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Ask HN: As a busy founder, how to address a website best?
44 points by neltnerb on Sept 28, 2014 | hide | past | web | favorite | 46 comments
I'm a single founder of a high-tech (but not web-based) company. However, I don't really have the thousands of dollars it would take to get a website designer to put together a site for me.

I absolutely respect that it's worth the money, the money just doesn't exist. So, I need to find a stopgap so that my company has something out on the web which makes us look professional enough that when I reach out to customers we don't look like total amateurs.

Can anyone help me navigate this mild morass? Should I just use Bootstrap and get something minimal up? Or is there some other solution that takes a little more time but would look a lot better?

What I'm trying to find is whatever will get me to a site that, not including creating the content, will take me less than 10 hours to get to a clean and modern state for someone who has used Linux exclusively for over a decade, and knows basic programming, but is busy enough to want to really just follow a tutorial (that actually works).

I don't care about things like the new trend of scrolling graphics windows or whatever that sin of nature is, or probably most other modern features. I'm looking to make a site closer to DuPont in style than a web startup. The one thing that would be a really "nice to have" is a news feed that I can update via the web to keep the content updated more often.

Find a suitable free template here: http://startbootstrap.com/template-categories/all/

Find some suitable stock photo here: http://www.imcreator.com/free

Upload it here: https://pages.github.com

Professional looking website in a couple of hours.

Oh, thank god. These look great. This one looks amazing:


is this kind of drag and drop page layout common nowadays? I feel like I'm going to have to buy you all a beer.

I've got my own webserver, so my inclination is to try to install it there because it's there... it sounds like it might be much more sane to host it elsewhere though? Is there a benefit to something like "webfaction" as suggested elsewhere versus the github hosting? I'd never heard of github hosting websites before, but I definitely trust the brand and definitely like the idea of versioned website updates.

Just keep in mind that while themes from ThemeForest (and similar marketplaces) look great, they are usually a disaster from a code perspective. These should be seen as a temporary measure, and one that will be largely discarded when you have the funds to dedicate to a better site.

Source: I've made quite a bit of money fixing ThemeForest themes when the business outgrows them.

Thanks for the heads up!

If you already have a web server, it might be a better idea to host your website there. Github Pages is only for static websites, so you can't use it to host websites using WordPress et al. (Since you linked to a WP theme.)

Have you seen Squarespace[0]? It is one of the quickest ways to launch a website. It even lets you register a domain, so it is all-inclusive.

[0] - http://www.squarespace.com/

+1 for Squarespace - clean & easy to get up and running. Tutorials and 24/7 support.

I just wanted to offer an extremely grateful thank you for this suggestion. In the intervening 8 hours, I managed to set up a site, customize it to look decent, and even add all my content. Definitely a huge help, and I'd vote you up times infinity if I could.

Here's the result: http://navolta.com

I haven't, but it looks great! With all these great suggestions, now I'm overwhelmed with all the apparently wonderful choices =)

Thank you so much!

I'd say your best bet is to check out some of the high quality themes at http://themeforest.net -- if you don't want to deal with html / css the wordpress themes are really easy to setup and look amazing.

Thanks so much for the advice! My primary concern with Wordpress is that it has been around long enough that it could actually be harder to set up because of out of date tutorials, and that I've been told it's got a lot of security issues. I also have a vague horrible memory of trying to install it in 2006 or 2007 and it being a disaster to customize... but I don't want to hold that against it in 2014. On the other hand, I've been told that because it's a blogging platform (is it really?) it's easier to update content through the web interface, and that makes it get higher rankings on Google (for now).

I don't know enough to evaluate any of these claims or worries; do you think that they're still true? I certainly absolutely positively have no problem paying for a high quality theme, I'm much more worried about creating a mess on my server that will take dozens of hours of attention to clean up.

These days, Wordpress is quite secure for most uses - especially a simple corporate site. Here's how I'd go about it-

1. Buy theme from themeforest or similar. 2. Buy a shared hosting account from webfaction or similar (less than $10/month) 3. Use their one-click Wordpress installer to install Wordpress 4. Install theme in Wordpress install.

This keeps it off your server in case of issue, doesn't really cost much at all, and offers some great hosting support if you run into issues (http://docs.webfaction.com/software/wordpress/index.html) that's current.

Exactly this

Don't sweat it. And webfaction (or other shared host) allows you to run something else if you need it, like a simple PHP (or something else) app

Wordpress is actually not that hard to setup these days, but maybe a better approach is to start with hosted WP (e.g. wpengine) just to get the site up and running asap, and then later transition out into your own WP install when you have the time/resources.

There are a ton of websites built on WP (https://wordpress.org/showcase/), so it's not just a blogging-only platform.

