Have you ever thought about starting your own website? You may have been a little daunted by it all. Don’t you need to be a programmer in order to create a website? Thankfully, that is not the case. Non-technical people can easily create professional looking websites today with little or no prior experience with working on the web.
There are two main routes available to you if you would like to start a website. You can publish a website for free by using a free blogging service such as Blogger or WordPress.com or with a website creation service such as Yola.
Those of you who want to make their mark on the web and have more control over your website will have to spend a little money and purchase your own domain name (e.g. this is mywebsite.com) and hosting package. When a company hosts a website they are paid to keep the website online 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Domain names usually cost around R100 – R150 per year and basic hosting packages start from around R40 a month, which isn’t a lot of money if you plan on making money through the web.
If you’re not too sure what route to go down, my advice would be to use a free blogging or website creation service first. This will help you learn the basics and get used to how web publishing works.
Regardless of what route you go down, I think it is in your best interests to learn the basics of HTML and CSS. You don’t need to learn a lot of code however you should understand how they work. This will save you a lot of time in the future if you ever want to modify your design as you won’t have to hire someone to do it for you.
Free Website Creation Services
Launched in 1999, Blogger was one of the first blogging services on the internet. Since it’s acquisition by Google in 2003 it has become one of the most popular services on the net today.
Blogger is both easy to use and very quick to set up. You can register an account and have your website online in less than 20 minutes (with the famous blogspot.com domain name). Popular blogs, such as the official blog of Google, continue to use Blogger to this day.
Official Google Blog. Powered by Blogger
Changing the design of your website is very straight forward using the Blogger Template Designer. You can change the background, width and layout of your site and choose the colour scheme too. Alternatively, you can simply use one of the pre-existing templates available to you. One reason Blogger has proven popular with beginners is that it’s easy to monetize. Google Adsense can be integrated into your design at the click of a button.
WordPress.com, not to be confused with the self-hosted blogging platform from WordPress.org, is one of the most widely used free blogging services on the web with more than 50 million websites online using the service.
In comparison to Blogger, WordPress.com has a more professional design and websites that publish using this service, look less outdated. WordPress.com also stands out because of its versatility – it has hundreds of beautiful designs to choose from and one can even extend its functionality using plugins.
Whereas Blogger is mainly used by beginners, WordPress.com is used by hundreds of top websites on the web. A big reason for this is the premium features that WordPress.com offers. You can use your own domain, go ad-free, and increase your storage. It’s the perfect solution for those who want a professional website without the hassle of building one themselves.
Yola is a useful service that allows you to create and publish a website online for free. The service can be used for launching a blog, content website or even an online shop.
The service is free however if you pay $99.95 per year you will get your own domain name, premium support and access to their collection of premium designs.
Create Your Website Using Software
If you want to have complete control over your website and the freedom to add and modify it as you see fit, you need to register a suitable domain name and purchase a package from a hosting company. This allows you to upload files and software using an FTP program such as FileZilla.
Domain names are relatively cheap to purchase with popular providers such as GoDaddy, NameCheap and Enom charging around $10 a year for a .com, .net or .org. WebAfrica (a South African Company)charges R100 a year for a .co.za domain name.
To host your website you will need to purchase a suitable hosting package. You can purchase a hosting package from a company such as HostGator for only $3.95 a month or Web Africa for R40 per month. If you are unsure about how big a hosting package to purchase, I recommend starting off with the cheapest as you can always upgrade storage and performance later as and when your website needs it.
If you are looking to design your website from scratch, you may want to use a visual editor such as Dreamweaver or SharePoint Designer (which replaced the popular FrontPage application). If you’re an advanced user, you may prefer to edit your code directly using a text editor such as Textpad (PC) or Text Wrangler (MAC).
Thankfully, you don’t have to spend hours looking at code to build a website. If you have a hosting package and domain name then you can choose from hundreds of free and premium themes and templates that let you publish content on the web easily. The easiest way to publish content online is by using a Content Management System (or CMS as they are sometimes known). CMS applications are used to power the majority of websites online today.
The self-hosted version of the popular hosted blogging service is widely recognised to be the best CMS available today and is believed to power more than 25% of the web. WordPress has many strengths. It’s secure, easy to use, easy to modify and is updated regularly. The WordPress community no doubt play a huge part in the platforms success. Due to users’ contributions, there are over 15,000 plugins available.
These plugins allow you to modify WordPress in a number of ways and extend the functionality of the script. For example, by using plugins, it’s possible to use WordPress to create a discussion forum, online shop, job board, online arcade, member website, photo gallery and much much more. There is no shortage of free and premium designs for WordPress users either. The official theme directory has over 1,400 designs and there are thousands more free and premium themes available throughout the web.
Drupal is a flexible CMS that is being used by lots of well known websites such as The White House and The Economist. In the same way that WordPress can be extended by installing plugins, Drupal can be extended by installing modules. There are over 8,300 modules available, making Drupal a very good choice for those who want a versatile CMS. Around 850 themes are available for free in the official theme directory and there are many premium themes available on the internet too.
It boasts a very user friendly graphical interface which makes using Joomla a breeze. The software can be extended in a variety of ways. WordPress calls them plugins, Drupal calls them modules and Joomla calls them Extensions. With over 8,000 extensions available, Joomla is a good option for anyone who is looking for a reliable CMS. There are thousands of free templates available for the software too.
Which Software Should You Use?
Whilst I am personally a fan of WordPress, I believe that it’s important for everyone to try out software before they use it on their website. The most downloaded software isn’t always the best software for you and your website. Every project is different so you need to make sure the software you choose is right for it.
One website I do recommend using is OpenSourceCMS. The website lets you try out hundreds of content management systems, forum and blogging scripts online. This saves you having to download each one and install them yourself. It’s the easiest way of testing lots of software.
Remember, it’s important to choose the right software for your project therefore don’t rush in. Take your time and try out a few different options for every project you work on. For example, if you are launching a discussion forum, either on it’s own or as an addition to an existing website, I recommend trying out the open source applications phpBB or Simple Machines if your budget is tight. If money is not an issue for you, you may want to consider more feature rich forum scripts such as Invision Power, vBulletin or XenForo.
Creating a website isn’t difficult. It may be a little daunting at first, however you will soon pick things up. If the thought of uploading files and setting up databases scares you, I recommend using a hosted service such as WordPress.com until you are familiar with the basics of running a website online.
Due to the simplicity of web publishing software there are many successful people who run websites online that know very little about programming or building a website. I do however believe that knowing a little HTML and CSS will save you a lot of time in the long run.
So what are you waiting for? Start taking the steps to create your first website.