How to Build a Website in 2019 (in 7 Simple Steps)Websites & eCommerce
It’s never been easier to build a website. You’ve got plenty of DIY website builders to choose from, with gorgeous, responsive templates you can drag-and-drop to your heart’s content.
The more traditional route is still popular, too, with web hosting services that allow you to host and customize any kind of website you want. With the wealth of website creation tools out there, it’s possible to register a new domain name and get a website live on the web within a matter of hours.
Of course, that’s only possible if you’ve got a solid plan in place. More realistically, it’ll take you at least a few days to a few weeks to get your website going, based on the amount of content you want to have available at launch.
Either way, if you want to successfully stand up a website that looks good—in a short amount of time and with the fewest headaches possible—you’ll need to rely on a few tools. Consider this your seven-step guide for starting a website. We’re going to walk you through everything, from brainstorming your site and choosing your website building software, all the way to launch and promotion.
Read on, future owner of an awesome new website!
Step 1: Plan Out Your Website
Building a website is a worthwhile endeavor. You’ve got the creativity, but do you have the stamina?
As with anything, it’s easiest to accomplish something when you have a plan. A plan keeps you moving forward, even when you feel like quitting. The sense of accomplishment you feel after completing each step will motivate you to tackle the next one!
Before you even look at web hosting software, you have to answer a few questions for yourself. Knowing these answers will help you stay focused. They’ll also be critical as you start evaluating the website tools you can use to actually build your site.
What’s the goal of your website?
In other words, what kind of site are you building?
- Are you using your website to sell products? You need an eCommerce website.
- Do you want to share your thoughts and ideas with the world? You need a blog.
- Do you want to promote your brick-and-mortar business online? You need a business site.
- Will you be showing off your freelance portfolio to gain clients? You need a portfolio website.
Each one of these website types will have a different look and feel, and they’ll serve different needs for the types of visitors you’re hoping to attract. For example, if you’re creating a blog, you likely won’t need your web host to provide eCommerce functionality, while that would be essential to a person trying to create an online store.
Do your research.
You know what you want out of your website—but for you to be successful in achieving that, you also need to be thoughtful about what your audience wants. You can figure that out with a bit of research.
When your website launches, who will your competitors be? If you run a brick-and-mortar business, these may be the folks who also provide your services in town. If you’re a blogger, these would be other blogs who write about the same topic.
You have an unique perspective and value to offer the world with your website, but you can garner inspiration from checking out the people who are already doing something similar (i.e. your competition).Take a look at other websites in your niche and make note of what you like or don’t like. What are they doing that seems to be effective, that you can copy (ahem: take inspiration from) and apply to your website? On the flip side, what seems to be a huge mistake that you want to avoid doing?
Just as you research your competitors, research your target audience, too. You probably have an idea of what your ideal website visitor looks like. In fact, you may have a few of these. Sketch these out into user personas by answering the following questions:
- How old are these people, and what gender?
- What other websites, blogs, or social media sites do they frequent? (These may be potential marketing channels for your site later on.)
- What’s their income and lifestyle?
- Most importantly, what problem will your website solve for them?
By the end, you should have a clear idea of who your target audience is, so you can create a website that caters to their needs. For example, here are some potential user personas for a business that offers web design services:
As you go about creating your website, don’t do it just based on what you like. Do it based on what your visitors like. Prioritize the content they care about first, and organize your site in a way that will be familiar and intuitive for them to use.
What content do you need for launch?
Speaking of content, what web pages, written copy, images, and videos will you need to launch your website? At a minimum, every website should have at least a few main pages, including:
Most websites use their homepage to establish their unique selling proposition (in a few words, what they have to offer visitors), with a memorable photo and call-to-action at the top. That call-to-action will differ depending on the goals of your website:
- Bloggers might invite people to explore their most popular articles or subscribe to their newsletter.
- eCommerce websites may use the home page to highlight their most popular products, or a current sale or promotion.
- Freelancers and business websites will want to state the core service they provide customers, along with a photo that inspires trust.
Regardless, a person should see your home page and get an instant feel for what your site’s about, and know what they should do next. That “next step” should be visible in the form of a call-to-action and button placed above the fold—which may take them to explore your products, services, or blog content—or invite them to contact you directly or fill out a lead form.
For example, website building software Wix positions themselves as “the place to create professional websites” with a button to “Get Started.”
This is a place for you to expand on the mission behind your website, or give users more information about you.
If you’re a freelancer or business, you’ll use this space to inspire trust in your prospective clients that you know what you’re talking about. Perhaps you’ll mention awards or accolades you’ve received, highlight customer testimonials, or explain the story behind your brand.
If you’re a blogger, share what inspired you to start your blog, and give visitors an overview of the type of content you’ll cover on your blog.
eCommerce brands should use the About page to drive customer loyalty and conversions, explaining your brand values, how your company gives back, and what makes your products different from the rest.
No matter what your website does, people need a way to contact you. Customers will want to a way to set up a business meeting or get their customer service questions answered. The press, influencers, and bloggers need to know who they can talk to if they want to collaborate with you on an article or story.
Your Knoji page may list out your contact information, like we’ve done here at Knoji, or you can include a contact form people can submit if you want to formalize the process.
