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Looking to create your own website but don’t know where to start and don’t want to pay a developer or designer thousands of dollars? We’ve got your back! We’ve written a comprehensive web series with details on each step of the process, and independently reviewed recommendations of providers. However, I know that for a business owner time is a precious commodity, so I’ve put together this express guide to get you up and running right away. I’ll provide detailed step-by-step instructions with screenshots so you can follow along and you’ll know exactly what to do (if you don’t, I’m here to help with that as well). If you stick with it, you could have your website up and running in less than a day.
CMS vs Code
Now, if you came here to literally build your website from “scratch scratch” (i.e. using web coding languages such as HTML/PHP/MySQL/etc.), you’ll want to get your hands dirty with a handy guide such as this one. Know, however, that this is hardly necessary anymore, as the majority of the internet is powered by CMS’s (Content Management Systems) such as WordPress that provide a user-friendly front-end interface, so you don’t have to muck with the code on the backend. Hand-coding your website will take exponentially longer — I recommend using that time to produce content and obtain web traffic instead. CMS’s have become so omnipotent that they power just about everything on the web, including major news and retail outlets, government websites, and more. Alright then, buckle in, hands inside your web browser at all times please; here we go!
- Choose and Register Your Domain Name
- Sign up for and Set up Your Hosting Provider
- Choose a Website Platform and Theme
- Create Your Website Content
- Choose Plugins to Power Your Site
- Congrats! Sit Back and Relax!
First, you’ll need a name for your website. We have a guide on helping pick your domain name. Once you’ve decided, you’ll want to do what’s called register your domain name. This will reserve a name (such as example.com) under your name, and give you full control over it. You’ll pay a yearly renewal fee (typically around $10/year for a .com). Note that it’s possible to register a domain name and set up hosting all in one step (if you prefer to do this, you can skip ahead). However, we recommend keeping your domain registration and hosting separate, as it gives you more control over your domain name, and we prefer using companies that are specialists in one or the other. Head on over to Namecheap (our top pick in our registrar review) and follow these steps:
- Search: In the “search domain” box (pictured above), type in your preferred domain name. Namecheap will let you know if it’s available. If not, try another one. Rinse and repeat until you find one that’s available and that you’re happy with.
- Price: You’ll see the pricing in the right-hand column. Click on the shopping cart icon to add the name to your cart (you have the option of purchasing multiple names at once). Then click on View Cart to see your selections before you pay for them.
- Protect: WhoisGuard is a free privacy service that protects your domain name’s public whois record (includes all your contact info) from prying eyes. I recommend keeping this. The PremiumDNS feature is an extra cost, and is not crucial, but has been added as a security precaution to help prevent high-value domain names from getting hacked (they won’t steal your name, but may find a way to crash your website).
- Checkout: Click on Confirm Order when you’re ready (you can check our Namecheap promo code page first for discounts if you like). You’ll be asked to create an account and checkout. Once you’ve paid, you should be able to click on “manage” next to the domain you just purchased to manage it.
- Manage: Next you’ll want to learn how to manage your domain. This is important because in the next step you’ll be pointing it at your hosting provider, so you can get your site up and running. If you’re not already on the management screen from the previous step, in your Namecheap dashboard, click the manage button next to your domain name. Look for the Nameservers section, pictured below. Leave the setting at Custom DNS and in the two fields below that, enter ns1.rochendns.com and ns2.rochendns.com (this assumes you’re going to use my recommended hosting provider Rochen, detailed in the next step).
Next, you’ll want to secure a hosting provider that will host the files that power your website, and serve them up on the internet for your audience to see (i.e. make your website visible to the world). Head on over to my pick Rochen (read our hosting provider review for more info on why I like them) and follow these steps:
- Sign-up: Rochen offers affordable and reliable hosting. The key, if you’re interested, is that they don’t oversell resources, that means you get a dedicated chunk of resources for your site, which makes it much less likely to go down than if you were hosted by a less expensive, less reliable hosting provider. We recommend you choose Premium Web Hosting to start, which typically goes for $8.95/month.
