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The easy guide to building your own website, from a beginner.

As regular readers of this blog will have observed, I have let this blog lie fallow for quite some time. I still really like this blog but found I had less and less to contribute to it over time.

I was inspired to try another medium and decided to try my hand at creating my own satirical news website, thinking that it could be a fun way to keep writing and a good stress reliever because I often find myself furious over something in the news and unable to get anyone else to care about it. Forcing myself to find comedy in everything has to help the stress levels.

When I decided to make The Empty Shirt, I said I would go all the way and make my own website. I think wordpress.com is an amazing resource but I wanted to have more control over things myself. The internet seems to be bursting with tips and tricks to make great websites but here’s what you need to do, boiled down:

Domain name – The domain name is what appears in the address bar at the top of the screen, like google.com. If you have a wordpress.com blog you’ll be given a sub-domain name. Your website is a smaller branch of wordpress.com’s domain name. If you want your own one, pick a good one. The extension at the end (.com, .net, etc) can be different, country-specific or related to what your site is about. Businesses tend to be .com by default.  Tip: .biz is going out of fashion fast, is often the cheapest option and has generally been taken over by dodgy spam websites. If you want a reputable business, choose .com

Register your domain name – The name you choose may not exist on the internet yet so you need to register it to alert the internet that your site exists. It may be the case that the name you would like has already been registered by someone else, in which case you’ll need to settle for a variant (or you can try to buy it from them).  To register your domain, you need to go to a domain registrar site. It’s very easy to become overwhelmed at this stage because the domain registry business is crowded with providers that offer pretty much identical services for pretty much identical prices. It seems like everyone is trying to outbid each other with sales and promo codes. GoDaddy is the largest registrar on the web, but I would recommend you try elsewhere. (They took a very questionable stance with SOPA and their CEO is a terrible human being).  I went with internetbs.net  for a reason discussed in the next section.

WHOIS privacy – The WHOIS directory is kind of like a phonebook for the internet, detailing who owns websites. If you are a business, having your WHOIS information publically available can be a good way of instilling confidence in potential customers that your site is legit. However, if you are a private individual, you may not want your address and phone number available to so many people. You may also be more susceptible to spam this way.  You should not falsify your information. If you wish your information to be private you can choose to add on WHOIS privacy when you register a domain. The standard for domain registrars is to make this  a separate charge. However, sites like gandi.net and internetbs.net include WHOIS privacy in the registry price by default.

Your domain is registered! Yay. Now, wait for the domain to “propagate” – basically for the domain to make itself known to the internet. Mine took about 30mins, but it can take up to 24 hours. During this time, do not be alarmed if your domain still seems to be “available” if you type it into a registrar site. The main registry has been updated.

Hosting – For your website to become active, it needs space on a server where all the information about it can be stored and a continuous connection to the web can be maintained. Most people let a company host for them but it is possible to do it yourself. Many domain registrars also offer hosting and may have attractive packages, like a free domain name if you host with them. However, it’s good practice to separate the two. When looking for a good web host, it can be tempting to get sucked in with words like “unlimited bandwidth” and “only 1.60 a month!” but read the fine print. A lot of promotional offers only apply for the first month or two of your time with a company and the “unlimited” bit may not be what it seemed. Shared hosting is a good option for new website owners or small websites. Ideally, your web host will have servers in the same country as you and 24/7 customer service. When researching hosts, I contacted a few with easy queries to see what the response time was like. After all, if your site goes down, you’ll want to get it back up as soon as possible  – especially if it’s a source of income. One had a jaw-dropping wait time of 3 days before a response. Another, 2 minutes.  I chose the latter. I went with A Small Orange hosting. I ignored my own advice because their servers are in the US and I am not but I really liked the idea of their business – small and personal, in a business which generally is anything but.

“Point” your domain to your host’s servers – If you go into your domain’s account information, you should see two fields called “name servers” which are blank. Your hosting company will send you the details of what to write in there to connect your domain name to its host.

All in all, I got a domain name, WHOIS Privacy and hosting for 29e a year, which is pretty good going.

Tip: When you are researching registrars or hosts, keep in mind that a lot of companies offer affiliate schemes. This means that, if I were to write a blog post called “The Ten best Web hosts 2013”, I could list a certain one at the top and provide a link which, if a person clicks on it and then goes on to buy hosting with that company, I would get a financial reward or discount from that company. So, keep that in mind if you hear people being oddly militant or defamatory about certain companies as a lot of these schemes don’t require that you be a customer of the web host so they cannot honestly tell you about their experience.

What next?

The fun bit!

Decide which Content Management System you want to use to load, edit and publish content on your site. There are many to choose from, depending on the function of your site. You have vBulletin for message boards, Joomla or Drupal for e-shopping websites and (my favourite) WordPress for sites that are text and picture heavy, like news sites.

Bear in mind that this WordPress is a different thing to WordPress.com. The software you may be familiar with if you have a wordpress blog is available for you to use for free with many more features and plugins in its open-source form at WordPress.org. Most big web hosts will let you install WordPress (or Joomla or many others) with one-click installs from their control panels. It’s very easy.

From there, you can start uploading content and thinking about the look of your site. WordPress themes, from the very basic to premium pay-for-use, are available to showcase your site.

For my news site, I chose a theme called Thrilling Heroics, available for 15usd or for free if you hook up with thillingheroics.com.

Final tips: BACK UP YOUR SITE. SWEET JESUS, BACK UP YOUR SITE. This can be accomplished with wordpress plugins or can be done from the control panel of your web host account.

Buy more domains if you are serious about a company or business – If my main website is google.com, I want people who type in google, fr and google.ie to get to my website and not a blank page or someone pretending to be me. If I buy lots of domains and redirect them to my main page, this will not be an issue.

Most importantly, have fun.

If you have any questions, comment below or email me at sarah@theemptyshirt.com. Check out The Empty Shirt to see my first website in action!