Beyond these three pages, your website may also include the following pages:
- Blog. Even if the primary purpose of your site won’t be blogging, a blog can be a valuable place to grow your SEO footprint. Freelancers, brick-and-mortar businesses, and eCommerce sites alike can benefit from having a blog. Use your blog to write educational pieces related to your industry, report on industry news, highlight your company events, and more.
- Service pages. If you’re a freelancer or B2B business, you may use these pages to highlight exactly what it is you do. Give an overview of the services you provide, and what’s included in each of your packages. Depending on the scope of your business, it may make sense to split these into multiple pages.
- Product pages. Whether you sell products in a physical store or on your website, you need pages devoted to each of them. If you have multiple products within a product line, consider whether it makes sense to create product category pages as well.
- Other pages. Is there anything else that might be relevant to your business, like a FAQ page, testimonials page, or online forum? Include these in your plan, too.
You don’t actually have to finalize any of this content right now, but you do need to start visualizing it. It may be helpful to jot down bullet points in a Google doc, or to draw a few of your main website pages on a piece of paper.
It’s likely this drawing exercise will point out what else you need to build your website (beyond the technical items we’re covering here). Will you need to get professional photos done—either of you, your team, or your products? Do you feel confident writing all of the content, or will you want to hire a copywriter to help you? Do you have the digital versions of the logo or branding you use for your company IRL? Start collecting those assets now.
What will you name your website?
Now you’ve got a good feel for your website, it’s time to figure out the arguably most important part: the name of your website. This is so critical, we’ve dedicated all of step 2 to it.
Step 2: Decide on Your Domain Name
Every website has an unique IP address that represents its “home” on the internet. This IP address is a string of seemingly random numbers, like 192.168.55.555. These would be difficult to remember, so website owners register domain names. Domain names replace these random numbers with a recognizable address people can type into an internet browser to access a website, like yourwebsitename.com.
Your domain name represents the face of your website online. It’s the first thing people see when they click on your search result from Google. It’s what people will type in when they hear about your blog from a friend. If you’re a business, it’s what you’ll print off on all your marketing materials and business cards.
In other words, you need to choose it wisely. Here’s how to do that.
Start with your brand name.
Ideally, your first-choice pick is available, like yourbusinessname.com or yourfirstandlastname.com. But if those domain names are taken, you’ll need to get creative.
You can check the availability of a domain name by using a domain registrar, like any of the ones we’ve listed below.
These tools will not only let you know whether your dream domain name of choice, but will also provide suggestions for related domains you might use instead that are available.
Go with .com if possible.
The domain extension, or top-level domain (TLD), refers to the part at the end of a domain name, like .com or .net.
If possible, you should always grab a .com domain. The value of a .com is that they are easy to remember, they help your site look more legitimate, and most people simply assume a website ends in .com.
However, these aren’t always available. In that case, you have to weigh the pros and cons of using another TLD, like .net or .org, or even a niche TLD like .ninja or .shop. The pros here are that other TLDs are more likely to be available, but the (major) cons are that people are less likely to remember them. Worse, when they visit thedomainnameyouwanted.com, they’re going to end up at a (possibly competitive) site instead of yours.
Even if your .com is available, we recommend registering the .net, .org, .info, and .co versions, too—just to prevent your online brand from cybersquatters. You can always register these and redirect them to your website, like Amazon does with Amazon.co and Amazon.org.
Make it easy to remember.
The easier your domain is to type, the easier it will be for people to type it in correctly—so keep it short. Your domain should represent your brand, blog, or you as a person—so make it memorable and catchy. Finally, it should be easy for someone to know how to spell it, without seeing it—so don’t use hyphens, weird abbreviations, or slang that everyone wouldn’t understand.
For example, a cat blogger would be better off using the domain tylerscatblog.com, rathewr than tylerz-cat-blog.com or iheartorangetabbys.com.
A good way to get around the lack of availability with your brand name, while potentially giving your SEO a boost, is to include keywords in your domain name.
For example, if Tony owns Tony’s Pizza in New York City, and tonyspizza.com isn’t available, Tony might register tonyspizzarestaurant.com or tonyspizzanyc.com. Restaurant, pizza, and NYC would all be relevant keywords for his business.
For a real world example, consider social media tool Buffer. When Buffer first started out, buffer.com wasn’t available (or was too costly for them to afford it), so they used bufferapp.com—as they sold an app. Today, bufferapp.com redirects to buffer.com.
Cross your Ts and dot your Is.
By this point, you probably have a good idea of what domain name you’d like to use. Before you officially land on that one, do one last gut check around the internet to make sure it’s not owned by anyone else, either as a brand name or social media account.
Look up the domain on social media and make sure the profile names are all available. Also search the trademark database to ensure no one else owns it, so you can avoid legal battles later on.
Got your domain name? Great!
Don’t run off to the domain registrar just yet. Depending on the web hosting or website builder company you go with, you may be able to score a discount on your domain name if it comes bundled with the website builder or hosting package you choose. We’ll get into this in the next step!
Step 3: Create Your Website Feature Checklist
Now that you know what your website is all about, and you know what you want to call it, it’s time to start shopping for the software you’ll use to build it. Throughout your brainstorming process, you likely had some “aha moments” where you realized certain features you’ll need—like shopping cart functionality if you’re building an online store.
In this step, you’ll finalize that feature checklist. Consider this your shopping list for your website.