- Domain Name: if you skipped here from step 1 above, you can now choose a domain name and a green checkbox will appear if it’s available. If, on the other hand, you signed up with Namecheap in step 1 above, you’ll want to select Manage Externally and fill in the domain name you registered above (double check spelling and domain extension (i.e. .com, .net, .space, etc.). Your screen will look something like this:
- CMS Platform – next you’ll be given the option to pre-install a common CMS (Content Management System) platform such as WordPress (my recommendation). A CMS essentially provides a front-end interface for you to manage your website so you don’t have to fiddle with the technical details (if you do prefer to spend the time geeking out, you can check out our Dreamweaver tutorial article for an idea of what might be involved). But there’s really no reason to — CMS’s have gotten so powerful that it’s rare that anyone builds a website from scratch anymore, unless you need a really specific application (over 20% of the internet is powered by WordPress, including We Rock Your Web 🙂 ). Choose WordPress and it will install the latest stable version for you (they also have a migration option if you’re transferring an existing website).
- Account Resource Level – next you’ll want to choose Shared or Burst hosting. We recommend beginning with shared; you can always upgrade to Burst if you find that the less expensive Shared option is not meeting your needs.
- Account Information – you’re almost done. Fill in your account and billing information, enter a promo code from our Rochen promo codes page, accept their service agreement, and you’re off to the races 🙂
Here’s a summary of what you’ll get with your hosting plan using the options mentioned above (this may have changed slightly since the time of writing):
- 20GB SSD Web Storage
- Unmetered Data Transfer
- Free SSL Certificates
- Daily Managed Backups
- 24/7 Support
If you installed WordPress above, you’re done selecting your website platform. Now you just need to decide on a theme. WordPress includes hundreds that you can choose from for free (details on how to find these below), or we’ve got an article that covers the best WordPress themes we recommend. Now, here’s how to install your theme.
- Login to WordPress – login to your WordPress dashboard using the username and password you set up during your Rochen WordPress install. Once inside the dashboard, browse on over to Appearance > Themes:
- Install your theme – from here you can choose and activate a pre-installed theme, or browse the free ones offered by WordPress by clicking on “Add New Theme.” If you purchased a premium theme from our review above, you should have downloaded a theme file. You can install that now by clicking on the “Upload Theme” button. Choose your theme file (should end in .zip — meaning it’s a compressed collection of files) from the location you downloaded the theme package to on your computer, and then click “Install Now”). WordPress will install your theme. Click “Activate” to activate it.
- Preview your theme – next browse on over to “Visit Site” in the top left corner of your dashboard (appears when you hover over your website name), or just type the name of your website directly in a new browser tab. Within your dashboard, you can visit “Appearance > Customize” to modify your theme. Your theme may have also installed its own dashboard within WordPress where you can configure options — this should show up in the top or left sidebar when you’re logged into your WP dashboard.
These steps all assume that you’re logged into your WordPress dashboard. The options mentioned below will typically appear along the top or left sidebar.
- Create some content – in your dashboard browse to “+ New” at the top and select “Post” or “Page”(or “Posts” or “Pages” > “Add New” at left) to create your first piece of content. You’ll be greeted with the WordPress editor which will provide you with various buttons and options you can use to create your content. It’s best to just play around with these to get the hang of them. Click on the “Text” tab (the “Visual” tab is enabled by default) to glance under the hood (i.e. see what code/HTML the editor is producing as you edit). You can upgrade/extend the WP editor and its functionality using the TinyMCE plugin we mentioned below.
- Learn your editor – the best way to learn the editor is to play around with it. You’ll notice that our editor may contain some buttons yours doesn’t — that’s fine, that just means we used a plugin or two to extend our editor’s functionality (you can too by checking out my recommended plugins). Click on the “add media” button top left to add images to your content. Try adding a heading using the “Paragraph” drop-down in the editor. Experiment with bold, italics, adding links, and more. We’ll leave that fun stuff up to you. If you get stuck somewhere, just shoot me a note in the comments below.
- Publish your content – once you’re ready, head on over to the right side of your post and click the “Publish” button. Bam, your page is live on the web for everyone to see. Gives yourself a pat on the back 🙂 Keep publishing content and as your site grows, you can organize it and dive deeper under the hood of WordPress. For example, if you click “Screen Options” at the top when you’re editing a post or page, you can determine what your editor layout will look like and what kind of panes are available. You’ll eventually learn about categorizing your content, designing your menu and sidebar, and more. It’s all very intuitive and is best learned by just diving in and playing with it. Plugins may also add additional functionality that’s not there at first. There are plenty of resources on We Rock Your Web in regards to WordPress, just use the search box at top right to find what you’re looking for. If you come up empty, let me know below.
