Have you always wanted to start a website, but didn’t know exactly how? Or, have you wondered if you should even make a website? You feel like having a site would be helpful, but you’re not exactly sure why you need a site.
Well, you’re on to something.
There are some really compelling reasons to setup and build your own site:
Step One: Choose Your Platform
A platform, also known as a Content Management System (CMS), is where you make changes to the website you’ve created. It’s how you add new pages, create blog posts, and change the layout and color scheme. The platform makes it easy to maintain and update your site on a regular basis.
Think of the platform as the bones of your website. Just like some houses are built from stone and some are built from wood, your website will be built upon your choice of platform.
You don’t need to get too caught up in the technical details of what this means. All you need to know is that your website needs to be built from something (your platform).
So which platform should you use?
For most sites, I’d suggest WordPress as your best choice of website platform.
As you can see below, the overwhelming answer for over half of the websites on the Internet with a CMS is the WordPress website platform.
There are many free website builder options available, but I’d still suggest using one of the mentioned platforms.
With a free website builder plan, you can set up a blog, but that’s usually about it. This blog will probably have ads on it which you can’t control, which isn’t ideal either. And as soon as you want to make any customizations to your site, you’ll need to upgrade to a paid plan anyway.
Now, I’m going to walk you through the simplest and most popular platform options. If you’re already chosen your platform, skip down to step two.
Platform #1: WordPress
I’d recommend you use the WordPress platform.
I primarily recommend WordPress for most websites due to it’s ease of use. If you’ve used Microsoft Word, you can use WordPress. (Note: This is WordPress org, not WordPress com, which offers free sites).
WordPress is totally free, making it an incredibly cost-effective platform.
It’s responsive, meaning it works really well on tablets and mobile devices, which is absolutely essential these days. If your site doesn’t work well on mobile, no one will want to visit it. I mean, seriously, have you visited one of those sites? They’re absolutely atrocious.
WordPress is the most robust, most popular platform, powering about 25% of all websites. If you’re primarily looking for a blogging platform, it’s hard to beat WordPress.
Because of it’s massive use, there is a huge support community, which means that if you’ve got questions, you won’t have any trouble finding answers.
Creating pages and blog posts in WordPress is really easy, and there is a massive library of around 40,000 open-source plugins which you can use to accomplish just about anything on your site.
Plus, WordPress also has thousands of free templates, allowing you to endlessly customize the look and feel of your website.
In terms of ease of use, resources available, and overall flexibility, it’s really difficult to beat WordPress. It’s almost a no-brainer, although some people would prefer other platforms.
One caveat: You do need to be careful with installing random plugins since many of them haven’t been sufficiently tested. Installing a buggy plugin can jack up your site.
If you’re choosing WordPress as your platform (and you probably should), skip ahead to step two now.
Platform #2: Joomla
Joomla is a bit more difficult to use than WordPress, but is still relatively simple. Like WordPress, you can create blog posts, edit pages, and customize website settings.
And like WordPress, Joomla also has a large database of free plugins, which you can use to customize your site. Keep in mind that these plugins are not always tested, so they too can pose some security risks for your site.
Platform #3: Drupal
Drupal is significantly more complex than WordPress or Joomla, and will have the steepest learning curve. However, it does offer the most customization options.
Rather than plugins, Drupal offers modules, and Drupal indicates which of these modules is being actively developed, which in turn helps you avoid the security risks.
Unless you really know your web development, I’d recommend sticking with WordPress for creating your website. It’s powerful enough to accomplish just about anything, without the difficulty of Drupal or Joomla. If you’re determined to develop a complex web tool or app, you might want to hire a veteran developer or development firm.
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Step Two: Pick A Hosting Provider
After choosing your platform, the first step making your website is to give your site a home (cue Happy Gilmore screaming, “Go to your home!”).
A website is nothing more than a collection of files, and these files need to be stored somewhere. Every blog post is a file. Every image is a file. Everything associated with your website is a file of sorts, and they all need to be organized properly and stored in a safe location so other people can access them.
You will be storing (or hosting) your files on a server, so that people can access them through the Internet. When someone types in “www.YourWebsiteAddress.com” into their browser, they will be taken to the server hosting your files.
I’ve mostly used Bluehost for web hosting and domain registration, both for myself and my web development clients (I even wrote an in-depth guide on how to sign up with Bluehost). They’re really affordable, have good customer service, and are perfect for both beginners and enterprises alike — but there are many companies that offer hosting plans for relatively low costs.
Other companies include:
- Media Temple
- A2 Hosting
- InMotion Hosting
- And many, many others.
