One of the KEY strategies I’ll be emphasizing (and harping on…and nagging people about – haha) here (especially inside the WFA membership) is website building. If you’ve been through my “mini-course” (or previous training material) you’ll know that I have a “Good, Better, Best” guide for helping people to realize that you don’t need a $5000 state-of-the-art-all-the-bells-and-whistles-and-then-some site in order to start gaining traction online. In fact, my aim is to help people to steer WELL clear of that approach, and the mentality that goes with it!
I will be putting together some in-depth resources devoted entirely to the topic of website creation/promotion (there is already an in-depth video tutorial series for WordPress websites), but I know there are people who really want to get things rolling – and also those who won’t end up as WFA members – SO, I’ve decided to create a “quick and dirty” abridged version to share here.
That being said, this is only “PART I” and it’s still a BIG article, so be sure to grab yourself some food, drink (perhaps your favorite blanky and pillow?) before sitting down with this one. Oh – a pen and paper might not be a bad idea either. (Just so you know, I will more than likely create a PDF version of this guide as well, and will post it on the site at some point)
Resources at a Glance
1) Psychic Whois / NameBoy (domain name brainstorming / availability)
2) 1&1 (domain name registration)
3) Hostgator hosting
My main goal with all of this (DIY website stuff) is to put the “power” of website creation (and really, the “power of the web” in general) in the hands of everyday, regular folks (often those who assume they just “can’t” do this “web stuff”) – especially those who could really benefit as a result (eg. small business owners), and those who just generally have an important “message” to share with the world.
Don’t get me wrong – one of my key recommendations in the Modern Worm Farming training is actually to stick with your own strengths/skills/experience and to work with those who have complimentary strengths/skills/experience. As such, I agree that outsourcing technical work to others who are more talented than us is a great strategy…BUT there are definitely some significant benefits that come from putting in at least a wee bit of “blood, sweat, and tears” in this department.
For starters, you will almost certainly save yourself a LOT of money and frustration. When you have to pay someone for ever single, little, tiny technical thing you (think) you need to do, it gets pricey …REALLY pricey! Add to that the fact that trying to communicate what exactly you want – when you have very little understanding of the mechanics behind what you want – with someone who basically born with a computer chip in their brain (i.e. those frustrating people who can’t seem to grasp the concept of not “getting” something technical and, to add insult to injury, tend to have the communication skills of a piece of driftwood) can waste a lot of time, energy – and again, money.
Once you start to see how things work “behind the scenes”, you begin to develop a whole new sense for what sorts of outsourcing jobs actually make sense to pay someone for (and you’ll kick yourself for ever thinking about shelling out cash to have someone install a blog, add an RSS feed, help you get indexed/ranked in the search engines etc etc). Oh – and did I mention you’ll end up with an incredibly valuable skill-set? You will have the skills to effectively “share your message” (passions/ideas/products etc) with the world. You’ll also enjoy the feeling of actually being in control – no more frantic emails to your “web guy” when some minor issues pops up. No more banging your head against the wall after discovering, yet again, that your “website-in-a-box” solution doesn’t offer the functionality you crave – or at least not for free (“Sure you can have a blog, IF you purchase our deluxe add-on for a mere $199”).
OK – I could certainly go on, and on, and ON about all the advantages of learning how to build/promote your own websites, but it’s all just hot air unless I actually start to show you how to do it, right??
SO, what does one need to get started?
In order to create your OWN websites (i.e. sites you have complete ownership/control over) you will need:
1) A domain name
2) A webhosting plan
3) A website building platform/program
Some additional tools that can certainly help (but won’t be critically important) might include:
1) An FTP program
2) A graphics (photo manipulation etc) program
All this sounds like it’s going to cost us a fortune, right? Well, the good news is that only two of these are likely to cost anything at all (assuming you follow my recommendations), and the stuff that does cost money is relatively inexpensive (especially when considered as a business expense)! Let’s now talk about each of them in more details.
DOMAIN NAME – This the web “name” for your site – the main component of your website address (URL). It consists of the name itself plus a domain name extension. As an example – RedWormComposting.com is a domain name I own (the full URL is http://www.redwormcomposting.com). It has a “.com” extension, which happens to be the one most commonly associated with the web (and generally the one that’s most in demand). There can only ever be ONE name + extension combination – in other words, because I own RedWormComposting.com – nobody else can use that name (unless they somehow convince me to sell it etc – NOT going to happen!! haha).
