The Nutshell Version of what’s on this page:
- Avoid hosting services that offer you free sign-up.
- Avoid services like WordPress.com.
- Don’t go checking to see if the domain name you want is available by using a search engine (Google, Bing, Yahoo!, DuckDuckGo…) or Cortanna or your smart phone search field…. If it was available when you checked, three seconds later it won’t be, because it will have been bought by a cybersquatter who was watching for searches for domain names and they will snap it up, and then offer to sell it to you for way over market value. And I hate to say it, but there are some prominent hosting services that do this, too.
- Don’t use a theme builder or a theme that includes a theme builder (drag and drop in-built into a theme). Don’t use a WYSIWYG webpage builder. Just don’t.
For details on what and why, read on.
Many people decide to go the DIY route. I think that’s great if they take the time to do the necessary research and study required. I don’t think it’s so great that they get themselves into trouble because they believe all the hype and sign on the dotted line before reading, not just the fine print of the terms of service at Wix, GoDaddy, WordPress.com, or any other “sign-up for free” platform, but thoroughly research the potential downsides using the search engine of their choice. You wouldn’t go out and buy a used car without having it checked out by your trusted mechanic, would you? Then, why, oh, why, do you think it’s a good idea to sign up for something that promises you your own easy-peasy, world-class website for free, only to be startled when:
- your website gets shut down because you had too much traffic, and, to open it, you either have to wait for the next monthly anniversary of your sign-up when your traffic quota resets or buy a service contract upgrade;
- the applications you want and need for success are not allowed unless you pay for full hosting …or, worse, aren’t allowed at all,
- and if and when you try to move, your content can’t go with you without a lot of frustration and hard effort …if then?
Here’s the reality: If you are getting it for free, there’s a catch. The free sign-up is a ploy to get you in the door, then get you committed with the time and effort it takes to build and populate your website with original content. That’s when the reality of what’s really offered comes home to roost. In fact, most of these free website offers have more than a couple of catches which they conveniently don’t mention. And it works: They get you to sign up for free. You put in all the time and effort to build yourself a nice-looking website, and then find out that, oops, this doesn’t have everything I need, and, if I try to move, I’m going to lose all my hard work, because my content is locked into their platform, inaccessible for easy transference to somewhere new.
Now, if you just want to blog, great. Go get a blogger account at blogspot.com or blogger.com. Really. WordPress.com, not so much. Honest. I have my reasons and they’re good ones. But don’t trust me. Google it. Or, better still, read this article by the folks over at WPBeginner.com, a site you might want to bookmark for their tutorials.
Do-It-Yourself the Real Way
Figure out a good hosting service to use. I have two recommendations. First and best in my opinion is the one I’ve been using since 1999: Dreamhost. Next is Bluehost. Both are also registrars with ICANN, so securing your domain name is or can be part of the process. Both services are excellent. Both have several different kinds of hosting solutions to fit your needs. However, you really need to consider standard hosting where you have FTP and SSH access, rather than managed if you plan on a serious, successful web presence.
About Domain Names
Domain names are important to think through BEFORE you start trying to secure one. It should reflect your website’s goals, its purpose, or some identification unique to you.
Do NOT, under any circumstances, search on the Net to see if what you want is available or already taken. (Refer to paragraph 4 below!)
You should pick a domain name that’s pertinent, catchy or easy to remember, plus not easily confused. The shorter the domain name, the easier it is for folks to remember, but, today, that’s really not as critical since most visitors come to your website via links on social media or via search engines. As long as it is memorable, it will work. (An example of something long that would work might be NorthernCalInvenstmentStrategies.com or BlueSkyRealEstateGroup.com. Anything that makes sense and that people can readily remember.)
You want a top level domain, but only if you can secure it through a legitimate registrar. A top level domain costs between $10 and $15 USD.
Word to the wise, and I can’t emphasize this enough: do NOT go searching for your domain name using any form of web search function. There are watchers who see you doing that, and, if the domain name is available, they snap it up before you can get over to a registrar to secure it. Then, they’ll offer it to you for some outrageous amount when you try to buy it. Some hosting companies will also do this, and I’m sorry to say that includes some very well advertised ones. So, do not search to see if your desired domain name is already registered to someone else. Instead, have some ideas worked out ahead of time. For example, let’s say you are a drum teacher and want drumbeat.com. Make a list of alternatives: drumbeats.com, beat.com, beats.com, drumming.com, drummer.com, drumteacher.com, drumskills.com, drummaster.com, drummastery.com, drumstick.com, drumsticks.com…. Also consider alternate, but catchy spellings and don’t forget numbers. Likewise, you can usually find some variant on your name if your name isn’t so common that it will wind up TomTSmith899124571101156.com.
