So you want to start a website?
Five steps that begin with selecting a strong password.
Step one: pick strong passwords!
Seriously, this is step one. I recommend using different passwords for your web hosting account, website, and email marketing account. If you want to cheat, use the same password for all three. I like to use the “diceware” method (instructions, Wikipedia article). Pick four or more random words. Compress them together like OneTwoThreeFour. Add a number and a punctuation mark in there somewhere. Easy to remember.
Step two: hosting and address
Now that you’ve got your passwords, you’ll need somewhere to put your website and you’ll need an address people can use to get to your website. I like Hostmonster.com for hosting. I once asked them if their basic plan could handle the attention and traffic an x-factor finalist might get and the answer was yes. If you don’t expect to get more attention than an x-factor finalist, Hostmonster is a nice place to start out. The service is $5 per month (paid annually) and includes your first web address. They have real tech support people that are quick to answer the phone. I can’t stress enough that real people answering the phone is the top feature you’re going to want from your web host, especially if you haven’t managed a website before. If you can’t find the web address you want through Hostmonster because all of the .com, .org, .net names have been claimed by other people, then get your address at Namecheap.com (recommended by the Electronic Frontier Foundation). Namecheap will let you pick from dozens of .something addresses and you can easily use the address you choose with your Hostmonster website.
Other hosting considerations: physical location where the website is stored, email service, limits on bandwidth (how much visitors can pull from your website each month), limits on storage (how large your site can be), and limits on number of visitors who can be at your website at the same time. GoDaddy is a well known web hosting brand, but the CEO shoots elephants for fun, so try Hostmonster.
Step three: making your website
You should almost certainly use WordPress for a basic website or blog. It’s free, almost half the web uses WordPress, and you can manage it from your iPhone. I’ve never had trouble with WordPress on Hostmonster. Getting setup there probably takes 2 hours start to finish.
To get your site looking the way you’d like, you’ll need a WordPress theme. There are many nice free themes. There are also hundreds of quality themes and that cost $50-$150. Not all themes support all WordPress features and some are hard to upgrade, so be a little careful when choosing one. Your priority should be:
1. Mobile friendly (“responsive”)
2. Looks like the vendor is going to keep it up to date for a while
3. Loads really fast
4. Feature support
5. Looks good
You’ll want to run CloudFlare on your site. It’s free and it’ll make it quicker for people who visit. If you get popular, it’ll keep your site from crashing.
You’ll want a WordPress.com account. You’ll need that to activate WordPress JetPack and to be able to edit your site from your iPhone. It’s a little confusing because your blog won’t be at WordPress.com, but you still need an account. JetPack will keep statistics on traffic. It’ll also make it simple to include YouTube videos, etc. in blog posts. Most important, it’ll publish your posts to social networks automatically. Keep post titles short and put hashtags in them if you publish to Twitter.
Here are some advanced ideas worth checking out: 5 Ways to Make Your Site Exponentially Smaller and Faster.
Step four: marketing
No one will visit your website by typing in the address. And, until you’ve got some content that Google cares about, no one will find it in Google. You’re going to need to tell people where to find you!
I can’t stress enough that if attracting visitors is a priority for your web project you’re going to need a lot of content, and it helps a lot if it is written content. Google will judge you based on the quality and value of your writing and how interesting that writing is to other people.
You’ll want a MailChimp account for emailing people. The free level of service supports up to 2000 people and 12,000 emails per month. If you don’t use MailChimp your email address can be blocked as spam. That actually happened to my mom for a while with her art stuff. MailChimp can be setup to automatically send a newsletter to people that pulls posts from WordPress, which is pretty cool.
Other than email, add your website to business cards and use WordPress Jetpack, after you’ve got a WordPress.com account, to auto-publish your website updates to social media channels like Twitter, LinkedIn, and others.
Step five: e-commerce
My experience selling products online is limited, but I’ve done enough of it to know it takes a lot of hard work. Unless you are extremely lucky it’s going to take a long time before people will be seeking out your website to buy anything. If you still want to give it a try, I like Bigcartel.com and Shopify.com for e-commerce. If you’re selling digital downloads or if you need to support a foreign language or currency then other options might be better/necessary. Check out SmartPassiveIncome.com for more information about online sales that sounds really good but that I’ve yet to successfully put into practice.