When picking a hosting company, there are a few things to pay attention to:
Uptime and Reliability
This isn’t as big a deal as it used to be, but it’s still important to pay attention to. The hosting company should offer almost 100% uptime, meaning that your website will be accessible all the time.
After all, what’s the point of creating a website if no one can access it?
As your website grows in popularity, this will become more and more important. Heavier traffic places a greater strain on the servers. If your webhost company doesn’t have almost 100% uptime, your website could crash.
If you have problems with your website, and you inevitably will, you’re going to want an outstanding customer support team.
If not, you’ll end up banging your head against the wall as you wait for them to try to fix it. Or you’ll end up on hold for 18 straight hours, all the while being told by a robotic voice that, “Your call is important to us”.
When picking a hosting package, look for details about the customer support team. You want to know that the support team will always be available.
If the customer support team isn’t always available, you could be in significant trouble if your site crashes. And depending on the purpose of your site, a crash could mean lost revenue. You want support that is available and easy to work with.
Step Three: Pick Your Hosting Package
Generally speaking, unless you know that you’ll need more functionality, you can choose a relatively simple hosting package. For example, on Bluehost, you probably don’t need the pro version of “Site Backup”, the “Search Engine Jumpstart”, and the “Comodo Positive SSL Bundle”. The standard package will be fine.
If your needs grow, you can add those in later. For now, just select the basic package. If you want to save some money, you can choose to be billed on an annual basis rather than a monthly basis.
Avoid Shared Hosting
Shared hosting is when your website is on the same server as many other websites. This inevitably means that your site will load slowly, which will drive visitors away. And, if your site is really slow, you can actually be penalized by Google, which is NOT what you want.
You want your site to load faster than Donald Trump posting an ill-advised tweet. Generally speaking, the more you pay, the faster your speed.
A Note About Shared Hosting
Shared hosting is cheap, so if you’re just getting started or on a tight budget, you can use it. However, as you grow, you’ll want to move to dedicated hosting.
If you’re going to use the WordPress platform, you should pick a host that has dedicated WordPress hosting. This allows you to easily install WordPress (usually with 1-click) and to manage your files.
If the host doesn’t have dedicated WordPress hosting, you’ll have to manually install the platform, which can be difficult if you’re not particularly tech savvy.
Step Four: Choose Your Site’s Name
Now that you’ve picked the perfect hosting package, it’s time to select the domain name for your new website. The domain name is what people will type into their web browser to get to your site (e.g. www.teroes.com, www.hotcopas.net).
When selecting a name, there are a few things to consider:
- Ideally, the name should be relatively short.
www.RoundhouseKicksOnAHotTinRoofInSummer.com probably isn’t the best choice.
- The name shouldn’t be too similar to an existing, well established site.
Stay away from www.HoofingtonPost.com for your bareback horse riding website.
- The name should be (relatively) memorable.
Think of your favorite sites. They have names that stick in your brain. You don’t want people struggling every time they have to type in your web address.
- It should be (relatively) brandable.
Your website is going to be one of central places where all your branding takes place. Thus, you want your site to be something that you can build your brand on and around.
- Don’t choose something where typos can happen.
Don’t make your name overly complex, like www.198BrillX466C.com. It’s too tough to type, impossible to remember, and will lead to typos, which will send people away from your site.
The good news is, most hosting websites will suggest names for you if your name of choice isn’t available.
Remember, the name is important, but your website won’t succeed or fail simply based on a name alone. Pick the best available and then keep going.
These days, you can add funny extensions to your name, like “.pizza” and “.ninja”. In rare cases, these may be appropriate for your business, like if you sell pizza or train ninjas.
But most of the time, go with the standard “.com”, “.net”, or “.org”. It looks more professional.
Step Five: Install WordPress
Assuming you’ve chosen the WordPress platform, it’s time to install it. Thankfully, this is really easy with 1-click installation. And really, if they don’t have 1-click installation, you may want to choose a different host. After all, you want things to be as simple and painless as possible. No sense making extra work for yourself.
To Create a Website with WordPress (or Joomla and Drupal), using One Click Installation:
- Log in to your hosting account. So, if you signed up with BlueHost, go to their site and login. Easy, right?
- Go to your “Control Panel”.
- Look for the WordPress or “Website” icon.
- Choose the domain where you want to install your website. For example, if you purchased the domain “www.AwesomeCompany.com”, select that domain. If you purchased two domains, select the one you want to install your website.
That’s it. See how easy that is? No need to mess around with uploading files or anything like that.
If you’ve installed WordPress, skip down to the next step. If not, check out this video on WordPress’ 5 minute installation. After installing WordPress, move on to step six.
