The right way to build a personal website

First things first – congrats on finally getting round to building a personal website! (Just thinking about that counts too.) The shocking reality is that if your brand is not online, it doesn’t exist.

You’re probably excited. So excited you might want to get that website out today. But if “fluff and fill” isn’t your desired route to the world wide web, then taking a more calculated approach will promise a better outcome.

Your first (and, really, the most important) task is to lay the foundation for everything you want your website to be and do. Yep, the big-picture stuff.

Why? Because as Franklin said: “If you fail to plan, you’re planning to fail”.

1. What’s the purpose of your personal site?

Purpose is the new (and only) breed of branding. To make the creation process all the more vibrant and meaningful, you need to have well thought-through answers to the following questions:

  • Who are you and what do you stand for?
  • Who are you trying to attract?
  • Why are you better than your competition?
  • What do you want people to say about your brand when you’re not in the room?
  • What impression do you want your website to make on the prospective clients?

It’s not enough to “just get out there”. When your personal website finally launches, you want every element and every word to work in harmony, forming a strong, lasting impression on your prospects. That’s why knowing what you want to achieve with your website well before you get into the nitty-gritty is a big deal.  

2. Brainstorming aside, get doodling

No, it’s not logo time yet.

The next huge chapter in building your site is determining its structure. What information goes where, how it’s laid out and why.

Do you have a portfolio that needs to go on the website? Will you have an “About Me” page or will you stick that info on the home page? Can you source some testimonials? What about images to illustrate your work? How are you going to list your services/products? Do you want to disclose your pricing or would you rather have the prospects get in touch?

The best way to tackle this challenge is by grabbing a pen and bleeding the great ideas on a piece of paper. You don’t need a sophisticated mockup – “a box here and a box there” plan will do. Just think about it this way – you wouldn’t build a house without an architectural house plan (because that’s just nuts!), so why risk with your online home?  

When you have all the bits figured out, we can move on to the next step.

3. Sharpen your pencil, Hemingway!

The next step is copy.

Writing about yourself sucks. Really, everyone knows that. You either feel like you are bragging or end up underselling yourself big time. And though your personal statement may seem like the linchpin of this project (because you’re launching a personal website), it actually isn’t. (phew!)

The most important factors to consider when crafting your website copy are relevant keywords and trigger phrases. If you were to search for a similar service, what words would you use?

Sharp copy has a tremendous power to convert customers into leads, but before it even gets a chance to do that, those customers need to land on your site.

There are various keyword research tools available online (try Google's), so before you start penning headings, page descriptions, navigation bars, and the like, make sure you’re using the most popular keywords to increase your chances of being discovered through search engines.

No one argues that copy is an incremental part of a converting website, but it’s not enough to simply list your services and wait for the orders to start rolling in. Make sure you follow the key copywriting rule – features vs. benefits. If one of your services is “Copywriting”, highlight the benefits of this service by adding something like “engage, educate and convert your leads with compelling copy.”

4. Assembling the skeleton (or building a Lego house)

It’s getting real!

As you have the main elements of the personal site ready, it’s time to choose the platform and take the project a step further. Sites like Squarespace (checkout their Skillshare class HERE), Wix and Weebly make it incredibly easy to take your idea while it’s still in its infancy and turn it into an actual website. And the best thing about it? You don’t even need to know how to code!

At this point, you want to get the basic structure in place. Refer to your website structure notes and arrange the site to resemble that plan – add copy and images to relevant pages, rename the navigation bars, add new pages and external links if appropriate. Don’t start stressing about fonts, colours and other design elements yet, you’ll get to that later.

If you’re after a more complex, bespoke site and pre-made templates simply won’t cut it, don’t worry – there’s an easy solution. You can hire a freelance developer to build your website from the ground up. PeoplePerHour have recently built an interactive freelance map that will give you a lot of insight into the going rate and level of skill you should look out for.

5. Design your website (finally!)

If you’re a visual person, you may already have a clear idea for your site design. If, however, the thought of matching colours and choosing fonts makes you feel weak in the knees, there are loads of helpful resources available online:

Take a few hours to browse online (here comes Pinterest!), make a list of websites that grab your eye and see what you can borrow and adapt. It’s highly unlikely you’ll invent a new trend in web design, so it’s better to stick to what’s already tested and proven to work.

Another element you might want to think about is logo design. If it’s too early in the day to invest into something bespoke, you can use free online tools to generate a great looking logo that will help you elevate your brand. Also checkout Aaron Draplin’s awesome class for some inspiration and guidance!

And if you want something truly unique, you can hire an experienced graphic designer without breaking your bank account (prices start from $10).

6. Get a second opinion

The simple truth is that by the time you’re ready to launch the website, you’re not seeing clearly. You’re in love with your new baby. So any typos or other glaring mistakes will escape your eagle eye.

Before going live, share the link to your site with some savvy friends and ask them to spend 10-15 minutes navigating your website. You will get better insights if you ask them direct, specific questions, such as:

  • What impression did you get about my services/products and myself?
  • Did you find all the information you needed to make a decision?
  • Was there anything that really stood out to you in a bad way?
  • Can you describe my brand in 3 words?

Turn to someone who can be honest with you. Then take a step back, review the feedback and make changes where appropriate.   

7. Now you can get out there

Et voilà! You officially exist online.

But, as you’re probably well aware, the real work is just about to start… connect all your social media profiles and start crafting a creative promotional plan to get as many eyeballs on your personal site as you can – it’s time to have all that hard work pay off!  

Remember, purpose is the one and only real branding strategy – build your efforts around that axis and you’ll be just fine.

Juste Semetaite is a content marketer and a serious life passionista with a flair for learning new things. She works @PeoplePerHour, the Europe's largest freelance marketplace, and practices word-crafting daily. You can ping her at juste@peopleperhour.com or tweet @JusteSem