How to Build a Website from Scratch

Website design - building a website, working on layout. Small people characters doing various tasks. Concept vector illustration in flat style

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How hard is it to build a website from scratch? Much easier than you might think, as it happens. You’ve got three main options: code it yourself, use a DIY website builder or run with a CMS.

Building a website from scratch can seem scary. Many questions rush to mind, such as: “Do I need a degree in computer science?”, “Will I ruin my company’s professional image?”, “Do I have to understand web hosting?”. The answers are “No”, “No” and “Yes but it’s not that bad”.

We’ll cover everything you need to know and explain how to build a website from scratch in just 11 easy steps. When it comes to website builders, Wix is our top choice followed by Shopify for building an ecommerce website from scratch. 

If even thinking about creating your own website has you sweating, there’s always the ultra convenient option of hiring a web designer. We’re happy to recommend trusted web design agencies based on your specific needs, if you let us know some basic details about the site you want.

You may find it helpful to bookmark this guide and come back to it as you complete each step.

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Build a Website from Scratch: Overview

For your convenience, we’ve broken down the messy process of creating a website wonder into 11 easy steps. 

For each stage of the journey, we’ve included a focus question (who, what, when, where, why or how) to keep you on track. This means you’ll never stray off course when building your online business asset. It’s important because you’ll need to keep budget and project duration in mind. But don’t worry, we’ll get to all that in due course. 

Here are the steps to build a website from scratch: 

  1. List your website aims – why do you need a site?
  2. Decide your budget and time-frame – how much and how long?
  3. Choose your method – how do I build my site?
  4. Gather design inspo – what will your site look like?
  5. Research competitors – how will you outshine the competition?
  6. Wireframe and UX refinement – how will users interact with the site?
  7. Register your domain name – what will your site be called?
  8. Sign up for hosting – where will you host your site?
  9. Build the first iteration and request feedback/user testing – how do others feel about your website?
  10. Implement improvements – what did you learn from the feedback stage?
  11. Agree on maintenance schedule moving forward – how will you manage upkeep?

Let’s get started, shall we?

1. List your website aims – why do you need a site?

First and foremost you should figure out exactly why you’re building a website. And, no, “Because I’m procrastinating from another important business task” is not a good reason. 

There are several reasons why you may want to create a website, and it’s perfectly fine to have more than one aim for doing so. “Because my competitors all have a website” actually is a good answer, because your company is competing for the custom of a limited target market. A website is the cornerstone of a professional digital marketing strategy and a major component of business branding. 

Begin by creating a list of distinct aims your website needs to achieve for your business. Try to make these goals as measurable as possible – for example, you may want to see more business enquiries per month after setting your website live. However, some aims may be rather more nebulous, such as improving the professional image of your company.

Say you present a weekly show on a community radio station. One aim for your website could be to open a revenue stream by selling merchandise online. This aim will lead you to research the best ecommerce web design companies on the market today. 

Start by compiling a list of clear aims for your website, followed by a suggestion for further research to support each one. However, you should ensure your website aims are realistic and achievable. 

marketing ROI statistics from exposure ninja

2. Decide your budget and time-frame – how much and how long will it take to build your site?

While it’s just about possible to build a website for free, this may be one of the worst decisions you could make for your business. Free website builders come with branded adverts, basic features and give an amateurish impression overall.

Instead, you’d be best off setting a reasonable budget aside for monthly website costs. If you’ve got more spare time than you do funds, then you should go with a DIY website builder because it works out far cheaper than hiring a web design agency.

On the other hand, if you lack the time or expertise to spend crafting a website, you’ll need to find a web design professional. It’s a bigger financial investment but the resulting website will meet your business’ needs to a ‘T’.

MethodTimeCostDifficulty
Website builder🕒£££££
Code it yourself🕒🕒🕒🕒🕒£££££
Build with a CMS🕒🕒🕒£££££
Hire a web design agency🕒££££££

Using a website builder: Costs on average £13 to £220 per month

As you can see from this quick reference chart, a website builder is a speedy and affordable option. You can get your site up and running in just a few days if you’re determined enough. You won’t find a turnaround time anywhere close to that with any of the other methods. 

Wix is the best value for money: the cheapest plan without adverts costs just £7.50 per month. Wix’s most expensive plan is £27 per month which includes ecommerce features (unless, of course, you need an enterprise-level solution, which starts at £275 per month).

