(And build a client relationship in the process!)
A client may well commission you to build a website for them while believing the old saying “if we build it, they will come”. We know that is not true. Here’s some advice to help you, and your client think ahead …
Set Your Website Goals
For a website to achieve its goals, it cannot be a “set and forget” operation. To maximize a client’s return on investment (ROI), we need to be clear on these two important questions:
- What are the goals of the website?
- How will that website be nurtured to achieve its potential over time?
This is your first step when building any website.
Also determine if the client has a domain name and a web host. If not, we have some recommendations we can share with you.
How will you design the website to deliver a return on investment (ROI)?
Stages to delivering ROI include:
- Build your website
- Market your website
- Analyze who comes to your website
- Convert them into potential customers
- Sell them your product or service
- Repeat above steps
You’ll probably need to help your client to understand these stages – we’ll review how they impact website set-up in just a bit.
Deliver Value and a Basis For Growth
Design the website with enough value to get the client started on stages (2) through (5) above. Look at upsell opportunities to help your client more in-depth for these stages should she need it. Aim to offer services that meet these needs in order to maximize value for your client. Should you need some help (since we can’t know everything), reach out to other Virtual Assistants and Freelancers. You’ll find a bunch of happy-to-helpers in our VA Lifestyle Mastermind group on Facebook.
Install Your Development Site
Okay, now let’s dive in start setting up …
If your client already has a site, and you’re performing an upgrade or redesign, please make sure you take a full backup before you do anything else. There are a variety of plugins that help with this; we recommend Updraft Plus.
Does the host provide a staging site? You can simply google the host company and add the words “staging site” after the host name to find if they offer this feature. You don’t want to build the site at the same address that the live site is found. Keep development and live separate. Trust us, that one little tidbit saves lives! Some hosts will provide a bespoke service for this.
If they do provide a staging site, this is where you will install WordPress.
If a staging site is not provided:
Log onto the host cPanel and in File Manager, navigate to the home directory, and select the public_html folder. Inside this folder create a sub folder called “private” (you can call it anything really, but for your own sanity be consistent across clients).
Note that not all cPanels are alike, so your view may vary slightly from this screenshot.
Go back to cPanel and create a sub-domain of your client’s domain. Call it private.clientdomain.com (or your preferred name as above).
Finally use cPanel to install WordPress in this sub-domain. Be very careful here. Make sure you select the sub-domain and not the main domain, or you will be installing a new (and empty) copy of WordPress on top of your client’s site. You will get warnings, but don’t let the cat distract you at the vital moment!
When your development site is complete, you will need to move it to the live environment (the place your client’s domain points to). If the host provides a staging site, they will also provide a process for doing this. If not, the easiest way to do this is by using a plugin. Duplicator is the most popular plugin for this.
Changing the Default WordPress Installation
WordPress consists of the program itself, themes and plugins. Before we jump straight into those (‘cuz that’s where all the fun stuff is) let’s just tweak our vanilla WordPress setup. WordPress is a set of building blocks so we need to get a solid base to build upon.
Set the site title and tagline; Set the timezone (of your client).
Choose the path name for posts. You can see there are various options. From an SEO perspective you want one with the post name in. I also like to have the category. If you use category names that are helpful to visitors, it will also help SEO.
Rename “Uncategorized” to something that sounds more professional, such as “General”. This is also a good opportunity to set up other categories relevant to the client. Visitors and search engines both like well-organized posts.
Add your theme of choice. Delete the default themes.
Make a child theme. Set your child theme as the active theme.
A child theme is a copy of your chosen theme that you can customize. This way when your chosen theme is updated you won’t lose any of your customizations. You might for example want to add bits of css to achieve effects not available in the default theme options.
You can brand your child theme to reflect your own brand, so technical reasons aside, it’s also a great marketing opportunity for you. Your client will see your brand in their dashboard. You can also customize the login screen to replace the WordPress logo with your own.
The easiest way to make a child theme is to use a plugin built for just that purpose (see the Plugins section below if you are unsure how to use Plugins). If you are using premium themes such as Genesis or Divi, you will find there are already many pre-built child themes available.
Set your typography. There are many more things you can set within the customizer – and you can get an approximate preview of the effect on laptops, tablets and mobiles – but setting typography right from the start helps the client get a picture of what their site will look like. Note that all of these settings can be easily changed at a later date.
Always check that your site works well on mobile. Use Google’s mobile friendly tester for this.
If the install script created a user called “admin”, create a second account with admin privileges. Give this account a name that isn’t obvious – so if you are designing for “Mary’s Cookery” then don’t have an account named “Mary”. Let’s make it a bit of a challenge for those nasty hacker bots!
Now logout of “admin” and log back in with the new account. Delete the “admin” account.
You should set up your client with editor privileges. Once the site is ready for final hand-off you may also add a second client account with Admin privileges, along with clear instructions on why this should not be the normal login account. (The safety-first approach – always use programs with as little privilege as convenient so if the account is compromised, less damage is done.)
