How to Build a Website: The A-to-Z Beginner Guide
In this article, I will show you the essential steps in building a successful website.
Creating a basic website is easy and shouldn’t take more than an hour.
Understanding your choices and fitting them into your situation, however, is no easy feat. Due to the fact that some steps may require additional knowledge not in the scope of this article, I’ve included links to detailed resources where necessary.
Why are you creating a website?
Before we begin, it’s important to first define your purpose.
We all know that a website can be an important part of your online presence – as a business entity or an individual. For an individual, it can be something as simple as a basic profile or as detailed as your entire portfolio. For businesses it should be considered as part of your assets and relate back to your profile, products, or the things you do.
Having a clear purpose in mind enables you to make better decision down the road – i.e. which platforms to use, which marketing channels to engage with, etc.
Some typical reasons why a website is built:
To sell products – If your primary goal is to sell products, your website should include product showcases, an online shopping cart, secured payment gateway, and preferably a point-of-sale system.
To display information – If your goal is to display company or personal information, consider building simple one-page website on an affordable platform.
To share current ideas and experience – A blog is usually the best for users who love to write and share their ideas with the world.
These reasons need not be mutually exclusive. For example, you can have a website which combines two or more of the above elements.
The Essential Steps to Build Your Own Website
Once you have sorted out your website objectives, it’s time to build! To get started, you need to first…
1. Register a domain name
To start a website, the first thing you need is a domain name.
A domain name is the address which identifies your website on the Internet. Some examples include Yahoo.com, Google.com, or BuildThis.io (the website you are reading right now).
To own a domain, you will have to register it with a domain registrar.
Note that your domain name must be unique – the name must not be owned by another person or organization in the entire world. A domain registrar will help you to check if a domain name is unique before allowing you to proceed with a registration.
- To understand what makes a good domain name registrar, read here.
- If you need naming ideas, here are some free name generators to make use of.
2. Sign up for a web hosting account
A web host is a big computer (aka server) that is used to store the files needed as part of your website.
Think of it as a house that stores furniture and home appliances – the house is your web host and anything that goes in the house is your website content. Website content generally includes text, images, videos and any other elements you think necessary.
Web hosting comes in various packages today.
Traditionally, a web hosting provider is only involved in leasing out the servers with basic software and technical support. Hosting your website with a traditional hosting provider is usually cheaper and more flexible; but require a little bit of extra work for you to setup a website.
Nowadays, companies are bundling different services together and allows users to build, host, and manage websites all from one service provider. We usually call these companies Website Builders or Online Store Builders. Hosting a website on these “bundle” platforms is usually expensive and less flexible; but you’ll get to build a website or online store easily.
Hosting platforms for starters
If you are just starting out – basic shared hosting is usually good enough. For that, I recommend the Hostinger Single Plan – which allows you to host one website at a low price of only $0.80/mo.
Hosting platforms for ecommerce / businesses
If you were planning to sell products directly from your website (an ecommerce store), then you should check out Shopify Basic ($29/mo).
Wonder what makes a web host tick? Learn the 16 key factors to consider when choosing a web host.
3. Design your webpages
Once you have your domain name and web host ready, it’s time to put something out onto the Internet. To design your webpages, you can either hire a web developer or do it yourself.
We discuss in detail how to outsource a web development task here. You should skip the following steps and move on to that page if you plan to hire someone to develop your website for you.
For the DIYers, here are the three easy ways to design a webpage:
1- What-you-see-is-what-you-get (WYSIWYG) web editor
A WYSIWYG editor allows you to setup a website and design web pages from scratch without the need of coding. It works just like a normal word processor would – you start with a template or a blank page, then create your website pages. Once that’s done you fill them up with content and upload the entire folder to your web host using a file transfer protocol (FTP) program.
To go with this method, it’s best if you have basic HTML/CSS skills and some general knowledge on how the Internet works.
There are several WYSIWYG web editors available – some are free for non-commercial use while others may require a paid license. Microsoft Expression Web, Google Web Designer, BlueGriffon, and Open Element are some good ones to check out.
This option is only possible if you are using a traditional hosting (i.e. Hostinger). Using a WYSIWYG editor is flexible and fun if you enjoy learning web coding… but it’s not a feasible option for beginners who want a website instantly.