Coding yourself: Costs around £1,412 per year

Coding the website yourself from scratch will take 2-3 months minimum. The project duration depends on your skill level and desired results. It could take nine months or more to perfect the exact website you desire, so don’t expect this to happen in a week or two.Bear in mind you’ll have to spend this time away from your regular business tasks. You’ll likely need someone to cover you and that can incur costs in wages. If you don’t have any coding knowledge at all you can learn to make a website in about nine hours with Code Academy (it’s a free course).

Building with a CMS: Costs around £1,412 per year

When it comes to a CMS website build project, you should set aside 3-6 months of  dedicated time. It’s free to download and use a CMS such as WordPress but you’ll still need to pay for your domain (£1-£17 per year) and hosting (£36-£2,400 per year). Some choose to purchase templates, photography or copywriting services to enhance their website; you should expect to pay upwards of £600 for services such as content creation. 

In any case, you’ll need to consider the plug-ins that make your website perform certain functions. WordPress has over 55,000 plug-ins, and many of them you’ll have to pay for (£0-£370 per year, roughly).

Outsourcing the website build: costs around £506-£1,175 per month

Of course the option with the least investment of your time is hiring a web design agency. It's also the easiest option in terms of technical know-how from yourself or your team.

It may seem the most expensive, but this may not be the case if you consider how much of your own or staff time you’d save if you choose to build the website from scratch by yourself. We’ll make it easy for you to find a trusted web design agency; if you let us know some basic details we’ll match you with the best website creation specialists on our books.

3. Choose your method to build a website from scratch

Now we’ll look at the three popular methods of how to build a website from scratch. These also apply if you are looking to build an ecommerce website yourself, you’ll just need to spend the time researching plug-ins for ecommerce functions.

Build a website yourself with code

This is the most involved process by far, and only for the brave and the bold. As well as coding the entire website using PHP, Java or your preferred programming language you’ll be responsible for the hosting and security elements of the website too. We’ll give you a quick tip – Bluehost is your best bet for hosting thanks to its varied and affordable price plans. 

Ideal for: Tech-minded individuals who are eager to use programming skills.

Benefits: Create exactly what you want down to the tiniest details. 

Drawbacks: Time-intensive, requires coding know-how, you’re wholly responsible for fixing all bugs, hard to outsource or hand over once you’ve started down this road.

Want an amazing website but don’t know how to code? Our trusted web design partners will build the website of your dreams

Use a DIY website builder

These days many small business owners opt for a website builder due to the appeal of affordability and easy drag-and-drop design tools. There’s a whole range available so be sure to check out our research in order to pick the best website builder.

If you want an attractive website with ecommerce functions, we recommend Squarespace for its affordable designs with quick time-to-launch. Shopify has the best range of ecommerce functions if you’re looking to build a more complex online shop. And Wix ecommerce options are user-friendly for website building beginners.

Wix ADI editor screengrab excerpt from a graphic design website

Ideal for: Average person with a creative eye but beginner-level tech skills.

Benefits: Affordable (pricing starts at £4-£10 monthly), quick to set up, maintenance and updates automatically taken care of, easy to use, range of functions available to customise your website including ecommerce options.

Drawbacks: May end up with a generic-looking website. Not as many design and functionality options as a custom-made website. You’re at the mercy of provider price fluctuations as it can be hard to switch providers if you change your mind down the road.

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Blended approach: build with a CMS such as WordPress

WordPress is one of the most widely-used content management systems (CMS) on the internet. It’s open-source, meaning you don’t have to pay to copy and edit the software to build a custom website of your own. You’ll need to head over to WordPress.org rather than WordPress.com to use this method. Fortunately, Bluehost offers WordPress-specific hosting, so that’s one concern off your mind. Once you’ve sorted hosting then it’s time to download the CMS and get creating.

Ideal for: Savvy individuals willing to put some time into learning CMS skills.

Benefits: Cost-effective and not as difficult as programming.

Drawbacks: You’re responsible for all technical aspects of your website, including hosting registration, annual domain renewal and general maintenance. 

Alternative CMS options are Drupal, Joomla, Magento and Shopify for ecommerce, specifically.

4. Gather design inspo – what will your site look like?

A website is a key brand asset, so you should carefully consider how its appearance represents your business as a whole. It may seem obvious, but your design choices will convey messages to your web visitors on a subconscious level – and could be the difference between a product purchase and clicking the ‘x’ in the corner of the screen. So you should start with ensuring all your colours and fonts match your broader business branding, such as leaflets, business cards, brochures, banners and any product packaging you already have.

