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How to make a website?

The most common question we see asked in forums is “how to make a website”?

If you’re starting a #sidehustle, or are a a budding entrepreneur that wants to get your idea off the ground, or a freelancer that is looking for clients, or an established small business that hasn’t got an online presence yet, or an author wanting to showcase their books and connect with their audience, or you’re thinking about a blog, or you simply want to build your personal brand and reputation online – you NEED a website.

If you have cash to splash on a website builder / designer / agency then you probably won’t be interested in this post.

BUT – for most of us starting a sidehustle (and even many established small businesses), cash is tight – and we have no idea when or indeed IF we will ever make any money off our idea – so investing loads of cash to get a website built when we start out is probably NOT a good idea.

Making a website might seem like a daunting task to many people – but there are just THREE STEPS you need to take in order to make a simple website – and pretty much anyone that uses a computer can complete these tasks – and that means YOU!!

We personally think that learning how to make a website is an essential sidehustle skill and it’s one that you will reap the rewards of long after you have made your (first) site.

You can always hire someone later if you need to – for example if you get stuck adding some really complicated functionality or you need some custom code written (seldom needed for most businesses and pretty much NEVER for personal sites) – but at least you will understand the basics and know your limits of what you can do yourself.

If you hire someone from the start, you will end up constantly going back to them to make minor changes and updates – and you’ll never really know if they are charging you too much for even the simplest tasks ……… the costs can mount up VERY quickly with someone you hire off Fivver or Upwork for example.

If the following 3 steps describing how to make a website still seem daunting to you once you’ve read through them, we can offer you a helping hand hand with the (slightly) techie stuff, which will leave you free to focus on the content while still getting your hands dirty (just enough) to learn and grow – just click on the image below for more info on our packages (it’s one of our sidehustles 😏)

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The 3 steps how to make a website

1) Buy a Domain Name

Your domain name is your “web address” that points to your website – think of it as an entry in an old fashioned “telephone book”. It tells the web browser where your site is hosted (which can change from time to time).

There are many places to buy domain names from on the Internet (known as “domain name registrars) and we always recommend buying your domain name from a different company to the one you will be hosting your website with for a whole variety of reasons, the main one being that it’s far easier to switch hosting providers if you keep your domain names in one place and your hosting in another. We’ve switched hosting providers about 5 times since this domain was initially bought back in 2003 (yeah, we’re THAT old!!!).

Anyone that’s been building and hosting websites for a long time will tell you it’s “best practise” to do this – but if this doesn’t concern you then you can (and many do) buy your domain from the same place that you host your website on (your “hosting account”) in which case you can skip straight to STEP 2 (although we do advise you to read through the domain name advice provided below)

Just a couple of things to BEWARE of:-

  • Some places will offer you a “free” domain – make sure that you will actually own the domain and they won’t “hold it hostage” if you ever want to move away from them in the future – we’ve heard some horror stories about people being charged large sums of money to “transfer out” the domain at a later stage
  • Many domain registration companies will offer domains at hugely discounted prices (as low as one cent) so long as you sign up for a hosting contract with them – make sure you ABSOLUTELY understand what is included in the hosting contract as THIS is actually where they make their money!!! Their add-ons often mount up very quickly (more about this under the “hosting account” section below)
  • Most domain registration companies will automatically default your selection to include their “easy site builder” or “quick home page” or “additional email addresses” and many other options – make sure you DESELECT these options if you are going to follow our advice about keeping your domain and your hosting seperate – ALL you want to do is register your domain and you might want to add “privacy” to your option so that you don’t end up being spammed for the rest of your natural life by everyone that scrapes domain registration info off the internet (and there are MANY of these!!!!)

There are thousands (hundreds of thousands??) of places you can buy a domain name from (by the way, NONE of these are affiliate links – we DON’T make money off them if you click on them – although maybe we are missing a trick here huh??) for example:-

You can simply type “buy a cheap domain name” into google and see what comes up – you will be overwhelmed with choices!

We use GoDaddy for all our domain name needs and find their management interface very simple and straightforward – but we ONLY use them to buy domain names and redirect them to hosting accounts.

The fees will normally include registration for the first two years, after which you will need to pay annual renewal fees or of course you could opt for a longer initial registration and renewal interval. We do know of one company that bought over 150 domains and paid up front for 10 year registrations and then they went out of business 3 years later …………

NOW – you might find that your desired domain name is already taken!!!