There are so many web builder and hosting packages out there that it’s easy to get overwhelmed and choose whatever one your friend uses for their website—but if you do that, you might miss out on some of the key features you need. With your shopping list in hand, it will be easier for you to navigate your options and choose the best website builder and host for your needs.
Here are some features worth adding to your list:
SSL is a way of encrypting the data on your website, from contact information people fill out on forms to the credit card number you add at checkout. When you add SSL to your website, it turns your domain from a http to https (the S stands for “secure”).
HTTPS became a ranking factor a few years ago, so any website can benefit from this SEO boost, whether you take payments or not. Google now takes security so seriously that if you haven’t secured your site with HTTPS, they’ll show a scary warning to visitors in Chrome before letting them access your site (left, below).
Which would you rather have your visitors see when they visit your website?
If you plan to sell products on your website, eCommerce functionality is a must. Typically, eCommerce functionality comes bundled with a bunch of different options, including SSL certificates, checkout functionality, and the ability to partner with different payment providers on your website like PayPal or Square.
For a quick way to elevate the professionalism of your new website, personal blog, or online store, secure email addresses that match your new domain. Nothing makes a person trust you less than visiting your contact page only to find an @gmail.com address. You’ll need to invest separately in email marketing services if you plan to send newsletters to your visitors and customers, but at a minimum you want a web host that supports basic email functionality.
Multiple domain support
Remember how we suggested you purchase all the TLDs for your website? Make sure your web host allows you to redirect these to your domain of choice.
Plus, you’ve already got one great idea for a website. Who’s to say you won’t have more? Consider a web host that allows you to add multiple domains to your account so you can build as many websites as you want.
Everyone hates robocalls. If you want to avoid the online equivalent, you need domain privacy. Whenever you register a domain, you’ll have to share your name, address, email, and phone number with ICANN. Anyone can look this information up on the ICANN WHOIS database (here’s the contact info for Amazon), unless you hide it with domain privacy.
However, when you get domain privacy, your domain registrar or web host will mask your contact information with theirs. This way, only ICANN and your web host or domain registrar will have the true contact information.
Will you be hosting an online forum, where people can register to add their comments? Or will you want people to be able to save their order history for your online store? Make sure your web builder supports login functionality.
Step 4: Choose Your Website Builder or Hosting Platform
Now that you know what you need for your website, it’s time to choose the software to build it. You have a lot of options when it comes to building your website. Choosing the right one for you depends on a few things:
- The features you want (which you selected in step #3)
- Your level of technical expertise
- Your confidence with web design
First, you have to decide if you’re going to go with a self-hosted vs. hosted website. Then, you have to decide whether you want to build your site using a website builder, CMS, or with the help of a web designer.
Confused yet? Don’t worry. We’re going to walk you through the pros and cons of each of these options, and then explain the ins and outs of getting set up with each approach. Let’s dig in!
Self-Hosted vs. Hosted Websites
When you look into building a website, you see terms like self-hosted vs. hosted being thrown around. Here’s what they mean.
A hosted website describes website builders like that offered by Wix, Squarespace, or WordPress.com. Essentially, these companies offer websites as a Software as a Service (SaaS). This company will take care of two things for you. They’ll manage the hosting for your website, and they’ll also provide the website building software you’ll use to actually build your site.
With a hosted website, it’s very simple to get started. You just sign up, and start using the software. Hosted websites are a good option for people who don’t have any technical knowledge whatsoever, and want a plug-and-play option for creating their website. You don’t want to learn how to code to add an email newsletter signup for your website; you’d rather just select a module that contains that functionality and insert it into your website.
If you’re ready to start building today and want to stand a website up quickly and affordably, a hosted website is the way to do it. These services give you all the tools you need to design your website—and have it work—without you having to learn how to do any of the technical stuff yourself. What’s more, since it’s offered at scale as a SaaS platform, the pricing for these is extremely reasonable, especially considering what you can do with them.
In some cases, you can build and publish your site completely for free. Wix, Weebly, and other website builders will assign you a co-branded URL, like yourwebsitename.weebly.com, and they’ll publish your site for free—but it will display their logo and branding in the website title, and they’ll sprinkle ads throughout your site (like “Create Your WiX Website Today”).
Unless you don’t plan for your website to be taken seriously, we don’t recommend taking the co-branded, free approach. Fortunately, these services also allow you to register a unique domain name with their paid plans, which will remove all ads from your site.
Hosted websites come with website builders that leverage the latest in web design trends, and their templates are mobile-friendly out-of-the-box. They’re a great option for people who have little knowledge of web development or design best practices, but want to have a fully-functional, fantastic-looking website live on the web.
The big downside to hosted websites is that you won’t have any ability to dig into the code to make modifications to the templates they offer, change the bandwidth of your servers, or scale your hosting needs. If you expect your website needs to be anything outside of the ordinary—which would require you to customize the code or adjust the server performance—you’ll need a self-hosted option.
With hosted websites, you’re paying to gain access to use a web building software that’s always maintained and updated, along with the servers that will host your website. But, you’ll be limited in your ability to modify the code and templates used to design your website.
With a self-hosted website, you’re paying for that same server access, along with a greater level of ownership and flexibility over the look and functionality of your website. You can modify every little detail of the design, and customize the functionality to serve your company’s unique needs.
In order to make these modifications, you will need to download the open-source software you want to use for your website. Don’t worry - this is nowhere near as complicated as it sounds. Although, it is a more involved process than using a hosted website builder.
