It’s never been easier to set up your own website—and you’ve never had more options. Here’s what you need to know to get that website up and running
Decide What You Need a Website For
Before starting, you need to consider the type of website you want. There are plenty of great options for getting started with a website, but they all have different advantages. What you need for an online business card or resume is very different from what you need if you’re planning an online store or news publication.
There are three rough kinds of websites you’re probably considering building.
- A Simple Personal Website: If you just want a simple online presence that has links to your contact details and social media accounts, then you really don’t need a lot of website features. Many tools will be way more powerful than you need—and probably more expensive. A single page site that has your bio, a photo, and links will probably suffice.
- A Full, Traditional Website or Blog: The next level up is what you most likely think of as a traditional website: Multiple pages for different things or a regularly updated blog. Small businesses or people trying to build their online reputation run these kinds of websites.
- An Online Store: If you want to sell things through a website, you need a whole host of extra features that people running a simpler website don’t. This includes a shopping cart, the ability to manage stock, a way to process payments, and something to track orders and handle notifications. There are services that manage everything, but they’re more expensive and require more effort to set up.
Once you’ve assessed your needs and decided what you’re going to build, you can then move on to looking at how you’re actually going to run your website.
Decide How You’re Going to Run It
The days of hand coding your website from scratch are pretty much done—unless you need some incredible custom solution, which is way beyond what this article is about. There are easy to use services for whatever kind of website you need.
Carrd: Simple One Page Websites
For simple, one-page websites, Carrd is incredible. It’s free to get started, and the good looking, responsive themes cover pretty much any use case. I use Carrd whenever I need to set up a basic site quickly.
For $9/year, you can use a custom domain, add contact or signup forms, take payments using PayPal or Stripe, and remove the “Made with Carrd” branding. If you want something professional, fast, it’s the way to go.
Wix: Big Websites, No Coding
Wix is one of the most popular website builders and for a good reason: it’s a straightforward way to build a fully featured, multi-page website with no coding. You can create much bigger websites with Wix than Carrd.
The downside is that, while it’s free to get started, you’ll have to pay Wix $8.50 per month to use your own domain and remove Wix ads. However, this does include the cost of your domain name. Other features, like the form builder and an online store, start at $12.50/month.
It’s a good option for a business website, but it’s a bit pricey for a simple personal site. The ads on Wix’s free sites are also very annoying.
Squarespace: Expensive, Attractive Sites
Squarespace is basically a premium version of Wix, although there’s no free plan. It starts at $14/month for a personal site (including a domain name) and goes up to $40/month for an online store. While this is quite pricey, the advantage of Squarespace is that it’s almost impossible to make an ugly website. The themes are all well curated, and your options are a little more limited; Wix is a bit of a free-for-all. Squarespace’s online store features are also robust, as is the blog engine.
If money isn’t an object, Squarespace is an excellent option. Since it’s only paid, there’s excellent customer support. However, at more than $150/year for a basic website, it’s costly.
Self-Hosted WordPress: Total Control But More Complicated
Vast amounts of the internet run on self-hosted WordPress instances. It’s what we use for How-To Geek, Review Geek, and LifeSavvy. A self-hosted WordPress site is a framework from which you can build practically anything, from a simple website with a blog to a publication with millions of page views a month to a bespoke online store. The downside to that is, while you don’t necessarily need to know how to code, WordPress requires technical knowledge—or a willingness to work through in-depth tutorials—to make the most of it.
Unlike the other options on this list, WordPress is more of a platform than a service. It’s free, but you’ll need to pay for a domain name, hosting, and any premium themes or plugins you want to use. There’s a whole industry dedicated to supporting and developing stuff for WordPress. You can get started for as little as $10/year or spend $10,000/month on server costs.
If you want the most flexibility possible to build your site and keep costs low, it’s the option to use, but it’s also the one that will take the most work to get running correctly. If you want to go the WordPress route, be sure to check out our three-part series on setting up a WordPress site:
- How to Own Your Own Website (Even If You Can’t Build One) Part 1.
- How to Own Your Own Website (Even If You Can’t Build One) Part 2.
- How to Own Your Own Website (Even If You Can’t Build One) Part 3.
Shopify: Simple Online Stores, At a Price
Shopify has one purpose: to run an online store. From $29/month (and a 2% transaction fee), it offers all the features you need. You can list unlimited products on a nice-looking store created with Shopify’s great themes. If you’re only setting up a website to sell stuff (and you’re confident that you’ll sell a few things a month), Shopify is the simplest solution. Like Squarespace, it’s a premium commercial solution with 24/7 support and excellent documentation to walk you through everything.
The big downside to Shopify is the cost: unless you’re actually selling products, it’s very expensive. It’s probably best for people who already have an offline store or have sold a few things through social media and want to move to a more professional platform.
The options above are just some of the better options. You might have heard one or two of them being advertised on popular podcasts. They are far from the only options available. There are dozens of different website building services out there at every price point, and with every feature, you could dream of. Also, if you have a budget, you can always go with a professional operation.
Buy a Domain and Get Started
Now that you’ve decided what your website is for and what platform you’re going to build it on, it’s time to get started. The first thing you need to do is register your domain name. If you’re using a service that includes a domain, as Squarespace does, you should get it through that service. It will automatically be set up to point at your new website.
Once you have a domain, sign up with the service you want to use and start building your new websites. All the options above, except WordPress, have easy to follow sign up processes.