Create Your Own Website

A friend of mine asked me recently for advice on how to set up a website. Actually they wanted me to do it for them.  The thing is, if you have the time and inclination, you can set up your own internet real estate quite easily.

You don't need programming skills.  You don't need to be able to write any html.  I can't program or write html and I have several websites up and running.

This article is an overview of how you can setup your own website.  All you need is the time and willingness to tinker with some software.  There are two options available to you; Option A for Professional Ownership and Option B for Casual Users.  There is a learning curve for both but I wouldn't call it substantial.  Anyone can do this.



Option A - Professional Ownership

Domain and a Host

First of all all you need a web domain and a host.  A web domain is your online address.  The web domain for this website is www.chookscratch.com .  Ideally your web domain will be reasonably short and bear some relation to the topic of your website.  Domains can be rented yearly for $15 AUD or even less.

A webhost provides the online harddrive space for your website files.  You can run your website from your home computer but then you need to ensure it is on 24 hrs a day, every day of the year.  It is more reliable to pay for hosting.  This way your website is backed up and always online.  Your website files kept on your hosting account include the website software and any pictures and articles you will put online.

I recommend renting your domain from the same company that will provide your hosting.  This is not absolutely necessary though but it helps with administering your account.

I use an Australian web host - Jumba - but there are many other hosts to choose from. You can get personal web hosting at Jumba from about $30 AUD a year.  I get no kickbacks from recommending them either.  Use that $30 figure to compare.  Remember, webhosting and web domains can only be rented by the year - and not purchased outright for a one time fee.  Try to use a webhost in your own country.  This will save you money and convenience should you ever have to contact them by phone.

Cpanel

Now the trick, if you want to do this the 'easy' way, is to get a host that supports Cpanel.  Cpanel is an administrative software package that comes with your hosting account that takes all the hard work out of installing software and managing your email.  Cpanel also has a program called Fantastico that hosts a suite of applications that you can install on your web domain. The Fantastico suite has options for forums, wikis, blogging and CMS software among many other options.  CMS in particluar is great for users who don't want to get their hands dirty writing or hacking code.

CMS

Let me explain what CMS is.  CMS stands for Content Management System.  A CMS allows someone who doesn't know programming and things like that to run their own website via a simple 'point and click' interface.  This is great for someone like me that isn't very technologically literate.  This means that CMS software like Wordpress and Joomla, among many others, offer you a system for managing your content.  It doesn't matter whether the website is articles, pictures, files or a mixture of all three.  A CMS is versatile and can be used for a blog, an online store, a file repository and much more.  You can tailor a CMS to suit your needs.  Most CMS are 'modular' which means your installation starts out as a basic or 'core' package and then you add extensions to get further functionality.

Choosing Software

This friend of mine has a pretty clear idea of what he wants users of his website to be able to do.   This is great because I then know what software he needs to install from Fantastico.  If he just wanted a personal website or blog I would have recommended Wordpress or Joomla.  Both Wordpress and Joomla offer a easy point-and-click way to install and run your own website.  Checkout their websites because they both have demos for you to use.

However my friend wants to create a community of users and suggested a forum.  With Cpanel this is easy.  I have installed Wordpress, Joomla and a forum with Fantastico.  It is free and a cinch to do.

The great thing about Fantastico is that is has more than one option to install within each software category.  There were three options for a wiki the last time I looked.  Consider the features of each application before you install or install one of each option into a subdomain and try them all out. A subdomain is just a folder inside of your domain.

An example?  Sure.

www.yourwebsite.com/wordpress

www.yourwebsite.com/joomla

www.yourwebsite.com/blogger

When you have chosen your favourite CMS simply uninstall the other software via Fantastico.  It really is that easy.  I recommend beginners consult the forums that support users of whichever software you choose to install.  Jumba, Joomla and Wordpress all have very active forums.  Google too is a great help.

So, let me recap.

  1. Rent a domain (Try to use the same company for the domain and hosting)

  2. Rent domain hosting (Make sure the host has Cpanel)

  3. Create a shortlist of the software/features you want and are installing from Fantastico.  Visit their respective homepages and consider their features.
  4. Install your choice of software using Fantastico.

  5. Use the support network that comes with your free software.  Each application will have its own forum where you can ask questions and find answers to your queries.

Option B - Casual Users

Casual users don't necessarily demand the amount of control Professional users do and there are plenty of options for those willing to forgo this control.  Applications like Wordpress, Tumblr and Blogger all offer users the opportunity to have their own website on their terms.  This is great for student or family websites of for those writing about their hobby.  Running a business from a website provider isn't an option.

Advantages

Choosing a free website provider has its advantages;

1.  Free! - No fees and no money changes hands.  All you need is an internet connection to access your website.

2. User Friendly - Setting up your website is a breeze and is all 'point and click'.

3.  No Risk - If you made a mistake or want to get rid of your website just delete it.

4.  Quick - You can have a website up and running in minutes - literally!

Drawbacks

The drawbacks are minor for a casual user.

1.  Reduced domain name control.  The domain name will have the hosts name embedded in it.  For example www.chookscratch.com would actually be www.chookscratch.wordpress.com.  A business wouldn't be happy with that.  A casual user wouldn't necessarily mind.

2.  Reduced storage space.  After a while the pictures and files you store on your website begin to take up a lot of space.  With purchased hosting this probably won't be a problem but when hosted by a free webhost storage will be limited.

3.  Control.  The ability to hack your template, back up your work and treat your website as your own will be compromised by the control measures put in place by the website provider.

Conclusion

Now, remember that learning curve I told you about?  Learning a CMS like Wordpress or Joomla can take a while to master.  It is dead easy to publish articles but it does take some time to work out how to manipulate the look of your website.  To become an advanced user of a CMS will take an investment of your time.