First, you’ll sign up for an account with a web hosting company, and register your domain name. Then, you’ll choose the software you want to use to build your website. This could be a website builder like those offered with hosted websites, or it may be a content management system like WordPress. Once you’ve installed the software on your website, you’ll have to figure out how to use it in order to make the necessary customizations. You’ll also need to get the hang of the web hosting control panel, which is where you’ll make behind-the-scenes changes that affect your server performance, website load times, and more items of a technical nature.
Which is the right choice for you: hosted or self-hosted?
Unless you yourself are skilled in web design and development, a hosted website is often the better way to go—particularly for beginners who are new to the world of website building. You never have to worry about whether a tiny customization you made or a software update will break the design of your website, as the company maintains tight control over all feature updates. Your website should keep on functioning optimally, and it will be easy for you to add new pages and functionality as you wish.
Plus, there are hosted options for all types of websites, from basic website builders like Weebly to large-scale e-commerce platforms like Shopify.
Below we’ll review the two main paths for hosted vs. self-hosted websites: using a website builder, or a CMS like WordPress.
Option 1: Use a Website Builder
Hands down, using a website builder is the easiest option for building a website today. A website builder will include all the tools you need to make a website that looks good and functions well, no matter what device your visitors are viewing it on (mobile, desktop, or tablet).
Website building software includes ready-made themes and page templates for you to use. You choose your theme, and then get started building. The value of a great website builder comes in the wealth of features they provide, including:
- Anywhere from tens to thousands of themes you can choose from, which will apply cohesive fonts, color, white space, and overall look across all your pages automatically
- Pre-built page templates which are based on web design best practices, making sure you don’t forget anything essential (e.g. the default contact page may include a title like “Contact Us”, with a lead form and area for you to add your contact information)
- The ability to modify these page templates with your own text, images, and videos, and to switch out different modules (e.g. you could delete the lead form and replace it with social media follow buttons)
- eCommerce functionality (usually available for an add-on fee), which allows you to have users save items to their shopping cart, process payments on your website, and manage product inventory
- Regular software updates which are handled on the backend, without you ever having to think about it
Using a website builder is as simple as signing up for an account, connecting your domain name (or registering it, if you haven’t already done so), and choosing your theme. Then you can start modifying each page template using a live preview of your site, like you can see with the Weebly Page Editor below:
The biggest downside to website builders is their lack of flexibility. While you’ll be able to switch out different elements and change things like font size and color, for the most part you’re stuck with the templates and functionality they offer. In other words, there’s no way to “create” brand new functionality (like integrating an API feed to display data from your CRM) or to build out your own custom theme.
Popular Website Builders
Ready to use a website builder to create your site? Get started with one of these top website builders:
If you want a beautiful, professional-looking website, you’re going to love Squarespace. This website builder puts design first and foremost, but it doesn’t skimp on any of the other website building features you want, either.
Each Squarespace website comes with unlimited bandwidth and storage, dozens of mobile-friendly templates, site analytics, a free SSL certificate, and 24/7 customer support. You can register your domain with Squarespace, too, so it’s easy to manage everything in one place.
Their basic plan starts at $12 monthly, or you can upgrade to $18 for eCommerce functionality and branded Gmail addresses. Squarespace takes a 3% transaction fee for every item sold on the site. Both have a 14-day free trial.
Squarespace is slightly less intuitive than Wix, and each theme requires its own getting used to. With Wix, the different page elements will function mostly the same; they’ll just look slightly different based on the theme you chose. The Squarespace templates also have a special focus for designers, artists, and entrepreneurs, when compared to the wide gamut of potential website owners Wix caters to, from small business owners to bloggers and hobbyists.
You can get started with Wix completely for free, although your site will display Wix branding and ads. From there, you can upgrade to one of four plans that cost between $9 to $500 monthly, depending on the amount of storage you need and additional functionality you need (like member forums, eCommerce, and events). A free domain is included for one year with all plans, along with a SSL certificate.
Weebly and Wix are much more similar than either one is with Squarespace. Which one you choose depends mostly on which interface you prefer, and since both offer free plans, it’s easy enough to test them out and decide for yourself.
Like Wix, Weebly’s free plan brands your site with their ads, but it’s got a leg up on Wix for also including a generous 500MB of storage. All plans include a free SSL certificate.
Weebly’s paid plans, which remove the Weebly branding, cost between $12 and $35 monthly, depending on the eCommerce functionality features you want—like coupon codes, product reviews, and inventory management. Weebly charges 2.9% + 30 cents for every eCommerce transaction. If you don’t use Square as your payment provider, there’s an additional 3% fee.
Shopify is so feature-rich, it feels like more of a hybrid between a website builder and a CMS. This is the best website builder for online stores, bar none. The Shopify eCommerce platform is extremely versatile, and comes with a massive plugin library, so you can trick out your online store to have all the functionality you want, and integrate with any third-party tool of your choice, like email marketing, chatbots, reviews, and more.
After your 14-day trial ends, you can choose between plans ranging from $29 to $299 per month. Enterprise pricing starts at $2,000 monthly. All plans include unlimited product inventory, 24/7 support, coupon codes, free SSL, abandoned cart recovery tools, and a shipping discount with major shipping providers like USPS, UPS, and DHL. Pricier plans include more detailed analytics and enhanced POS integration.
