Building Your Own Professional Website
In Part I of my MENG Blend series — “Digitizing Your Personal Brand” — I made the argument that having a specific and unique positioning statement could help you stand out from the competition. In today’s Part II, I will focus on using the power of the Internet to take your career searches/lead generation programs to the next level.
Now with advances in CMS (content management systems), it’s easier and cost effective than ever to build and manage your own website. Moreover, most career experts now agree that developing your own personal website is the best tool going forward to build up your brand name awareness. I will show you an easy step by step process for the average “non-techie” to build their own professional website.
The good news is you can easily customize your site consistent with the content you’re willing to share and/or have to share. The major types of websites include:
- Simple career/client experience summaries/case studies – including videos.
- Marketing portfolios (i.e. TV commercials, print ads, brochures, websites etc.).
- Blogging –sharing your content with others.
- Online news magazines – i.e. Huffington Post.
- Hybrids of 1-5.
Once you’ve identified the type of site you want, it’s time to get started:
Step #1 – Developing your site layout/content/budget
First, you need to identify what you want out of your website — what do you want to accomplish? Second, you need to decide how much you want to spend. There will be some costs associated with web host providers, domain names, etc. Finally, you need to develop an outline of your site and begin gathering your content – especially if you need to digitally convert images from hard copies/film/videos. A simple outline will do at this point.
Step #2 — Decide on the web content management system (CMS) you’d like to use
A content management system is online software which allows “non-techies” to easily set up a website without learning difficult code language like HTML, Java, or Visual Basic. A CMS usually contains elements like:
- Online document management and other media.
- Automated coding templates – called “themes”.
- Extensions to help with site functionality – i.e. plug-ins, widgets, modules, components.
- Edit control.
- Collaboration/posting capabilities.
The most notable CMS’s out there include WordPress, Joomla!, and Drupal. WordPress seems to be the most popular. You will also need to decide whether you wish to use an “off the shelf” theme vs. customized design. Customized sites are more complex and will cost you 2-3 times more than an off the shelf theme.
Step #3 — Developing and selecting a domain name
Domain names are simply the name you give to your URL/website. There are two basic types:
a. Organic: This means you’re relying on people to find your site “organically” via Google and other search engine providers. You can either choose your unique name like www.johnsmith.com or develop a unique and memorable brand name (i.e. www.marketingguy.com). This is also called a “parked domain.”
b. Paid: You’re paying for a name already developed and owned by someone else which means it should have a well established search profile. Caution: it can be pricey.
Domain name providers include www.godaddy.com, www.register.com, and www.networksolutions.com. Go Daddy seems to be the most popular. You can register a domain name for as little as $2.95/name for the first year.
Step #4 — Deciding where your content resides
You can either a) host your own site on your computer (not recommended due to hardware/software costs, 24 hour connectivity issues) or b) sign up with a web host provider. When selecting a provider, you need to consider USA based 24/7 toll free support, operating reliability, traffic/bandwidth issues —especially important if you’re using videos/large files and want e-mail capabilities. E-mail capabilities allow you to promote your site via use of your domain name in email addresses. The top 3 providers include www.hostgator.com, www.rochen.com, and www.rackspace.com. The most popular is www.hostgator.com. You can sign up for as little as $3.96/month for the first year.
Step #5 — How do you want to build your site
Now it’s time to build your site. You can either “Do It Yourself (DIY)” or “Do It for Me (DIFM)”. You can build your own site for as little as several hundred dollars to a couple of thousand — depending on your content/design. However, if you don’t have basic computer skills and are somewhat proficient in Powerpoint, Photoshop, etc., you might be challenged. In this case, DIFM (hiring a web designer) is a good idea. You should get exactly what you want from a design perspective but downsides include a limited technical knowledge of how your site actually works. This may hinder you with any down the road changes or maintenance. Moreover, it can cost you two to three times more than doing the site yourself. Best approach might be to use a web designer to help build the site, and then let him or her teach you on how to maintain and make changes going forward. This is what I did for my site.
Step #6 — Importance of search engine optimization (SEO)
The goal for any website is to be found — that is showing up on page one of any search engine result like Google. This is often time overlooked but a very necessary step. First, you will need to develop a sitemap XML file and register it with Google, Yahoo, and MSN/Bing. Most CMS’s provide a plug in extension to help you here. This needs to be done BOTH with and without the “www” in front of your domain name. Second, pick an SEO extension plug in for your site. Popular ones include Yoast or All in One SEO pack —both can be free. Third, you need to edit the SEO copy for each of your pages and posts. Things like a) permalinks (permanent URL’s for your pages and posts), b) key phrases and words, c) tags which are specific descriptions for items, things, or persons on your pages, and d) meta descriptions which are the permalink page descriptions. Finally, you need to actively promote your site to generate “inbound links” — that is getting your site mentioned on other sites more popular than yours. You can do this via blogging on other people’s sites, Facebook and Google+ pages etc. The more you do this, the higher your site will be ranked from a search engine perspective.
Step #7 — Protect/Maintain the site
Finally, don’t forget to protect your investment in time and money — backing up your site and protecting it from technical issues. Back-up software is usually included in web host provider packages. It’s critical to protect your site from hacking, technical glitches, or CMS’s version upgrades. It’s an insurance policy against having to recreate your site from scratch. How often you back up your site depends on how often your change or update your content. In addition, subscribe to a SPAM protection service like www.akismet.com — especially if you use your site for blogging. It’s cheap —only $5 per month — and well worth it.
In sum, having a differentiated personal brand combined with a personal website can really help build up your brand name awareness. Fortunately, none of this is technically hard or extraordinarily expensive. You just have to be committed and have patience to go through this personal discovery process and be open to new ways of communicating. It will go a long way to put you ahead of others who just rely on traditional search techniques. It will also position you more effectively in today’s competitive and commoditized career marketplace.