Unrivaled Creations Stories

Internet Website Design and Bespoke Software Application Development with PHP and the Laravel Stack.

Want to Build Your Own Website?

1 year ago · 17 MIN READ

Want to Build Your Own Website?

A free website is better than no website at all, but they're never comparable to a professionally designed and developed website.

The intended audience of this story is those who want to do the best job possible when building their own website or those who wish to better understand what's going on when a professional service (like Unrivaled Creations) builds a website for them.

In many cases, a professionally designed website would simply be overkill or otherwise unnecessary, so a free website is certainly acceptable. Therefore, there are many situations where a self-made website is perfectly appropriate:

  • You need a very simple brochure website and want to be able to make changes yourself.
  • You are not concerned with search engine marketing or performance.
  • You value your money more than you value your time and don't mind spending time learning the ropes.
  • You like to learn new things and aren't afraid of a challenge.

I have to admit. Building websites and web applications is a lot of fun. But it is very time-consuming and there is so much to learn! In this story, I am going to share the most important things to know if you decide to build your own website.

Because I often encounter client prospects that just simply don’t need a website or a web application of the capabilities and quality that I deliver as a professional, I decided to write this story to help them build their own website. It is also appropriate to review this story even if you are a client because it will help you understand the scope of the challenges involved with building a website.

Website Domain Names

The selection of a domain name is the very first step in establishing your new website. A domain name is a human-recognizable label for your Internet presence, such as unrivaledcreations.com. Having a domain name of your own means you can brand your website and brand your email.

A domain name is a human-recognizable label for your Internet presence, such as unrivaledcreations.com.

Choosing a Domain Name

Companies that offer domain name registration services are known as domain name registrars. Domain name registration is a recurring expense. The cost varies, depending on the domain name you choose to register and the term of the registration (i.e., for how many years you register the domain name).

Companies that offer domain name registration services are known as domain name registrars.

What’s in a domain name?

You will encounter possibly unfamiliar terminology when shopping domain names on a domain name registrar’s website so you might as well know what these basic terms mean.

Let’s break down my story website, stories.unrivaledcreations.com, into its three parts:

  1. A sub-domain ("stories")
  2. A root domain ("unrivaledcreations") and
  3. A top-level (TLD) domain ("com").

Actually, the sub-domain would be stories.unrivaledcreations.com, the root-level domain would be unrivaledcreations.com and the top-level domain would be .com.

Sub-Domain Root Domain TLD (Top Level Domain)
stories.unrivaledcreations.com unrivaledcreations.com .com
The use of a sub-domain identifies areas of your domain that are entirely unique from your domain’s other areas; e.g., mail.unrivaledcreations.com and blog.unrivaledcreations.com would have very different purposes and unrelated intentions. The “root domain” indicates the identity of the brand or focus of the website in a way that humans can relate to. The “top-level domain” typically indicates the overall purpose of the website: e.g., .com (commercial) and .org (organization, usually non-profit); or its geographical location; e.g., .uk (United Kingdom), which is often referred to as a ccTLD (country code top-level domain).

I always advise people to choose their domain names with the following in mind:

  • You will often have to give people your website address or email address over the phone, so keep it short and use words that are easy to pronounce, hear and spell.
  • Use a new TLD if possible. Desirable domain names are easier to find using a new TLD versus a legacy TLD like .com and .net because they aren’t usually already “taken.”
  • Avoid complex words or those that are difficult to spell in your domain name. Some company names are very funky, so this isn’t always possible.
  • It’s hard to change domain names later (e.g., once you have a well-established website with lots of content and lots of links to it from other places on the Internet), so spend a long, long time picking out your domain name.

For a deep dive into the art of choosing a domain name, I recommend Rand Fishkin’s article (with video), “How to Choose a Domain Name.”

Hosting

It is profoundly important to understand that there are many, many different services surrounding your domain name and website that need to be hosted. “Hosting” basically means that a computer somewhere on the Internet is running a program to deliver or serve websites and email. These computers are called servers, and they require expensive hardware and software, an Internet connection and much technical manpower to keep running. Needless to say, hosting is beyond the capabilities of the average person so there are many services that provide hosting services at a reasonable cost.

I personally recommend NameCheap.com for the do-it-yourselfer.

Here is a list of the separate Internet services that will require hosting:

  • DNS (domain name service) hosting
  • Website hosting
  • Email hosting

DNS

Humans use ordinary text to identify things. Computers use numbers. DNS (domain name service) translates the text that humans use into the numbers that computers use. So, when a human wants to go to stories.unrivaledcreations.com, DNS is the “phone book” your computer uses to look it up.