Shopify charges different transaction fees based on your plan (the better your plan, the lower your transaction fee). You use Shopify Payments for free, or integrate with another payment provider for an additional fee.
Option 2: Use a CMS like WordPress
Not sold on website builders? A content management system may be for you.
A website builder offers the basic features (and usually, more) that most websites need. However, if you want more control over the functionality and design of your site, a content management system (CMS) may be the better option.
Looking at the name, you may have accurately guessed that a CMS allows you to manage all the content with your website. This includes the front-end items like text and media, but also all of the back-end files that empower your website to function the way you want it to.
A CMS gives you more flexibility, but it requires a steeper learning curve. For example, with a CMS, you can choose a theme just like you would with a website builder, but you would then have to download and install the theme itself. From there, you could leave the theme as is, or you could customize various elements of it.
Even though a CMS will be less intuitive to use than a website builder, it’s still fairly simple, especially if you use a popular one like WordPress. You can use it as is, but most people opt to add additional functionality by downloading plugins. These plugins will unlock new functionality for your site, such as the ability to display online reviews or embed video.
The best part about a CMS is that it comes with an interface that supports all of this infrastructure for you, so you’re not writing in HTML in order to display text on your site. You’ll use a user-friendly text editor:
It’s a good idea to use a CMS when you want or require more control over the final design and functionality of your website.
It’s also a solid step towards future-proofing your website—specifically regarding the ability to scale your website performance according to your traffic needs.
Chances are, you’re not planning for your website to be some sort of personal online diary, where only you use it and visit it. You’re building a website to share your ideas, products, or services with the world. Ideally, other people will be visiting it—and the number of people visiting it will keep growing, and growing, and growing…
Most, but not all, website builders are designed to manage a certain level of traffic out of the box. Once your site exceeds these limits, they may no longer be able to adequately support you. Your site will load more slowly, creating a negative user experience for your visitors, or the provider may temporarily shut down your site. Some website builders will allow you to upgrade to a higher service tier to manage higher volumes of traffic, but not all offer this option. In that case, you may have to completely migrate your website design to another web host.
Or, you can avoid this scary scenario by going with a self-hosted website in the first place. If you expect to have high levels of traffic, either right out of the gate or at a point in the future, you should choose a web host that offers the CMS you want to use, along with the ability to scale your hosting plan according to your traffic. Then, when that happy day arrives, the switch may be as simple as updating your billing for a higher service tier. Nothing will change on your website, since you’ve been using the same CMS all along.
If you were using a website builder, on the other hand, and needed to switch web hosts, you’d likely have to completely rebuild your site and recreate the design in the new CMS. Yeah, not fun.
There are a handful of CMSes to choose from, including Drupal, Joomla, and Magento, but for the purposes of this article we’re going to focus on WordPress. WordPress is the most popular CMS by far, powering nearly 30% of all websites, including those for big companies like The New Yorker, Disney, and Mercedes-Benz.
The decision, then, comes down to which web host you use to power your WordPress site. You’ll also need to decide what kind of web hosting you want.
Most beginning websites do just fine with a shared hosting plan. The “shared” refers to your website sharing space on a physical server with other websites. (Fun fact: this is the type of hosting that most website builders use, too.)
By sharing the space, you’re able to enjoy a significantly cheaper price than if you were using an entire physical server to yourself. That is known as dedicated hosting, and is a good option for sites that receive heavy amounts of traffic. This is what we were referring to when we discussed scaling your website in the future. As your site grows, you will likely eventually need to upgrade from shared hosting to another type of plan that supports higher amounts of traffic.
Popular Hosting Companies
If you plan on using a CMS like WordPress to build your website, you can get started with one of these top-rated web hosting companies:
GoDaddy is a fan-favorite web host, in large part because it offers so much more beyond web hosting. They also boast a huge domain registry, email hosting, Office 365, business phone numbers, and multiple website security and backup services.
GoDaddy’s shared hosting plans start at $2.99 per month, with unmetered bandwidth and 100 GB of storage, but they force you to upgrade to use many of the features that come standard with the other web hosts on our list, like business email, unlimited storage, and SSL certificates.
Because of how their pricing is structured, GoDaddy is a great option for people who really want to pick and choose the features they want—and only pay according to what they use.
DreamHost offers some of the lowest pricing around, with shared hosting plans that start at just $2.59 per month. All of their plans include support for at least one website, come with WordPress pre-installed, and include a free SSL certificate and a free domain. However, you’ll have to pay more for email hosting and to build multiple websites.
DreamHost also stands out for their 97-day money-back guarantee, which is significantly longer than what the typical web host provides.
Like DreamHost, Bluehost specializes in WordPress hosting. They’re regularly winning awards for their WordPress hosting and they’re actually the recommended WordPress host of WordPress.org, the makers of the CMS.
Bluehost’s shared hosting plans are the most expensive on our list by a few dollars, mostly because their hosting has been optimized for WordPress performance. All plans include a free SSL certificate. Their cheapest plan is the most restrictive in terms of features, but you can upgrade to other, relatively affordable options based on your needs, for unlimited domains and SSD storage. You can also register and manage your domains with Bluehost.
HostGator is known for providing affordable, easy-to-use web hosting. Their shared hosting plans start at $2.75 per month, and all plans include free SSL certificates, quick one-click installs of WordPress, and unmetered bandwidth and email addresses.