Stationery Brand Identity Mock-Up set with blue and white abstract design. Business stationary mockup template of File folder, annual report cover, van car, brochure, mug

Now, consider all the thoughts and feelings you want your website visitors to think and feel as they browse your website. Jot these down in a list. Let’s say Jane is designing a website for a tattoo shop. Her list may look something like this:

  • Inspired – “Wow that tattoo artwork looks amazing.”
  • Curious – “I wonder what other designs the artist has made?”
  • Reassured – “This looks like a safe and hygienic tattoo shop.”
  • Informed – “Great. Now I know where the shop is and when it opens.”
  • Understood – “I was worried about getting my first tattoo but the FAQ was comprehensive.”

Now you may be thinking this seems a little abstract, and how on earth can these ideas translate into design choices? Well, it’s important that your end user is at the heart of your website design. After all, you want your website to achieve your business aims, not just impress your mates at the pub.

In fact, every one of these notes will inform your design choices. Next, assign a design feature along with the next steps for each thought you came up with.

Web User Thought/FeelingWebsite Design FeatureNext Steps
Inspired by artwork.Large images dominate pages.Pick my eight best designs to feature across the website.
Curious to find more artwork.Clear links to my portfolio from the homepage.Ensure images are ready to upload in high-quality.
Reassured about safety.Feature trust signals such as certification, along with proper spelling and grammar.Find the name and date of my qualifications, ready to display on the ‘About Me’ page. Proof-read all pages.
Informed about the shop.Clearly display opening times plus a map at the bottom of each page.Look into Google Maps widget integration.
Feelings are understood.Include an ‘FAQ’ section and include a link in the navigation bar.Gather first-hand research from my customers about their feelings about getting a first tattoo, then reflect on my answers.

At the end of this exercise you’ll have a good long list of web design goals and steps to achieve each one. 

Now you’re in a good position to move forward with your website design. But, of course you’re not the only business in town, so it’s time to consider the competitors’ websites too.

5. Research competitors – how will you outshine the competition?

Your website should convince customers that you’re better than the competition. You can do this with improved content (snappier text and nicer imagery) and better SEO (making sure your website is authoritative, accurate and well-structured). If you achieve the latter, you could appear above competitors’ websites on search engine results pages.

A savvy way to improve your SEO is to make a list of likely search phrases your potential customers might type into Google to find services (or products) like yours. Fred’s small business offers suit tailoring in the Marble Arch area of London. Fred imagines himself in his customers’ shoes, and notes down some of the following phrases he would use to search for a business like his.

  • “Professional tailors Marble Arch”
  • “Suit repairs central London”
  • “Emergency suit tailor West London”

Now Fred enters each phrase into search engines such as Google (and, later, Bing, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram as well). He clicks on the first few websites that come up (not the paid results at the very top, which say “Ad” next to them, but the ones after that). These are Fred’s competitors.

related searches screenshot from Google SERP

The “Related searches” section on the Google search engine results page (SERP) will give you ideas for what kind of content to create on your website.

Run through the same steps as Fred, and check out the competition. Notice ways you can emulate and improve on what your competitors are doing. Do they have a gallery of photos? An FAQ section? A detailed ‘About us’ page? Nice, so can you. 

Fred notices another business, ‘Mark’s Dry Cleaners’ has a blog section with recent articles including tips on stain removal at home. It’s got several comments from grateful customers, revealing its popularity with the local community. Fred decides to create some blog posts for his own website more closely related to his clientele’s interests, including an article the history of men’s suit styles and the best suit to wear at a job interview.

6. Wireframe and UX refinement – how will users interact with the site?

hand holding a pen over web design wireframes drawn on pieces of paper

Wireframing refers to creating a mock-up of the website’s pages with placeholders for each image, text box and feature of the page. It’s an important process to design the layout of individual pages and see how the pages look in relation to one another. 

While it can be tempting to create each web page individually and then move onto the next one, you should aim for continuity across the site so that every page looks like it belongs on the same website. You can achieve this with certain fixed features such as a navigation bar in the same place on every page.

Some website makers skip this step – but we suggest you don’t.

This stage is really crucial for the way in which web visitors will interact with the pages and navigate your website – also known as ‘User Experience’ (UX). If customers come to your website wanting to find out opening times of your shop but can’t find a clear way to navigate to that information they’ll probably just close the window and find another business to visit.