Adding Functionality with Plugins
Okay, so far we have:
- Configured WordPress
- Made a child theme and installed it
- Set some basic options around the look and feel of the site.
Now we need to consider functionality. This is where we will select, install and configure plugins for our site (plugins are third-party programs that increase the default functions of WordPress).
There are three ways to add a plugin…
- Chose from the featured plugins presented to you. You can see how many times these have been installed, people’s ratings and get more information if you need. Click “Install Now” to proceed. Besides Featured plugins, you can choose Popular and Recommended.
- Use the search bar. This is very useful if you are looking for options in a specific field, such as social media.
- Upload a plugin you have downloaded from elsewhere. Many companies make plugins available for download, usually as a .zip file. Download to your computer and use the Upload button to select that .zip file. WordPress will take care of the unpacking and installing.
Plugins fall into two camps – the ones you should install on every site and the ones that are specific to the purpose of your client’s site. Let’s look at the generic ones first.
There are many options in each category. Let’s look at some of the more popular ones.
You want to reduce the chances of being hacked and of spam clogging up your client’s site. It’s also a great idea to offer a backup service.
- Akismet: Stops spam comments
- WordFence: Provides protection against hackers
- UpDraft Plus: Backup the site off-site (i.e. not the server the live site is on)
You want your site to load quickly. This is good for visitors and good for search engine rankings.
- Jetpack: Over 30 modules. Only activate the ones you need.
- Activate Photon: To load images faster
- Smush: Reduces image sizes
Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
- Yoast SEO: Remember when we introduced the six stages to return on investment (ROI) and “market your website” was the second stage? An essential part of that is SEO or, in other words, maximizing the chances of your client’s site appearing high up in search results. This is another subject unto itself, but for now you can start by adding the Yoast SEO plugin.
- Contact Form 7
- Genesis Enews Extended: For Genesis users only, it’s a widget that ties the website into their email service provider
Purpose: This plugin addresses the fourth stage of the ROI process – your client’s website needs to capture email addresses and pass them to her email service provider.
That completes the list of plugin types that you’ll want to install on every site. Next come the ones specific to your client’s needs:
Return on Investment (ROI)
You may want to have e-commerce functionality for example, social media integration, advanced mapping and so on. There are over 40,000 plugins available, at a wide range of prices. Many of them are free. It’s tempting to be like a kid with an unguarded cookie jar, but just as too many cookies will make you sick, so will too many plugins make your website sick. Each one has a performance overhead, so you need to balance functionality versus performance. To help you choose, let’s return to stages for ROI.
Stage 1: Build your website
Stage 2: Market your website
We added some SEO functionality – the other main thing we need is social media functionality. At a minimum we need some follow buttons (and there are many plugins that do this, including Jetpack which you already have) but you may want to have deeper integration, such as two way commenting for Facebook. This involves work on both the website side and the Facebook side, so you may consider it a useful upsell opportunity.
Stage 3: Analyze who comes to your website
By default, WordPress will supply some basic metrics such as the number of visits to your site. While clients might like this, it’s not much more than “vanity metrics”. To get real value for stage 3 of our ROI and analyze who visits, we need something more sophisticated.
We need to help clients set specific goals, measure performance against those, and analyze how to tweak the website design, based on visitor behavior, to reach those goals.
That is beyond the scope of setting up a WordPress website, but just as with SEO, we can put the basics in place. In this case that means installing a tracking code for Google Analytics, and optionally for Bing and Yandex as well.
Google provides help for Analytics, both installing the code and checking that it is working correctly. Depending on your theme you may find that there are already places configured for you so you can just drop in your analytics code and that’s it, all done. This is true of Genesis and Divi to name but two.
Stage 4: Convert them into potential customers
By installing a contact form such as Contact Form 7 you have put the basics in place to capture emails and send customer contact requests to your client. However, you can add tremendous value by also hooking this up to your client’s email service provider, such as MailChimp, ConvertKit, ActiveCampaign and so on.
You can also discuss additional methods of capturing emails such as pop-ups, content upgrades and various opt-in incentives.
Stage 5: Sell them your product or service
Think about whether the product is digital or physical; how payment will be handled; and, whether affiliates will be involved. Again, this may be beyond the scope of the basic website, but having an appreciation of the client’s intentions – and indeed providing consultancy on these possibilities – right from the outset, will help both you and the client consider how the website might develop if she is not ready to implement everything from the word go.
Finally, a review of the takeaways …
- Client and service provider need to be clear on the end goal for the website before any building commences.
- Build in a robust manner. Prepare for technical meltdown by keeping developed sites and sites under development in separate environments.
- Customize the default WordPress installation using your standard settings of choice.
- Create a Child Theme and use that for theme customizations.
- Ensure the site works well on mobile.
- Install plugins that provide security, performance, SEO and email functions.
- Install additional plugins based on your client needs.
- Create value by providing the essentials for SEO, analytics, social media and email. Do this in a way that creates an upgrade path for the client.
Just remember to start with the end in mind … and see if there might be some additional work your client might want you to do to optimize her website! Have fun!