The essential step by step guide on how to set up a website
by Christopher Heng,
This tutorial shows you how to make or create a website. It is intended for the beginner and layperson, taking you step by step through the whole process from the very beginning. It makes very few assumptions about what you know (other than the fact that you know how to surf the Internet, since you’re already reading this article on the Internet). As some steps are more involved, this guide also links to selected relevant articles on thesitewizard.com that you will need to click through to read for more information.
The Essential Step-by-Step Guide to Making Your Own Website
Get Your Domain Name
The first thing you need to do before anything else is to get yourself a domain name. This is the name you want to give to your website. For example, the domain name of the website you’re reading is “thesitewizard.com”. To get a domain, you have to pay an annual fee to a registrar for the right to use that name. Obtaining a domain does not get you a website or anything like that. It’s just a name. It’s like registering a business name in the brick-and-mortar world; getting a company name does not magically grant you the shop premises to go with it.
You can find a detailed step-by-step guide to getting a domain name, and the things you need before registering, in How to Register a Domain Name.
If you haven’t already decided on a domain name to buy, you may want to take a look at some Tips on Choosing a Good Domain Name. For those who find that their preferred domain is already taken, read Should I Use a Temporary Domain Name Till My Preferred Domain Becomes Available? so that you don’t unnecessarily add obstaces to your own path.
It may also be wise to take a look at some of the Important Precautions to Take When Buying a Domain Name, just so that you don’t commit the same mistakes that some newcomers make.
If you are tempted to skip this step altogether, read Is it Possible to Create a Website Without Buying a Domain Name?
Those who have more questions about domains may want to take a look at my list of frequently asked questions on domain names.
Choose a Web Host and Sign Up for an Account
A web host is basically a company that has many computers connected to the Internet. When you place your web pages on their computers, everyone in the world will be able to connect to it and view them. You will need to sign up for an account with a web host so that your website has a home. If getting a domain name is analogous to getting a business name in the brick-and-mortar world, getting a web hosting account is comparable to renting office or shop premises for your business.
There are many issues involved in selecting a good web host. Read up on the things you need to look for in the article How to Choose a Web Host.
One factor that may influence your choice is the decision on whether to use SSL for your website. A site that uses SSL will have a web address starting with “https://” instead of “http://”. In ancient times, webmasters typically only bothered to use it if they were selling goods and services and needed to collect credit card numbers, or if they had some sort of facility that required their visitors to log in with a password.
Nowadays, however, the whole of the Internet is slowly moving to a state where everything has SSL. As such, it is a good idea for new websites to use it from the very outset. This will allow you to avoid the hassle and risk involved in moving an existing website from HTTP to HTTPS, which you may find yourself doing in the future if you don’t get it done at the beginning. For more information, please read the first few sections of that article, namely those explaining what SSL is (in greater detail), and the advantages and disadvantages of it.
In general, as far as I know, all commercial web hosts let you install SSL certificates for your site. The price varies, though, from company to company. Some give you a certificate for free. Others will install a free certificate for a one time charge. Some require you to buy a commercial certificate (which has a recurring charge). You may want to factor this when comparing the prices of the different web hosts.
After you sign up for a web hosting account, you will need to point your domain name to that location. Information on how to do this can be found in the guide How to Point a Domain Name to Your Website (Or What to Do After Buying Your Domain Name).
Designing your Web Pages
Once you have settled your domain name and web host, the next step is to design the web site itself. In this article, I will assume that you will be doing this yourself. If you are hiring a web designer to do it for you, you can probably skip this step, since that person will handle it on your behalf.
Although there are many considerations in web design, as a beginner, your first step is to actually get something out onto the web. The fine-tuning can come after you’ve figured out how to publish a basic web page. One way is to use a WYSIWYG (“What You See Is What You Get”) web editor to do it. Such editors allow you to design your site visually, without having to deal with the technical details. They work just like a normal wordprocessor.
