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The Quick and Dirty Guide to Launching Your Own Website
Building your own website is an absolutely essential step all budding entrepreneurs, soloprenuers, bloggers, artists, etc. need to take to build their platform. But you knew that already.
What you may not know is that you can do it quickly, relatively painlessly, and be up and running in no time at all. If you’re looking to get started with your own website you can follow these steps and finally get started on building a fantastic platform. Your level of technical expertise doesn’t matter.
In this post we’re going to cover domains, hosting, content management systems, plugins, and themes, along with a couple “things-to-keep-in-mind” tips – all you need to get started with your own website. Just so you know, many of the links below are affiliate links. You can read my disclosure statement here. So get ready to dig in!
Get your Domain Names
You need to start by picking out and buying your domain names because this is the place where people are going to find you online. It’s your virtual business address.
But what domain name should you use? This is a big question and the right answer is going to be the short answer is that fits you best (for a more in-depth dicussion on choosing your domain name you can click this link). Should you use your own name or should you focus on a brand name?
The answer is it all depends on your purpose and goal. There are right answers on both sides of the argument. On one side, you have sites like MichaelHyatt.com. He’s a masterful platform builder, noted authority, and has a tremendous audience. Then on the other side of the equation you have Pat Flynn, who’s site is smartpassiveincome.com. He approached it from the branding perspective, and his site is incredibly influential and widely acknowledged as one of the leading blogs in his market.
So which one should you use? The approach that most closely fits your goals. I’ve recently switched my blog from my business site, to a branded name to my personal name, and this is where it will stay. My motivation for doing this is that I wanted to build my personal brand, apart from my business, and do it with my own name to establish my platform.
When you’re adding domain names to your cart to check out make sure to buy variants of your domain. These are the .net, .us, and maybe even .org, or .info for your primary .com domain. This accomplishes a couple things. It makes sure that you control your brand, and keeps squatters from stealing your traffic. You also need to get variant spellings of your domain if it applies.
You can buy your domain from several different places – here are just a few options available:
Get your hosting set up
All websites need a place to live on the internet and your hosting account is your website’s homestead. You need a hosting service that meets the following basic criteria:
- Stellar performance – this means that your site is fast and is without a doubt reliable.
- Stellar support – you need someone willing to help you when you have questions, especially if you’re new to this stuff. This is not negotiable. If there is a question about service and support, then you need to keep looking.
- Easy to use – I’ve seen all kinds of control panels over the years and it just makes life easier when you can find what you need, make the adjustments you want and not be presented with a bunch of stuff that you don’t need.
- WestHost – Recommended by WordPress guru Yoast
- WP Engine – Powerful hosting for WordPress websites
- Bluehost – Popular shared hosting option
- Media Temple – Another popular option for the more technically inclined
Pick your content platform
For the vast majority of people starting their own website WordPress will do the trick. WordPress is an open-source, community-developed blogging and content management platform that enjoys robust popularity among website owners and bloggers.
If you’re going to use WordPress the version you want to use is the self-hosted version that can be downloaded free at wordpress.org. I don’t recommend using the free platform at wordpress.com – that is the version that is hosted for you on their servers. All you have to do there is to create an account and log in start blogging. Sounds great right? It is great for some scenarios, but the level of control you have over your site there is only fraction of the control you have in a self-hosted WordPress installation.
The good news is that many hosting companies offer 1-click installs of the self-hosted edition of WordPress so getting it installed is inexpensive and quick.
There are also services, like the service that my business offers where WordPress is installed for you, configured with the a great set of plugins you’ll want to have to start, and getting a theme installed and configured for you. This kind of thing can really accelerate your launch.
If you’re feeling adventurous there are other platforms out there that are every bit as good (if not better in some ways) as WordPress. As mentioned, WordPress is usually the way to go, but there are platforms that are worth checking out:
- ExpressionEngine – similar in some ways to WordPress, this is a premium content management system that is fully supported and is extremely popular in some circles, and a viable WordPress alternative
- Concrete 5 – Another open source content management system that’s worth a look
- Squarespace – a premium all-in-one content management service
- Drupal – for the truly adventurous and tech-savvy, Drupal is the most powerful content management framework available today, but it is not for the inexperienced or uninitiated.
