Pete Sipple’s Guide to Getting A Website
I’m often asked how to go about getting a website. This page has been put together to help anyone looking to get their first own website live on the Internet. It outlines the things that you need to think about before getting a website online, so that you don’t get a service that’s not suited to your needs.
There are three things that you will need, which will be discussed on this page:
- Web hosting – The place that your site is "hosted", or stored, on the Internet
- Web content – A collection of web pages, images, audio, video, etc
- Domain name – The address by which people will be able to access your website
1. Web Hosting
You website needs to be stored on the Internet somewhere. This is called "Web Hosting".
Although there are free hosting services out there, these can be unreliable, restrictive, and often come with limited (or no) support. If you are serious about having a website, you would normally opt for a paid Web Hosting service.
Prices for UK Web Hosting generally start from around £3.50 a month, plus VAT.
For cheap web hosting, I’ve used Fasthosts. They’re OK, and cheaper than my current favourite. My preferred hosting company is Namesco. They’re slightly more expensive, but offer a better range of features and tools, and very good technical support. There are plenty of others out there, so shop around.
When thinking of hosting, you need to consider the following:
- Storage space: How big will your site be? If you have lots of images, audio, or video, make sure you get enough storage space. For £3.50 a month, you can expect to get around 5GB of storage
- Monthly Bandwidth: For small sites, this normally isn’t an issue, but if your site starts getting lots of traffic, you may need a package with higher bandwidth.
- Email accounts: Are you likely to want email accounts such as firstname.lastname@example.org ? If so, make sure you get a package that includes email addresses
- Databases: If you are planning to offer a blog, forum or email newsletter, then you may need a hosting service that offers MySQL databases.
- Support: If you’re likely to need help using your hosting service, or need the site to be reliable, see what level of technical support is offered
On a budget? You may find that you get a small amount of free webspace from your Broadband provider. At the time of writing, BT Broadband customers get 50MB of free webspace, and other providers offer similar basic web storage as standard. Otherwise, take a look at some of the many free hosting services available – Do a Google search for "Free Web Hosting".
2. Web Content
Assuming you are OK with web hosting, and have somewhere to put your website, you now need something to put on your web hosting space… this will be the content of your website, and will consist of web pages and images. You may also have documents, audio and video to add too.
The big factor here, is how you want to run your website. Do you want to write the web pages yourself, or do you want to hire a web designer to do the work for you? Do you want to get yourself web design software so that you can do all the work yourself, or would you prefer to use a template, where much of the design work has been done for you? There are lots of options, and I’ll outline the top four choices for you:
2.1 Use a Web Designer to make your site:
If you have no interest in getting involved in designing, running or managing your website, then this is the easiest of the four options. It’s also the most expensive.
You would typically shop around to find a company or an individual to create you a website. They would design you a site (layout, colours, style, etc), and then create the pages for you. You would typically need to provide the designers with a brief (how you want the site to look), then supply with them with the content – pages of text, logos, photos, etc. The designer would then put everything together and publish it for you, on the hosting service that you have provided.
Typically, a Web Designer charges by the hour. They would take your brief and quote for an initial design and setup of your site. Each time you want to change or add something, you would be charged an hourly rate to make those changes. If using this option, it pays to be decisive and think carefully about how you want your site to look. Every time you change your mind or want to make changes, you’ll be running up costs, and web designers like nothing more than a customer who doesn’t know what he or she wants, as they can charge for every change they’re asked to make.
When looking for a web designer, it pays to think about what you want up—front, be very precise in your requirements, shop around, and to get a couple of like-for-like quotes before parting with any money.
2.2 Self- Publish Your Site:
This is at the other end of the scale, where you do everything yourself.
You would typically get yourself some web design software and create pages in a programming language called HTML. The pages are created on your computer, and then uploaded to the Internet together with images, using FTP (File Transfer Protocol). This option gives you the ultimate control over design and content, and is the way that things are done with most of the websites on the Internet. Free software is available.
Although this option gives you the most control and flexibility, there is a learning curve when it comes to creating, designing and publishing web pages.
2.3 Use a Website Template Service
If you’re not interested in learning how to design and create your own site, and don’t want to pay a web designer, then you can go for a "template" approach.
There are many services out there that let you create your website from a collection of templates. You pick a design that you like, and tweak it – to add your own logo or title, then type in your own text. A template approach can get you a site quite quickly, and let you make changes without having to understand web code or FTP. Rather than having software on your PC, you edit your website via an online service from your computer’s web browser.
