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How to Own Your Own Website (Even If You Can’t Build One) Pt 1

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You’ve probably put up plenty of pages and accounts on various services and blogs. But today, learn how to become a real website owner and put together an awesome feature-rich website of your own with little to no experience.

Having your own website is expected in many fields. You can host your resume and various files, or put up an online business card to make sure that you’re one of the top results when you do an ego search on Google. Whatever your reason is, you don’t have to pay hundreds (or thousands?) of dollars to have somebody else make a website for you, when you can use free software and cheap hosting to make your own in minutes. In this first part of a multi-part series, we’ll discuss how to put up a simple website and and how to start owning your own domain.

Purchasing a Domain and Hosting

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To own your own website, you usually have to pay for a minimum of two things. To make your life easier, you can get both from the same company. The first thing you need is a domain name—that’s the URL that you type into your browser to find your website. Basically, buying a domain is putting yourself on the map so that remote computers can find you. You pay a fee, usually once a year, to notify the services necessary to direct your URL to the second part of your website, your host.

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Domains can be registered on any major hosting site, although there are some dedicated domain registrars around. You can absolutely buy a domain from a registrar and host it with another company. This is not terribly difficult and involves changing the A Host settings. However, for the sake of simplicity, we recommend buying hosting from the same company that sells you your domain. Expect to pay anywhere from $10 to $25 USD per year for each domain you buy. Many companies offer incentives for buying hosting and domains, and may give you a discounted or even free domain.

(Author’s Note: Be careful using the “Check Domain Availability” search bars. Depending on the integrity of who is doing the search, the registrar may register the domain out from under you and force you to buy if from them. If you’re searching for a domain, be ready to buy it right away!)

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Hosting is the second required part of the equation. Hosting is space and bandwidth leased out from a bunch of remote servers that pipe your information throughout the web. While it does some fancy stuff and crunch some data for you, you can basically look at your hosting as hard drive space you can store the stuff that makes up your website. That’s quite an oversimplification, but since we’re not writing about how to run your own server or write your own web applications, we’ll do fine with our simple explanations today.


Hosting can be bought at a number of places (such as all of the above) with lots and lots of fancy features, most of which you won’t use unless you’re going to hire a developer (or learn more about developing applications for the web). The only ones that are important (as of the date this article was written) are:

  • PHP version 5.2.4 or greater
  • MySQL version 5.0 or greater

Hosting like this can be bought (usually) for less than $10 a month, although your mileage may vary. Even the most basic of plans offers PHP and MySQL, which are both required for loads of common software for the web.

Update: Bluehost is offering completely unlimited hosting for $3.99 per month, which is a pretty good deal.

Dreamhost and Bluehost are two hosts that feature easy integration with WordPress, so you may want to use one of them if you’re a beginner and following along with our how-to. If you’re not afraid to get your hands into some confusing setups and help files, you can set it up yourself on any server that you choose. We recommend sticking with Dreamhost or Bluehost for most, if not all, readers of this article.

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On a final note about hosting and domain registration—don’t agonize over a clever domain. If you’re going to put up a website to promote yourself or use as an online business card, simply using your name as a domain is perfectly acceptable. Use your name, your Xbox username, your first dog’s name, or whatever. It doesn’t have to be a huge ordeal to pick a domain because you’re probably not going to build the next Google on it. Besides, you can always buy a second (or third or fourth) later.

Web Software for A Feature-Rich Modern Site

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If you started dabbling with HTML several years ago, you might have noticed that web pages have become quite a lot more complicated. If your understanding of HTML scripting hasn’t grown with the web (or is simply nonexistent), have no fear. Modern web pages are more robust than a few random text files coded in notepad and tossed on the internet. Most modern websites have a Content Management System behind the scenes that allows non-technical users to update content, design, and customize feature-rich web software using only a web browser.

