So you want to have a go at making your own website (And you've read part one, and are still with me?)
What do you need to make a site that doesn't suck?
Whether you are making a site for a blog, an online business or for online presence for a bricks and motar business, here are some of the basics.
- a Platform
This is what you actually build your website on - e.g. WordPress. Developers (people who know coding languages) can basically write a website into a text document and all that code converts to what you see on the site.
A website building platform lets you create the site without knowing how to do anything of that - by using themes and and a system that is already done for you. You just have to input your content.
- HOSTING & A DOMAIN NAME
Hosting is where your website is stored. The files that make it up are literally on a computer somewhere. And the domain name is the address that points to those 'files' and allows people to look at your website.
Some platforms will come as a package - you pay a monthly or yearly fee and that's all take care of. You just have to set up your website. And may came with an included domain name, or as an add-on. There are pros and cons to this which I'll mention later.
If you go with something like WordPress (the self-hosted version), then you need to purchase hosting through a separate provider. This is normally the most affordable, as WordPress itself is free you are just paying for the hosting which can start at less than $10 a month.
In this case you'll either purchase or receive a domain name included in your hosting, or you can purchase it elsewhere and link it to your hosting.
- A THEME
The template for the appearance of your site. Different platforms have different options for this; some will be free themes with limited customisation, others will be premium (paid) themes with extensive customisation options.
- A MAILING LIST
This is not essential for the actual construction of a website. But it bares mentioning, because how you integrate your mailing list may affect what platform, theme and plugins you want to choose.
And just because a mailing list is important for any business. For any sort of website, you want some way to collect and utilise readers or customers details so you can keep in contact - to build a fanbase or customer base. Social Media also helps with this, but a mailing list is the still the best way to really own that information and use it most effectively.
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This won't be a comprehensive comparison of all the options. One, there are too many. And two, they are already out there and you can search for them. And three, I hands down recommend WordPress anyway.
It's what we use for all our own sites.
I'll explain why I recommend it, and then touch on a few of the most common alternatives.
PROS: free, quality, very well supported, endless options for themes and plugins and integrations - almost every reputable 3rd party site will have easy integration with WordPress, for things like social media & mailing lists, and e-commerce.
Most hosting providers will include very easy installation of WordPress in their packages.
There are a lot of tutorials and instructions available on how to do everything you might need to do. It's easy to find support or get help later on if you do want to expand or grow your website beyond what you can DIY.
This is one of the most important reasons I recommend WordPress over the other options - you are in complete control; it gives you a starting point beginners can learn to use, but is able to be fully customised behind the scenes too, should you want to.
Also, you are always free to change your hosting etc without disrupting anything about your website, since these things are separate. With many of the other platforms where hosting and the website are all in the one package, if you even found yourself limited by their services and wanted to change, you can't migrate your site very easily. You may have to start from scratch.
CONS: The only real con to WordPress as a DIY option is that because of all of it's flexibility, and the options for so much third party integration, it isn't quite as streamlined. Too much choice can get you tied up in knots, can be a steep learning curve if you’re brand new to it. And the biggest complaint from people who have abandoned WordPress is that it’s hard to find a theme that works for them - but this is usually when they're trying to stick to a free theme.
Going premium instead of sticking with the free themes is a solution to that, as the free themes are so limited in customisation options, and very few will be just right for you out of the box.
Overall, I think taking the time to learn to use WordPress is well worth it in the long run. (We are not affiliated - there is no affiliate program, since it's FREE! We just do really recommend it.)
A few of the other options include Squarespace, Weebly or Wix.
They are all fairly similar in how they work, meaning they are much more all-in-one systems. You pay monthly or yearly for a package to create and host your website, and they generally have their own selection of themes and a 'program' to customise and design these.
For example, Squarespace:
It has a more limited selection of their own themes that are designed to work seamlessly with their platform. This can be good, as they look good out of the box, and it's almost impossible to make an ugly website, and you won't get lost in too many options. Their designs are all very nice, are responsive (for desktop or mobile etc) and lean on the minimalist, modern side. Which is great, except that it's a little bit like visiting display homes - you walk in and could swear you’ve been there before - but it’s just that they all echo each other. It’s a design that works. But if you want to stand out, that may not be what you want.
And with all these platforms, you are also limited to their range of integrations and widgets, which is fine if you've only got basic needs, but as soon as you want to do something they don't have the integration or capability for, you are stuck. (Compared to with WordPress, where there is almost nothing that can't be integrated.)
I have used Squarespace, and I liked it best out of all the all-in-one packages. I actually went there from WordPress - but that was before I understood the hosted vs self-hosted WordPress and when I was trying to use only free themes to create something and getting frustrated.
Once I understood WordPress and realised it was what I needed if I wanted to expand, I went straight back.
I've played with Wix a little bit:
It's good enough, but I find it's website building area - though drag-and-drop so quite easy - gets a bit clunky and hard to work with once you start getting more than a few pages in a simple site. And I don't like it for blogging.
I have never used personally.. Others have said good things, but people leave for the reasons I've said above - eventually you'll come up against the limitations. And that's when people come to us looking for a new website built on WordPress!
This is the hosted version of WordPress - you pay monthly/yearly like on the others. But it is easier to move your website later should you want to go to self-hosted.
If you're going to go with WordPress, though, I'd recommend just going straight for the self-hosted (wordpress.org.)
(So of course I recommend WordPress, but I'm not against these sites - they can be great for what they do, and if you think they fit your needs as is and you won't outgrow them, then it one of them could still be a good fit for you.)
A lot of options here too, if you are going with a platform that requires self-hosting like wordpress.org.
