So You Want to Build a Website… A Beginner’s Guide to Creating a Website

I’m continuing my series on making money on the road by blogging and making Youtube videos. In this post I asked a nomad friend of mine, Vanessa, to cover the details of creating a blog. Many people try the free websites then find they are too limiting and switch over to a self-hosted website that they 100% control. If you are sure you’re serious about blogging, I recommend you do that from the very beginning. I found it too intimidating so I hired a developer to do it for me. I consider it money extremely well spent and recommend it to you as well. Thanks Vanessa for making this so clear! Find her website here: http://vangypsy.com/ her instagram here: https://www.instagram.com/van.gypsy/

One of the greatest things about being on the road in this day and age is the internet. It opens up a world of possibilities from simply documenting your journey for others to see to creating a full-on business from anywhere. I’ve helped a lot of people doing everything from setting up social media accounts or stores on Etsy to full e-commerce websites for online products to building blogs and setting up marketing and SEO and how to turn it into passive income. In this post, I will do my best to cover the basics of setting up a new website: from setting up a free site (yes, free!) to purchasing your own domain and hosting and things to consider along the way to what might be steps to take your site to the next level. So if these are things you are considering and questioning, hopefully, this post will help pierce the veil into what it might take to create the site you want.

A Free, No-Strings Attached Website

Let’s start with free because everybody likes free things! Did you know that you could start a website without spending a dime? Seriously, not a penny. Now we will cover those things later in the post of how to personalize your website but if you are simply just wanting to get your feet wet without any commitment (or use of a credit card) then this is the first step. 

WordPress is a content management system (commonly referred to as a CMS) that I use for a lot of clients. One of the main reasons why WordPress is my first choice for new clients is that it’s easy to understand and update on your own. I’m all for the DIY movement and empowering others. WordPress makes it easy for me to set up sites for clients that they can update on their own free will. And even better, because WordPress is so commonly used there is a ton of documentation on how to update your content and lots of neat tools to add to your site. Plus, if you’re just looking for an out-of-the-box site design for your site, there are what seems like an endless amount of different themes, for free or to be purchased, to choose from. 

Now where does the free stuff come into play, you ask? Well WordPress itself is free to use. You can just go to WordPress.com and download the latest version of the CMS. And WordPress itself creates a new theme every year so when you download the files it usually has a few preinstalled themes to try out. Now the bigger question: how do people access my new site? 

And that’s the other awesome thing about WordPress. They will host your site for free if you so desire.  And it’s the type of free that means no credit card information needed. Not the “start your free trial” followed by three asterisks and a payment gateway kind of free. Hosting your site with WordPress means you will be provided with a subdomain on WordPress.com. You’re free to decide what the name is but just know it will be followed by “wordpress.com.” For example, it would be janedoe.wordpress.com instead of janedoe.com

Another thing to note is that because this is a free site and it’s hosted by WordPress itself at no charge to you, they need to make money someway. And that way is by putting ads on your site. But hey, it’s free right? Again, if this is all you need and you don’t want to spend any money, this is a great option. But even if you want to later on get your own domain and put your own ads (or no ads) this is still a great way to get familiar with setting up a site without committing to anything. 

More WordPress Packages
Alright, so you’ve played around with the free version of WordPress and now you’re ready to take your site to the next level. You want your own custom domain name not tied to WordPress. Maybe you’ve got a cool, kitschy name for your rig and you want to use it. 

Well if you like everything about the free WordPress site and don’t mind the ads and all you want is a sweet domain name, WordPress has a different pricing options to include that. You can bump your plan to the “Personal” option which means, for a low monthly fee, you get your own personal Domain name and double the hosting space. They offer other options as well with more features like more space, help with monetization, and google analytics integration. 
You can find more information about the free plan as well as how it compares to others here: https://wordpress.com/#plans

Buying Hosting and a Domain

WordPress is great for the hands-off approach but the monthly fee (billed yearly) of some of their services can really add up, especially when you want more control over your site like a domain name and server space. If you’re like me and prefer a little extra work to save some money, then buying your own domain and hosting plan could be the better option. 

