How to Start your own Website
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So you’re thinking of getting online with your own site? That’s awesome! I wholly advocate for everybody that is willing and able, to get a personal website, and if you are thinking of doing so, here is a simple five-step process for getting yourself set up and running with your own website.
There is a lot of information out there that can feel a little overwhelming. This post, in particular, is geared toward people who are comfortable enough with their digital literacy to tinker with free website building platforms or the software WordPress, but who haven’t built a site for themselves yet.
Before getting started it is important to identify what you are going to use your site for. You can take a look at some of the reasons that you should get a website here. Knowing what you are going to use your site for will help you stay clear about what you want to get out of your site, and how it can best serve you and your needs.
Generally starting a website can be simplified in the following steps:
Find a site host
Connect a domain
Build and promote your site
Though it seems really simple, in theory, it can be a tricky endeavor to find the right platform(s) to get your site running just the way you need it to.
What you need to be aware of before starting your site is that there are many ways you can build a website. If you are hesitant to do so because you are worried that you don’t have the technical expertise, I’m here to tell you that you don’t need to worry about that. There are a considerable number of drag-and-drop site builders available to customise your site the way you would like to. I have very limited knowledge of coding, and I have found that even the “worst” drag-and-drop editors are incredibly easy to wrap your head around.
Right so let’s get to the steps.
A lot of other guides to starting your own site will tell you to either sign up to a self-hosted platform or a managed platform (depending on your needs and goals for your site), and register a domain as the first steps to take. While I would usually agree, I’m going to go against the grain here and say save this step for later.
Step one: Create Content
It may seem like a strange thing to start with, but hear me out. You don’t want to invest in a hosting plan (managed or self-hosted) and a domain only to find that you are not quite sure then how to work your content into whatever name you’ve chosen for your site.
You should begin the whole process by creating or curating the content that you want to put onto your site. This might be a portfolio of visual, written, and audio work, or a combination. Or it may be deciding what kind of information you want to include if it is going to be the equivalent of a digital CV. By working on your content before starting your site proper, you are ensuring that you have a space that is independent of your website’s admin dashboard. This means that if anything goes wrong with your site, or you forget to save changes and suddenly lose your content, you have backups available to keep your site up and running.
If you are wanting to start a blog on your site, you should take the time to create some content for it so that you know that you are able to commit to and sustain the flow of content that you are wanting to write about. For people wanting to start a blog, it will give you a chance to see just how easy or difficult your chosen subject matter is to write about, and how many ideas you can brainstorm to make sure that you will have a steady flow of consistent content to post. Blogging is a big commitment, and a lot of people get lost in the idea of blogging without realising that the content creation side of blogging can make the experience difficult. By taking the time to create content beforehand, you are giving yourself the opportunity to find the rhythm that will work best for you once your site is live.
Creating the content before actually spending a cent on your website will also give you a clearer sense of your “why”. You need to be clear about what your site will do for you, and what you can do to get the most out of your website. There is little point in having a website for the sake of having a website, otherwise, you may as well buy and park domains.
If you take the time to create content first, you will be able to clear through all of the “fluff” that sometimes gets in the way when you are focused on just getting started. It definitely also helps that you will have a bank of content for your site that is ready to go when you have decided to get the ball rolling and commit to the next steps.
Step Two: Choose a Platform
There are a lot of options available for you to start your own website. There are two main avenues when it comes to creating a website: “free” platforms, where you essentially use the company’s server to manage the hosting of your site, and self-hosted platforms, where you buy space on a server and you control the management of that space to host your own site. There are some great blogs that tell you about the differences between the two, and the benefits and challenges of each option. Two of my favourites are HostingAdvice.com and WPkind.com.
Some of the more popular platforms that are available are WordPress.com, Squarespace, Wix and Weebly. These platforms are all what are referred to as “free” platforms – for the simple reason that you are able to create a site and get it off the ground for free. Dependinng on the type of website that you are wanting to create, these can actually be great options.
They all have decent eCommerce plans, and template libraries for any type of site, including personal blogs. So if you are wanting to create a quick online store, a portfolio site or a site promoting your business, then these platforms will do the job perfectly well. They are also great options for first-time bloggers, or bloggers that are not too fussed about the idea of monetizing their sites. WordPress.com in particular is a great starting point for first-time bloggers, or bloggers looking to build an audience before taking the steps into full monetization. It gives you the chance to learn the WordPress software (albeit a somewhat abridged version) and become comfortable with using basic code to customise your site – if that is a goal for you.
If you are looking for a little more control over how you build your site, you may want to go for the self-hosted option. There are some really popular web hosting options: Bluehost is very popular with bloggers and online stores, and so is SiteGround – both of which have been recommended by WordPress. Depending on the type of site you would like to build, self-hosting your site can give you a lot more freedom and control over your site. Self-hosting your website also means that you are not as reliant on free platforms when it comes to speed, storage and customization. If you are wanting to start a blog that you can essentially make a living with, then self-hosting is the best option to allow you to monetize your site properly.
Step Three: Register a Domain Name
Your domain name is the plain language version of the IP address of your website. If you choose to create a website using a free platform option then you are likely to be assigned a free domain name such as yourwebsite.wordpress.com or yourwebsite.wixsite.com. These domain options are alright as starters, but you are going to want to buy a custom domain for yourself if you are wanting to use your site as a portfolio, digital CV, blog, or store.