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Three of the most popular software packages are WordPress, Joomla, and Drupal. All are free downloads, and all will allow you to manage, design, and update a site of your very own. Our how-to today is going to focus on installing WordPress.org software. All are fairly easy to install, even without using a host with integrated “One-Click” style installers for the software.

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The one click scripts can download, install, and create all of the necessary MySQL databases you need to use the software. It’s seriously almost too easy. Let’s take a look.

Installing WordPress (The Easy Way)

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When you log into your shiny new hosting, you’ll likely be faced with some kind of control panel. This is a common software for a web hosting control panel, simply called Cpanel. On it, likely near the bottom, you can find a section called something like “Site Builders” where you’ll find “1-Click Install” or “Simple Scripts.”

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Click the link for the 1 click install software.

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Most of the sites will have lists of software they will download and install for you. Find WordPress from the list they give you and choose to install it.

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Simply tell it to install it on the next screen to continue.

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You should be able to pick the domain you bought earlier, provided you also bought it from the host. Select the dropdown and find your URL—something like http://www.myawesomewebsite.com and it will do all the hard work for you.

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You may have to agree to some software terms and conditions. Nothing surprising here.

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From the scripts screen, you should be given links to your new domain and to the “backend” page that logs you into your content manager. It’s fairly simple to use, but we’ll cover it as well as some other basics in an up and coming article.

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And congratulations! You now have your own WordPress.org website based on your own domain ready to be customized to your heart’s content. Check back with us as we expand this multiple part series, to cover basic customizations in WordPress, a more advanced install, and some tips on getting a great website out of your basic WordPress install.


How to Own Your Own Website (Even If You Can’t Build One)

Part 1: Hosting and Installing  | Part 2: Themes and Menus

Part 3: Customization, Widgets and Plugins


 

So, how did we do? Do you feel more confused, or less? Or are you a fabled “web master,” with lots of tips for newbies for their first “real” web page? Tell us what you think in the comments, or send your questions on to ericgoodnight@howtogeek.com. Your questions about WordPress and making basic web pages may be included as a part of the next articles in this series.

Image Credits: Cat by Moyan Brenn, Creative Commons.

Eric Z Goodnight is an Illustrator and Graphics Geek who hopes to make Photoshop more accessible to How-To Geek readers. When he’s not headbanging to heavy metal or geeking out over manga, he’s often off screen printing T-Shirts.

  • Published 03/29/12

Comments (41)

  1. Jean-Francois Messier

    That’s exactly what I did with another provider. Although I am located in Canada, my provided is in USA, but the hosting works fine for me, and although I have rather simplfied WordPress-based sites, I found that some knowledge of HTML and some PHP is a good thing. It helps in debugging some theme files that are not perfect, or needs some tweaking. I also liked the fact that my provider (GoDaddy) offers SSH-based access, so I can access the files directly.

  2. jon

    You can use the free hosting of 000webhost and then subscribe for a Dot TK domain to cover the ugly looking address from the host. There you go, free host with your own domain absolutely free.

  3. jon

    Another thing, if you are not experienced and in dilemma between Wordrpess or Drupal, prefer Drupal.

    WordPress is easy to control and you can set it up pretty fast, but it is less secure.
    Drupal is the way to go but it is hard to learn.

    Do not make my mistake starting with WP and then moving to drupal. That was the worst experience, because once you get used to a CMS, it takes time to figure out the philosophy of the new one.

  4. Jon

    another combination for absolute noobs that are not pretentious is weebly and DOT TK

  5. Vinod

    Nice article. Very informative and very nicely explained

  6. chris

    Great Article! I prefer to use WordPress to develop sites, especially when they are going to be turned over to the client to use!

  7. Kev

    Good to read the authors note about domain name availability, I’ve been telling this to people for a good few years. if the name is available buy it there and then, you’ll be amazed the number of times that a seemingly obscure name is available and when you next check it’s gone.

    Also I would tend to use Joomla out of the three mentioned.