For what you're trying to do, I'd definitely bet on a hosted CMS + a nice theme. You'll get a pretty website that's easy to manage, and it will cost very little in terms of time and money.

If you are worried about installing, why not use https://wordpress.com/? Hell, even techcrunch are using it!

+1 for wordpress & themeforest. This really is the high-way to get a good-looking site with a simple CMS. No designer or programmer needed.

A lot of founders who have businesses that aren't reliant on the internet dump money on a really nice website thinking it'll be a great marketing tool. Then they end up disappointed when their website isn't generating any leads.

The web is so competitive nowadays, simply having a site (even if it looks great) won't do you any good.

10-20% of a budget should be spent on web design and 80-90% on actually marketing the website. So if you have a 5K budget you should spend around $500-$1000 on the website and the rest on marketing the website.

If you can't get something built for under 20% then maybe just put up a facebook or google places page in the interim. A website can be a huge distraction from time better spent going out and getting customers.

Also, if you're a designer doing basic business websites, keep in mind on-page SEO practices. It really bothers me when designers completely disregard search engines and do their clients a huge disservice. Designers who can talk about basic SEO principles have a huge leg up. At the end of the day, a business owner is only really interested in more business.

I'm not suggesting this is the OP, but a common mistake I see amongst founders

It's a common mistake for medium and large companies too. Most budgets are poured into design and development, which encourages adding requirements, more design, etc., not leaving anything for ongoing content development and marketing. The result is a site with more pages than it needs and pages that are all boilerplate, puff, and sparsely related to pushing the purpose. The effort is distracting and mostly futile, especially lacking marketing time and effort.

If I can make a recommendation, the only pages that should be added to the web are those that make the it better. Are you a web services company? Expose your service as part of your site (Github does this by providing a Google-searchable central hub of OSS projects). Are you a non-profit? Obsess over getting people involved instead of spreading your message: adding people builds up your voice, spreading your message spreads you thinner (and adding people spreads your message with less effort). SEO is best played as adding, building, and providing useful things (or collaborations). And the best improvements in search rankings is had by providing useful things for people to reference (the Github example again). If you're not providing something to link to, preferably a never ending stream of awesomeness, SEO and other marketing become difficult.

I've been part of many very wasteful website projects, with dozens of about pages, blog listings, categories, and other nonsense that on their own do not make something worth investing in. Put up as little as you can, make it useful, and focus on marketing what you do to people with the rest of your $.

Excellent advice! Thanks for the comment!

In my case, I have a pretty good sense of who my customers are, and I'll be reaching out to them in person on the phone or through my networks. So mostly I just want to make it so that when I call them up and tell them who I am, and they immediately check out my website, it doesn't send up red flags.

Don't waste time trying to build/theme a website yourself. You should be focusing on building your business.

$10/month http://www.simplybuilt.com

Like others have said just go with a themeforest theme, if you or someone else in your company knows html/css they can take an html theme and have your website up and running in an afternoon.

I'm not a fan of wordpress unless you're going to be blogging posting articles on a regular basis.

WP is fast and easy to setup from scratch on hostgator or any web host . . . it will probably take longer to get the site setup vs. an html version . . . but it will be easier to edit/post articles.

hostgator is good shared hosting . . . to get setup fast and inexpensively . . .

Good luck with your new website.

If you're looking for something a little bit more custom than a pre-built theme, my start-up has been experimenting with offering a custom designed theme for $200. We'll set up a phone call to go over your needs and design preference and then put something together for you and give you free hosting on our platform. The catch is that you allow us to open source the template so that your customers can use/tweak it in the future and that you use your hosting platform and give us good and honest feedback. We've done this once before and it turned out well. This was the end result: http://www.365startupgirl.com

Our designer is really talented and a pleasure to work with.

If you're interested feel free to hit me up. My email is in my profile.

EDIT: We also have a couple free bootstrap themes on our blog http://900dpi.com/blog

I am building a product called Triangulate (http://triangulate.io) that would work for you. It is an open-source site builder (or CMS) built in AngularJS. I provide a hosted service, plus, the app is completely open source so it can grow with your business.

If you didn't know, the "Get Started" button is broken on (some?) mobiles :)

http://i.imgur.com/4GUVVcT.png (HTC One M7, Chrome)

Thanks! Should be fixed now.

I would recommend checking out www.weebly.com. It is a drag and drop website builder which I think would meet all of your requirements. You could easily have your website up and running in 1-2 hours with a nice design, and the costs are very reasonable (~$4/mo with hosting included). Best of luck!

Not used it myself but I've seen a few nice sites around that are built with https://www.strikingly.com/.

Downside is you're not hosting it yourself.

Upside is you're not hosting it yourself.