If you prefer building with HTML:
Check out Allwebco, they have options for setting up websites using downloadable, HTML pre-made websites. If you’re trying to develop a complex web app or enterprise ecommerce site, you’ll probably want to hire a developer or development firm (shameless plug).
Step Six: Install Your Theme
You’re almost there! You’ve almost built your website from scratch. Are your fingers trembling with excitement?
Now we just need to pick out a theme.
The theme determines the look and feel of your site. All the colors, layout, and design are from the theme. Yes, you can change those things, depending on the flexibility of the your theme, but the overall structure of your site comes from your theme.
The good news is that there are themes available for just about any type of business. Lawyer? Yep. Podcaster? Sure. Combat juggler? Probably! If you can’t find a free theme that you like, there are loads of relatively cheap, well-designed ones for purchase.
Let’s look at how to install a great theme within each of the platforms mentioned above.
Installing A WordPress Theme
When you install WordPress, a default theme is installed. Of course, you can stick with that one if you want, but that’s no fun. You want to install a theme that reflects who you are and what you do. If you’re an elegant person, your theme should be elegant. If you’re a punk rocker, choose a punk rock theme. You’ve got thousands of options on WordPress.
You’ve got several options when it comes to selecting a WordPress theme. First, you can install a theme directly within the WordPress platform.
Go to “Appearance > Themes” in the side menu, and then click “add new” at the top.
There a number of filters, such as number of columns, popularity, newest, etc. Take some time to look around and find a theme you like.
Click anywhere on the theme thumbnail to activate a preview of the theme. The preview will give you a sense of what the theme will look like once you install it.
If you dig the preview, click “Install” to install the theme.
Once you install the theme, go back to the main theme page for your site, click on the theme, and click “activate”. This will put the theme into effect on your site. Once your theme has been activated, type in your web address and see if you like it.
A second option is to purchase a theme from a third party site. There are some absolutely gorgeous themes that can be purchased for anywhere between $30-$60. Some places you can purchase great themes are:
- Template Monster
- Woo Themes
One distinct advantage of purchasing a theme is that you can get support directly from the creator of the theme. If you begin having issues with part of theme, you can get their help. This type of support isn’t always available from free themes.
To install a theme you’ve purchased, download the files and leave them in .zip format. Then go to the main themes page again and select “Upload”.
Once you’ve uploaded your theme, simply activate it like you did with your free theme.
Installing A Drupal Theme
Drupal also has a repository of themes, although these are located outside the platform. It’s a little more difficult to search through the themes, but there are still a fair number of options to choose from.
Unfortunately, Drupal doesn’t offer an easy preview function, like WordPress, so you’ll need to hunt for documentation and demos.
Here’s an example of the free themes page on the Drupal website.
Once you find a theme you like, scroll down to the download section and install the most recent version of the theme. Once you download the theme, upload it into your Drupal theme directory.
Click on “administer > themes” and click “enable” on the new theme. Then go to user preferences and select the new theme.
Like WordPress, you can also purchase premium themes for Drupal. Themeforest has a great selection.
Installing A Joomla Theme
With Joomla, you have to get your theme from a third party site. If you search for “Free Joomla Themes” you’ll find loads of solid options. If you want to shell out a bit of cash, Themeforest has a great selection.
Simply download the theme, then upload it to the Joomla platform.
Step Seven: Add Plugins To Your Site
Plugins add additional functionality to your website. Because so many people already use WordPress, there are thousands of free plugins available, all of which add additional features to your site. Those features can include:
- Social media sharing buttons
- The ability to get email subscribers
- Cool galleries to display photos
- Utilities to speed up the load time of your site
- And a whole lot more
To add a plugin to your site, click Plugins on the left toolbar and then “Add New” up top.
Then search for the type of plugin you want. For example, if you want to add a floating social media share bar…
Once you’ve found your plugin, click “Install Now”. Finally, click “Activate Plugin”.
Some plugins I’d recommend are:
- Jetpack (for simple dashboard stats)
- ShareThis (for sharing pages and posts)
- Yoast (for optimizing your site for search engines)
- Contact Form 7 (so visitors can email you)
- Yet Another Related Posts Plugin (for showing visitors related blog posts)
- Gallery (for photo galleries)
There are thousands of great plugins, but try not to overdo it.
Loading up on too many useless features and plugins usually offers little to no value to your target users. Not only will these elements disrupt user experience, but they’ll also slow your site down and put off visitors.
Step Eight: Create Content
Now that you’ve got a shiny new website with some fancy plugins, it’s time to create some content. I’m going to show you how to create content for a WordPress site.