It might be that someone has already thought of your domain name and bought it speculatively to sell (which BTW is a viable #sidehustle if you have time and money) and a price might be listed for you to offer if you really have your heart set on exactly that domain name.

It might also be that there is already a site or business on that same domain and if you buy one with a different extension (for example .co .club .agency .co.uk .org etc etc) that the original company might come after you as they think you are trying to steal their business or pass yourself off as them …… so think carefully and choose wisely.

You will normally be offered alternative ideas and naming conventions and here you have a couple of things to think about:-

  • how memorable will it be for people to type in to their web browser? If it’s got hypens in it, then it might cause confusion – rather keep it to a single string of text
  • your aim is to come up with something that is simple, short and memorable
  • a “.com” extension is still the “gold standard” in todays world if you are aiming for a global audience, but there are fewer and fewer decent options available – we often find “.co” a viable alternative
  • If your business or site is aimed at a country specific audience then you might benefit from a “local” or country specific domain extension or one that is more aligned with what you are eg “.club” for any type of club or “.org” which is mainly used for non-profit sites.

ONE FINAL TIP on choosing your domain name:-

PLEASE make sure you read your chosen domain name back carefully – read it out loud and make sure you haven’t unintentionally ended up with something entirely inappropriate …… like for example the IT scrap company whose website used to be itscrap.com until they realised it was being read as “it’s cr*p” – there are more examples over at Bored Panda if you want a laugh …….

Once you have bought your domain name it needs to be “pointed to” your chosen Web hosting account – this is known as “Domain Name Redirection”.

You will get the re-direction details of WHERE you need to re-direct your domain name to from your hosting account.

If you have taken our advice and kept domain names seperate from hosting, you can just leave the domain as it is for now until you have completed STEP2 – then you need to come back to your domain name management panel and “point” it to your hosting account – either your domain name provider OR your hosting provider’s help desk / chat function will be able to walk you through this – OR ….. google is your friend.

Once you have redirected your domain to your hosting account, it can take anywhere from 2 – 48 hours or so for the details to update and “point” to your hosting account before your website can be seen by anyone – don’t panic about this, it’s normal.

2) Sign up for a Hosting account

All websites are hosted somewhere and although this makes no practical different to your end users (your customers or audience), it can make a difference to you in terms of what you get for how much you pay.

There even more places to host your website than there are places to buy your domain name from and most hosting companies offer domain name services.

Different hosting providers offer different features, like the amount of hosting space (size of your website), number of email addresses, uptime availability and throughput guarantees for large e-commerce sites etc – these all of course impact their prices and bundles on offer.

We are NOT a fan of free hosting account providers …….. free doesn’t stay free for long and we have dealt with MANY people that are paying huge premiums for things that we consider absolutely standard offerings that should be included with any hosting account for example:-

  • your hosting provider should enable HTTPS certificates by default – this will allow your site to show a “secure” icon in the web browser. If they want to charge extra for this function STAY AWAY from them – your site will be inaccessible to most of the world if you don’t enable https from the very beginning
  • Charging for email accounts is another thing that seems to be an added cost on the “free” sites – what’s the use of owning your own domain name if you’re still using your gmail (or even worse, hotmail or yahoo) account for email? You should get at least one email address included with your account – 3 is “normal” for an entry level account
  • Giving you a free domain name that incorporates their name – like www.wix.com/mydomainname or something like that – nothing screams “unprofessional” quite like a wix, weebly or squarespace domain name – it’s certainly NOT a way of building your own brand online …… #justsaying

The hosting accounts that are truly free (where it doesn’t cost you a single $, £, € or whatever your currency is), plaster your site with their own adverts and you have no control over them – remembr the old, very true saying “if you’re not paying for the product then you ARE the product” – these sites make money off the traffic that you drive to your own site – great for them, not so great for you!

We DON’T advise using any of the following providers (which is why we haven’t linked to them):-

  • WIX
  • Squarespace
  • Weebly
  • WordPress (either dot com OR dot org)

Feel free to check them out – then look at their “pricing” tab – then read on …….

You CAN get a decent, full service hosting account for around $10 (USD) per month from these hosting providers which we DO recommend. Any of these will give you far more functionality and far more flexibility than ANY of the “free” hosting providers will give you for the same price and most of them run frequent campaigns with decent discounts for your initial term.