You’ll need to purchase your domain separately, although you can register it with HostGator for ease of management. If you want to build multiple websites, you’ll need to upgrade to a higher plan.
In addition to web hosting, HostGator also sells a website builder.
Option 3: Build It from Scratch
However, this requires a level of advanced technical knowledge that usually only a website developer or designer has. If this is your first time building a website, we don’t recommend this approach. There’s no reason for you to have to learn to code where there are so many awesome, super-functional DIY website building tools for you to use.
This approach is a good one to consider if you require highly custom functionality with your website, have data privacy considerations due to your industry (like banking or healthcare), or plan to use an in-house development team or outside agency to manage your website moving forward.
Step 5: Build Out Your Site
Congratulations! By now you’ve selected a website builder or web host, and you’re ready to start building. Below we walk you through the process of setting up your website (with either a website builder or CMS), before diving in to designing and adding content to your site using web best practices.
Getting Started with a Website Builder
The particular steps will change based on which website builder you chose, but the basic steps are as follows. We’ve used Wix below as an example.
- With your domain name in mind, head over to the homepage of the web builder you’ve selected. Click the “Get Started” button.
- Next, you’ll need to create an account. You can either set up an unique username and password, or some platforms will allow you to sign in using your existing Google or Facebook account.
- Once signed in, you'll be taken to a dashboard. Here, you can click on “Create New Site.”
- Wix will ask you what type of website you want to create, in order to help narrow down the number of relevant templates you have to choose from.
- Then you can browse the templates and choose one to get started.
- At this point you’ll be taken straight to the Wix Website Builder, which comes pre-loaded with some sample pages for the theme.
- Play around with the interface to see how you like it. If you want to go with Wix, click on Upgrade at the top. If not, start this process over with a different website builder.
- Click the “Save Site” button, and Wix will ask you whether you want to have a hosted domain, or connect your own branded domain.
- On the next screen, you can choose to register a new domain name with Wix, or to connect a domain you've previously registered. (This is why we suggested you wait before registering your domain name in Step 2. If you bundle your domain with your builder, you’ll probably save money.) Click to register a new domain, and you’ll be taken to Wix’s pricing page. Here, you can select your plan, register your domain, and check out.
- Start building!
Getting Started with the WordPress CMS
As you can see, getting started with a website builder is incredibly easy. If you've decided to go with a CMS, it’s a bit more complicated, but it’s not that much harder. Here are the steps you’ll want to follow. We’ve used Bluehost as an example.
- With your domain name in mind, head over to the homepage of the web host you’ve selected. Click the “Get Started” button.
- Next, you’ll select your plan. We’ll choose the “Plus” plan since it allows us to build multiple websites.
- On the next screen, you can register a new domain name, or connect one you've previously registered.
- If your domain name is available, you’ll be taken to a checkout page where you can select all the additional features you want with your plan.
- You’ll need to select the features you want (like website backup services, domain privacy, SSL if it’s not included, etc.). Then enter your credit card information, and click submit.
- Once you’ve paid, your account details will be emailed to you (along with a confirmation of your domain registration). Login to your account, and you’ll be taken to what’s called your cPanel. This is your dashboard for managing your site. Click on the Install WordPress button.
- Bluehost will take you through a quick installation wizard, which will install the WordPress CMS on your domain. Your domain will show a “Coming Soon” page until you publish your WordPress site.
Once WordPress is installed, you can select your WordPress theme and start customizing your site. The default theme will be the Twenty Nineteen theme. You can customize this theme, or choose a new theme to build your site.
Build Your Site Pages Using Web Design Best Practices
It’s finally time to build your website! All that content you’ve been brainstorming, the look and feel you’ve been dreaming about…. It’s time to make it a reality.
As you go about adding in your content, it’s worthwhile to familiarize yourself with the latest web design trends and best practices. Good web design isn’t just about looking pretty. It’s about making your website meet your visitors’ expectations.
When your website functions the way people expect it to, it’s easy—maybe even fun—for them to use. That makes them more likely to stick around—exploring your content, purchasing your products, and generally buying in to what you’re all about.
You’ve put in a ton of work to make a fantastic website. Take it to the next level with first-class web design. Here are our top tips for web design that sizzles (instead of fizzles):
1. Establish your site architecture.
Your site architecture is a fancy way of describing how you have pages organized on your site. An intuitive navigation makes it easy for users to explore your site (and it easy for search engines to crawl, boosting SEO), so don’t skip this step.
If your site is only going to have a few pages, as some freelance portfolios do, you can probably link to all of them from your main menu at the top.
If your site will be larger than that, you need to be more thoughtful about site organization. If you’re planning to build out a blog, you’ll want to include key pages (like your about or contact page) in the main navigation, as well as some topic categories. Those category pages will then include links to blogs that cover that topic.
For eCommerce sites, it’s best to include your product categories in the top menu, and then link out to individual product pages from those category pages, like the graphic below demonstrates:
2. Determine your URL structure.
Which seems more useful to you: yourwebsite.com/blog/post123 or yourwebsite.com/blog/building-website-plan? In the first one, we have no idea what it’s about, whereas the second one gives us a clear idea of what we can learn from the content.
Change your permalink settings to default to the page title, as in the second example above. You’ll always be able to change the URLs before publishing your site content, but a default permalink setting that’s descriptive is more useful for visitors and search engines.
