In this detailed guide I’ll outline all of the technical details to creating a website — a well-designed home for your blog, portfolio or online shop — for under $100.
If you haven’t done this before or if it’s been a long time since you have, you’ll be amazed at how easy it is to get your site up and running so hang in there.
Let’s get started.
DECIDE ON A NAME FOR YOUR site.
Your name works (as long as it’s easy to spell). The key is to make it recognizable and easy to remember. Think about this — do you want to brand yourself online (Sarah Mason) or a concept (Uncommon.ly)? If you do use your name, it’s helpful to have a tagline that immediately tells people what your site is about. Jeff Goins and Jeremy Floyd do this nicely.
REGISTER A CUSTOM DOMAIN NAME.
If you want to be taken seriously on the Internet and establish your site as a credible resource, you need a custom domain. If you can get your name, do it. At the very least, you can use it as a landing page so that when people search for your name online they easily find you. Tyler Tervooren and Laura Click offer two good examples of how to do this. Try for a .com first since it’s still the most recognizable on the web. Here are some reliable domain registrars: Namecheap, Hover, iwantmyname and gandi.net.
Keep reading before you register your domain (unless you already have one). Decide on a platform first since you may get your custom domain included with the service (i.e. Squarespace).
CREATE YOUR WEBSITE (THE FUN PART).
This is where you impress your friends, family and — most importantly — visitors to your site with your amazing design skills. The best part is, you don’t need any design skills to have a beautiful site.
A (Very) Short Rant on Why Design Matters
We’ve all heard that “content is king” when it comes to standing out online. And while it is true that the most important skill in the social world is writing, first impressions matter. You literally have seconds when someone visits your site to capture their attention so that they’ll read what you’ve written. Website design is the first step to establishing credibility online.
There are options for everyone, depending on the time, money and skills you have to invest in building your site. Here are the best to consider:
Tumblr is by far the easiest and fastest way to start blogging with a well-designed site. You simply sign up for an account, enter a blog name and you’re ready to go with a default theme. Changing themes is done in a couple mouse clicks. All tumblogs are hosted on the Tumblr platform, which means if the Tumblr server goes down, your blog won’t load (a problem they’ve encountered with massive growth). You can add your custom domain name to your Tumblr .
While Tumblr offers some great free themes, I suggest buying a custom theme to give you more flexibility and set you apart from the other 114+million people blogging there. I use Style Hatch’s Mars theme for my Uncommonville blog. I love Style Hatch because they offer modern, customizable themes and have GREAT online support. One of their newest themes, Cadence, is specifically designed for long-form posts .
Squarespace is an all-in-one website solution. You simply pick a template and customize it, get your domain name and launch to the world. Hosting is done in the cloud and down the line you can add a store to your site with their commerce option. The best part about Squarespace is that their templates are beautifully designed and look like custom websites not templates.
Like Squarespace, Virb is a one-stop shop for building websites. You can add a custom domain and hosting is done in the cloud. Themes are easily customized. For blogging, try the Milan or Mason themes.
While WordPress requires the most effort in setting things up, it also offers the most flexibility and customization. There are thousands of free or inexpensive themes to choose from, plug-ins to improve how your site looks & functions and a global support community ready to help you with any questions you have about building a WordPress site. It’s no wonder then why WordPress now powers 18% of the web.
The Uncommon.ly site was built on WordPress with the outsanding Headway Drag & Drop theme builder. The beauty of Headway is that it’s easy to learn and once you do, you can completely control the form and function of your website.
Looking for an out-of-the box theme to get you started right away? Thanks to WordPress’ reigning powers on the Internet, there are thousands of well-designed themes available.
Here are a few great options:
If you’re looking for a modern, minimalist style blog to showcase your writing, Paul Jarvis’ WordPress themes are a great option. The themes are intentionally reader-focused so there aren’t a lot of bells and whistles. Just simple, beautiful design. Bonus: Each theme is $20 but if you share your purchase on Twitter or Facebook, you get a 50% discount!
Ryu by Automattic
Ryu is another great modern, minimalist blogging theme, courtesy of the folks at Automattic (the company that founded WordPress). It’s designed to display large images and writing-centric posts. Bonus: It’s FREE.
If you’re starting a blog geared toward women, check out the themes from Blu Chic. They’re modern, feminine and support ecommerce if you decide to include a shop down the line. You can’t go wrong with any of the themes but my favorites are Dorothy and Emerald. They also offer a free theme called Adelle. Bonus: Blu Chic offers an all-in-one bundle for an additional $30 that includes a full marketing kit — business card and newsletter design files and social media templates.
RESOURCES FOR NON-WEB DESIGNERS
Confession: when I started building this site, I knew nothing about web design. I couldn’t tell you the difference between HTML and CSS. But thanks to the Internet, I was able to teach myself enough code to build my site page by page. If I can do it, you can too. Here are some helpful free resources online to help you build your site:
This is the online WordPress manual and it is comprehensive to say the least. Check out the section “Learn How to Use WordPress” for a list of topics to explore as you get started.
This is a great resource to learn CSS and HTML, offering beginner to advanced tutorials in an easy-to-read format. I found the “Try It Yourself Editor” (allowing you to experiment with code and see the result in your browser) extremely helpful while I built my site.
Don’t Fear the Internet
The goal of the site isn’t to make you a web designer but to make you feel less powerless about your online presence. There are six professionally produced videos, which will introduce you to the beginnings of the Internet and then walk you through how to use HTML and CSS to build your own webpage from scratch.
When in doubt, Google it. There are thousands of WordPress hacks, tutorials and tips online. Search for “great free WordPress tutorials” or “WordPress tutorials for beginners”. That will keep you busy for a long time.
Whether you create your site with a theme editor like Headway or purchase an out-of-the box theme, you should learn basic HTML and CSS so that you can customize how your blog looks and works.
If you decide to build your site with WordPress, you’ll need hosting. HostGator, BlueHost and A Small Orange are all good options and have easy step-by-step instructions for setting up hosting for your blog.
There it is — the complete beginner’s guide to creating a website. My biggest advice is this — Don’t get overwhelmed. Any of the website platforms, domain registrars and hosting services are great options. When it comes to choosing a platform, spend some time looking at all of the options to see what stands out to you. What platform/theme/template will best represent the ideas you want to share with the world?
If you get stuck, send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or ping me at @sarahsmason on Twitter. I’d be happy to help where I can.