2- Using a content management system (CMS)
Most websites are built and managed with a CMS today. A CMS comes with many benefits from a site owner’s point of view. They are easy to manage, flexible in design and development, and cost effective (free!) – three key advantages.
If you haven’t heard of it already – WordPress, powering ~33% of the all websites on Internet, is the most popular CMS in the world.
For those who are opting for conventional hosting option in step #2, you can install WordPress with just a few clicks.
You will get a basic website framework once WordPress is installed. You can then design your webpages using a WordPress template. Pre-built WordPress templates are available for free at WordPress.org (official themes directory). Or you can buy premium templates from professional developers like Elegant Themes or Artisan.
Disha explained how to create a blog or website using WordPress here. Please follow the instructions in case you need further information.
Note – You can’t use a CMS if you chose to go with “Bundle” platform like Wix or Weebly in step #2.
3. Using a drag-and-drop website/store builder
A drag-and-drop website/store builder is the easiest and fastest way to create a website.
You don’t need any web development skills – just pick a pre-built template, grab the necessary web elements from the builder (i.e. contact form, drop-down menus, Google Map, pay buttons, shopping cart, etc.), and a full-featured website is ready.
There are many website builders scattered over the Internet – Wix and Weebly are two of the most popular ones. And as mentioned above, Shopify would be a great choice if you are building an online store.
- Step-by-step instructions to create a website using Wix
- See examples of websites built with Wix
- Step-by-step instructions to create a website using Shopify
- See examples of websites built with Shopify
4. Validating and testing your website
Once your website is ready – it’s time to validate and test how it works in major browsers (Chrome, Firefox, Safari, Microsoft Edge, IE 11, etc.) as well as on different screen sizes.
We can run these tests with the help of free tools online.
What is markup validation? Coding languages or scripts such as HTML, PHP, and so on each have their own formats, vocabulary and syntax. Markup validation is the process of verifying whether your website follows these rules.
5. Fine-tuning and growing your website
Publishing your website on the internet is stage one. There are still many other things to do to ensure the success of your website. Here are a few tasks to begin with…
Fine tune website speed
Google has stated clearly that site speed is one of its ranking factors. This means your site may rank higher if it loads quickly.
Also – the faster your website loads, the happier your website visitors will be. It is proven, in countless case studies and experiments, that a slow loading website will damage user experience and affect website revenue. Amazon would have lost an estimated $1.6 billion in revenue if its site slowed down by even one second.
If your current website speed is slow, learn how to improve it.
Improve website search visibility
You don’t need to be a master in search engine optimization (SEO) to get your website noticed. But some basic search engine optimization skills are always good to have.
Create a webmaster account at Google Search Console to submit your website to Google and to identify any SEO issues. Do basic keyword research and then optimize your page title and headings for your primary keywords. Implement schema markup on your site to stand out from search result pages.
For more SEO tips, read our SEO dummies guide.
Ever since Google Chrome started to label HTTP websites “Not Secure”, SSL certificate has become a big deal. To make sure that your website is “trusted” by users – a HTTPS connection is a must.
Add essential pages
No two website is ever the same as they might serve a different purpose and/or function. However, there are three standard pages that every website should have: Index (homepage), About Page, and Contact Page.
The homepage is often the first place where most visitors will go see after they landed on your website. Your homepage should deliver the right pitch and drive your visitors deeper into your site.
About Page is all about building a rapport with your visitors. It lets you introduce yourself and give detail information (well?) about your website. Usually it’s recommended to include photos of the people who own and run the website.
It’s important to communicate with your users and potential clients. Hence – the contact page. Include all possible communication channels (social media profiles, contact forms, email address, etc) to make sure that your visitors are able to reach you.
Expand your reach on social media platforms
Your website should also have a presence on social media platforms where most of your targeted audience hang out. For BuildThis.io that means Facebook and Twitter. For others it may be LinkedIn, Tumblr or Pinterest.
Did you see the letter “B” in a yellow circle that appeared on the left of your browser tab? That’s known as “favicon”. Like a logo, the favicon is a smaller visual element that represent a website.
The Favicon is a nifty little branding technique that’s often overlooked by website owners. If that sounds like you – make use of these free favicon generator to help you.
Get It Done, Now!
You now know more than enough to create and build a successful website. It’s time to put your knowledge to work. Go start now and rock the internet!