It can be tricky to get this stage right if you’ve not much experience of the process. If you’re hiring a web agency, it’s more than likely they’ll do this stage for you and show you the proofs for you to review. Otherwise you can hire a UX designer or user interface (UI) professional to help you create an accessible website.

7. Register your domain name – what will your site be called?

You’ve done all the hard parts so now it’s time for some quick wins. Your domain name is quite simply the URL or web address where your website can be found online. At the top of this page, in the URL box, you’ll see ‘ExpertMarket.co.uk’ is our domain name. 

You can choose any domain name for your website so long as it is not already owned by someone else. To register a domain name you’ll need to visit the website of a domain registrar. There are many domain registrars and some are more reliable than others, with some considered downright sketchy. 

We recommend Bluehost as a dependable resource for domain registration. Hostinger will give you a domain name and hosting plan bundled together, if that's more convenient.

Once you've chosen a domain registrar, simply search for your desired domain name to find out if it’s available. If it’s already taken, you can try to buy it from the owner or the search engine will suggest a similar alternative.

Note – Domain registration is often included in DIY website builder packages as a free bonus for the first year. This is the case with Wix, for example. However, a few platforms charge you extra from the start, such as Shopify.

domain names blue host screengrab

8. Sign up for hosting – where will you host your site?

Note – Hosting is generally already included in DIY website builder packages.

Perfect, you’ve got a website outline and given it a name. Now we need to find a physical space on a web server to house your site. Wait, what? Without getting all technical on you, we simply need to take out a rental contract on a machine that gets your website online.

Hosting must be renewed each year, though you can pay for several years in one go. You should definitely buy a multi-year subscription upfront because of the discount you'll get (around 10%). Besides, if you forget to renew your hosting plan then, boom, your website comes offline.

Just like renting a property to live in, your website rents a physical space on a fancy computer called a ‘server’. Thanks to the free market, you can choose between any number of hosting providers to give your website a place to call home.

Now you should be aware that some hosting providers do not cater specifically for WordPress hosting, so be sure to check that if you’ve gone down the WordPress CMS route. Thankfully, providers such as Bluehost offer all-inclusive packages which combine domain registration with web hosting – including WordPress hosting – plus a free SSL certificate and there’s even a website builder to boot. 

Here are the Managed WordPress hosting price plans from Bluehost:

Wordpress hosting pricing plans from Bluehost

You can feel confident choosing BlueHost for hosting as they are recommended by WordPress themselves.

9. Build the first iteration and request user feedback – how well does your website work?

Now you’re finally ready to put your plans into action: it’s time to build the first version of your website. Don’t be dismayed if the website doesn’t entirely work exactly as you need it to straight away, this is entirely normal. At first you’ll take a look at the ‘live’ version of the website yourself, but it’s a good idea to get another pair of eyes on it as soon as you’re generally happy with what you’ve got. 

If you’re coding the website yourself, you’ll go through many stages of checking the front-end, discovering glitches and making tweaks to scripts in the back-end.

With a website builder, you’ll be switching between seeing the live version of the website and going back into the editor to make adjustments as needed.

Using the WordPress CMS, it’s a case of noting malfunctions on the front-end and logging back into the CMS in order to make edits.

Depending on your available resources, you can ask a focus group to practise using your website and deliver specific feedback based on their experiences. Most companies will outsource this stage to a specific market research company with experience in selecting test users for a particular target market. Make sure you give your market research agency as much information about your target demographic as possible.

After all, if you’re building a small business ecommerce website for a butchers, there’s no point asking vegetarians to review your material!

10. Implement improvements – what did you learn from the feedback stage?

FILE #: 320409520 Preview Crop Find Similar DIMENSIONS 6152 x 4112px FILE TYPE JPEG CATEGORY Business LICENSE TYPE Standard or Extended Designers drawing website ux app development

Now it’s time to incorporate the test user feedback into your next round of website edits. It’s important to persevere through the drudgery of this stage! Remember, you’re making a long-term investment in the quality of your business, brand and overall professionalism.

This really is the most crucial stage of all. If your website doesn’t work well for your users, you’ll miss vital opportunities for conversions (sales, sign-ups, signatures or whatever else you want web visitors to do). You can have the most stylish colour scheme in your niche, but if your ‘Buy now’ buttons are broken, you may as well be tossing your investment into the nearest woodburning stove.

