The marvelous thing with progress in technology is that it makes a lot easier what used to be incredibly hard to achieve. Take website creation, for instance. Not so long ago, you still had to hire someone or spend months learning coding skills if you really wanted a professional and nicely designed website. You could have something acceptable without one, but it would take a lot of time, and of questionnable quality. For some personal website, it was ok, but not for a business.
Nowadays, you can create truly awesome websites, all by yourself, without any specific knowledge—aside than knowing how to use a computer, and a mininum of taste—in a matter of hours. Just as more and more people start their own business, it’s a fantastic era to live in !
The Difficulty Isn’t Where You Instinctively Think
Contrary to years ago, these days the hard part about putting up a website is not creating the shell, but coming up with great content and get noticed in the overcrowded internet space. The building part has become somewhat secondary. Building a website having become an easy task doesn’t mean making it grow and successful is. But at least, the building part isn’t a headache anymore.
When I talk about building a website, I mean the full stuff: a website that looks professional, is easy to update and maintain, to which you can add features yourself and can use as a portfolio, business website or online store.
I was tempted to title this post How to create a professional website in a day, as it’s possible to do it in only a day, but I thought it would be better if we could take our time to do things properly instead of rushing things.
I really want to take the situation where one starts from scratch. So, in the required time to go from nothing to done, you have to take into account the domain name and hosting setting up, which sometime can take several hours (even though it’s not so rare to see a domain name freshly created be up and available in a matter of minutes).
What We’re Going To Build
Before we dive into the How, let’s make a checklist of the requirements for our website. We’ll take the case of someone who wants to set up his website to sell professional services. The website has to:
- have a .com extension
- have a decent hosting
- have a clean, professional and responsive design
- be easily updatable and maintainable
- be set up in less than 2 days
- have initial costs under $50.
Ready ? All right, let’s do this!
What we’re going to use
“What technology/framework/CMS should I use?”
Use WordPress. That’s it. No pondering, no fiddling.
Yes, there are bazillions of CMS out there, and dozens of fantastic website builders. Strinkingly, Wix, Squarespace, you name it. But if you want the best bang for your buck, with the most versatility, features and possibilities, control over your website, ease of upgrade and maintenance, WordPress is the way to go.
“But WordPress is used by a quintillion websites, I want to set myself apart.”
Nope, this isn’t how you set yourself apart. If you really want to set yourself apart, create awesome, unique and valuable content. Picture websites like cars. WordPress isn’t a car, so you’re not going to have the same car as everyone else. It’s more like an engine. You can still manage to have the nicest or fanciest car even if it shares the same engine as many other cars.
The first step is to have somewhere to host your website at. At first, I was going to go for the domain name as our first step, but a lot of hosting companies now offer a domain name when you buy hosting from them, so you might as well start with the hosting.
Again, if it’s for anything serious or professional, get your own hosting. Don’t go for the likes of Wix, Squarespace, or even WordPress.com. Getting your own hosting is no more complicated that clicking buttons and navigating your way through beautifully designed user interfaces, so don’t trade the freedom of truly owning your website against a so-called “easier way”.
As for the choice of the host, you really can’t go wrong with one of the most famous names. Some will recommend Bluehost, others Dreamhost, even Hostgator… The truth is, don’t ponder for ages about which one to choose from, as you won’t be needing any kind of extreme performance anyway unless you’re already famous, and know that you will get thousands of visitors per day right from the start. But then, you wouldn’t be reading this blog post, would you?
With that said, if you really don’t want to think at all, go with Bluehost. You can start with a $3.95 plan that comes with a free domain name, a free Gmail pro address, a 1-click WordPress install, unmetered bandwidth… It really has all the feature most people would need, at least when they’re starting out.
Total cost: $3.95
Total time spent: 15 minutes.
Choose your domain name
Get a .com. Yes, they’re getting scarcer, and truth be told, nowadays it doesn’t really matter anymore if it’s a .com, .net or whatever. There are awesome sites with fancy extensions. But you’ll probably feel better with a .com. Just don’t let it make you stall. Don’t forget: it’s mostly your content, and a little bit of good design, that will make your website stand out, not its domain name or the technology behind it. So go for what’s available and isn’t too complicated. If you change your mind later, remember that it’s easy to transfer your website to another domain.
Total cost: $3.95 (the domain name is free with many hosting services)
Total time spent: 45 minutes (let’s say you took 30 minutes, which is definitely too long, to come up with the perfect domain name).
Choose a WordPress theme
While you wait for your domain name to be accessible online (the infamous DNS propagation), which usually takes between 15min and an hour, go on Themeforest and choose one sleek WordPress theme. Themes vary from $20 to $100, but for the sake of staying in our budget, let’s get one at $40. As there are a lot of themes to choose from, we’ll say it takes 45 minutes to find right one.
