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In this article, we’ll cover the basic process for taking a website from idea to reality. And if you follow the links within this page, you’ll find more detailed articles on each of the topics covered.
Once you know more, you can decide if you should build your own website or hire a web designer/builder to do it for you.
(Please note – the term ‘website’ and ‘blog’ are often used to refer to the same thing these days.)
Let’s start by answering a basic, but important question.
What software do you need to build and run a website or blog?
Modern websites and blogs use a type of software called a ‘content management system‘ (or CMS for short).
The name is self-explanatory – it’s a system that manages the content of a website or blog.
A more beginner-friendly term for the same or similar types of software is ‘website builder‘. And to a lesser extent, ‘website building software‘.
WordPress is the most popular website building software online
The top dog in this sector is WordPress. It launched on 27 May 2003 and by the time it reached its 18th birthday in 2021, it powered 40% of all websites you see online. The overall usage and domination of WordPress continue to grow and doesn’t look like it will stop any time soon.
WordPress is available in two formats
WordPress comes in two formats. One is an online version and the other is what’s known as ‘self-hosted’. This site and millions of similar sites use the self-hosted version.
The online version is available at WordPress.com and the self-hosted version is available to download from WordPress.org. Both versions are free but there are additional costs to getting started if you choose the self-hosted version. Those costs are, at least, a domain name and web hosting (more on that soon).
If you want to try WordPress without spending a penny, sign up for an account at WordPress.com. You only need an email address. Your site won’t be perfect but you are able to use the software to see if it’s a good fit for you.
Once set up, both versions of WordPress are editable via a browser or app so you can manage your website from anywhere in the world and from any device with an internet connection.
The WordPress learning curve
WordPress is the world’s most popular website-building software but it’s not for everyone.
There’s a learning curve that is a little steep for some people. Especially those who just want to make a simple website to promote a business, book, or something else.
Luckily, YouTube is full of tutorials explaining how to set up a site from scratch and do just about anything WordPress related. So if you’re ever stuck, just visit YouTube or google your problem and you should find an answer fairly quickly.
You might also want to check out our Learn WordPress page, which has lots of links to useful resources for all things WordPress.
If you want to look beyond WordPress for building a website or blog, have a peek at these alternatives. The first two are particularly popular with people who don’t enjoy working with WordPress.
- GoDaddy Website Builder
And if you’re thinking of starting an online eCommerce store, the market leader in this space is Shopify.
Domain names and web hosting
So far we’ve looked at the software you can use to build a website. Once you’ve decided which of the options is best for you, it’s time to start looking at domain names and hosting.
This is a domain name: digital-internet.com.
A domain name is what people type into a web browser to visit your website or blog.
The second half of this domain name, .com, is what’s known as a TLD (top-level domain). The first part, digital-internet, is what’s known as an SLD (second-level domain).
Non-country specific TLDs include .net, .org, .info, .biz etc.
You’ll want one of these if you want to attract traffic from around the world.
Each country has its own domain extension. These are known as a ccTLD – or country code top-level domain.
Examples include .us, .co.uk, .de and .ca.
You’ll want one of these if you want to target people in a specific country. Bear in mind, that in some cases, you must be a resident of a country to buy a domain with that country’s extension.
I recommend (and use) Namecheap for buying domains. Their prices are reasonable across the board.
Read A Beginner’s Guide to Domain Names for more information on choosing, registering, and using a domain name.
This is where things can start getting complicated for complete beginners.
But before we get into that, let’s define web hosting in simple terms.
Your website is basically a bunch of files made up of images and documents. These files live on a computer-like machine called a server.
When somebody wants to view a page on your website, they type in the address of that page or click a link on another webpage, and the server serves up the page to their computer, laptop, or mobile device.
The most basic hosting option for new websites is called shared hosting.
Your website shares a server with hundreds or thousands of other websites. This is fine in the early days because you won’t get much traffic.
As time goes by, and your website traffic grows, you can upgrade your server to handle the extra requirements. This is usually as simple as hitting an ‘Upgrade’ button inside your hosting account.
Setting up WordPress
Setting up a WordPress site at WordPress.com is as simple as registering to create an account, thinking of a name for your website, and then joining.
That’s all you have to do for the most basic version.
If you want a more professional-looking website, you’ll need to upgrade your account at a minimum cost of $4 per month (billed annually).
Setting up WordPress on a self-hosted server is a little more complicated. But not much.
By this stage in your journey, you’ll already have a domain and some hosting so it’s just a matter of installing WordPress.
Most web hosting companies offer a quick way to install WordPress – press a button and follow the onscreen instructions.
You’ll be asked to create a username and password (make it hard to guess). You might also be asked for your website’s name and tagline. All of these things, except the username, can be changed later so don’t sweat over these details for too long.
The setup process usually takes about a minute or so if everything goes according to plan. Be sure to keep any details about the installation emailed to you by your hosting company so you know how to access your website.
Using WordPress is a little like driving a car, playing the guitar, or studying a language – you never stop learning. Ever!
I’ve used it since 2006 and am still learning new ways of doing things. Partly because WordPress is constantly evolving so are the various add-ons we need to make websites and blogs run the way we want them to.
Luckily for you and everybody else using WordPress, there are plenty of people creating tutorials to make life easier. If you need to figure something out, turn to Google or YouTube and you’ll quickly find a solution.
Making WordPress pretty and functional
For the remainder of this article, everything I’m talking about refers to the self-hosted version of WordPress. There is some crossover between the two versions but you’ll have to dig around WordPress.com to figure things out.
Once WordPress is installed, it’s time to start setting up your website the way you want it. This includes adding a theme to match the design you have in your head and plugins to add functionality.
So, you might be asking, what are themes and plugins?
To keep it simple, themes create the design and plugins help you do things.
Themes and plugins come in a range of shapes and sizes, and while many are free and easily installed from inside your website, there are plenty of premium themes and plugins that can be purchased online and easily installed by uploading a .zip file.
Adding content to a new WordPress website
Once you’ve reached this stage, it’s time to start adding content.
Typically, you have one of two document formats in a WordPress website. They are Posts and Pages.
In most cases, people use Pages for things like about, contact, legal, and sales pages. And typically use Posts for the blog section (what is a blog?).
Updates and maintenance
What we’ve looked at so far gives you an overview of the entire process for setting up a WordPress website.
Obviously, the minute details will change depending on what you want from your website. But one thing that won’t change is the importance of keeping your WordPress software (often referred to as core files), themes, and plugins up to date.
Ideally, you should check for updates at least once a week and do them as they arise or soon afterwards.
Why update so often?
Plugin developers and theme authors do the best they can when it comes to coding their products, but hackers are always looking for ways to exploit any flaws they find.
One of the easiest ways to get into a site is via out-of-date plugins and themes. And once a hacker gets in and does his/her thing, cleaning up the mess can take time and cost money.
Another reason to update plugins and themes is that they tend to work better.
Go for it!
What do you think? Could you do this yourself or do you need to hire somebody to do it for you?
I first used WordPress in 2006/2007 and back then hosting companies didn’t offer the auto-install feature they do now. It was done manually. And that was a nightmare for non-techies.
YouTube didn’t have the reach it does now (it launched in February 2005) so there were no video tutorials to turn to.
As for themes for creating beautiful designs and plugins to add amazing functionality – they were just pipe dreams!
I guess what I’m trying to say is that setting up your own website or blog is easier now than it’s ever been. But be prepared to go through a learning curve, make mistakes and mess things up.
We’ve all done that and we’re all still doing that. It’s all part of building and running websites.
But I believe anybody can build their own website these days.