If you’re a regular reader of the Inkwell Scholars blog, you’re probably incredibly smart and creative, and you’re passionate about inspiring others. And that means you should have your own website.
A website is one of the best ways to showcase your ideas and share them with the world. You can start a blog where you write daily and practice your writing skills. Or set up a website built around a favorite hobby where you teach others how to get involved. If you’re entrepreneurial, you might even be able to turn your website into a business in the future.
In today’s post, I’ve put together a quick and easy guide of six steps to follow as you create your first self-hosted website.
1. Free Service or Self-Hosted
Think of building your website as a bit of an adventure. Once you decide that you would like to take the steps forward to set up your own unique space on the web, you’ll find yourself at a fork in the road. You have two options. You could choose a free service like Blogger or the free version of WordPress as the new home for your site. Sites like these might be good for the short run if you don’t want to invest money right away or are not very serious about updating your website consistently.
However, free services often have limited options for updating the design and customizing the website (they look less professional), usually are geared only towards bloggers, don’t let you advertise or sell products, don’t have any support if you run into problems, and don’t give you a personalized web address (for instance, if Inkwell Scholars was hosted on Blogger, our address would be inkwellscholars.blogspot.com). Certainly not as easy to type or as professional looking as inkwellscholars.org.
Ultimately, for those of you who are more serious about building a website and having full control, then you should choose the second option: self-hosting. Self-hosting means that you buy your own domain name and a hosting package (I’ll get to those steps in a minute). It’s like buying a house, rather than renting an apartment. Additionally, if you ever need any help with your website, you can always contact customer service. If you’ve already been blogging at Blogger or the free version of WordPress, don’t worry! You can easily transfer all of your old posts and comments over to your new self-hosted website.
2. Choosing Your Domain Name
Ok, if you’re reading this far, it means you’re serious about building a powerful online presence and learning how to set up a self-hosted website (this is an invaluable skill to learn!). First, you’ll need to come up with the name of your website. Unfortunately, you might think up a great domain name only to find that it has already been registered. No cause for concern. There are still countless domain names available so keep brainstorming. You can use this tool to check the availability of a domain name.
Here’s one of the great things about self-hosted websites: you can usually add on as many subdomains to your main domain as you’d like. For instance, here at Inkwell Scholars we have our main web address (http://inkwellscholars.org), but also http://tv.inkwellscholars.org where we’ve posted our grammar videos. We built that subdomain to have exactly the same design and navigation as our main site, but you can actually build subdomains to be their own unique website, as we did with this one. So you’re really able to build multiple sites for the price of one.
3. Registering Your Domain Name
Once you’ve chosen your domain name, you’re ready to register it and buy a hosting package. I recommend registering your domain for at least two years. Google actually ranks websites higher that are registered for two years because it’s a signal that you’re serious about dedicating your time to building a helpful resource. The two hosting services I recommend are HostGator and BlueHost. Inkwell Scholars is hosted at HostGator, and I’ve found their support to be excellent. I’ve downloaded the WordPress framework onto my self-hosted website, and they helped me when I was first learning how to set it up and navigate the interface. They’ve also helped me rescue my site when I tweaked code that I shouldn’t have.
BlueHost is another great choice. I’ve worked with them when setting up websites for friends, and I think their control panel might be slightly easier to navigate than HostGator’s. Ultimately, I’d recommend comparing the prices and features of the different packages they offer. If you’re only interested in setting up one website, then go with BlueHost. If you think you might buy more domain names in the future, then HostGator is probably the better option. Whichever hosting provider you choose, you can register your domain name with them when you purchase a hosting package.
4. Downloading WordPress
After you’ve completed step 3 (congratulations on owning a piece of the Internet!), you’re now ready to install WordPress. This is the same software that runs on the free version of WordPress, but the version that you install on your self-hosted website can be heavily customized with a special feature called plugins. Here’s a guide I wrote on my web design site all about downloading and installing plugins. Additionally, the self-hosted WordPress software lets you customize the design.
It’s absolutely free to download and install WordPress on your website and should be easy to do through your control panel on BlueHost or HostGator. If you run into any trouble, contact customer support or leave a comment on this post.
5. Designing Your Website
Now you’ve come to my favorite part of owning a website: the design. There are many free WordPress templates to choose from in the WordPress library and, if you’re brand new to creating websites and navigating the WordPress framework, you might just want to try your hand at customizing those. However, if you want a professional looking website, I recommend investing in a premium theme. Premium themes come with excellent customer support and are far more secure than free templates.
My favorite WordPress premium theme provider is Elegant Themes. They have the most competitive prices (only $39 for their library of over 85 themes, and they are continually adding new themes throughout the year). I actually built the Inkwell Scholar’s website using a customized Elegant Themes template. What I love about Elegant Themes (besides their beautiful templates) is their support forums where you can ask about making simple customizations to themes. If your customization is possible, they’ll respond with the code that you can use and where to copy and paste it in the backend of your website. If you want to learn how to code, then this is a great way to get hands on practice.
6. Sharing Your Website With The World
You love your design, and you’ve started publishing content on your new website. Now it’s time to start sharing it with the world. Turn on your website’s comments feature so visitors can give you feedback on your posts. Search through the WordPress plugins for other ways to make it easy for your friends to share your website across social media. You could set up a Facebook page to promote your site like I’ve done with Inkwell Scholars. Ultimately, however, the most important thing is to create excellent content that your friends will want to share.
My website building adventures started when I was thirteen. I’d been publishing a print newsletter filled with my short-stories, book reviews, and inspirational articles. My parents encouraged me to transfer it online and bought me a domain name. I’m so glad that they did. Learning how to build a website and navigate WordPress gave a boost to my resumé when I graduated and gave me the opportunity to work as a web designer. It’s also allowed me to help friends and family who wanted to set up their own website. And it’s quite a fun hobby too.
So, what are you waiting for? The Internet gives anyone the opportunity to get published and spread their ideas across the globe. Start building your legacy today.
Have you built a website or are in the process of building one? Share links to your online projects in the comments below! And, remember, if you have any questions about WordPress or website building, leave those too.