  8. Dewald

    Yeh, this is sortof funny because i’m actually busy building a website with wordpress.

    I am blind, and i got my domain from

    http://www.3bee.biz/

    Just mention me if you choose to bye from there. It’s my friend’s.

    But i sometimes have trouble following the articles and tutorials of the wordpress tutorials.

    Click on this blue arrow, drag this to the sidebar, etc. etc.

    Confusing for us screen reader users.

    For instance, my screen reader, which is JAWS, quite popular, didn’t read me the settings in WordPress: general, yes, but not writing, reading etc.
    And since my sister clicked on it, now it reads it.

    Let’s see if it works next time i log in. :)

    But, yes, i’ll follow this tutorial till the end.

    Quite interesting.
    Thanks.

  9. Phil

    A Content Management System is definitely the way to go ’cause no one wants to revisit a site with the same content month in and month out, but having tried and failed in my several attempts to learn (not master) the very complicated WordPress, and not seeing much less complexity in Joomla, is there another somewhat easier option out there?

  10. murugha

    nice one

  11. jon

    apparently reading is also not part of your strengths. Try basic free weebly.

  12. Sourabh Singh Rathore

    Hey H2G,

    great fan, always following and the above was exactly the kind of article i am keen about.
    I have a query, I am an IT engineering student, and i’ve learnt how to develop a website in ASP.Net with C#, but i don’t know how to upload it either on a local LAN(Windows) or on the web. So can you assist me with that, a personal reply or anathor great article would make my day/month/year/life. :D

    thanxx a lot,
    email: samy0009rathore@gmail.com

  13. Hamburger

    I also enjoy using WP to develop sites for clients. It is very user friendly and quick to learn so clients can update their own content, instead of having to hold their hand for every single new picture they want. You can also disable a few things according to user name so they cant go through and mess with all the coding, etc… and screw the website up.

  14. boocat

    This is so interesting. I have wanted to make a site in order to help me get a job. I am almost 60 and have been trying to learn about computers and the web. Keep the series articles coming!

  15. Jim from PA

    You can accomplish a lot using any of the free Blog tools. A blog is an online journal. You can allow user comments, add content from all over the web, include news feeds, photos, uTube videos, streaming music, links to other reference information, and allow your co-workers users to post to it to share information. Blogger.com (part of Google) is my favorite. Google also offers free websites with even more features and use of ecommerce tools.

  16. Stephen Mann

    I’ve found WordPress and Drupal to be a bit geeky and difficult to learn. I use Wysiwyg Web Builder because I can develop a page fast, test it, experiment with it – and the UI is simple. I liked it immediately because the UI is so similar to Visual C or Visual Basic. Just drag an object (image, text box, menu, buttons, or dozens of others objects in the toolkit) to the work area, put it where you want it, size it and change the properties. Properties can be the text in a text object or the image in the image object.

    Best yet – you don’t need to know a single line of HTML. WWB is an HTML Generator – not an HTML editor. But you do have the ability to put custom HTML or CSS lines where you need them.

    Finally, support from the program author and the WWB community is absolutely unbelievable. The author offers tips on practically every question on their forum. Usually within a couple of hours of the original post.

  17. sneakily1

    A quick tip for cheaper “initial” domain discounts. Visit a domain hosting site (ie, Godady, Network Solutions, Etc.) and do a search for a .com availability. Once you get the results, then do a google search fpr the word “Domains” (without quotes). You’ll see most prices go from $7-9.99 to usually $4.99 or less depending on the hosting service. These are usually for .coms and note that it’s only for the first year of your domain. You can also transfer a domain to another service after the first year and usually save a couple bucks that way. Again, GoDaddy and Network Solutions competing against each other works out to your advantage. For example, I have about 15 domains I purchased through either company, change the nameservers to my hosting (Webhostinghub I HIGHLY recommend them!) and then when a year is about to expire, transfer the domain… instead of $11.99 to renew, it’s $4.99 to transfer. When you have a bunch of domains, pennies count. If you’re not broke like me and can afford to purchase long-term that’s even cheaper (and a better option), but if you’re not too sure how well a site is going to work out for you and might not want to keep the domain after a year… this tip might help ya out a bit. Lords knows it’s saved me quite a bit of money over the years.

