We are living in the Information Age now, where having an online presence is absolutely vital for you and your business. The internet has given us the luxury of scaling our brands across the entire globe with the click of a few buttons, and it has never been easier to be an influencer, to express your opinions to a wide audience, or to sell products to customers far and wide. Whether you are a thought leader or an aspiring digital nomad, starting a website is your first step.
A few friends have recently asked me about starting their own websites, but didn’t quite know where to begin. That has inspired me to write this quickstart guide. Here I will walk you through the essentials on setting up your first website, with my recommendations of the most reliable hosting and domain procurement services I use.
Get a Domain Name
The first thing you want to do is to decide what kind of website you will have, and that should help you determine your branding direction. Are you setting up a personal blog? Are you setting up a website for your brick-and-mortar shop? Are you setting up a website for your product brand? If it’s a blog, what kind of content will you write about?
Once you’ve decided the purpose of your website, you can choose a domain name. If you are even half-serious about running your website, then you should definitely get a legitimate domain (e.g. “www.yourname.com”), rather than going with some free domain like “yourname.wordpress.com”.
Having your own domain name gives your website authority and legitimacy, whereas nobody (neither your customers nor readers) will take an URL seriously if it’s “something.wordpress.com”. Buying your own domain name will typically only cost $10-20 USD per year, so it’s certainly worth the investment.
Before you jump into buying a domain, however, you must first check to see if the domain name you desire has already been taken. To check, you can simply go to Namecheap and type in your desired domain URL in the search box. If you are trying to go for a fairly common domain name (e.g. “italianfood.com”), chances are the domain will already be taken. In such cases, you will get alternative suggestions such as the same domain name with different endings (e.g. “.net” or “.org”), or similar names. Make sure you think long and hard to choose a domain name that is available and sounds good/suitable for your website.
Once you’ve found an available domain, simply go through the steps to purchase it. A fairly standard .com or .net domain will typically cost around $15 per year, whereas some “premium” domains are a bit more expensive. If you are rich and you are really after a particular domain name that’s already been take, you can attempt to buy it from the current owner. However, some in-demand domain names can go for thousands if not millions of dollars (e.g. “bitcoin.com”)!
Note that it doesn’t really matter which service provider you use to get your domain name, the prices will be similar. Although, for simplicity and efficiency, I would highly recommend to buy your domain from the same site as you will buy your hosting service. For that, I personally use Namecheap for everything. I have made several websites in the past and tried all of the mainstream service providers (GoDaddy, HostGator, BlueHost, etc.), and I’ve found Namecheap to be the uncontested best option. They have a very clean and easy-to-use interface, the lowest prices, and the most reliable products and customer support. In contrast, I had some quite annoying experiences with companies such as HostGator and WebHostingHub, and I actually migrated my websites over to Namecheap!
One thing you need to pay attention to is domain privacy. What does this mean? When you buy a domain, your domain will be automatically registered on ICANN (The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) along with its ownership information. This means that, if your domain information is public, then anybody on the planet can search ICANN’s database and find your name, address, phone number, email, and other relevant information that you submitted when purchasing the domain. I personally do not want my info to be public to the entire planet, so I always get domain privacy service for any domains I buy — when you have domain privacy service, the vendor company is displayed as the domain owner on ICANN (concealing your personal ownership).
This is another reason why you should use Namecheap for your domain purchase. When you buy a domain through them, they give you WhoIsGuard domain privacy protection for free. Most other domain providers actually charge for this service, which is pretty scammy, since I view privacy as a right rather than a privilege.
If you want to be really serious or plan to have monetary transactions happening on your site (e.g. for Shopify or WooCommerce), then you also need to purchase an SSL certificate. This certificate is what gives a site the little lock icon you see in front of its URL in your browser (“https”). For a casual blog site this is not really necessary, but if you plan to make financial transactions on your website then this is a must. A SSL certificate will typically cost you less than $10 a year, on top of the domain name itself.
Hosting is the service of actually keeping your website running on a server. Companies I mentioned in previous paragraphs all offer hosting services for your website, and that’s why earlier I mentioned it’s best to have your domain name, add-ons, and hosting all with the same provider, for simplicity’s sake.
Hosting is the most expensive part of setting up a website, with hosting plans typically going for anywhere between $2-10 per month ($30-120 per year). You need to pay more for more premium plans, but these are not necessary when you are just starting up and don’t have much traffic.
A standard shared hosting plan should cost no more than $5 per month. In fact, you can often find promotional offers for $2 or $3 per month for hosting. Currently, you can get the basic shared hosting plan from Namecheap for 50% off on the first year, which is only $1.44/month or $17.28/year — that is as cheap as it gets, and there is simply no excuse to not get started building your website today!
Note that “shared hosting” simply means your website is hosted on a server owned by the service provider, along with several other websites. You can pay a lot more money to get your own dedicated server, if you don’t want to worry about other people’s website getting too much traffic and slowing down your shared server. However, if you are just starting out, this is not necessary.
Build Your Site with WordPress
Did you know that nearly 40% of all websites in the world are built using WordPress?
WordPress is more or less the go-to blog site building software, and it has been made to be extremely easy to use over the years. Zero knowledge of coding is required to make a perfectly fine looking website using WordPress.
Once you have purchased your domain and web hosting, you would receive access to the control panel (or “cpanel”) of your site. Typically, if you purchased hosting through Namecheap, the WordPress app will have already been pre-installed for you in your cpanel. In this case, you can simply go to the admin page of your site (www.yourdomain.com/admin) and login, and you will be at the WordPress dashboard. If for some reason WordPress is not pre-installed on your site (e.g. if you use a shitty hosting service), you will need to go to the software/apps section in cpanel to install WordPress yourself.
Another thing to note here is that WordPress now also provides their own domain name sales and hosting service, along with the website building software itself.
Themes & Site Appearance
Inside WordPress, you can choose from a huge variety of free or paid themes for your website. The theme simply refers to a premade design for your website, so that you don’t have to code the headers and footers and borders manually!
Generally, you can do pretty well just with one of the free themes. However, most free themes won’t give you all of their features without upgrading. Premium themes will offer you developer support, more features, and look more professional, so if you are properly branding a product or business, you should think about getting a nice premium theme.
Once you’ve decided on your theme, you can customize things within its limits (“Appearance” -> “Customize”). You can change a variety of things such as the positioning of your header logo, display size, width of the pages, typography of the site, background images, and much more. Spend some time to play around with it so that your site looks to your taste!
Note that you are free to change your website theme anytime, however it’s better to stick with one. This is because over time when there is more content on your site, migrating to a new theme will affect the formatting and layout of your content.
Once you are set with the theme and colors of your site, you can add more functions by adding widgets and plugins to your site. You will need to install several plugins to improve the basic functions of your site, and to guard your site against spam and hackers. Some such plugins include: Akismet Anti-Spam, Jetpack, Wordfence Security, and Yoast SEO.
That’s about it for the basics — you are now ready to produce your first pieces of content on your first website, congratulations!
I’ll do another post in the future to walk through e-commerce sites such as WooCommerce specifically.