Anyone who has ever setup a website remembers how daunting their first experience was. Terms like ‘shared hosting’, ‘register a domain’, ‘nameservers’, and ‘cPanel’, which may now be in your regular vernacular, were once a foreign language you’d someday hope to understand. You were confused about what company you should host with, or how you’d even build a website, or whether or not you could fix a problem with the site once it was online. It doesn’t matter if you’re a business, an individual, a hobbyist, or anything in between, todays culture expects you to have a web presence. So where does the first time site builder get started?
This isn’t going to be an all-inclusive/comprehensive guide to getting your first website online, but with any luck it will point you in the right direction. One important thing to remember is research is key. You shouldn’t feel rushed into setting up your site just because you’ve gone this long without one. A few extra days (or weeks) of investigation to make the right hosting decision can save you hours of headaches and problems later on.
- First you need to know what type of site you want to create:
Are you a business looking for a professional site? Are you a designer creating a portfolio site to show off your projects? Maybe you’re a mother of rambunctious, yet adorable kids who wants to profile precious moments as they grow up and share those moments with family and friends. Whatever your goal, make it clear at the outset. If you’re looking for a professional site, you’ll want to explore a host that offers a professional site builder and support that can let you sleep peacefully at night. For a more casual site, something free like WordPress should offer everything you need.
- You’ve got an idea, and now you need a domain name:
You’ve probably heard the phrase “domain name” or “.com” thousands of times in your life. Every commercial, ad, or company you’ve dealt with has begged you to “check them out on the web at <enterdomainhere.com>. Now it’s your turn to recommend people to your site. Choosing a domain name is just as important as creating and designing your site. It should represent your brand or goal, be easy to remember, not too long, and most importantly be a name you’re happy with. Domains can generally be registered for $10-$15 per year. You don’t necessarily need to register your domain name(s) with the same company you choose to host your site with, but it’s usually easier to manage one account with one company (at least when you’re first getting started).
- You’ve got your site goals in mind and a domain, now find a way to host it:
For 95% of you first timers, a shared hosting provider will suit your needs (and then some). Not only will you have a safe and secure place to host your site, but you’ll most likely get other features like email, easy to install software support (like WordPress), and support from highly trained individuals who run websites for a living. Don’t be afraid to start small either! Webhosting providers will let you upgrade plans at any time so you don’t need to pay more than is necessary when you’re first getting started. Before you sign up with a new host, contact them first. Even if it’s just to ask questions you already know the answers to, or for a minor clarification, make sure you’re happy with the quality of the resposne. You can tell a lot about a hosting company from your first pre-sales contact and how they treat your inquiries.
- Idea? Check. Domain? Check. Found a host? Check. What’s next:
Congratulations! You’re now officially on the world wide web! You’ve got your awesome domain name officially registered, you’ve fallen in love with your new hosting provider, and your account is setup and ready for use. So…now what? Simply put, explore! Learn *as much as you can* about your hosting providers control panel and how to use it. Read documentation and ask their support team questions. You’re a beginner at this and your hosts support team should understand this. No question is a bad question and the support team is there to help you, so let them. I’ve been in this industry for about 10 years now and I can promise you no question is too simple or too complex, and I bet you $10 its been asked before. Ultimately it is very important to be familiar and comfortable with the tools you’ll be using to build your site before you start the “real work” on your new website. You’ll avoid a lot of potential frustration and confusion this way.
- All right, you’re a control panel expert. Time to build your website:
After a few days of reading, playing, breaking (and fixing), you’re ready to get down to business. Whether you’ve opted for a professional site builder or you’ll be using free software to create your site, this is where the effort matters. It’s important to remember there are no deadlines and no one is standing over your shoulder (well, most likely not) to get this site live instantly. Write your content with the same passion that drove you to create a site in the first place. Choose images and graphics that best represent the message you’re trying to convey with the website. Imagine yourself as a first time visitor to the site you’re creating. What would you want to see or read? What products are you most interested in? Would you want to get in touch with the brilliant person who is responsible for this website? When building a site that represents your brand or passion, no detail is too small. Every visitor matters. Take time to appreciate the minute details of your site, and I assure you people will notice and respect you for it.
- A month later your site is online and people love it! We’re done here, right? Think again:
Your hard work has paid off (and rightfully so). You did the research, laid out a gameplan, and you stuck through it until the site was launched. The site you setup for your business has increased your sales 10% in just a month. Your hobby site has constant visitors and feedback, and you’re even being linked to from places you didn’t know existed! It’d be a shame if something happened to your site…
Below is a basic checklist of ways to ensure you continue to have an amazing hosting experience with your new site:
1) Keep track of all your logins. I can’t recommend LastPass enough. It’s a secure way to store all your online passwords. This includes your client account login, your control panel, and anything else you’ve setup with your new site.
2) Update your software regularly. We see thousands of compromised websites every year, and most of them are attacked due to running outdated software. Whatever you chose to build your website with, keep it updated and keep it safe. (Check out our security blog post for more details)
3) Backups are king. Even if your webhost offers backups, keep your own. I cannot stress the importance of maintaining regular, off site backups you control and have full access to. A few hours of due diligence each month to make sure you have backups could save you countless hours and money down the line if something happens to your site.
4) Keep your content fresh. A stagnant site won’t rank as highly on major search engines, and regular visitors will stop coming back if you’re not persistent with keeping the site updated. If your main site content doesn’t change often, then setup a blog (like this one!) and post every few weeks. Create a community forum for folks to discuss your site or products. Be active on social media so your fans can keep tabs on what you’re up to.
5) Most importantly, don’t forget to have fun. This site is your project, your passion, your business. If you don’t enjoy it then neither will your audience. Just like anything in life, don’t take it too seriously. Hey, you didn’t even have a website a month ago, so why get too stressed over something that never previously existed?
Creating a website, regardless of the purpose, can be a very fulfilling experience. Whether it’s a canvas for expression or a way to grow your business (or both), make it count and make it worthwhile.