  18. Fred Mejias

    Wonderful, informative and concise article, GEEK MASTERS!!! Thank You. I have been genuinely interested in owning a website-domain since Jan. 2007–the year I finally got the hang of “What’s What” in this fantastic Global Engine called the internet. When I started in October 2005, I’m sure setting up one’s own domain was like an “over-flowing cup of all Types of Folks–good and bad–and it sure could’ve used “Geeks” like yourselves to pave a simplistic path for Us. Well, you’re here now and that’s what counts. Like the Commentor “boocat”, I, too, have luckily-stumbled into age 60 and will follow “How-To-Geeks” from here on in… Once again–THANK YOU, GENTS!!!

  19. BigJim

    I’m actually kind of surprised no one said Squarespace… I use that (well, ok, I’m redoing my defunct site that I didn’t maintain forever and using SS)… I actually like it… it’s WYSIWYG enough for me to do basic work and CMS programming for some extra stuff…

    Like I said, I’m just surprised no one else recommended it.

  20. mjgoulet

    Like some of the others, I too have given up with WordPress. It was easy to install but confusing to customize. Everything I tried failed. Customizing the header was a disaster as I could not fit my jpg in the window displayed correctly. I used html in the old days but it’s all changed these days. More help with WordPress would be appreciated.

  21. Kari

    Thanks, this explanation is great and very helpful. I look forward to the rest of the series.
    I notice you did not mention GoDaddy which also has a website builder software and domain purchasing. Is there a reason or is it just not one of your favorite ones? I purchased my domain name from them and one for a Community Garden that I am building a site for.

  22. Jon

    @mjgoulet trey to find themes such as Delicate that have ui easy to configure. Be aware tho! Delicate has its downfalls too. If you decide to create a list of values, most probably they will not appear. If you are able to sacrifice the lists of items, you will definitely enjoy customizing the theme. Otherwise, you have to edit the images of your theme so they are the proper size, format, name and they actually appear on the website. It isn’t that hard to find the folder where your theme keeps all those default images, it just takes too much time to accomplish.

  23. David

    I wanted to mess around with this recently as well but didn’t want to buy a domain just yet so I built a VM of Windows 2003 in Virtual Box and used XAMPP to get the server stack

    then I installed WordPress per the instructions on their site and now I have the hole thing in a nice little VM package

    Just an idea :)

  24. Tony

    I did the same thing for my http://www.awesometony.com! I use bluehost, their plans are pretty good. I love the magic of easy-to-use
    wordpress

  25. robert

    Good to know about the How to Own Your Own Website .

  26. P B Guha

    Can anyone hack my website ?

  27. ML

    Great article. I’m sure this will help a lot of people.

  28. ShorttAnswers

    What is the difference/advantage to doing this versus using Google Sites?

  29. Kev

    @Phil, I’ve never really looked into wordpress but always assumed that it was the easiest as it just looks like a souped up blog.

    I plumped for Joomla and am the first to admit that initially I found it very difficult to get to grips with. After a while, you will find that it does have some sort of weird structure to it, and as long as you stick with it, all becomes clear.

    I would say that CMS is definitely the way forward for 90% of site builds. Also, for most site builds you only use a small portion of what the CMS is actually capable of.

    I’ve been using Joomla for almost two years now, and still have a lot to learn about it, but that’s what makes it fun. And as a designer I tell prospective clients upfront that I will install a joomla backend, I don’t offer wordpress or Drupal as an option.

    The best advice I would give is to research all the CMS out there, find one you like, study it and stick with it. I reckon that building a WordPress, Joomla & Drupal site, all at the same time may possibly cause my brain to explode.