Two great (completely free) tools for brainstorming and determining the availability of domain names are:
(I quickly demo Psychic Whois in the video above)
When it comes time to actually register a domain name, I highly recommend 1&1 – their prices are excellent (typically less than $10/yr) and you can even register the name privately at no extra charge should you wish to do so!
When deciding on a domain name, there are three important considerations/approaches:
1) Business name (if website is for your business) – i.e. is “yourbusiness.com” still available?
2) Keywords – what topic area are you focusing on? Choosing a keyword-rich domain name can be helpful for ranking well in the search engines. (eg. I own “WormComposting.ca” – this has helped me rank quite well for the search term “worm composting”, especially up here in Canada. To get some idea of how popular different search terms are, I recommend using the Google Keyword Tool.
3) User-friendly / Branding – there is definitely value in having short and/or easy-to-remember domain names if at all possible. Let’s face it, just because your business name is “Billy Bob’s Bait, Tackle and Taxidermy” does NOT mean it’s a good idea to register “BillyBobsBaitTackleandTaxidermy.com” – even if it IS available (it is – I checked! Haha). At least not if you have any interest in preserving the sanity of your web audience.
In all honesty, it is becoming more and more difficult to find really short domain names available (at least for the “.com” extension), so there’s a good chance you’ll need to settle for something containing two or more words – nothing wrong with that!
The way I see it, if you can manage to achieve one or even two of the three considerations I’ve listed you should be in good shape!
WEB HOSTING – this basically refers to the location where all your website files, databases etc are sitting. The actual physical structures that hold all the data are called “servers” – essentially, special “hard-drives” that are linked up to the web. Some web keeners set up their own servers at home, or use ones set-up by friends/family for hosting their own websites. Others chose one or more of the many free hosting options that are available these days.
My personal recommendation – especially for those setting up business sites – is to shell out the measly $10-$15/month for a decent web-hosting account – hardly the sort of business expense that’s going to “break the bank”, and the reliability/ownership/control/flexibility etc that comes with it will be WELL worth it!
The best place to start, in my humble opinion, is with what’s known as a “shared hosting account” – basically, this just means that the server your web-space is on has other accounts on it as well (often MANY others). There is certainly NO point in paying (through the nose) for your own “dedicated server” etc right off the bat since a shared account will almost certainly be able to meet your needs for quite some time (if not “forever”).
This is the type of account I am STILL using for all my websites (only just starting to think about scaling up for RedWormComposting.com – a resource-heavy site with many thousands of unique visitors each month).
A lot of shared accounts also offer what’s known as “Add-On” domain hosting. In a nutshell, this means that even though you only have one primary domain associated with the account – you can still host other websites as though they were in their own separate account. In other words, for many people, one shared hosting plan is really all that’s needed in order to host any and all websites you want to put online (for yourself, friends, family etc). Apart from “Add-On” functionality, another feature I highly recommend is use of the cPanel user interface (what you see when you sign in to your hosting account) – many, but certainly not all, hosting companies include this (prime example of a company that does NOT is GoDaddy). It’s great to have because it’s: 1) Quite easy to use, and 2) Chock FULL of amazing features and functionality – and one particular bit of functionality that’s especially valuable for those wanting to build websites the way I recommend. We’ll talk more about that in a bit.
My hands-down, ABSOLUTE favorite hosting company is HostGator. I’m now up to three accounts with them (for the sake of spreading my sites around a bit) and I’m a very happy customer. I’ve tried a number of different hosting companies over the years, and nobody has even come close in terms of reliability and customer service/support. I remember one particularly frustrating several-month-period where two separate (very well-respected) companies completely failed me. My sites ended up down for many days, and I was playing e-mail tag with support staff (typically waiting 12-24 hours for a response each time) with little in the way of assistance!
At the time of this writing, there has only been one significant (but still very brief) bout of downtime with any of my Hostgator accounts (I’ve been with them for more than 5 years), and what’s amazing is that they emailed ME to let me know, and to tell me how to quickly remedy the situation! Any other time I’ve needed a fast answer to some question/concern, I simply accessed their chat support service (available at ALL times – not just “10am-3pm Monday-Friday”! haha) and got my answer/solution pretty much instantly!
