Five steps to your first website
People have often asked me what making a website entails. What if you know nothing about web design? How much does it cost? How do you set it up? Where do you go? What do you do first?
While there are thousands of tutorials on web development, most of them assume the reader already knows a bit, or already has a website. Very few address the total novice. Contrary to what a lot of people believe, it is not expensive to maintain a site. For instance, it costs me less than $50 a year to maintain my own site and blog, and the site related to my books.
So, where do you start? I have put together a few basic steps that should hopefully get anyone started, even if your web design skills are zero. Once you have that web presence, you can do more about making it work better. And you don’t have to be development guru to achieve it.
Step 1: Register your domain name
This is the “whatever.com” the user types to get to your site. Remember that the usual .com, .org and .net are not the only extentions you can have. You could go for .tv, .info, .biz, .name, and of course, the country-specific extensions. For example: .in (India), .cn (China), de (Germany), .eu (Europe), .us (USA), etc. It all depends on what your site is about.
A domain usually costs less than $10 a year, depending on what sort of extension you choose. It is advisable to choose a reliable company to register your domain with. If you’re unsure, go with one of the big names, like GoDaddy, Network Solutions or Yahoo! Domains.
Step 2: Figure out what sort of site you want
It doesn’t matter whether you knit sweaters for charity, have a multi-million dollar business, or just want to share your Doctor Who fanfiction—in this day and age you have every right to need or want a website of your very own. However, it will make your job far easier if you know what your site will be like. Take a look at other similar web sites for ideas, though this could possibly prove counter-productive, as the millions of ideas out there might be more confusing than helpful!
To make this easier, open a blank document (or take a piece of paper) and list out your site’s contents. What pages will you have? Will there be a photo gallery? Will there be a contact form? From this you should get a pretty good idea of your layout.
Step 3: Find a suitable template
Since this article assumes you cannot design one yourself, there are two options here. Either pay someone to design one for you or use one of the thousands of great free templates available on the Net. I highly recommend the OpenDesigns site for free templates. Not only are there almost a thousand (including my own! *shameless plug*) available, it has a vibrant and friendly community that will help you out should you get stuck at any stage. If you like a template and want to use it, but are not sure what to do, mail the designer for help. Most people will get back to you. I have helped out a number of people who have downloaded and used my templates for free.
Step 4: Get hosting
Now this is slightly trickier, as for every reasonable and reliable host out there, there exists an equally scary horror story of disappearing acts and clients being left high and dry. Webhostingtalk is a good place to find out about people’s experiences of various hosts. What sort of hosting you will want will depend on what sort of site you have, what you envisage your traffic to be like, and what your budget is. Free hosts are also available too, but remember that they’re likely to have caveats associated with them.
Step 5: Put it all together
And finally, you need to transfer the contents of your site into the template you are using, and then upload everything—images included—to your host’s server. Let’s take it one by one.
If the thought of looking at code makes your heart rate go up, don’t worry, it’s not at all hard! Get a text editor like Notepad++ that highlights code, and it is easy to see where your text will go. If you really feel you cannot handle it, you could use a WYSIWYG editor like NVU or KompoZer.
Once you have everything in place, you will need to transfer the files to the server space you bought from your web host. You will need a program known as an FTP client (for example, FileZilla). Your hosts will have given you a username and password for FTP-ing, and you will need these settings to access your server space. Upload all the files associated with your site—by copying-and-pasting, dragging-and-dropping, etc.—to the public_html folder of your website. Before you upload, do remember to check locally on your computer to see that all links are intact.
If you’ve done this right, typing in your domain name should show up your site. If you’ve messed up somewhere, head over to OpenDesigns and ask for help!
Good luck! 😀