Do yourself a favor and stay away from platforms like Wix, Godaddy’s Website Tonight, Weebly, and other site builders. The end product is never very good, they don’t look professional, and they’re not very flexible. Take the time and effort and do it right. You’ll be glad you did.
Pick Your Plugins
I’m going to assume that WordPress is the way you want to go, so with that part being decided it’s now time to pick out what plugins you need.
This is an area where WordPress really shines – there is a wealth of free and premium resources available to you.
There are a few things you will need right from the start. Here are a few plugins you need to start your new site.
- Contact Form 7 – this gives you the ability to create and add forms to your new website. A great premium alternative is Gravity Forms.
- Disqus – Comment spam is a huge problem for WordPress sites so using a service like Disqus will make managing comments much easier. Another popular alternative is LiveFyre.
- Google XML Sitemaps and Google Analyticator – Getting Google’s Webmaster and Analytics tools not only will help you learn how your website is performing, but also will help you get indexed more quickly
- Simple Login Lockdown – This plugin limits the number of attempts someone can make to combat brute force attacks
- YARPP (Yet Another Related Post Plugin) – Presenting users with associated content is a great way to invite users to dig deeper in to your site
- Yoast SEO – this is a fantastic plugin for helping you build your posts in an SEO friendly way, and is by far my favorite WordPress SEO plugin.
- WP Super Cache or W3 Total Cache – these are plugins that are designed to make your site screaming fast and accessible. The choice you make depends more on your hosting provider, so check with them first to make sure which one will work best.
You also need a social sharing tool, but as of this moment I don’t have any that I feel strongly about. You’ll want a Tweet button, and a Facebook like button at the very least. There are a ton of options for both, so I’d recommend trying a couple and seeing which one works best for you. WordPress’ Jetpack has some great tools and it could be the perfect solution for you.
Don’t Forget About Google
While we’re talking about social sharing tools I want to make sure that you don’t forget about Google Plus. Just because you use – or don’t use – Google Plus doesn’t mean that your audience doesn’t and you can’t overlook that fact. Giving your visitors an opportunity to share your posts there is just a good decision, plus, there are benefits if you want to build your authorship profile by using the platform.
Google authorship is a way to attribute your content to your Google Plus profile. Once you’ve linked your profile your picture will be displayed next to posts you create and a byline.
This really turns out to be a method by which you can build your authority as a content creator which will factor in to SEO rankings as Google tries to subtly move emphasis off of pure back links for determining a page’s authority and relevance.
Pick Your Theme
Your theme is your site’s “skin”. It’s the part of your website that makes it look awesome, and presents your visitors with a professional appearance, that should be well-designed and look fantastic.
There are two ways you can go when it comes to your theme: plug and play, or design framework.
If you’re talented and have a great eye for design then you may want to go down the road of designing your own theme. The Genesis Framework is perfect for this. I use this framework exclusively now that Standard has closed its doors for building my client’s sites and it’s absolutely outstanding. It’s well-supported, well-built, and an overall fantastic theme.
Another option that has been popular for a long time is the The Thesis Theme for WordPress. This one is also a great framework for designing your own theme.
If you’re looking for one that is great out of the box then you need to look at StudioPress Themes. These themes are built on the Genesis framework and are super easy to use.
A couple other great plug and play options are WooThemes, Elegant Themes and Theme Forest. The great thing about these kinds of themes is that all you have to do is plug it in, activate it, and maybe add a sidebar widget or two, and you’re ready to go.
Launching your own website is just the first step in building your platform, but it’s a fantastic first step. Make sure you pick domains that line up with your goals and purpose. Get a hosting plan with a company that will help you and support you. Get a great design in place and get your plugins installed and begin. Start. Engage. Commence.
Are you ready to jump in?
image by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center