One of the first things I do whenever I’m looking to buy a new domain name is go to http://www.whois.com/It’s a quick and easy tool to just see what’s available out there in the world of domains. Trust me, I’ve had a lot of what I thought were unique domain name ideas that were quickly thwarted by finding out it was already taken. So sometimes a brainstorming session just for a domain name is needed. This is the tool to help with that. They’ll also give you the skinny on all the available domain extensions (i.e. .com, .net, .biz) and give you recommendations on similar domain names that are available if the one you’re looking for is already taken. WhoIs will usually have some kind of deal for registering the domain through them.

But read the fine print and know what you will be paying after the promotional period. You might be paying $3 the first year for registration but following years will be $10. Still a good price for a domain, but can catch people off guard when renewing their registration. Even without those deals, WhoIs is still has good prices for their domain and pretty easy to setup. However, if you’re going to be setting up hosting as well, then you might want to consider buying the domain through whatever hosting company you’re using. Having one place to check and maintain payments and renewals for your website hosting and domain is just one tiny step to keeping everything maintainable.

Now that you’ve got a domain name ready and you know it’s available, the next step is find a reasonably priced hosting plan. Now, there are so many options for this and please, do your own research on what might work best for you, but I’ve found that for most of my clients Bluehost or GoDaddy have been great and reasonably priced. Both have pretty decent customer service to walk you through with any issues or set up questions as well as extensive documentation on how to do things on your own (i.e. connecting your hosting to your domain). Just like domain registering, many hosting plans have a promotional price for the first year, so read the fine print and know what you’ll be paying every year after. And if you decide to register your domain through the same company, it’s usually accessed through the same portal as your hosting and makes connecting the two about as easy as pressing a button.

One last food for thought on this subject, a lot (and I really mean a lot) of hosting companies out there are actually just buying server space off of other hosting companies. Sometimes they are getting heavily discounted prices from those parent companies and pass the savings to you. But most of the time they are a little more expensive to account for a “middle-man” fee. So once again I’ll stress, do your research and compare prices. If you want a little more in depth look at comparing GoDaddy and BlueHost, check out this post: https://www.shivarweb.com/2833/bluehost-vs-godaddy/

This post gets updated pretty regularly and just had a new update for 2017. They have a good overview of pricing for each, but for a one site hosting plan with limited data, you’re probably looking around $10/month. However, there are always different promotions going on and different tiers of hosting service so it’s best to visit their sites for the latest price points.

The Ultimate Hands-off Approach at the Right Price 

So, let’s say you don’t want the monthly fee of having WordPress do everything for you but you also aren’t completely confident that you can set up and build everything yourself. You might want to consider hiring a consultant for options and a little walkthrough or you might want to hire a developer that can do all the heavy lifting for you. How much is that going to cost you?

Well my friends, that’s a very difficult question to answer and the many requests I’ve gotten to give a “ballpark” estimate rarely ever leave both parties satisfied for a variety of reasons. But that’s a whole other post altogether. My main point though is that it all depends. But for the sake of giving you some kind of idea I will say that typically for my smaller one-off clients, my pricing usually starts out at around $3,000-5,000. But there are many factors to this price point. Do you have domain and hosting already or does that need to be set up? Are you creating a simple blog or are you doing a full on e-commerce site? Are you looking for search engine optimization? Do you want to monetize the site?

These are just a few of the basic questions I ask whenever I am looking to write up an estimate. The price point may seem high for some and pretty reasonable for others, but regardless, it’s important to note that in the long run, having someone set up this stuff for a one-time fee (minus yearly dues for hosting and domain registration) is a heck of a lot cheaper than paying a monthly fee to a service that is “doing it all” for you. 

I will say that I have a very large range of clients with different needs and different price points. I offer a 30 minute consultation to discuss the needs of the client and write out a detailed estimate on what exactly I’ll be taking care of and try to give alternative options for certain parts of the build process to help save money or guide the client in how they might be able to do it themselves. So whoever you decide to work with, make sure you’re getting a detailed breakdown of what you’re paying for.  

One last thing to consider while looking for a developer is you get what you pay for. I can’t even tell you how many of my clients have come to me after working with another developer who gives them an excellent price… but then didn’t even come close to what the client wanted or provided a half finished website. They ended up paying me much more to clean up the “mess” than they had saved by going with the cheapest option to begin with. On the flip side of that, I’ve mentored some very talented developers that gave cheap options just to get experience in the field. But even though their intentions were great, lack of experience dealing with clients comes with it’s own set of issues.