WEBSITE BUILDING PLATFORM – let me start by admitting that it took me quite a LONG time to figure out how to actually build my own websites. I tried all manner of different programs and approaches, but my lack of technical skills (and patience) seemed to prevent me from making any real progress – that is, until I discovered an amazing little program called WordPress! At the time, it was still primarily geared towards those solely wanting to set up “blogs”, but there were, even then, various add-ons (templates, plugins etc) that allowed you to create regular looking websites with it!
I’m happy to report that since that time, WordPress has only become more and more powerful and easy to use. Creating an actual website (that looks like a website) is now incredibly easy, and there are countless ways to quickly/easily boost its functionality.
What’s so great about WordPress?
Here are just a few good reasons…
1) It’s 100% “open source” and FREE
2) As a result of #1, there is a HUGE community of users and developers – this means it’s usually easy to get the information/support you need, you never have to worry about obsolescence/abandonment (as can commonly occur with proprietary software), and the number of amazing add-ons (many of them totally free) continues to grow every day.
3) It’s very user-friendly. Rather than fiddling around with expensive/complicated web-design software and having to create (and keep organized) all sorts of different files etc – you simply install WordPress (more on that in a minute), login to your installation and start building your site.
4) Much more powerful and flexible than many other website creation tools. Right “out of the box” (freshly installed) it is ready to be used as a blog/website, and with a little bit of extra effort, it becomes very easy to turn it into whatever type of site you want.
5) Very well-suited for the “modern” online landscape – comes with built-in RSS, blogging functionality, easy integration with all manner of social media sites (YouTube, Twitter, Facebook etc). It is also constantly being updated and improved to keep up with the times and make it more and more powerful.
SO, how does one get started with WordPress?
I should probably start by pointing out that there are two different kinds of WordPress:
1) WordPress.com – free blogging platform where you can sign up for an account and create a blog on the WordPress.com domain. This is an excellent way to get started, and to start learning how to use WordPress – also provides you with a WordPress “API Key” which is valuable for certain plug-ins etc.
2) WordPress.org – this is where you can get the self-hosted version (one I’m recommending people use) of this platform. If you go with a hosting plan that includes cPanel hosting (such as Hostgator), you won’t need to download the program at all, though, since it can be installed using a really cool application known as “Fantastico Deluxe”.
The #2 option is obviously the one we are focusing on in this guide.
This brings us to the end of PART I of the “Quick & Dirty Website Creation” series. In the next installment we will look at the nitty gritty details of getting your WordPress site up and running.
P.S. If you are not already signed up to receive email notifications when new blog posts are added, I highly recommend signing up (over in right-hand sidebar) for these.
Nice guide bently. What about forums will you be posting about forums? If so it will be on my to-read list.
Hi Cody – do you mean setting up forums or using forums as promotional tools?
Setting Up Forums
Hello, I have attended a website forming class last summer at our local college. The class was good however now that I look back on it I see so many wrong things on my site. I didn’t give my title a good name that was easily found for searching red wigglers. I would love you to view it and see if there are any ideas you could give me.
CODY – sorry for the ridiculous delay! Haven’t been doing much with the blog here in quite some time so I also haven’t been keeping up with comments.
I didn’t have any plans to cover the topic of setting up forums. I consider a forum to be a great add-on to a website or private membership – more so than a stand-alone thing. If you create a WordPress website, there are various forum plugins you can use (I use SimplePress and it works well).
LINDA – you’ve made a great start with the website – don’t be so hard on yourself (remember that a lot of people don’t even have a website at all). I like the page categories and the way you’ve featured your contact info prominently throughout the site. I might recommend adding a blog so you can add fresh content and attract more of an audience. I’d also add more in the ways of “calls to action”. What is it you want people to do? If they need to contact you to place an order maybe make this a bit more obvious. If you want them to order on the site obviously you’ll need some buy buttons etc. If you want to build a following – the blog will help, but you may also want to create an email list (MailChimp allows you to do this for free up to 2000 subscribers) so you can build a relationship with potential customers.
Hope this helps