- Set up your menu and sidebar – in your WP dashboard on the left side, browse to Appearance > Menu to decide on your main menu items (and to activate your menu on your site), and to Appearance > Widgets to add “widgets” (blocks of content) to your sidebar. See our sidebar at right for an example of what’s possible.
Want more detailed instructions than this? We’ve got a dedicated article for setting up your WordPress site here.
Now comes the fun part — you can choose plugins that will help your site do all kinds of nifty stuff, from adding contact forms to letting you sell products and receive payments through payment processors such as Paypal. The only thing I’ll caution you is to only install plugins you think you’ll absolutely use — as the more plugins you have, the more resources your site will use and the slower it will operate (which could increase your hosting bill, among other issues). A good place to start is the free WordPress plugin repository (contains over 50,000 plugins). Try and select plugins that:
- Have been updated recently and work with your latest version of WordPress.
- Receive a higher number downloads and good reviews (typically 4 stars or higher).
- Don’t suffer from support forums that have a lot of issues or that don’t get a lot of attention from the developers.
If you’re looking for more powerful, custom plugins, we recommend the site Code Canyon, where developers have created powerful, premium plugins.
My Favorite Essential Plugins
I consider most of these to be essential plugins. They are all free. However, some do offer “premium” versions or upgrades for extended functionality and/or support.
- JetPack by WordPress – I mention this one first because this is a solid collection of plugins created by the WordPress creators themselves, and will get you up and running quickly with website stats, social sharing tools, security and backup functionality, and more. While a great option for beginners, it’s large and resource heavy, so as you get more experienced with WordPress you may find yourself opting for individual plugins to replace those features you like best.
- Black Studio TinyMCE Widget – this little widget gives you a “Visual Editor” which lets you manage your widgets (the boxes that appear in your sidebar(s)) without having to know code (HTML).
- TinyMCE Advanced – lets you extend the standard WordPress editor with more buttons and functionality.
- Google Analytics by Monster Insights – easily integrates your Google Analytics tracking code with your WordPress installation and lets you manage many elements of Analytics from within your dashboard. If you haven’t already, now’s a good time to sign up for Google Analytics (shows you information on your visitors, your top pages, and what keywords visitors typed in to find you) and Webmaster Tools (shows you what ranking your pages and terms have, and helps you communicate with Google and let them know what’s happening with your site) as well.
- Quform – this is my favorite contact form, and one we use on this site (after having tried out dozens). It’s paid, but well worth the price in my opinion. If you’d rather start with a free one, or see what else is available, check out our contact form plugin reviews.
- Updraftplus Backup – if you signed up with Rochen hosting (or any hosting provider worth their salt for that matter) you should already have a backup in place, but in my opinion, it’s always good to have another layer that you can easily access without having to contact support, learn more in our WordPress backup plugin reviews. Updraft will integrate with Dropbox (online file storage and sync made easy) and make it simple for you to manage and restore your own backups within the WordPress interface.
Yoast SEO – this is an industry standard SEO plugin that does a number of things, including helping you create and manage sitemaps of your content, which you can use in conjunction with your Webmaster Tools account (mentioned above). You can also optimize how your social accounts integrate with your content, and in post edit mode the plugin provides scores of your content’s readability and keyword effectiveness. Note that SEO tools like this have become less important as the search engines have gotten smarter, so I recommend you focus the majority of your efforts on simply producing good content instead.
- WP Super Cache – a free caching plugin that will store your content, meaning save one version and serve it up repeatedly (and quickly) to visitors until it’s updated. This reduces the load on your server and speeds up your website. Probably one of the most important plugins you can add to your arsenal as your visitor base grows. We use WP Rocket, a premium caching plugin.
- WooCommerce is the de facto authority plugin for creating your ecommerce website or portal. “Plugin” is a misnomer by the way — this is a full-fledged ecommerce platform.
Want more? A detailed list of all my favorite plugins is in the works. Stay tuned.
That’s a wrap, folks. If you are now up and running with your website, it’s time to congratulate yourself on a job well done. Sit back, relax, let your brain recharge and come back later to continue. Remember, this is just the beginning. You’ll want to add more content to your site, learn about SEO and how to get more visitors, how to monetize your site, market it on social media, sell products, and more. It’s all available in our how to create a website series.
Were you able to get up and running using my express guide?