Once you’ve got a good, solid list of fifty possible alternatives ready, go to your preferred registrar. (Mine is Dreamhost, but Bluehost works just as well, and, if you buy a hosting package at the same time, that domain name is usually free, at least for the first year.) Once beginning the registrar session, try not to stop until you get a domain name that you’re happy with. And you may get lucky. You might get your first choice. Chances are that’s not going to happen if it’s a rather common idea, though, so that means you and a helper might be sitting there brainstorming all day before you come up with something that’s available. And don’t forget that a subdomain on a short, quippy domain name can work, too, if all else fails. Example: share.this.com, the domain being this.com.
Using a CMS
If you’re an old hand at building websites, you can go ahead and build a website any way you want, on any platform you want, in any language you want. Most of you are new to this, though, and that’s who I’m speaking to.
And, yes, beginners can build a website using straight HyperText Markup Language and Cascading Style Sheets (HTML5/CSS3). Sure you can. But. Unless you’re a very quick study, it’s going to be a very tough job for you. W3Schools is a good place to start learning.
Whatever you do, do NOT use a WYSIWYG webpage builder, often called Website Builders, Website Creators, and what not. Do NOT. You’ll wind up with something that will be absolutely laden with code bloat which will slow your site down and not do well in organic ranking on the search engines. The resulting webpages will also frustrate your visitors, often crashing or hanging their browsers.
When beginning, I really suggest using a CMS, an acronym for Content Management System, which is a dynamically delivered website that runs on a frontend, usually PHP, where the content is delivered by a database, usually MySQL.
WordPress (the CMS, not the .com)
WordPress is a piece of software, not to be confused with WordPress.com which is a very poor substitute for the real thing. WordPress is, hands down, the most popular, user-friendly, versitile CMS (Content Management System) around for dynamically delivered websites (as opposed to HTML/CSS flat file websites) and, yes, it really is free, open source software. Both Dreamhost and Bluehost offer it.
Once you have your CMS up, no matter which one you use, and there are a bunch besides WordPress, do NOT use a theme builder or a theme that has a built-in theme builder. Don’t go near any themes that offer any sort of easy user interface (drag and drop). Avoid themes that require a subscription to renew your license. (There are a few exceptions, but very few.) You WILL be sorry, because, again, your site will load slowly and hang because of code bloat and too many scripts and queries. Worse, a lot of them store your content inside the theme’s database, and, if you decide to change themes, poof, your content disappears. WordPress itself is easy enough all by itself, and you can do a lot with the free themes built by WordPress or by designers who know what they’re doing.
If you are only selling a few items, PayPal buttons work just fine, but if you need a relatively small shopping catalog, WooCommerce is fully integrate-able with the WordPress CMS. If you need something more substantial, there’s Zen Cart, osCommerce, Magento Open Source …to name a few.
My Advice When You’re Just Getting Started
Start with WordPress (free, open source) which is offered by both Dreamhost and Bluehost.). You can always go to some other solution as you become more proficient. Always install WordPress in a subdirectory, not in the root directory of your domain. You can easily get it to show on the homepage even when it’s in a subdirectory using the easy-to-follow instructions provided at WordPress.org.
If you run HTML/CSS flat files with correct encoding, you’ll spend no time maintaining your website as is …unless you get cracked, of course. But that’s true of any website you run. If you get cracked, all bets are off. You should have used better passwords and definitely should have protected via .htaccess your sensitive files. The downside of HTML/CSS (unless you use server-side includes which, today, are not advised) is that it is hard to learn to do well, it is difficult to build cross-browser compatibility, it is tedious to update the site, and even more tedious when the standards change, causing some of your code to become deprecated. So, even though HTML/CSS flat files do the very best on organic search on the major search engines, it is not the best choice when developing a successful website. That’s why most people use WordPress, but even WordPress requires you attending maintenance on a regular basis.
You’ll spend a minimum of 15 minutes a day on maintenance on your WordPress CMS. That’s a minimum, not a maximum. If something goes wrong, plan on either having the website down, or, if you were smart and made a complete backup, then plan for at least an hour getting things back running correctly. Again, that’s a minimum. If you didn’t make a backup, then plan on spending a good solid day, maybe several, getting your site back to be publicly presentable.
And don’t depend on backup services. Something will always be broken if you do.
You need to manually download via FTP all of your site files, plus do a MySQL dump (can be done via what’s called a CRON job.) And, again, Dreamhost is great because they carry a solid set of backups if you catch things as they happen and don’t wait days. I’m pretty sure Bluehost does, too. They used to, anyway.