There are a number of free and commercial web editors available. If you use Windows, one of the best around is Microsoft Expression Web. This was a formerly commercial program that Microsoft now distributes for free, presumably because they no longer want to be in the web editor business. It is fully-featured and very polished (as befits software that was once sold in shops) with facilities that both new and experienced webmasters find useful. You can find a guide on how to use this program from my Expression Web Tutorial. The latter takes you through the process of designing a fully functional multi-page website that is mobile-friendly (that is, your site will work well on both desktop/laptop computers and the smaller screens of mobile devices like smartphones and tablets). Instructions on how to get the editor can also be found in that tutorial.
Other free editors around include BlueGriffon, an open source editor for Windows, Mac OS X and Linux. A guide for how to use it to design a complete mobile-friendly website can be found in the BlueGriffon tutorial.
For those who prefer to use a commercial program, thesitewizard.com has numerous online tutorials for a web editor called Dreamweaver, a program with features on par with that of Expression Web. The Dreamweaver Tutorial takes you through all the steps needed to design a complete website, in addition to providing you with the theoretical and practical foundations that will help you create and maintain that site.
If you prefer not to use any of the above, you can find tutorials for other WYSIWYG web editors here, including one for KompoZer, another free (though somewhat outdated) web editor. And if none of them suits your taste, there are also numerous other programs listed on thefreecountry.com’s Free HTML Editors and WYSIWYG Web Editors page.
Those thinking of blogging (ie, creating a type of website where you post articles from an online interface) should read How to Create a Blog for information on which software to use.
As you design your website, you may want to read the article Appearance, Usability and Search Engine Visibility in Web Design. It takes a brief look at some of the real world issues that every web designer must deal with.
An integral part of web design is search engine readiness. Search engine promotion does not start after the web site is made. It starts at the web design stage. The article 6 Tips on How to Create a Search Engine Friendly Website is a must-read. Moreover, How to Improve Your Search Engine Ranking on Google is also important for the simple reason that Google is the most popular search engine around, at least at the time this page was written.
There are many other issues regarding the design of web pages. The above will get you started. However, if you have the time after you get something out onto the web, you may want to read my other articles on Web Design and Website Promotion and Search Engine Ranking.
Testing Your Website
Although I list this step separately, it should be done throughout your web design cycle. I list it here to give it a little more prominence, since too few new webmasters actually perform it adequately.
You will need to test your web pages as you design them in the major browsers: Chrome, Firefox, Microsoft Edge and possibly even Internet Explorer 11. All of these browsers are available free of charge (see box below if you don’t use a Windows system for more information on how to test your site with the Microsoft software). Unfortunately, directly testing your site is the only way you can be really sure that it works the way you want it to on your visitors’ machines. In addition, if you have a smartphone, try out your site there too.
For those who don’t have Windows 10 but need Microsoft Edge, and those who run a Mac (and thus do not have either Edge or Internet Explorer), all is not lost. You can use a piece of software called a virtual machine, which mimics a completely separate computer running within your real computer. Information about this can be found in the article How to Check Your Website with Multiple Browsers on a Single Machine (Cross-Browser Compatibility Checking).
If you want to improve the chances that your website will work in future versions of all web browsers, consider validating the code for your web pages. In layman’s language, this means that you should check that the underlying code of your web page, called “HTML” and “CSS”, has no syntax errors. You don’t actually need technical knowledge of HTML and CSS to validate the page, since you can use one of the numerous free web page validators around to do the hard work. On the other hand, if the validator tells you that your page has errors, it may sometimes be hard to figure out what’s wrong (and whether the error is actually a serious one) if you don’t have the requisite knowledge. Having said that, some validators actually give concrete suggestions on how to fix your code, and one of them, called “HTML Tidy”, is even supposed to be able to fix errors for you.
