Launching a website
December 13, 2020
So you want to launch a website? This guide will inform you on the best services at a number of price points — but first you'll have to decide: what will your site be about? A website for your small business or side hustle? A personal, travel, or hobby blog? I can't help you here, but I can help you decide where to host it and how to get started! This guide includes:
- Step 1: Learning some basic jargon
- Step 2: static vs. dynamic
- Step 3: to code or not to code
- Step 4: choosing a host
- Step 5: choosing a domain name
- Step 6: putting it all together
- Step 7: profit
- Case studies
Step 1: Learning some basic jargon
A common barrier to technology (or any industry) is the intimidating jargon. I'll attempt to demystify some terms so the rest of the guide makes more sense.
- HTML - HyperText Markup Language - defines the structure of pages and holds content (see top image for an example)
- CSS - Cascading Style Sheet - defines the style of pages (color, font, layout)
- Hosting provider - where your website lives. There are free and paid hosts
- Domain name - your website's address (e.g. www.tylerd.co). These typically cost $12–14/year but can run into the thousands for a popular name
- Static vs. dynamic - determines whether your site stays the same, such as a blog or informational page (static) or if it changes content, such as an online store or service (dynamic). Some blogs can be considered dynamic if you have comments enabled
- CMS - Content management system - allows you to update your site's content without writing code. Useful for blogs or photo galleries where the layout stays the same but the content changes
Step 2: static vs. dynamic
The second decision you'll need to make (after content, of course) is whether your site will be static or dynamic. Will it be an online store or have a special clients-only login section? If so, you'll either need to write custom code or use some paid services. If you're writing a blog or hosting a photography portfolio, a static site with a Content Management System should suffice.
Step 3: to code or not to code
Do you want to code your own site, use a hybrid approach, or use an all-in-one service? Options include:
Code your own site
You'll need to learn some HTML/CSS, as well as some foundational design skills. I recommend SuperHi for some free courses. You can code and host your own site for free – the only cost is your time and maybe a domain name.
Use a hybrid approach
Don't want to invest your time in learning to code? No problem - there are free resources out there that can manage your site with minimal code and effort. Wordpress is a popular, free Content Management System that has many templates and hosts available. Some free tiers have ads, so be sure to read the fine print.
Use an all-in-one solution
If you want a website with zero effort, you can use an all-in-one platform (content management, domain name, and hosting) such as Squarespace or Webflow. Be prepared for recurring costs around $15/month.
Step 4: choosing a host
You'll need somewhere to host your website. Free hosts for custom, static websites include Netlify (this website's host) and Github Pages. If you're using Wordpress, Wordpress.com and Amazon Lightsail offer free and low-cost ($4/month) solutions for small blog or business websites.
If a provider advertises on YouTube or TV, like Godaddy.com, you're probably overpaying — especially if you only have a few, seldom-updated pages. If you have a big budget, stick with Squarespace, or hire a developer. If you have no budget, consider the free hosts.
Step 5: choosing a domain name
Choosing a domain name (www.yoursite.com) is a crucial step and major part of your brand. You buy them for one year at a time, so choose wisely! Some hosting providers bundle domain names with their paid services—use this option if available. Otherwise, I use Namecheap, which as the name suggests, offers domain names at low cost ($8–13/year).
If you don't want to buy a domain name, you can use free subdomain names (yoursite.somehost.com). Check your hosting provider for free tier details.
Step 6: putting it all together
Great! So now that you have content, a way to manage that content, a hosting provider, and a domain name, you'll need to put it all together. If you're using an all-in-one or hybrid solution, this aspect is already done. For custom setups, you'll need to "point" your domain name to your hosting provider by updating Domain Name System records — not for the faint of heart and beyond this guide's scope.
Step 7: profit
Elsa is a successful small business owner. She runs a boutique coffee shop and wants to sell her beans online. She uses Squarespace to manage everything from domain name, to hosting, to e-commerce. She figures the bean sales will justify the $18/month.
Griffith is passionate about horticulture and wants to write about all things plants. He uses Wordpress.com to blog about plant species and care and maintains a photo gallery of his favorite types. He also uses WooCommerce, a popular Wordpress plugin to sell custom pots and detailed plant guides. He uses the free tier and is limited to a subdomain, but as his site grows (pun intended), he may switch to the $4/month plan and a custom domain name.