plugins to customize your site.

Hosting your site

With so many free website options, it may be tempting to imagine you can skip this step. Free websites, however, come with a number of limitations. There are often rules against monetizing free sites or using them for commercial activities such as business websites. You may be restricted as to the type of content you can add, and there’s typically an upper limit for storage. Using a free site also looks less professional than hosting your own site with a custom URL. Vendors such as Hostgator, GoDaddy, and Register.com offer inexpensive hosting and domain registration options.

Test-drive your website

You’ve installed your CMS software, applied a theme, added plugins and registered a domain. Time to go live, right? Well, not so fast. Before revealing your website to the world, you should carefully test it to make sure that everything works properly. Your CMS software will have development tools that allow you to fully test your site before you put it online. Once you’ve ensured that your site is fully functional, you can go ahead and launch it.

There’s no one-size-fits-all web development process that will guarantee the perfect result every time, since every site owner’s needs are different. One final tip: look at websites run by people in a similar niche to your own and see what choices they’ve made. This can really help you in deciding what will work for your own site.

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