Being a professional web designer myself, this is a question many people ask me. Unfortunately, as you can imagine, there is no simple answer to the question ‘how to set up a website‘. It purely depends on what you want your website to do. The following is a rough guide for the absolute novice on getting started with setting up and putting together any kind of website.
Terms used within this article
- Static: You, the end user, can’t edit content without contacting web designer.
- Dynamic: Goes beyond simple content – can show information from databases, calculate values, provide automatic responses to queries, etc.
- CMS (Content Management System): Allows end-user to manage site content – for example, add, update, delete entries such as articles, pages, products in show or gallery, etc
- Server: The remote hard-disk space that you hire out to display your website to the rest of the world.
- WYSIWYG: What You See Is What You Get.
What do you need a website for?
Professional website: If you need a website to launch you new company, it is always a good idea to seek out a professional web designer to handle the build. Prices can greatly vary from £250 for a simple ‘static’ website, to £2,000 upward for a content management system. The key is, don’t just pick the cheapest designer. Ask to see other websites that they have designed before signing anything!
Small company website: If budget is a real issue, then you could consider either building a web site yourself from scratch, or download a template driven site with content management such as Joomla or WordPress.
Building a website from scratch presents any user with a very steep learning curve. Here are some of the things that you will need to learn about in order to attain a reasonable amount of success in your venture:
- Use a WYSIWYG application such as Adobe Dreamweaver to create your site.
- Understand HTML will give you a sizable advantage.
- Learn a dynamic, server-side language such as PHP or ASP for more complex features such as database driven content.
- Learn CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) to stylish your design.
- Search Engine Optimisation (SEO), to give your website optimal exposure for the best keyword searches.
- Accessibility for different browsers and viewing requirements. See W3C for more information.
Find a server to host your website
In order for other people to view your website, you will need to setup an account with a website host. Your web pages, images and other files will be stored on their server, which is little more than a computer with a lot of hard disk space. To keep things simple, I’d recommended buying your domain name as part of the same account. Connecting a domain to a separate account is a little challenging for the absolute beginner. Most hosts will make this process very simple for you – credit cards to the ready!
There are so many different companies to choose from. In my experience, it is always a good idea to go for a well known host such as 123-reg, UK2.net or 1and1. Unless you are wanting to offer huge downloads from your website, I’d choose the account with the least amount of server space. Anything above 100 megabytes (mb) should be way more than enough. A well built and content rich website can be as little as a single megabyte in size, so don’t go overboard. If in doubt, get in touch with the host’s sales team before making a purchase. If I were you, I’d make sure that the host offers the following as a part of the deal:
- At least 100 megabytes of space
- High or unlimited file transfer (activity/visits)
- PHP (server-side language)
- MySQL (database)
A decent website set up – quick ‘how to’ guide
Here is an example setup using WordPress to content manage your site. Once you have registered an account with a web host and received your connection codes, try the following:
- Download WordPress (Free) and unzip it into a folder on your computer.
- Download FileZilla FTP (Free) and install it on your computer. You will need to ‘bookmark’ your username, password and any other connection details into FileZilla. FileZilla will allow you to copy your WordPress website onto your web host’s server.
- Copy your files across to your host and open your web browser and visit your website. Follow the on-screen instructions to setup your WordPress website.
WordPress is actually a blog, although you can use it as a website. It allows you to continually ‘grow’ you site by adding new content and ‘plugin’ features. Best of all, it’s free! The look and feel is customisable with 1000’s of free templates to choose from.