There are some down-sides though: With a template, you often have very little control over the site’s design, and it can be very restrictive. If you want to add tracking codes, do any optimisation, or add other features to your site later, you may find this is impossible. You will also be using a template that loads of other people around the world are using, so your site may either be quite basic, or look like loads of other existing sites
If this is the option for you, many Web Hosting services offer Hosted Website Templates as part of their hosting service.
You could look at WordPress, who offer a free hosted website service (mainly for blogging). Otherwise, with Namesco’s hosting, you can get Namesco Site Builder which will help you to build a personalised site quickly and fairly easily
2.4 Use a Content Management System
These separate the design and publishing side of a website, from the content side of a website. They’re most commonly used for sites where extra pages are added fairly frequently. If you are looking to run a blog (with entries about what you or your business are doing get added fairly often), or a news site (where you’re adding news stories or information regularly), then this option might be best.
Typically, you get a Content Management System installed on your Web Hosting service, get someone to set up the site for you, then have access to a web-based interface where you can edit and add content (text and photos).
This separates the complex design and set-up, from the day-to-day management of the web pages and web content.
The most common system out there is WordPress (which is free), and your Web Hosting service would need MySQL as part of the hosting package. You’ll normally need someone to install and set it up for you (such as a web designer or your hosting company) – often for a one-off setup fee. It’s then up to you to manage the content and add/update your pages whenever you want
3. Web Domain
The final piece of the puzzle is the web domain – For example, www.mywebsite.com
You need to think about the best address for your website. Typical addresses include:
- .co.uk – A UK company. Cost from around £3 a year
- .com – A US or worldwide company. Cost from around £10 a year
- .me.uk – A personal address (e.g. petesipple.me.uk). Cost from around £3 a year
- .org – An organisation or charity. Costs around £10 a year. (An org.uk is around £3 a year)
A web domain can normally be bought from the same place as you buy your web hosting. You might find a deal where you get a free domain name when you purchase a Web Hosting package.
For cheap web domains that you can "point" to your existing website, get a domain name cheaply at 1 & 1 Internet and "forward" the domain to your hosting site’s address. Otherwise again, Namesco is worth a look. They’re not nearly as cheap at 1 & 1 Internet, but if you’re hosting your site with them, you can often get a free domain.
What Next? A Checklist:
Here is a short checklist of things to consider when thinking about your website:
Question 1: Are you willing to pay for Web Hosting, or are you looking for a free service?
Free services are great, but can sometimes be unreliable, close down, or start to add hidden charges. The level of technical support is also pretty basic. If you want something reliable, with good support, don’t go for the free option
Question 2: Are you looking to store a lot of photos, video or audio files, or is this a small site with only a few pages?
If it’s a small site and you’re not expecting many visitors, a basic package is fine. If the site gets popular, or you start adding large files and video, you may need to shift to a more expensive package
Question 3: Will you want services such as a newsletter, blog, discussion forum or photo gallery?
If so, you may need a Web Hosting Service that offers the following: PHP, CGI-BIN and MySQL. Factor this in when picking a hosting service.
Question 4: Are you looking to hire someone to help with setting up the site?
Ideally, give some thought to how you want to set up and run the site. Do you need some to set something up that you can then manage yourself? If so, make sure that you’re happy with what’s being set up, and that you’ll be able to update the site design and the content on your own. I’ve seen many people get something up, but then struggle to add new pages or make changes on their own.
Question 5: Are you looking to hire someone to design a site for you?
If so, shop around. You may find you need someone to set up the site, a web designer to get the site put together, a graphics designer (if you need images, logos and artwork), and someone to manage the content and make changes. Obviously it’s cheaper if you do it all yourself, but otherwise expect to be paying people by the hour. If you’re not organised and clear in your requirements, it can get expensive.
Question 6: Are you planning to add content yourself and make changes, or do you want someone to do that for you?
Again, cheaper if you can manage your website on your own. If you’re looking to get someone to do the work for you, make sure your instructions are clear. You’ll often be paying by the hour, and if you’re not clear on what you want, you may be charged for something that wasn’t quite what you wanted, and then again to have a second go.
Question 7: Are you planning to make lots of changes over time, and add content regularly?
It might be worth considering going for something like WordPress, where adding new pages and content to an existing site is much easier.
If you have any questions, or anything isn’t clear, please help me to make this page better by contacting Pete