Collecting Credit Card Information, Making Money
If you are selling products or services, you will need some way to collect credit card information. If so, take a look at How to Accept Credit Cards on Your Website. I also have a step by step guide on How to Add an Order Form or a “Buy Now” button using PayPal to a Website for those using PayPal.
If you need advertisers for your website, you might want to read How to Make Money From Your Website and the follow-up article How to Increase Your Website Revenue from Affiliate Programs. A list of advertisers and affiliate programs can be found on Affiliate Programs: Free Sponsors and Advertisers. Those companies are on the constant lookout for new web publishers to display their advertisements.
Getting Your Site Noticed
When your site is ready, you can submit it to the search engines. To do this, you will need to create a webmaster account at both the search engines, verify that you own the website, and submit it there. It’s free.
In general, if your site is already linked to from other websites, you may not even need to do the above. The search engines will probably find it themselves by following the links on those places.
Apart from submitting your site to the search engines, you may also want to consider promoting it in other ways, such as announcing it on your social media accounts, as well as in the usual way people did things before the creation of the Internet: advertisements in the newspapers, word-of-mouth, etc. There are even companies on the Internet, like PRWeb, that can help you create press releases, which may get your site noticed by news sites and blogs. As mentioned in my article on More Tips on Google Search Engine Results Placement, you can also advertise in the various search engines. Although I only mentioned Google in that article, since that was the topic of that discussion, you can also advertise in other search engines like Bing. This has the potential of putting your advertisement near the top of the search engine results page, and possibly even on other websites.
There are also less obvious ways of promoting your website, which you might want to look into.
Naturally the above guide is not exhaustive. It is a distillation of some of the essential steps in getting started with your site. If you want more information, you should read the other articles on thesitewizard.com. However, the above tutorial should be enough to help you put your website on the Internet.
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- How to Reserve a Domain Name. Do You Need a Web Host if You Want to Reserve a Domain for Future Use?
- Will I Have to Continue to Pay a Fee to Keep My Domain Name After I Buy It? Can I Change Registrars? Can I Terminate My Domain Name?
- Is it Possible to Create a Website Without Buying a Domain Name? The High Price of “Free”.
- Should You Get a Domain Name with Spaces or Dots In Between to Improve Readability?
- What Does It Mean to Park a Domain Name? Domain Name Parking Explained
- Should You Choose a Linux or a Windows Web Hosting Package? Is There Such a Thing as a Mac Web Host?
- Which Web Hosting Package / Plan Should You Choose? How to Plan for the Traffic (Bandwidth) and Disk Space You Need
- What is MySQL? What is a Database? What is SQL?
- How to Make a Button Run a Server-Side Script (eg, a PHP, Perl, or Python Script) (HTML)
- How to Add a (Self-Hosted) Video to Your Website with Expression Web
- How to Prevent Your Website from being Placed in a Frame
- How to Move a Website from Dreamweaver to BlueGriffon
- How to Put Rounded Buttons on Your Website
- How Do You Get Access to a Domain Name You Just Purchased? What to Do After You Buy a Domain Name
- What’s the Difference Between a Domain Name Registrar and a Web Host?
- How to Make a Mobile-Friendly Website: Responsive Design in CSS
- What’s the Difference Between a Content Management System (CMS), a Blog, a Web Editor and an Online Site Builder?
- How to Create a Blog
- How to Make / Create a Website: The Beginner’s A-Z Guide
- Tips on Choosing a Good Domain Name
- Expression Web Tutorial: How to Design a Website with Microsoft Expression Web
- Dreamweaver Tutorial: How to Design a Website with Dreamweaver CS6
- BlueGriffon Tutorial: How to Design a Website with BlueGriffon 3
- How to Design and Publish Your Website with KompoZer (free WYSIWYG web editor)
- Free Feedback/Contact Form Wizard
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Copyright © 2006-2019 Christopher Heng. All rights reserved.
thesitewizard™, thefreecountry™ and HowToHaven™ are trademarks of Christopher Heng.
This page was last updated on 5 August 2019.