Don’t spend more than that in choosing a theme! I know it’s a trap one can easily fall into—I did—and with the endless supply of neat, beautiful and shiny WordPress themes available out there, it’s tempting to indulge in hours of browsing, fantasizing about how awesome our new website is going to look. But if browsing and fantasizing is all you’re going to do, your website will remain a fantasy. So make up your mind and decide to pick something within 45 minutes (and I’m being generous).
Total cost: $43.95
Total time spent: 1 hour and 30 minutes.
Now your site is up online (but not ready yet). Again, it’s a matter of using 1-click installers, setting up basic data like your website name and preferences. That should take you 5 to 15 minutes depending on your reading and typing speed. Installing your theme and customizing the interface should be an additional hour. Don’t worry, ne need to be tech-savvy here neither, it’s really just a point, click and type affair.
You’ll have to enter the database credentials, which will be provided by your hosting provider, along with some basic parameters such as your email address, a name and title for your website.
I won’t go into the details of the setup, as once WordPress is installed, it’ll all depend on what you want to do with your website (i.e is it going to be a store, just a blog, a portfolio, a community website, etc.). Whatever it is you want to do, it’s just a matter of finding the right combination of theme and plugins. Even if you don’t know right from the start which plugin to choose from, usually the best ones for each type of usage are the most famous. Besides, the WordPress plugin directory provides a nice interface with descriptions, FAQs, ratings and feedback about plugins so you get a sense of which plugins you should be using. But more on plugins later.
Total cost: $43.95
Total time spent: 3 hours.
Work on your website content
Now comes the longest and most difficult part of building a website: coming up with great, relevant content. Depending on what the purpose of your website is, you’ll have to set up the relevant pages, maybe add products and their info if your website is an e-commerce one, add your pictures, etc.
This is the part you want to work on the most. This can take you anywhere from a few hours to weeks, but we’re trying to be concise right ? For the initial effort, let’s say it takes you a whole day.
Total cost: $43.95
Total time spent: 1 day and 3 hours.
Add functionality with plugins
You’ve installed your website, added a nice theme, but you’ll probably need some additional feature to fit precise needs. That’s why I recommended you use a self-hosted WordPress. If you had gone with WordPress.com, you’d have been limited in your choice of plugins, whereas with the self-hosted install, you’re free to install whatever you want.
Plugins are to WordPress what apps are to smartphones: there’s a plug-in for everything. Need a fully functional, well designed e-commerce store ? Get WooCommerce. Want to set up a community ? Use BuddyPress. Want to throw some analytics in there ? Install a Google Analytics plugin.
How about a FAQ ? A contact form ? You’re all covered. That’s the beauty and power of WordPress: in a matter of minutes, you can add any type of functionality to your website effortlessly.
Let’s say we take our time to choose the right plugins, install them and configure them to suit our needs, which takes 4 hours. I’m really giving enough time for some serious tinkering here!
Wait! But what about price of the plugins?
The vast majority of plugins is free. Although many plugins come in the form of a free version and encourage you to upgrade to a paying pro version, you have no obligations to buy it. Just like hosting, the free plugins will cover all your needs 99% of the time, at least within the first few months . The limitations and paid features usually matter when you start getting a lot of traffic and interest for your website, which often means it’s not a problem for you to shell out a bit of cash for additional power then.
Total cost: $43.95
Total time spent: 1 day and 7 hours
There you go!
So far, we’ve spent less than $50 (we actually have $6.05 of spare change). Of course, these are the upfront costs, as it doesn’t count the next month of hosting and the domain name renewal price. But at $3.95/month, you have some time to figure out how to make all that money back with your website. After all, it’s a business website, remember ?
All that in less than 2 days, and we took our time. We could have sped up a little bit, and even go for a free theme—there are good ones out there, but hard to find—and I could have had titled this article Build an awesome website in four hours for $3.95. But I didn’t want to sound sketchy or be called out for link baiting.
Indeed, the most difficult is ahead: getting traffic for your website! This is THE most difficult part, not building it. The building is a required part, but definitely a very easy one these days.
I’m really glad that, as years go by, hosting has become more than affordable. WordPress, by being free, yet more and more powerful, and becoming an industry-standard, made building high-quality professional websites easy as pie; getting a domain name nowadays is a breeze with most of the registrars (the only difficulty is to find a name that’s meaningful, not too complicated and available).
In the end, the thing that you are allowed and should focus on is building traffic for your website, reach your audience, be visible and provide value. The building part has become very accessible an affordable, letting us focus on what really matters. And for that I’m thankful.
So don’t allow yourself to delay your next business idea because of an hypothetical technical hurdle. There’s nothing standing between you and the website of your dreams.