You can register domains through whatever platform you chose to host your site on. For the free platforms, registering a domain and connecting it to the site you want to build will generally give you access to some of the premium features that the platforms have for their customers. Otherwise, if you have chosen to self-host your site, many of the hosting plans that are available will give you at least one year of domain registration as part of the initial cost of hosting.
While these are helpful options in terms of managing everything in one space – I would suggest going with the option of registering a domain with a third-party registrar such as GoDaddy or NameCheap (both of whom have incredibly cheap registration options available).
I use NameCheap for many of my domains, and you can get your first . com domain here for $5.98.
Firstly, the cost of domain renewal is less than a Big Mac combo, and secondly, your domain is independent of your site plan or hosting, which means that if something happens to your site/hosting account, such as a data leak, or the integrity of the server is compromised in some way then your domain won’t be affected. NameCheap also has an incredible web hosting option that very easily rivals that of Bluehost and SiteGround in terms of features, and is almost unbeatable when it comes to cost.
Generally, if you google “How to start a website” you’ll be led to blogs about starting blogs, and the most common piece of advice from those blogs is to buy a dot com (. com) domain because, as one of the most used domain addresses, it has a trust factor that will likely result in your site being taken “more seriously.” This is pretty standard advice, and for the most part, is good advice. Having a . net address is also a good option. Whatever domain extension you choose, there are plenty available within any and every possible niche to suit your site.
Step Four: Build your Site
This step is simultaneously the easiest and hardest of all of them. It’s easy because most of the leg-work is done by the time you get here if you have already created content to populate your site. It is also easy because there are literally hundreds of website themes available on any of the options that you have for creating a website. If you are a little tech challenged, or you are not overly confident in designing a site from scratch (whether by a drag-and-drop editor or by coding), then picking a theme and customizing aspects from there is the easiest way to build your site.
If you are self-hosting a website, then you will need to download a content management system (you will see this written as CMS) to manage your files and act as the platform through which you build your website. WordPress is the most commonly used CMS on the internet and is fairly user-friendly – even for those who have never built a website before. This is not to be confused with WordPress.com (the managed free platform), because that is a platform that is managed by a third party and uses a somewhat abridged version of the WordPress software.
WordPress software is entirely free to use and download, however, it requires a web-host in order to be used, so you need to be self-hosted if you are planning on using WordPress software in its entirety. While WordPress is not the only CMS you can build a self-hosted site on, because it is the most common, that is why I am mentioning it here. WPBeginner has a good post here about the 15 best and most popular CMS options here.
Here are some pages to consider including on your website, regardless of what kind of site you are building:
This gives visitors information about you or the site. If you are planning on creating a website that is the face of a business, then this page is especially important because it helps to build trust between you and your site visitors. This page is the chance for you to share some information that is relevant to your “why” as well as giving your visitors a better understanding of your journey (as a business, or content creator, or blogger).
This will give your site visitors an easy way to make contact with you. Generally, this page has a contact form and an email address. You may just leave the contact form as the primary means of contacting you if your site is a portfolio site.
If your site displays adverts or promotes products that may result in you being paid a commission if a purchase is made (such as affiliate links) then you will likely need a Disclosures page informing your site visitors of your affiliation with advertising networks and companies. This is also a legal requirement in a few countries, which can be met by including a disclosure at the top of any page that this may apply to, however having a dedicated disclosures page allows you to give additional information or direct visitors to the privacy policies of the companies you may be affiliated with.
Still with me?
This brings me to the final step.
Step Five: Promote your site
I’m going to be as brief as I can here because there is a lot of information that could go into this, and it can be a post entirely on its own.
In terms of promotion, you are going to want to tap into your networks where possible. This is helpful if you have a portfolio site that you would like people to be aware of, or if you have a personal blog and want to share things with your immediate network. It is also a great way to generate initial word of mouth if you are planning on launching your business or an online shop.
Or if you are wanting to run your site anonymously, you may want to promote it through platforms that your immediate personal networks may not use frequently. You can do this by creating accounts on social media that are directly related to your website: such as “@mywebsite” as an account name on Facebook, or Pinterest and begin promotion without having your name personally attached to it.
I would suggest utilizing Pinterest and Facebook to promote your site. Pinterest acts as a visual search engine, and can put your site and content in front of people who otherwise may not have seen it. These spaces all have their own benefits and challenges when it comes to generating site traffic, so it is helpful to be very clear on the purpose of your site by the time you get to this step.
Tailwind is a great scheduler to use for Pinterest, and you can get one month free here when you upgrade to Tailwind Plus.
There is also a lot of information (free and paid) available on how to promote your site and get the most out of it, so take your time to find the right information and strategy for you and your site.
So there it is. In five relatively simple steps, how to start your own website.
This process can be very quick, or very slow depending on how much time you are wanting to invest in it. It can also be costly, so when it comes to choosing a platform and registering a domain, it is a good idea to sit down and have a think about how much money you want to invest in starting your website before you commit to a hosting option and a domain registrar.
If you made it all the way through this post, then I hope it was helpful! I’d love to hear your experience with starting your site, so please let me know in a comment how it worked for you.