Having said that, aim to keep your URLs as short as possible (but still descriptive). For example, yourwebsite.com/blog/how-to-build-an-awesome-website-in-2019-in-7-simple-steps starts to look a bit out of control. You want your URLs to be easy for people to share and understand.
For eCommerce websites, URL structures typically follow this approach: yourwebsite.com/product-category/individual-product.
3. Choose a consistent font and color scheme.
For your website to look professional, it needs to be easy on the eyes. Don’t use crazy fonts or wacky colors. Instead, use traditional fonts that are easy to read, and make sure the font size is big enough. 16px is ideal for body text, while larger text is better for headings. (Most web builders account for standard font sizes in their design, so you don’t even have to worry about this.)
Color is just as important as font, so be strategic here. When you use consistent colors to highlight different elements on your website (like distinct colors for in-text hyperlinks vs. menu items), it helps people understand how to categorize and click on different types of content on your site.
Not sure which color to use? Think about your industry (or if you’re a blogger, what topic you’ll be writing about). You’ll notice financial and healthcare brands tend to use blue because it evokes trust, while red is often used in the food industry. Get inspiration from the brands featured in the color wheel below:
4. Be generous with white space.
Making things easy to read isn’t just about the font you choose; it’s also about the space between those lines of text.
As you write, consider how you can break up your text with line breaks, headers, and images to make it easier to digest, like we’ve done in this section.
You also want to use ample spacing between various elements on your site. This is not just important for usability, but also for mobile-friendliness. Clickable elements should be far enough apart for people to use their thumb to click on them.
5. Understand the principles of visual hierarchy.
People don’t read websites the same way they read books. Rather than reading from top to bottom, eye tracking studies reveal that people follow a F shape when scanning a website.
They look from the left to the right, scanning the logo and navigation menu first, before moving down the page. The further down they do, the less attention they’ll pay to the right-hand side of the page, focusing instead on the left:
Now that you know this, you won’t be able to unsee it when you look at other websites. To ensure their content captures the most eyeballs, most websites place their most main menu at the top, with their logo in the left-hand corner, and their most important content immediately below that, in a two-column layout that prioritizes space on the left vs. the right side of the page.
You should follow suit with your own website. Make sure your “money” content, whether that’s your product landing pages or your most popular blog articles, lie somewhere along that F.
6. Leverage responsive design.
If you want people to enjoy your website, pay particular attention to the mobile experience. Most websites accomplish this with responsive design, where the website adapts—or responds—according to the size of the browser the visitor is viewing it on. Depending on the size of the browser, elements may be resized or removed to ensure the most important elements stay visible.
Here’s a look at responsive design in action, using Knoji as an example:
Fortunately, responsive design is such a given these days that most website templates offered by website builders (if not all) will be designed to be responsive.
You’ll only have to be careful when choosing a theme for your CMS. Before purchasing a theme, reread the description to ensure it explicitly states that it supports mobile or responsive design.
7. Make your website accessible.
Responsive design allows you to cater to all users with your website, regardless of which device they use to visit it. Don’t forget to cater to your visitors with visual or hearing impairments, too.
Individuals with disabilities use the web just like everyone else, and it’s up to you to make your website accessible to them. Using basic design standards like white space will move you closer to that goal, but the Web Accessibility Initiative outlines additional guidelines for web owners to follow, such as:
- Ensuring you use the proper color contrast ratio for users with color blindness
- Adding content labels for those who use assistive technology like screen readers
- Including tabbable content for users who have limited ability to use a mouse
As you can see, there’s a lot to keep in mind when it comes to web design. This is yet another area where website builders beat out the CMS approach. Website builder templates are built with these design best practices in mind, so as long as you don’t tinker too much with the template code, and replace the default content with your own, your site will look polished and feel straightforward to use.
Step 6: Test Your Site, then Launch!
You’re nearly there! It’s almost time to launch. But first, you’ve got to test your site.
Testing is a critical last step before launching a new website. Nothing’s more embarrassing than publishing your site, sending the link out to all your customers and family, and then having them be the ones to point out a huge glaring error.
Fortunately, it’s easy enough to avoid that nightmare with a little proofreading. Consider this your pre-launch checklist. Once you’ve completed these tasks, go ahead and hit Publish!
1. Review each page with a fine-tooth comb.
Go through every single page on your website. Review the following:
- Carefully read through the whole page. Keep an eye out for any typos, grammatical errors, or empty placeholders for content that you forgot to enter in (oops!).
- Review the design of each page. Are the images aligned correctly? Is anything bolded or in a different header style than it should be? Are there any weird spaces that shouldn’t be there?
- Click on every link to confirm they’re all working properly. Make sure each link goes to the appropriate page and doesn’t error out.
- Are all the images showing up correctly? Are there any that are too large or too small? Do they all have alt tag attributes? (When you upload an image into your web builder or CMS, it will have a field for you to enter alt text. This text describes the image to visually impaired users—making your site more accessible, as well as to search engines—boosting your SEO visibility in Google Image Search.)
- Check the URL structure. Are there any typos in your URLs, and are they optimized for your target keywords?
- Does each page have a title tag and meta description? These are the elements that show up when people see your website in the Google search results:
- Does each page have a clear, visible CTA? This is the next step you want site visitors to take after arriving at this page. It may be signing up for your newsletter, watching a video, filling out a lead form, or purchasing a product. Whatever it is, make sure it’s clear, clickable, and noticeable.