So my advice is to compare estimates and see what works best for you. Estimates aren’t always free but it might be worth paying for if you find the right developer and a lot of times the estimate price will be knocked off if you actually choose to work with that developer. If the price for a full website with all the bells and whistles seems too good to be true, sometimes it is. For a better understanding of all the things considered in creating an estimate (and why it’s so difficult to give a ballpark) please read this article by Brian Krogsgard: https://www.shivarweb.com/2833/bluehost-vs-godaddy/

Alright folks! I applaud you if you’ve made it this far and bonus points if you even read the other articles I referenced. Hope this helps you understand the process a little bit better and if I did this right, you are that much less intimated by the process. Happy site building!!

Vanessa Garcia is a Digital Nomad working as a Freelance Web Developer. She works full time from the road while living in her custom built Dodge “retired” news van. You can follow her adventure at http://vangypsy.com/,  her Instagram here: https://www.instagram.com/van.gypsy/. Find a portfolio of her work here: http://vanessa-lyn.com/ Email her at:  send her an email to: me(AT)vanessa-lyn(DOT)com or contact her from here: http://vanessa-lyn.com/contact/

Be sure and check out my YouTube Channel here:

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCAj7O3LCDbkIR54hAn6Zz7A

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Bob
About

I’ve been a full-time VanDweller for 12 years and I love it. I hope to never live in a house again!

6 comments on “So You Want to Build a Website… A Beginner’s Guide to Creating a Website
  1. Thank you for the clarity on how involved the choices can be. In my case, I have a WordPress blog for the sole purpose of preventing complaints from friends and relatives about being out of touch. All the same, I will look at GoDaddy and BlueHost. I’m already considering getting a domain name, because people seem to need great simplicity or they don’t find me. (Then they complain again.)

    Clarification: is the “domain” simply the name/url and the “hosting” the server/computer aspect of this? I’m a “true beginner” in the technical side of this.

  2. Rob says:

    Interesting read & a good subject. A good explanation on domains, WordPress and even a ballpark dollar figure for getting professional help, I appreciate it.

    I did notice that “blogger” as a free blog space was not even mentioned. I’m not complaining, just noting that as a “just my luck” thing 🙂
    That’s where I started my blog, quick & easy (IMO) but at times a pain in the butt. My blog is for my entertainment & not to make money yet, it is an education in the amount of work it takes to do a blog! One of my simple entries takes me 4+ hours. Keeping my blog has been educational.

  3. John says:

    Thanks for the information. It’s amazing how overwhelming building a website can feel. When it’s broken into steps it can be pretty simple.

  4. JIM PETERSON says:

    Maybe we just got lucky? We pay ten or $12 a year for our server and brother Greg set it all up (via WordPress) for us. We are grateful but *maybe* not as grateful as we should be? WordPress does their own updates (we get a notification) but it doesn’t seem to require much from Greg anymore. Our travel blog is maybe about as simple as it gets (not monetized) but we’ve been very happy with it. Maybe we’re not even paying for a server? Just our own domain name?
    sailingondryland.com

  5. Myddy says:

    I had no idea how much work goes into a website. This series has been very enlightening. Are you going to continue it to discuss your own success? I know you’ve been running this website a while but I am curious about how your book fared and what all went into it as well. I know that’s separate from the website though.

  6. jake says:

    Thank you for the inspiration! I really mean that! After reading this post and then following the subsequent links to your sites and reading more about your life, I’m tingling with excitement (or shivering, it’s damn cold out). I’m currently a full-time business applications developer for an embedded engineering firm, but I hate my job and due to other family issues, have recently found myself happily living out of my storage unit while I finish off my contract and save up for a nice van. I’m completely sold on this lifestyle (and have been for years…even spent a couple of years living on a chicken farm in an off-grid ecovillage in western NC after college), and I’m incredibly excited about this new adventure. Wherever my travels lead me, I know I can fall back on my tech skills to freelance…reading your story was a very strong motivation. Thanks for writing!

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