IF you can’t afford $10 per month, why are you even reading this post? We mean that seriously ….

We actually host all our sites (including this one) on Hostpapa for now.

During the account signup process, you will be asked if you already have a domain name you want to use (the one you bought in STEP 1) or if you want to buy a domain name at the same time.

If you have skipped STEP 1 then you don’t have to worry about domain name redirection as any domains that you buy from a hosting provider will automatically be registered with the correct hosting details and your site will be immediately visible (once you have created it of course) – otherwise you will be walked through the process of pointing your existing domain to your new hosting account.

Now you’re ready for the final step

3) Install a Content Management System (CMS)

The Content Management System (CMS) is the software application that is used to create your actual website and it is how you manage the look and feel (layout, branding and colours etc), upload content and images, write blog posts and add extra functionality as you grow or as your needs change.

Joomla and Drupal examples of CMS’s but when it comes to functionality and ease of use, WordPress is the the way to go in our opinion. It is the most commonly used CMS on the Internet and it is estimated that approximately 455 million websites in the world use WordPress – which is what we use for all our sites.

All of the hosting providers we linked to above ALL support an easy WordPress installation with a few simple clicks and there are literally thousands of YouTube videos and blog articles available to walk you through every single aspect of WordPress.

Once the WordPress installation is complete (it takes only a few minutes) your site will be LIVE and available for everyone to see immediately – it just won’t have any content in it!

THIS is now where the fun starts. The basic WordPress installation gives you a starting point to build anything you like

  • a professional or personal brand site
  • a blog
  • a shop
  • a gallery
  • etc etc – literally anything you have ever seen on the Internet can be built on top of WordPress

There are thousands of free (and we do genuinely mean free as in you don’t pay a single cent more) themes and “plugins” to build your site.

Think of WordPress as the “green mat” used when you start building something using LEGO – it’s the foundation that you can add lots of LEGO blocks on top of.

“Plugins” are these “LEGO blocks” – they can add any type of functionality that you can imagine – and some that you don’t yet know that you need …… like SEO for example – but more on that later.

In fact THIS actual site is built entirely using a FREE theme and FREE plugins – and we have this blog, embedded merchandise shops, galleries for our books that link using non-geographic links to Amazon, links to our social media accounts, traffic analytics and basic SEO (certainly good enough for starters) and NONE of it costs us a single penny over and above our monthly hosting costs …… if we can do it, YOU can do it too!!!

If you’ve completed the 3 steps above – congratulations! You now have a website!

SO WHAT???

Many people have totally unrealistic expectations about what having a website means. Sure, people CAN find your site on the Internet, but that doesn’t mean they WILL find you!!

You will need to share a link to your site in as many places as possible – across all your social media platforms, in discussion forums and groups etc etc. – but most people search for whatever they are looking for and of course Google is the most popular search engine in the world.

Soooooo – if you want to even have the slighest chance of being found on the Internet, you will need to tell Google about your site (the technical term is that you have to “submit” your site to Google and other search engines for “indexing”) and the more, RELEVANT content you have on your site (that is “Search Engine Optimized” aka SEO), the higher up the search rankings it will climb.

Once again, a combination of plugins, community forums, blogs and YouTube will help you achieve your goals.

BUT – we are getting ahead of ourselves here and it’s too much info for a single blog post.

IF we can manage to get more than 100 “shares” on this post, we will invest some more of our time to write further blog posts to cover things like:-

  • Customer profiles – how to identify your target audience
  • Brand development – look & feel, tone of voice etc
  • Easy image creation for non-artistic people
  • Content creation and SEO (Search Engine Optimization)
  • Content monetisation opportunities
  • Social Media Marketing – how to decide which platforms you should be on
  • Video content / YouTube and Podcasting
  • Basic Accounting and Finance primer
  • and many, many more topics that we can think of (feel free to suggest others)
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We think that ALL of the above on the list are ESSENTIAL #sidehustle and small business / solopreneur / freelancer skills that anyone can learn and apply in order to make their own progress toward financial freedom – and all of these will also stand you in good stead in any job opportunity you ever follow in the future.

If you found this content useful, please SHARE using the links below and consider supporting us by browsing around our shop on the links above – good luck on your journey!

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