Website Hosting

When you go to a website, a computer somewhere on the Internet sends it to your screen. This computer is called a “web server” and that web server provides your website hosting. Web servers provide website hosting and deliver the content of the website to your computers and devices.

Email Hosting

Most of us use email every day; usually, all day long. Your computers and devices are going out over the Internet to grab those email messages from a computer called an “email server,” and the email server provides email hosting. Email servers provide email hosting and deliver your email messages to your computers and devices. With respect to your own domain name, hosting email at that domain is in your long-term interest because then, even the emails you send will be branded. Instead of being soandso155523@yahoo.com, you can be jane_doe@yourcompany.com.

One thing to consider: Most smart phones natively support Microsoft (Outlook.com, Office365 and Exchange) and Google (Gmail) natively. When you set up your domain's email accounts, their settings on your mobile devices will be completely automatic. Just provide your email address and password, and most modern devices are preconfigured to do the rest. This easy, automated setup and native support for these email hosting services is a huge selling point because of how easy it is to work with. Keep this in mind when looking into email hosting services.

Choosing a Hosting Company

Most hosting companies combine domain name registration, DNS hosting, website hosting and email hosting in an all-in-one bundle. Literally, your credit card and a few clicks can get the whole show on the road: Domain name registration; website hosting; email hosting; DNS hosting — all provided by a single source and in a very conveniently integrated way. In turn, they offer a graphical user interface (referred to as a "control panel" or simply "cpanel") to manage your hosting account and domain name registration.

Quite often, the exact same company that offers domain name registration, or a domain name registrar, also offer hosting services.

If you are going to go it alone and register your own domain name and build your own website, you should keep all of your hosting services with one single company. For this service, I recommend NameCheap.com.

When contracted to set up hosting for customers, I use the domain name registrar for domain name registration and DNS hosting, and sometimes the email hosting, too. When the email will fill a more important role, set up business email hosting with Google. I usually set p the website on Amazon Web Services (and set up HTTPS SSL certificates using LetsEncrypt.org to boot).

True, this splits things up, but it’s very performant because it allocates services to the providers that work best for their purpose and intrinsically prevents issues that could be caused by a single point of failure. Amazon Web Services is screaming fast for website hosting and Google’s Gmail works natively with all of my computers and mobile devices. You can read all about that on the Hosting services page of the website.

Building your Own Website

When should you go it alone?

There are many factors that might influence your decision to build out a website on your own.

The number one reason to go it alone is usually cost.

A basic website designed and developed by Unrivaled Creations starts at $3,500 (as of 2017), while more advanced websites and bespoke web application design and development will certainly be higher.

If a website is not going to produce a profit (or otherwise fulfill a need), it makes poor business sense to build it. Websites and web applications in particular are the lifeblood of business in terms of reputation, capacity and profitability so the cost is certainly justified. Were it not, nobody would have a website. In any case, cost-benefit ratios could easily put a professional website out of reach, so a less-than-perfect, self-made website is better than no website at all.

Before you make a website you should have a professional designer do a discovery with you to see if your assumptions about what you think you need, is what you really need. In fact, except for a very basic website, it is not even possible to quote a website or web application project until after discovery because you have no way of knowing what you’re even building a website for (until discovery completes).

A close second reason control.

This is what drove me to become a software engineer (i.e., a programmer) to begin with. I find great enjoyment in programming as a form of creative expression because I can look back upon my finished project with a sense of satisfaction knowing, "I did that."

A professional will examine your project and design and develop an appropriate solution based on the results of their discovery. Even so, as with any commissioned work product, the final result might not be exactly what you have in mind (even if it does perfectly solve the problem at hand). A professional is commissioned to produce a website to meet written technical specifications, but is not obligated to satisfy subjective aesthetic approval. When you build a website for yourself, you have total control of the aesthetic and functionality of the website and can make any changes any time you want.

Building your own website comes with that unique sense of satisfaction that comes from having created something and then having control of its destiny and future. Besides, building your own website might be enjoyable as a learning experience and reward you with a great sense of accomplishment. So if you're up for the challenge, by all means, build your own website! You can always take it to the next level later.

What disadvantages are there to going it alone?

