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 “” 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! πŸ˜€


11 Replies to “Five steps to your first website”

  1. I would recommend people research whichever domain registrar they are considering on Webhosting Talk as well. Sometimes the big names can be shady themselves.

  2. I think really the first thing to think about is what do you want out of it? Fun? Business? Sales? Marketing? Information? And how effective do you expect it to be? There are times to go w/ a professional company and times that if you want to put in the time and effort you can do it yourself.

  3. @Marie: You have a point there! Like you were saying on Gtalk yesterday, sometimes the big names come with lousy customer care. One of my friends registered his domain with Rediff here in India, paying a premium rate for a .in domain. Not only did he get terrible customer service, they didn’t even give him complete control of his domain! He had to give up on them and pick a .net finally.

    @Scottsdale: Thanks for visiting, and for your comments! You’re right, of course. When you require any sort of serious website, playing around isn’t recommended, and you should get a professional to do a good job and take care of things like SEO. However, I was attempting to address the total newcomer who just wants a personal site, and wants to know what the basic steps are.

  4. I can’t agree enough how important it is to research where you’re getting your domain and hosting. That really helped me out.(You might find coupons for a little bit of a rebate too. πŸ˜‰ )

    Also, somebody suggested to me that you probably shouldn’t get your hosting and domain registering from the same place. I guess there are always exceptions, but it seems like a pretty good rule of thumb.

    *always needs help from Payal and Marie* But if I can manage it (with help) anybody can. πŸ˜›

  5. Oh yes, that is a piece of advice I give anyone! If your host goes out of business you don’t want them taking your domain with them. And if you ever leave your host, they can’t hold your domain hostage.

  6. @Marie: That’s one piece of advice I took, actually! :mrgreen:

    @Kate: I agree! I spent ages trying to find a good deal/a reliable host/etc. I think I dilly-dallied almost six months before finally getting the site up!

  7. […] You can read the rest of this blog post by going to the original source, here […]

  8. From attackr…

    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.

    Stop linking to Nvu, please, link to kompozer so I don’t have to kill myself.

    Btw, kompozer is a great tool even for serious designers, it has an easy to use css editor that shows changes on the page right when you do them. I always use kompozer.

  9. KompoZer.

    There you go, Kirby145, we wouldn’t want you to top yourself! I haven’t much experience with WYSIWYG editors, to be honest, so thanks for the tip.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.