I’ve been creating websites for a very long time, with creating websites hosted through phpBB, WordPress, vBulletin, Wix, Squarespace, and other sources over the years. I’ve tried pretty much all the platforms out there and when a lot of you guys asked for tips on starting a website, I’d thought I’d share my experiences here in this blog post. I will explain some things that you will definitely need, pros and cons of different platforms, and some problems you will face depending on your skill set. If you want to start a website for your business, portfolio, or idea and have very little knowledge, this post will be a great place to start.
Things You Will Need
- Domain – Essentially, your address on the internet that people can remember such as www.creativedojo.net or www.yourname.com
- Hosting (Possibly) – The server that will be running and hosting your files
- Some common technical sense – It doesn’t take a computer science major to build a site, it’s fairly easy if you know some basic technical things.
Domains are simple, they are basically your spot on the internet. You will definitely need to come up with a domain name that is available, but also something that is easily rememberable or readable. This will be the place your visitors will need to go to if they want to visit your site. Domains are cheap (like $9.99/year cheap). I’d recommend you buy your domain from the same company you’re purchasing hosting from (more below) to make it easier to manage and consolidate. You can also check domain availability on domain/hosting sites. Sometimes, when you purchase a hosting package from a company, they may even give you a free domain for an extended period of time!
Cool, you have your ‘address’ on the internet, but you’ll need a house or space to put things in. This is hosting, a server where you put stuff in that makes it available to you and others. You’ll need hosting if you want to host a platform like WordPress. Hosting is a mixed bag, but like most things, you get what you pay for. Hosting can cost from as little as $3.99/month to several hundreds or thousands a month depending on your package and traffic. The cheaper hosting packages usually offer unlimited storage and bandwidth, but their speed is a lot slower so you probably won’t be able to handle a peak of traffic that well. They are shared servers usually, meaning you share the pipeline with others which could slow things down for your site if everyone’s getting lots of traffic. So how much should you pay? As much as you want to and as much as you think you’ll need. I’d start at the minimum and work your way up, as most companies make it very easy to upgrade your hosting package. Bluehost & GoDaddy have decent lower tier packages, whereas MediaTemple has some pretty decent mid to higher tier packages.
Here’s the fun stuff that can really change your website experience: your website platform. At the time of this article, there are only 2 platforms worth mentioning: WordPress & Squarespace (But I will mention Drupal & Joomla too as they are popular options as well). Please note, I am currently sponsored by Squarespace, but my opinions and tips are of my own. My opinions and words would be the same regardless of their sponsorship.
Simply put: You will need hosting for all these platforms unless you’re using Squarespace.
Pros: Powerful, lots of room for expansion and customization, tons of plugins to extend features, a ton of themes, and lots of developers that develop with it. (We’re not talking about the WordPress.com sites, there’s a difference between the two.)
Cons: You’ll need some technical experience to properly setup and maintain WordPress. Installing themes and plugins may not be easy for ‘non-techy’ people. HTML, CSS, and PHP knowledge is highly recommended if you want to customize your themes and plugins beyond their own settings (which I do all the time). Just a heads up, you will need to do a lot of tweaking for SEO, security, database optimization, user control, and other things to really take advantage of WordPress.
If you’re pretty tech savvy and want a full fledged website to tweak to your heart’s content, this is the platform you want. It’s also free to download and install onto your server. (Most hosting companies can install it for you with a click of a button)
Pros: Very user-friendly, a great amount of features, easy to use and customize, great support, and almost all the technical stuff is taken care of for you.
Cons: Less room for feature expansion and limited base themes. (Although you can alter your theme’s CSS and much more pretty easily if you have the skills). It’s also pricier than WordPress.
Personally, I think this is what the majority of people will need. Squarespace is a place where ordinary humans can easily setup websites and customize it, without really having to learn anything. You can setup an online store or portfolio very easily, which is what a majority of you people want to do anyways. The great part is, if you go through Squarespace, you pay for the all exclusive. This means, you pay for hosting and the ability to create websites all from Squarespace. You can even get a domain from Squarespace. This is a plus because they are all very well integrated and takes the pain away for the average user. Essentially, you pay to get everything in one nice place, unlike WordPress.
Pros: It’s extremely powerful and flexible, allowing you to do a lot of advance and complex stuff with your site. It is SEO and enterprise friendly and is easily scalable. Like WordPress, it’s free to download and is open source.
Cons: Really aimed towards developers, very bare-boned, not user friendly. This stuff is for the advanced people who know what they’re doing. Chances are, if you’re reading this article, you should stay away from this for now.
Pros: Somewhat user-friendly and easy to use with a great amount of extensions and support from developers. It can handle some enterprise-grade CMS sites and is more robust than WordPress in handling large volumes of data. Just like WordPress and Joomla, it’s free to download and is open source as well.
Cons: Still a learning curve present, not as easy as WordPress. Not SEO friendly and isn’t as powerful as Drupal. (I usually think of it as a hybrid between WordPress & Drupal)
What I Use
I’ve tried all the platforms mentioned above, and I prefer WordPress for larger sites that require a bit of customization while still being easy to use, and Squarespace for simple sites. In fact, CreativeDojo and a few other sites I manage run on WordPress because it’s community based. For my personal portfolio and similar smaller sites, I use 500px and Squarespace.
I won’t go into the specific details for creating sites with these platforms, but if you’re interested, that could be a future blog post. That’s pretty much it, these are some things you’ll need to do to get started running a website. Believe it or not, running a website can take up a lot of your time so it’s best to choose a platform and environment that suits you. Ultimately, it boils down to your technical knowledge and available time you want to invest in a website. The rest is all up to you and your content, so have fun with it. If you guys have any further questions, feel free to leave them down below and I’ll get to them as soon as I can.