Yes, the hard work is now nearly almost complete so keep going because the end is in sight!

11. Design a maintenance schedule moving forward – how will you manage upkeep?

Alright we lied about the ‘end being in sight’ – truth be told, your website project is never truly ‘over’ because there are inevitable maintenance tasks to stay on top of. We’ve written an entire guide to website maintenance costs to help you budget for the future. But for now let’s look at the annual maintenance tasks you should set calendar reminders for.

  • Domain name renewal – you’ll need to do this at least once a decade and at most once per year.
  • Hosting plan renewal – how often you have to check on this depends on how many years of hosting you paid for at first.
  • SSL certificate renewal – annually, though this may be included in a domain/hosting package.
  • Website content (articles and images) – how often you update this depends on your customers’ expectations, your SEO goals and resources you have available. But we suggest a content freshness audit at least once per month. 
  • Software updates – If you’ve used a website builder, this is usually taken care of automatically. However, WordPress users should keep an eye out for updates on the WordPress dashboard every three to four months.

If you’re using a website builder then the above stages are already included in your monthly payment, which is convenient for you. Web design agencies will agree a payment model with you moving forward if you decide to outsource your website build.

Otherwise the maintenance work falls to you, so it’s a case of remembering to keep on top of your website workload each month. Remember the stakes are high: should you forget to renew your hosting or domain then your website will come offline and customers won’t be able to access it at all.

Build your website from scratch – next steps

Whew, we made it! Now that we’ve gone through three different pathways on how to build a website from scratch:

  1. Coding a website yourself: Time-consuming, tech-heavy and low-cost.
  2. DIY website builder: Quick, easy and affordable.
  3. Using a CMS like WordPress: Fairly lengthy, medium difficulty and mid-range price.

If you’re looking for a user-friendly website builder then make sure you check out the easily-edited templates from Wix. Though if you want to know how to build an ecommerce website from scratch, you’ll get there with minimal trouble using Shopify. And bear in mind you can achieve jaw-dropping results with the gorgeous designs of Squarespace templates.

Remember it’s OK to try something new and realise you’re not the right person for the job after all. We’ve a trusted database of web design agencies that we can match you with if you let us know the bare bones of your website project. Good luck!

FAQ

How much does it cost to build a website from scratch?
It costs between £13 to £220 per month to use a DIY website builder and £506-£1,175 per month for a web design company, according to our research on website costs. Outside of these price brackets, if you choose to code the entire website yourself, you’ll have to add up the individual costs of web hosting, domain registration, security certification, plug-ins and any content creation or copywriting you commission. 

Web hosting costs between £36 and £2,400 per year; domain registration costs £1-£17 per year; Security certificates vary widely but as a rough guide you’re looking at £15-£162 per year; Plug-ins depend on what you need your site to do and cost £0-£370 per year. Copywriting, should you choose to outsource, costs £600-£69,600 per year

Your absolute minimum requirements are web hosting and domain registration, at a total of £37-£2,417 per year.

Can I build a website on my own?
Absolutely. There are a number of DIY website builder tools which make it easy to create a good-looking and functional website for your project or business. We’ve tested the major competitors and found Wix is the most user-friendly, so that’s the best place to start if you’re new to website creation.

If you’ve given it a go with a website builder and found yourself stuck in a rut, then it’s easy enough to outsource the project to a capable professional. We know how tough it is to pick and choose between website design agencies, so we’ve created a convenient web designer matching tool to find the right expert for your project.

Is it worth it to build a website from scratch?
Yes, a tailor-made website built specifically for your business shows customers you are serious about the quality of your work. Customers considering a purchase over $500 start their purchase journey online 61% of the time. A professionally made website can be the difference between someone choosing to spend with you or take their business to a competitor. A website that looks too basic may put off customers who get the impression your business isn’t trustworthy.

However, you may not have the skills to build your own website from scratch, nor have the time to teach yourself everything you need to know about PHP and Javascript. So the answer is hiring a trustworthy web design agency to create a top-notch website for you. If you let us know what kind of website you need we can match you with the right experts for the job.

Sabrina Dougall

Sabrina writes about tech for business as well as consumer software. She covers topics ranging from digital marketing to ecommerce fulfilment, security systems, franking machines, and more. Having run her own successful small business, Sabrina knows first-hand how much there is to keep on top of. Writing with your company’s needs in mind, she distils truly useful product information (without the sales pitch).