Unless you are a skilled designer and developer, building your own website is not appropriate for larger undertakings that require bespoke software application development. Because websites need to behave nicely with a huge variety of platforms, screen sizes and configurations, web development is considered one of the most difficult kinds of programming to undertake. HTML, CSS and JavaScript are three entirely unique languages that are involved with the frontend (i.e., the part you see when you visit a website) and there are many intricate software programs and technologies used on the backend (e.g., PHP, Python, MySQL, Apache, NGINX and many other possibilities). Online website builders can shield you from having to learn all of these items. They do a good job of it in many cases. What they will not do is anything beyond the basics, so if the problem you're trying to solve has any depth to it whatsoever, it's pretty certainly going to be out of scope for the do-it-yourself website builder platforms.

The scope of knowledge required to fuel high-power websites is vast to the point of confusion and definitely not for the uninitiated. So for more sophisticated websites, plan on hiring it out.

You may not be aware of issues like typeface, software, photo and video licensing. You may not know how to locate resources like stock photos and videos for use on your website. You may misuse color, layout or typography (although most website builders will come with handsome templates that avoid these blunders). On-page search optimization in itself is a profession, and even seasoned full-stack web developers make mistakes with it. A website built by a professional will likely present the best user experience for a website's visitors and perform better in search that a self-made website or a website created with an online tool.

Once you have built a website with a website builder, your creation is at risk of being lost if that service goes away. You don't own (or have licenses for) any of the source code or media (like photos and videos), so other than the content that you type in, you really don't own the website and can't easily move it to another website hosting company or website builder service. This singular problem compounds itself over time, especially for websites that begin to accumulate large libraries of quality content that rank well in search. If you eventually do grow out of the freebie website hosting services, you definitely want to consult a professional to help preserve your search rankings and ensure that your content with outside links remain accessible.

Some website builders will limit the number of pages you can host, especially free or low cost for-pay online website builders. Others have no such limits; but might severely restrict the amount of free storage or free bandwidth you can use per month. Once a certain number of visitors have seen your website, it goes down. This is an incentive to upgrade from the free tier to a pay tier for more bandwidth. It's even more an incentive to have a professional build your website and help you deploy it to an unlimited for-pay website hosting company!

Many online services from even the largest of enterprises are guilty of the old famous "bait-and-switch." They offer a free online service with premium or pro tiers of service with added features and a cost; and then, abruptly, end the free tier of service and make you pay. So free isn't always free. At least not for long.

Most website builders will also provide hosting, but won't let you use your own custom domain name. That means you can't have www.yourcompany.com for your website. Also, they usually won't let you secure your website with an SSL certificate. Using SSL certificates to secure your website puts a padlock icon in the browser next to your domain name and is a ranking factor for the search engines. This is not generally available at the free tier of website building and hosting, and changing from a standard website to an SSL-secured website can be tricky.

Sometimes, getting custom contact forms and other interactive elements working is either not possible or difficult to manage. Professionals know how to properly lay out pages and interactive elements for the best possible user experience. Lay website builders will not usually have kept abreast of the latest trends in web design and development and will not know how to handle user experience and user interactions properly.

How to Build Your Own Website

If you're still not convinced that you're better off hiring a professional to build your website and help you deploy it to a hosting platform like Amazon Web Services or a reputable hosting company like NameCheap.com, let's dig in and build that website!

Ways to Build Your Own Website

Here's three ways to do it, in order of difficulty (from hardest to easiest).

  1. Build it the way I do: Writing code (HTML, CSS, JavaScript, etc.) and then shipping the files directly to your web hosting server (using FTP).
  2. Use a one-click install for WordPress, choose a theme and then start building menus, pages, content and blog posts.
  3. Use a free website builder to get the job done.

Option 1: Truly build your own website.

You can always learn how to program HTML and CSS or learn a HTML/CSS framework, like Bootstrap. Erstwhile web developers with a little bit of experience in operating computers and writing software in other languages would certainly have no problem going this route; but lay users might want to look at another option since it requires programming and more advanced computer operating skills.

Learn about building websites in the best possible way: By doing. I recommend that you search Google about building your own website to find the most recent, relevant guidance on this subject.

Option 2: One-click WordPress installs from your hosting company.

I don't generally recommend WordPress for a variety of reasons that I'll write about separately in the near future; but for a do-it-yourself website, using a one-click install for WordPress with a hosting company that provides that really isn't a bad option. After all, nearly a third of all Internet websites run WordPress.

Once you have your WordPress site up and running, choose from many available free and for-pay themes to give your website its own unique look and feel. Sure, it won't be as unique as a custom-designed template, but it won't look quite so out-of-the-box as WordPress’ default template does.