It may be helpful to keep a running list of all the URLs on your website. This way, you can check them off as you complete your review—and keep notes of which pages need fixing.
2. Check multiple browsers and devices.
Once you’ve fixed all the issues you identified in the previous step, spot-check a few pages in different browsers and devices. In your sample set, use pages that represent your most important pages, such as your homepage, blog post, product page, and checkout.
Load each of these pages in different browsers (Google Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer).
Then, load each of these pages in various browsers on different devices, including a desktop computer, smartphone, and tablet. Enlisting a few friends here to help can significantly speed up the process and broaden your test set.
Beyond your personal aesthetic preferences, you’re mainly checking here to confirm your site provides a good mobile experience. Finally, run your domain name through Google’s free Mobile-Friendly Test tool. You want to see a green confirmation like what we get for Knoji.
Typically, if you used a reputable website builder like the ones we recommended above, you won’t have any issues here. Their templates are designed to meet the latest mobile-friendly standards.
3. Test your site speed.
Remember how important we mentioned site speed was? Check that the effort you put into optimizing your website for speed paid off.
Run your site through a free speed testing tool like Google PageSpeed Insights, GTMetrix, or Pingdom. These will let you know how fast your site is, how it compares to similar sites, and what you can do to make it even faster. Sometimes the culprit is as simple as a huge image, and all you need to do is resize it for optimal loading.
4. Review your site identity.
When you first set up your site, you should have had an opportunity to establish your site identity, by giving it a name and logo. This name would then be appended to the end of your Page Titles in Google, as “— Knoji” is in the image below.
The logo would be used as your “favicon,” which is the image that shows up next to your page title in desktop browsers. For example, here’s how our Knoji logo appears in Google Chrome:
The favicon is a nice, professional touch you can lend your website. If you don’t add in anything, your website builder or web host will likely use their own logo as a default, as you can see with these Weebly sites:
5. Set up a basic 404 page.
Visitors arrive at a 404 page when they attempt to access a URL that doesn’t exist on your website. There may have been a typo in the URL they entered, or you’ve since deleted that page from your website. The default 404 page will likely be boring and uneventful, like this one for Wix:
Even with rigorous testing, 404 pages are a common internet experience. Your first goal is to prevent them from happening as much as possible, which this checklist should take care of. Your second goal is to turn them into a conversion opportunity when they (inevitably) do happen.
Clever companies like Lego have turned their 404 pages into a playful branding experience:
Others, like PageCloud, use it as a way to highlight the value of their service, with clear CTAs for starting a free trial, signing in, or learning more:
How can you turn your default 404 experience into something more like Lego’s or PageCloud’s?
6. Set up your analytics.
If anything ever goes wrong with your website, you want to know ASAP. One of the best ways to do that is by monitoring your website analytics.
Your web host or web builder will come with its own site performance metrics, but you’ll get a lot more value out of Google Search Console and Google Analytics. Both of these give you key data into how your site is performing.
Google Search Console tells you which pages are indexed, what keywords you’re ranking for, and which pages are receiving the most links from other website. You’ll also get important messages from Google here, such as if there’s a 404 error or if your site has been hacked.
Google Analytics is more of a marketing tool, revealing interesting insights such as where your visitors are coming from (was it that email newsletter you sent or your latest Facebook post?), where in the world they’re based (even down to the city), and how they interact with your site (which pages they visited and how many).
7. Invest in website backups.
Don’t let your hard work go to waste. Set up automated cloud backups for your website now. These will continually backup your site on a weekly, daily, or hourly basis (you’ll pay more for more frequent backups). If your site ever gets hacked or you break a line of code, you’ll be able to restore it quickly and with as little stress as possible.
Step 7: Moving Forward: Promoting Your Website
Congratulations, you’ve published your website! Now it’s time to get people to visit it.
Here are some of the top avenues people use for promoting new websites and growing site traffic:
- Use online advertising: Are you selling products on your website? Promote them to more customers via PPC ad network services like Google and Bing. There are banner ads, YouTube pre-roll ads, Google Shopping ads, and more.
- Optimize for SEO: Research keywords relevant to your audience and write content that answers them. Find authority websites who can link back to your site, and pitch guest posts for them. Keep your website speed fast. Develop videos for YouTube (it’s the world’s second largest search engine after Google). Use SEO tools like SEMrush or Ahrefs to track your progress.
- Set up your email newsletter: Sign up for an email marketing service like MailChimp, AWeber, or HubSpot. Create newsletters and drip campaigns that bring readers back to your blog and encourage customers to browse your newest products and sales items.
- Become an affiliate: Are there any brands related to what you blog about? Sign up for their affiliate program. By adding affiliate links into your content and reviewing their brand, you can make money for every sale of their product you refer.
- Connect with influencers: Partner with influencers in your niche to promote your website on their blog and social media channels, including YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and others. Investigate online forums related to your niche and engage in them frequently, building your own reputation as an industry expert.
- Monetize your content: As your content grows more popular, consider whether you can develop any of it into paid, gated content, like an ebook, online course, or video. Drive additional revenue by installing Google Adsense on your website.
Don’t forget offline marketing: Remember, there’s still an IRL world out there, too. If your website supports your business, make sure to add your website URL to all of your offline marketing materials, like your business cards, brochures, posters, and more.