  30. Som

    hi.When I go to my Cpanel i can’t see site builder or something else like this.please tell me what should I do.
    Thanks

  31. Jon
  32. Lulu83

    Thanks for great informative article… I found using WordPress relatively easy, it’s very user friendly and there is a lot of free guidance available online, so even if you haven’t used it before you won’t struggle too much… the only tricky bit is changing the design, you have to be relatively experienced if you want to change the ‘basic’ template look which I think its a big downfall… this makes spotting wordpress sites very easy, they all look so similar…

    one question: does anyone have any experience with using US webhosting as opposed to UK webhosting? which one is better?

    L

  33. Jamshed

    In simple words Awesome .. Now understand hosting .. great work

  34. Kev

    @Lulu83, I’m based in the UK and I’ve always used US webhosting and find it to be fine, I can’t give a comparator as I’ve never used UK hosting. I have read some articles that suggest hosting a .co.uk on a US server will affect page rankings but I’ve not found this to be the case.

    The most important thing is to carefully research hosting companies, try to ascertain which ones give value for money and reliability. The cheapest will never be the best, and don’t get fooled by bold sales techniques such as “unlimited bandwidth” or “unlimited server space” as this is never the case.

    I’d also be a bit wary of companies that offer “you only pay for what you use” cloud services, as you are giving unscrupulous companies carte blanche to charge whatever they want on a monthly basis.

  35. Tom

    I can vouch for Blue Host as being one of the best and it’s been extremely rare they have been down and their technical staff is the best. I have been with them many years!

  36. bella

    all i can say is that geeks are the best and most helpful on the net wubbs ya all bella

  37. Sahil

    Is it possible that you will do a tutorial on how to host a website on a VPS? I am considering doing it not just because I want to have more control on my server, but also to learn basic Linux administration.

    Would be really helpful!

  38. Joan

    This is exactly what I need at this exact time. My 1-page instant webpage I bought from GoDaddy was handy but not ideal. I have to really put some more thought into what I want it to do now and pay a bit more money and/or time.

    Also, I have heard that selling online is expensive to set up. Will that topic be covered here in future installments?

    The rest of the tips for hosting free have been great.

    Thanks everyone!

  39. AMCO2000

    GoDaddy works “OK”, but like many online sales orgs, once you get IN it´s very hard to get OUT ! And you get DELUGED with day by day, week by week, special offers. Finally, GoDaddy is just tiring and tiresome to administrate: so I just let my domains lapse (fortunately I did not need to preserve the names!)

  40. TheFu

    Technically, you need 3 things to have a website, not 2. Each of these can be at different providers and if you outgrow the all-in-one solution from provider A, you will wish that you had.

    * domain registrar
    * DNS
    * hosting

    I have all three with separate entities, which provides greater flexibility than an all-in-one provider and doesn’t let any single entity hold my domains hostage – which is suprisingly common. The reasons have been written about many places before, including lots of blogs.

    If you use WP, Drupal, Joomla or any of the most popular CMS, then you need to be ready for weekly patch sessions. Those are all constantly being attacked. Patching applies to all the addons too. Basically, we all need to expect to be hacked and have a recovery plan. When you run your own services, these are the little details that nobody remembers to tell you about.

    Those “privacy” services offered by the registrar may mean you don’t actually own the domain. That will make transfers more difficult, when the time comes.

    Many people have been burned by popular hosting/dns/registrars. Be certain you read up those issues **before** you sign up with an all-in-one plan. Decoupling later will be painful.

  41. TA Burlison

    Why is there a need to purchase a internect domane from anyone, the air is free and the only person I pay to is my internet supplier. Who owns the air or the total internet. Yes, I understand if someone else has it, but if I create a new website. Why do I pay some else for the rights of MY site. Just curious as to paying everone for the right to use not their internet.

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