How to Make a Website From Scratch: A Step-by-Step Guide
I’m going to give it to you straight — this one’s a doozy. Learning how to make a website from scratch takes some effort, but it’s totally worth it!
We’re diving into how to make a website for your travel agency from start (brainstorming) to finish (spreading the word). No small feat so let’s hop to it (puns always intended 😉).
⭐️ HAR highlights! ⭐️
- Brainstorming: Goal Setting; Website components; Research competition
- Domain, Website, and Hosting: Purchase Domain; Select Website Platform; Choose a Website Host; Connect Domain to Your Website
- Site Structure: Navigation; Footer; Must-Have Pages
- Publish: Submit to search engines
When you’re starting your agency, you probably have no idea how to make a website from scratch. It may be tempting to whip up a website quickly so you can establish your web presence. But the best websites are thoughtful, consider their reader, and have continuity.
In order to avoid a haphazard site, the first thing we're going to do is take some time to think about what you want it to achieve. GOAL-SETTING! Setting goals gives you structure and direction, making every step easier.
Your end goal/s will help you determine:
- What web builder will be best for you
- Apps/integrations you want on your site
- A clear direction for your site content
The best websites are thoughtful, consider their reader, and have continuity.
If you’ve never created a website from scratch before, this may seem overwhelming. Where do you begin?!
Don’t worry. We’re here to help. Here are a few questions you may want to address with your goal-setting:
- Who is your visitor?
- What do you want visitors to be able to do on your site?
- What do you want your visitors to learn from your site?
- What features do you want to include?
- How many visitors do you want weekly or monthly?
1.2 Website Components
Since this may be your first time creating a website from scratch, we put together some ideas that you may (or may not) want for your site:
- About you
- Products/tours (samples or real packages if you do FITs)
- Advisor services offered (what do you do for/offer your clients?)
- Appointment scheduling
- Photo albums of past trips (from you or your clients)
- Blog (recapping trips and/or providing helpful travel insight)
- Events (if you or your host or attend events)
- Travel Resources
This is most certainly NOT an all-encompassing list of things to think about as you create your website from scratch — it’s just to get you thinking of the possibilities. We’d love to hear what other ways you use your website (or want to use it) in the comments below!
When in doubt, start small. A basic website that is up to date is far more effective than one with all the bells and whistles but outdated with unused features. (I’m looking at you, a blog with one post and a photo album with two pictures.)
1.3 Competitive Research
A fantastic way to get ideas for creating a website is to check out how other companies are doing it! Look at other travel agencies, look at local companies, look at similar industries like real estate or insurance. Make note of what you like and what you want to avoid. What features, design elements, layouts, resources, etc. do you want for your own site?
I recommend checking out at least 5-10 other travel agent sites. Heck, if you have some design ideas from other sites, jot em’ down! (To be clear, I’m not talking about plagiarizing content. I’m talking about collecting ideas that you can make your own.)
2) Domains, Website Platforms, and Hosting
We've done our brainstorming and have our vision. Now it’s time to act on all your goal-setting and research! For this step, you will pick a domain, host, and/or web builder. We break it down into 4 steps. First, here's a teaser video on when to buy your domain (from Steph!)
2.1 Buy Your Domain
The first thing you need to do when making a website from scratch is to buy a domain. A domain is the website address visitors enter to get to your website. Ours is HostAgencyReviews.com. You will need to purchase your domain to get set up.
Your domain should not be confused with your website. Your domain is the address where people can find you, but until you build a website, there isn’t anything at your address.
Cost: About $10-$15/year. (Just an FYI, you technically don’t own the domain, you’re renting it so don’t let it lapse or someone could take your domain! You may also want to consider buying the .org and/or the plural of your domain.)
We recommend these places to purchase domains:
2.2 Select a Website Platform
Next up on our checklist for how to make a website from scratch? Now that we've got the domain, we need to start building your website and there are a few different ways to build websites from scratch. That means we need to decide on which website platform to use. At HAR we recommend Wix for ease of use and because agents who use it love it.
Beyond Wix, there are a lot of website platform options out there. The most common are website builders (such as Weebly, or Squarespace) and content management systems (CMS) like WordPress. Being in the travel industry, you’ll also find third-party travel agency website solutions like Voyageur, Travefy, Passport Online, or Online Agency.
There's a lot to discuss when it comes to website platforms and we don't want want to bog down this article with the details. But don't you worry, we do a thorough rundown of the pros and cons, features, examples, and how to choose the best platform for you in our Travel Agent Websites article. So jump on over there for in-depth information on the best website platform for you.
Website builders and third-party travel agency websites host your website for you. If you’re planning on one of those options, you can jump to section 2.4!
2.3 Choose Your Website’s Hosting Provider
If you choose to use a CMS like WordPress, you will need to find a hosting company to store your CMS and all the files that go along with it.
Cost: Depends on how much space you need. For a typical website, you can expect to pay < $10/month. Like domain pricing, it often increases to $15-20/ month after the first year.
We Recommend These Hosting Providers:
*WP Engine is the premium, white-glove host for WordPress, meaning top website speeds, amazing support (and it has premium pricing as a result).