WordPress comes in at #2 on the difficulty index because WordPress has an administrative control panel (or so-called dashboard) that allows you to control many features and plug-ins for WordPress which requires some learning to understand and use properly. Both WordPress and its plugins require constant attention to keep up-to-date and both are highly susceptible to hacking. Hacked WordPress sites instantly transform your website into a place your customers and friends go to get driveby viruses installed on their computers, courtesy your company's reputation. In practice, any web server computer or website can be hacked; but WordPress, due mainly to its ubiquity, makes it a easy (and profitable) target.

Option 3: Use one of the many free website builders.

Free website builders are the best option for non-technical people.

There are many available free website builders you could have a look at. Each limits your possibilities in various ways; for example, some limit the number of pages you can build on your website. Others limit the bandwidth you can use (just to prevent abuse; self-made websites almost never attract enough attention to exceed this limit). Others restrict their free tiers to students and non-profits.

Thanks to the sheer number of free website builders and their complex arrays of feature limits and graduated pricing structures, even picking a free website builder to use for your website can be quite a barrier to overcome. Don't let that discourage you. Remember: A website built yourself is better than no website at all! So just ship it.

Things to Consider

After choosing a domain name, a hosting service and a means to build your website, the next things to consider are content creation and search performance.

Content Creation

Content refers to text, images (photos, illustrations, icons and so forth), and video. Copy writing (creating text content), editing and graphic art skills all play a hand here. Professional website and web app developers usually manage teams of creative professionals, each specializing in one of these creative disciplines. Often times, skilled content creators and other creative talent are on staff (i.e., in house). In the do-it-yourself realm, you get to be all of that! Again, don't let that discourage you. Create your message and tell your story.

Many of the clients I encounter will flounder about their minds seeking to answer a critical question I ask of them: What do you want the website to say? Content is much, much more challenging than you might think at first blush. Even if you know what you want to say, you might be surprised at how difficult it can be to find the right way to say it.

Search Performance

Closely related to the content creation for your website is search performance. How your website is encoded under the hood will affect search performance. Search performance is the specialization of an entire industry (often referred to as search engine marketing, or SEM, and search engine optimization, or SEO). Recommendations exist regarding the content and quality of your website to help them perform well in search: Google Webmaster Guidelines. The guidelines don't really speak to SEM or SEO, but rather to the way search engines treat the value of content.

In general, if you build a website that is useful to people (and they use it), it will perform well in search. Here's why:

  • There are three (3) reasons why people visit your website: To do something (buy an item or watch a video); to know something (the lyrics to a song they just heard on the radio or what's playing at the movie theater tonight); or to find something (like the website for that cool new concert venue they drove past while visiting a strange city). Your website should therefore serve a purpose, and the more specific that purpose is, the better the website will rank.
  • Search engines succeed when they produce the search results that match their user's intentions. For example, someone that searches for, "changing tires" might be looking for a website with instructions about how to fix a flat tire on the side of the road, or they might be looking for a service that offers roadside assistance, or they might be researching new tire manufacturing technology. By providing quality content, the search engines will steer the right web searchers to your website.
  • Search engines keep track when users respond to searches. The more responses that search results for your website get, the more relevant the search engine makes your website for subsequent searchers. Once again, quality content causes better search performance more than anything else.

Other factors increase search visibility and how favorably searchers respond to your website in the search results: What you show them (well-written headlines and page descriptions show up in search) and what the search engines show them (microformats, structured data and rich snippets come to mind). How your website is built can allow you to control how search engines index and present your website to searchers.

Summary

Building your own website can be fun and rewarding with a pretty respectable outcome with the availability of many handsome templates for WordPress and other content management systems (CMS). A self-made website is better than no website at all, so even if the outcome doesn't match a professionally designed and developed website, it's still going to be better than nothing: It will get your message out.

To build your own website, you will need to register a domain name and acquire hosting service. If you know nothing about programming HTML and CSS (the programming language of the web browser used to design your pages), WordPress makes a viable CMS platform to build your website on. The easiest way to get right into it is to visit the NameCheap.com one-click install for WordPress to get your domain name, hosting and the WordPress CMS going in one simple transaction. For even greater simplicity, use any of the available online website builders out there. Some even have free tiers for you to play with.

Finally, put substantial effort into creating useful content. Build your website with a purpose, then continuously improve the website by keeping the content fresh, up-to-date and relevant. You will then be the proud owner of your very own website creation!

···

Michael Hall

Hi! I am a digital product designer and website/web application developer always seeking a better version of myself. Follow my journey as I share my story (and expertise) through the mutable, ever-changing, ever-growing world of design, web development and technology.
comments powered by Disqus


Copyright © 2017 by Michael Hall. All rights reserved. · Sign In