If you want to create content for a Joomla or Drupal site, check out these links:
- Add a new page in Joomla
- Add a new blog post in Joomla
- Add a new page in Drupal
- Add a new blog post in Drupal
- Changing The Title Of Your Site
Before you start adding content to your site, you should probably change the title to what you actually want to call it. Presumably, this should be connected to your web address in some way.
To change the title, click “Settings — > General”.
The title and tagline of your blog usually show up somewhere in the header area of your website, depending on the theme you chose.
On the General Settings page you can also change how the date displays, the time zone you’re in, as well as a few other miscellaneous items.
Your site is going to need a variety of pages, such as an “About” page or a “Hire Me To Be A Clown At Your Child’s Birthday Party” page. A page can be about whatever you want. That’s the freedom of running your own website!
It’s really simple to add a page.
In the sidebar in the WordPress Dashboard, click “Pages” -> “Add New”.
Once you’ve clicked, you’ll come to a screen that lets you add text, images and more to build the page you want. Make sure to publish it when you’re done. Publishing a page is what makes it live on your site. Publishing takes what you’ve created and makes it available to people who come to visit your website.
Adding Blog Posts
If you’re starting a blog, you’ll obviously need to know how to add blog posts to your site. Like adding pages, it’s incredibly simple.
Create a blog post by going to “Posts -> Add New”. Once you’ve finished writing the post and adding images, simply add the right category for it. You can create a new category by clicking on “Add New Category”. If you don’t add a category, it will be added to the category “Uncategorized”, which may work just fine.
Step Nine: Promote Your Website
Once you’ve created your website and created some fantastic content, you’ll need to begin promoting your site. After all, you probably want to earn money and want people to see what you’ve created. If they don’t, what’s the point?
I’ve written a massive guide to increase your website traffic, but here are some really easy takeaways to gain visitors by promoting your content.
On Social Media
This is probably the simplest technique. You probably have at least several hundred friends and followers on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and Snapchat. After creating a new page or blog post, share that content with your friends. Ask them to join the conversation or to share their opinion.
The good news is that there are a number of tools available to help you save time and schedule social media posts.
There are a number of these tools, including:
- Sprout Social
- And many more…
The deeper you go, the more you can do to create and promote great content, including things like optimizing your posts for SEO.
Guest Post On Other Sites
If you want to get exposure outside of your circle of friends, consider reaching out to sites similar to yours for opportunities to guest post. When you email these sites, consider including several things in your email:
- Links to what you’ve already written. Don’t make the owners of the site search the Internet to find you. Give them links to your best stuff.
- Possible topics that are highly relevant to their site that you would be willing to write about. Before emailing them, take a few moments to explore their site and get a feel for what they’re all about. Remember, you want to add value to them.
Also, make sure you acknowledge how busy they are. You are, after all, interrupting their day with a request to post on their site. Make sure you’re appropriately grateful and respectful.
Comment In Online Forums
Commenting in online groups and forums that are relevant to your audience is a great way to connect with potential readers. You know that they’re already interested in what you have to say and you may be able to add something truly valuable to the conversation.
One thing to remember though: don’t spam these groups with links. You need to add real value to what’s being said. If people feel like you’re just being self-promotional, they’ll tune you out.
The best way to get regular exposure for your content is to create new content on a consistent basis. New content does several things.
Yes, consistency does take work, but if you want to grow your website, it’s essential. You can’t build a site and expect people to return again and again over the years.
And just like that, you are up and running, ready to build a website that will take over the world.
Here’s what I’d recommend for next steps.
Get A Kick-Ass Logo Designed
Now that you’ve got a beautiful website, you’re going to want a killer logo. A logo gives your site a professional, coherent look, and adds to the overall attractiveness.
Fortunately, you don’t have to be a graphic designer to get a great logo. There are number of services you can use.
For as little as $5 (or a “Fiver”), you can have a graphic designer create a beautiful logo for you. Now, granted, sometimes the quality of logo you receive from this site can be sketchy, so you want to see samples if any are available.
You’ll pay more money at 99Designs, but the quality of your logo will be significantly better. Plus, you can get multiple designers to submit logos, then select your favorite.
Canva is an incredibly simple graphic design website that allows you to add text to graphics with just a few clicks. Even if you don’t use it for your logo, it’s a useful tool for adding images to your website.
Install Google Analytics
Google Analytics will allow you to see how many people are visiting your site, how long they’re staying on your site, what pages are getting the most views, and a plethora of other statistics. It also allows you to see which pages are performing the best and getting the most traffic.
These stats allow you to understand what your visitors like best and where they are spending most of their time.
If you’re serious about building a great site, you’ll want to install Google Analytics right away.