Creating a website for a business that isn't a website isn't work. It's attractive because it looks like work and is so much easier than the real thing.

In most of the world's businesses customers don't give a shit about your website. They care about your product. And if the business isn't generating enough revenue to build a website, that's a sign that either the product isn't viable or more productive channels for finding the first few customers aren't being adequately exploited.

If sales are occurring but they don't support hiring out a website, then the pricing model is wrong.

Good luck.

https://wrapbootstrap.com/ is a quick way to make whatever you made in bootstrap look nice

If you are that busy, please don't create a Wordpress site with plugins and themes. They are hacked very often - the extensions, php and wordpress itself are vulnerable and have to be updated often to stay safe.

Make a simple static website, maybe even a site-builder like wix. Backup your content (the text and pictures) and don't rely too much on trendy graphics - they'll go out of fashion in 2 years anyway.

I used to have a static website, before I wised up and moved to Wordpress like everyone else.

I found that, once I restricted myself to the features of static pages, the security risks of Wordpress were a lot less scary:

- You can't hack form submissions if the site doesn't have any forms on it.

- If you're going to require SSH to publish new pages, you can require SSH tunnels to log in to Wordpress or access any admin pages. (I should write up my nginx config for this.)

- If you were prepared to make every site update require a Git push, you can surely afford to disable WP's very scary self-update-in-place feature and perform WP updates from a development server instead.

- A WP site that could be usefully replaced by a static site is vulnerable... how, exactly? Static sites don't accept credit card numbers. Customers can't even log in, so they won't type in their darkest secrets even if they wanted to. Employees can be told to follow rules like "don't use your Gmail password for the corporate WP site" and "don't type anything into the public publishing engine that would cause an emergency if it were published to the public."

The biggest risk is denial-of-service and defacement. Restore from your tamper-proof offline backups, which you need to have anyway. There are probably fifteen different services you could use to be alerted when the website changes unexpectedly or starts serving up malware.

Of course, static websites are faster. Until you turn on Cloudflare's free plan, which makes everything faster still.

Not using Wordpress: yes.

Avoiding Themeforest themes because of security concerns: no.

Would you consider someone to help build your website? If we're talking about a 10 hour project, maybe you're being quoted wrongly or there is some unclarity. Would you like to talk about the details? I make sites with Themeforest themes for small companies. Maybe there are a few options to explore. http://webodew.com. I'm Mike

Try http://webflow.com - it hits the sweet spot of "sensible defaults" while still giving you enough control.

I recently built a launch page with it (http://gitsub.io).

I'm used to doing sites "from scratch" but I have to admit the immediate feedback the webflow editor gives you is a huge win.

Since everyone is recommending random stuff, I've been impressed by these guys: http://yootheme.com/. They even have a great open source CMS (albeit written in PHP): http://www.pagekit.com/.

Anyone have experience with the providers Wordpress lists as their recommended hosting services?


Wordpress.com itself looks maybe a bit restrictive in theming, although that can be a good thing too of course.

I 1000% endorse Cloudways. It allows you to spin up a managed high performance Wordpress Stack in minutes on DigitalOcean or AWS.

For most small businesses, I'd say a 1GB or 2GB server should be fine, so $15 or $30 per month.

I only host my clients on Cloudways, just because it takes so much hassle out of the situation, and is much cheaper than using something like a Flywheel or a WPEngine.

Edit: Cloudways sets up Varnish, Nginx, Apache, Memcache. I then manually set up a CDN (MaxCDN being my preference), and use CloudFlare for DNS. I usually use NYC DigitalOcean. Love the speed. Oh, and Cloudways has patched (for ShellShock) all of my clients servers for me :)

Your ISP might have something simple where you could just fill in some blanks.

A lot of companies, including some VC firms, have just gone to Facebook and used it.

Could try any of the blog hosting means.

Probably don't want to run your own computer and, thus, if it is running Linux or not will be irrelevant at your level.

Just use http://wiz.com or http://squarespace.com and call it a day

29doors.com - they will setup a semi-custom WordPress site for under $500 that you'll own. Mention this comment and you'll get a discount.

If you don't have the $1k to pay a designer, do you have money to host the site?

The designers I've talked to (and trust) generally see $1k as an amount they'd want to set up a very basic customized website. Much beyond that seems to come in more like a $5k-$10k range.

I'm sure I could outsource to the internet and get a better "deal", but that makes me very uncomfortable. I know that's not always rational, but basically I trust myself to put in whatever time it takes to make it meet my needs, so long as the tools are available.

I'll answer for him: yes.

Checkout Handyland.in should be able to help out.

Let me know, I can be of help. username at gmail.

DNS is the best way to address a website. It translates human-friendly computer hostnames into IP addresses.

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