Cost is of course a factor, and probably one of the first ones you will look at. But there are other even more important considerations if you want a fast, secure and reliable site.
Most hosting options will be shared hosting - which means your website is on the same server as others. Basically meaning, you are all drawing on the same pool of resources for how fast your site can be etc.
This is not bad, and it's the form of hosting that is most common. It's just not as good as having a dedicated server, but this costs more. I'll try not to get too technical and keep it to the basics.
What to look for:
When looking for a hosting plan, most basic things will be fairly equal - in terms of how much storage space, RAM space etc they give you.
More is better in general, buy you don't want to pay for more than you need either - often the providers will have some indication of what they recommend for certain sized websites and for your monthly traffic. (And you can always upgrade if you need to - or even change providers later. Just check what contract they are locking you into.)
The main point of comparison is on reliability. Different providers have different stats in terms of website uptime. And this is important! Because you definitely don't want people trying to visit your site, only to find it doesn't work. Either because of faults with the provider, or not having enough capacity to handle the traffic.
You also want to check to see how easy the provider makes it to install your platform - e.g. WordPress. Many these days will have 1-click installation, or similar, meaning you should be able to get started easily.
Other factors that might come into consideration depending on your needs:
Number of websites allowed on the same hosting, if you have more than one business. Number of subdomains allowed (If you site is mysite.com, you might want to add subdomains for certian things, like blog.mysite.com or shop.mysite.com.)
We recommend Siteground* for DIY WordPress site hosting. Full disclaimer, we haven't used them yet as we have our own hosting set-up at present, as we manage a lot of websites in the same place. But we have also done a lot of research, and SiteGround is definitely a good one. It has been getting very good feedback, is affordable, very reliable - almost no issues or downtime, compared to say, Bluehost, another common starter-host which does have its share of issue.
(And if you're building a big website and anticipate lots of traffic, then go for Cloud hosting - also available through SiteGround.)
If I was choosing a provider for my website today (and didn't already have our different set up as developers - and if I didn't have Ollie to do all the developer set up behind the scenes!!!) I would hands down go with SiteGround for my blog or business site.
Plenty of options here too, and less to be worried about compared to choosing a hosting provider. You may even have been provided with a domain name included with your hosting.
If not, then shop around for a good price basically. And in most cases, they'll be pretty similar. Some might have intro deals to get you to sign up, just check what the ongoing price will be after that.
And if you want a less standard domain like .blog or .xyz or one of the many available, you'll have to shop around as not all sellers provide all of them.
(In general, go with the basic options like .com for your main website especially if your domain is also your business or brand name.
1&1* is a provider I have bought more than my share of domain names from! I'm a bit of a hoarder. They usually have a really good deal for the first year, and are in the normal range thereafter.
NetRegistry is also an extensive option, and has the .com.au extension if you're looking for that.
If you have bought a domain separately to your hosting, then you will just need to point your domain name to where your website is hosted. This is usually a very simple process of taking the 'Nameservers' your hosting gave you and putting them into the appropriate settings with your domain name account.
There should be instructions provided in both your hosting account and your domain name account for this.
(If you're having trouble, feel free to get in touch with us!)
If you're going self-hosted WordPress, your choices can seem overwhelming. I do recommend going with a premium theme over a free one, as the free ones rarely have enough customisation options to easily fit in with your branding look etc.
Some we've used before are the Kalium and Bridge themes - found on ThemeForest.
These also come with Visual Composer included, a plugin which provides you a way of building your pages that's a little more drag-and-drop than the basic WordPress framework. These themes integrate with WooCommerce easily too, if you want an online shop.
Most premium themes tend to be in the $60-80 range, and then you own it for life. (But only get support for a limited time usually.)
Divi by Elegant Themes is another common visual page builder, but I don't have any experience with it personally. To get Divi, I believe you have to sign up to their $80 USD a year subscription, but this also gives you access to all their themes and their few plugins.
For sites especially geared towards conversions, Thrive Themes* have some basic but simple to set up and use themes. And they integrate well with all the Thrive Themes plugins - like Thrive Leads and more, which I can highly recommend from personal use.
If you get their $19 USD monthly subscription plan, then you get access to all their themes and all their plugins. Or you can buy themes or plugins separately for once-off fee.
I use and highly recommend ConvertKit*.
I am going to write a more comprehensive post about why & compare it to another choice that has been popular lately, MailerLite.
But the main features of ConvertKit is that it is subscriber-centric rather than list based. You have one master list and then can segment based on how they signed up, tags you've assigned to them etc.
It is a little more expensive than some others, but it is very flexible and has great features. Especially for bloggers with multiple opt-ins.
Other providers make you pay based on your lists, so if you have the same subscriber on more than one list, you are paying for them multiple times. And they make it hard to easily segment based on different factors, or to send an email to everyone across all lists at once.
ConvertKit integrates well with Thrive Leads*, and other opt-in set ups, as well as other things like Webinar providers (I like WebNinja*) or Membership site plugins like Memberpress*, should you want any of these things in the future.
So that's the basics! I'll come back and add more later if I think of anything I've forgotten, but hopefully that is a starting point for you in your DIY website journey - for a website that doesn't look DIY.
There are of course a few more things to take into consideration - in terms of business, marketing, design and practicalities - but we will add more on that later in different posts, rather than overwhelming you!
We are working on more resources right now, that will help break this down for you, to make it hopefully a more enjoyable experience as you build your business - and at the very least, less stressful!
If you want to keep up with any updates we make to this, or any further resources we add - as we are always creating more - then make sure you sign up to keep in the loop.