Once I had a sense of what a website, like, even is, I needed a place to host it and a way to build it without having any technical skills. This is also the step where money becomes involved, which made my decision on where to host and on what platform to build that much more important.
Choosing a Host
There are lots of places to host a domain out there. An overwhelming amount, to be honest. There are the big ones, like GoDaddy and BlueHost, and in my research most hosts cost similar amounts (at least for the first few years and depending on what sort of hosting you want to go for–more on that in a bit), so cost became less of a consideration. There were plenty of other distinguishing factors between hosts, though, including, in no particular order:
- WordPress Compatibility – I knew that I was going to use WordPress (more on that in the next section), so I wanted to find a hosting provider that made doing so as easy as possible. This meant things like one-click install, constant server uptime, and automatic updates. Again, I am a technical idiot.
- Plans – I knew I would only need a simple hosting plan. I don’t need anything fancy like… I don’t even know. I can’t emphasize enough how non-technical I am. It was also a plus to find a plan that included a domain name.
- Technology – Obviously, you want your IT to keep with the times. A host that has a plan to stay modernized is a plus. I’ll also include storage space in this. While I’m not planning on uploading videos or anything that eats up too much filespace (at least not at the moment), I didn’t want to run the risk of running out of space and needing to pay for more. So, included server space was a consideration. If you research hosts you’ll also find that technology dictates the speed your site loads. I found most to be so close as to be negligible, but it may be more important to you than it was to me.
- Customer Service – This is a big one. Something will go wrong with your site. This site, for example, locked me out recently. I was trying to edit a years old blog post I had ported over from Blogspot, got a JSON error, tried to refresh the window, and suddenly could no longer access WordPress to edit anything. If I tried to go to my website directly, I got an error page. I ended up submitting a trouble ticket through my host (GreenGeeks) and they fixed the issue within a half hour. I was impressed.
- Price – Obvs. For a first website most hosts will have deals or promotions you can use, and I didn’t find a lot of difference between the lowest tier pricing between them (usually somewhere between $2-$4 per month to start).
- Sustainability – It’s not something people think about very often, but web hosting takes up a lot of energy. Not only do servers need power to, ya know, run, but host providers also use a lot of energy to cool the servers. Finding a sustainable host became important to me the more I learned about it. Unfortunately, there aren’t many out there.
In the end, with many of the differences between hosts being minimal, the sustainability aspect became the difference-maker. That’s why I chose GreenGeeks as my hosting provider.
There are lots of ways to have a web imprint, but the way to have the most control is to buy your own domain. But how do you choose the best for you?
The first thing you’ll be asked to do after choosing a host if to register a domain. Depending on the host you choose, the domain usually comes free (although registering more than one will start to cost). I already knew that, as an author website, my name was easiest. That’s how I ended up with the blindingly genius craiggusmann.com.
I didn’t need to put a ton of thought into my domain name because I wasn’t interested in being clever (if clever is a possibility for me, anyway…), but it was in the back of my mind that a domain should be a couplea things:
- Descriptive: It should give you some sense of what the site is about. Notawriter.com might be self-deprecating and clever, but it’s also misleading and might turn readers away.
- Easy to remember: I didn’t want a URL that people couldn’t remember if they didn’t bookmark it or, perhaps worse, misspelled and ended up elsewhere.
Aside from hosting provider, the most important consideration you’ll make is what platform to use in building your site. Again, there are a lot of options. Personally, I only looked at the two big ones: Squarespace and WordPress.
WordPress comes in two flavors: WordPress.com and WordPress.org. I spent far too much time being confused about which was which, but hopefully you’re smarter than me. Here’s the difference:
- .com = hosted on WordPress servers for you. Any URL you create will have .wordpress.com at the end of it. So, if I had used WordPress.com to build this site you’d be reading craiggusmann.wordpress.com right now.
- .org = hosted on your choice of servers. You own the domain, then, and can choose to do what you want with it.
I think it’s clear which I chose.
To a layman like me, the differences between Squarespace and WordPress weren’t chasm-like. There are major differences, especially if you’re more of a techie, but on the most basic level they’re both drag-and-drop site builders. There were two reasons I chose WordPress over Squarespace:
- WordPress is used by a significant chunk of the internet, and by a majority of authors that I looked into while researching what my site might look like. That gives it pedigree, expectation, and tells me that the service is here to stay.
- After doing a free trial of Squarespace, I didn’t feel like I had enough control to do what I wanted. WordPress isn’t perfect by any means (more on that in a later post), but I felt like there were more templates and more control over how to use them with WordPress. I’m also always looking toward the future, and thought I might get more technical as time goes on, in which case WordPress provides more tools for customization.
I should stop here to say that these are just my choices for what I thought worked best for me. Everyone should do their own research and test runs to find what suits them.
After deciding on a platform you start a site by choosing a template and customizing it. I first looked at the big list of templates, scrolling through each one that looked interesting. Most are designed to meet specific goals. A website for a lawyer serves a different purpose than one that sells artwork, which serves a different purpose than someone who just needs a site to show off their portfolio. Each template is tailored to these needs.
After taking far too much time to figure this out, I searched for different variations of “writing” and “author” templates, ultimately narrowing my choices down to three. Of those, I chose the one (with help from my wife cuz, c’mon) that most closely matched the look I had in my head.
I’ve mentioned money a few times in this post. It’s true that you have to pay for server space and, in some cases, buy your domain (or rather, it’s more like lease your domain as there are yearly fees). For me, and possibly for you fellow first-time website guru, the costs aren’t much. In total, I only paid for hosting (again, the domain was free for this year at least). Through GreenGeeks I paid for three years of hosting at an average of $39 per year. And that’s it, right now. After those three years the costs are likely to skyrocket, but for what I’m trying to do now I’m ok with that. In short, for a beginner like me the costs weren’t prohibitive.
Unless you assign a monetary value to your time. That’s a very different prospect, as you’ll find when you start generating content for your website.