2.4 Connect Your Domain to Your Website
When people type in your website address, you want it to lead them to your site. This may seem like a no-brainer, but in order for it to happen, you need to connect your domain to your website.
This will be different for each website platform. Check your website builder or CMS support documentation for directions on how to do this.
Note: This doesn’t mean your website is live. Your website can still be unpublished or in ‘draft’ mode after you connect your domain
3) Site Structure
Now that we've taken care of the brainstorming and technical details like domains and hosting, we get to move into the nitty gritty details of how to make a website from scratch. That's right, we're going to dive into the meat of your new website!
For the purpose of this section, we’re assuming you went with a website builder or a content management system. These give you more flexibility and control compared to a third party travel agency sites.
In 2018, HAR redesigned our entire site. We discussed the navigation menu at length. We had a meeting solely to discuss what would be in it and how things would be ordered. And we’ve since changed it multiple times since launching HAR 2.0 🦖.
For example, we love our 7-Day Set Up Challenge. But at the end of the day, we couldn’t justify it having a spot on the main navigation. In fact, the only true page that made the HAR navigation menu was our Blog.
The point is, spend time on your navigation/menu bar. You don’t want to clutter it with every page on your site (no matter how awesome you think every page is). You do want to make sure visitors can navigate to your most popular pages via the menu bar.
Keep your menu bar items to 7 or less. If you have more main pages than that, think creatively! See how you can join them in a meaningful way.
Footers help visitors find pages on your site just like the header but in a more detailed, less in the spotlight, kind of way. For me, I often go straight to the footer if I’m visiting a new site and don’t see what I’m looking for in the navigation. I also go there if I’m looking for their contact information. I’d argue it’s often the most helpful place!
When you’re brainstorming in step 1 and looking at other websites, be sure to check out their footer for ideas you like. Here are some of the more common items you’ll find:
- Address / Phone / Email
- Company Bio
- Social Media accounts
- Email sign up
- List of all your pages (depending on how many you have)
- Contact submission form
- Awards and/or certification logos
- Sellers of Travel numbers (learn more about SOTs and if you need one)
More to add? Post what you have in your footer in the comments below!
3.3 Must-Have Pages
When you create a website from scratch, the sky's the limit when it comes to your site. What pages you have on your site will vary depending on your goals and the information you want to be displayed. However, there are a few pages that should be on every site no matter the other content:
This is likely the first page your visitors will see. Make sure it is eye-catching and compels them to explore your site to see what you have to offer.
2. About Us
As a small company, this is arguably the most important page of your site. If your site visitors were going to book with an OTA (online travel agency) they would have. But they chose to look you up. They want to know about you!
Your "About Us" should have a photo or two of you and tell your story, succinctly. What got you into travel? Why do you love (hopefully!) being a travel advisor? It’ll be tricky but try to refrain from being too wordy. Hook them with the highlights.
If you have employees, be sure to introduce them too!
3. Contact Us
They’ve visited your site, and they like what they see. Now make sure they can contact you! Have a "Contact Us" page that has your phone number, email address, and physical address (if you have one).
You should also include a "Contact Us" form so they can easily submit a vacation request if they prefer not to email or call. Many web builders have a built-in form feature but lucky for you, we also have free form templates that you can use!
Just like we all obsessively read Amazon reviews before buying an item (or maybe it’s just me), potential clients want to hear from your past clients. What did you do for them? How did you make their dream vacation come true? Did you listen to them?
It’s always a good habit to follow up with your clients regardless of if you get a testimony, but if you receive a glowing review, make sure you do something with it! Ask for a photo and permission to publish. If it is a particularly long review, paraphrase a small section to make it more digestible.
My goodness, when you landed on this article, you were wondering how you make a website from scratch, and now look at you. You're well on your way to launch and you feel like your website is ready to go live! But don’t hit that publish button (at 3 am) just yet! You want to test your site before you go live.
Also, you’ve likely been staring at your website for far too long. Give yourself a chance to look at it with fresh eyes. Better yet, have a few family members and/or friends scour your site with honest feedback and a keen eye. (Find your type-A friends who always use proper punctuation and full sentences in texts — those are the ones you want for this task!)
Here are some things to look for:
- Grammatical errors
- Formatting errors or discrepancies
- Continuity throughout the site (design and branding)
- Mobile and tablet friendly
- Ease of navigation
- Test each and every link and navigation
- Test any and all forms
- Tell them your goals you made in step 1 — does the website hit those goals?
5) Publish . . . You Made it!
Whether it was a day or 3 months, you made it through this bear of a website article on how to make a website from scratch. And hopefully have a beautiful looking website to show for it!
Flip the switch and make your website live!
With that, I have one last (optional) task for you:
5.1 Submit to search engines
Search engines like Google, Bing, and Yahoo! crawl sites in order to index them and list them in their results. While this will eventually happen naturally, you can expedite the process by submitting your website to the 3 big search engines.
Doing this will get your site listed in search engine results faster, and help them to more thoroughly understand what is on your site and how it is set up. Ahrefs’ Blog has a great how-to article.
And that’s it!
I’d love to hear your feedback and see your site so please leave a comment below!!
P.S. Your website should be a living, breathing thing (so to speak). Make sure you keep it up to date and relevant!