So… You Want Your Own Website?

Posted by: In: Computers 08 Sep 2011 Comments: 1 Tags: , , ,

So you want your own website, do you?

Why?

Seriously. That is the very first question you have to ask yourself before you begin. Why do you want a website? What do you want to achieve? Without knowing where you are trying to get to, you stand a poor chance of getting there. It sounds stupid, but it isn’t. Once you have a firm idea of what it is you’re trying to achieve, you can get cracking.

I like to tinker. I like to be in control. So I do it myself – and so can you!

A couple of years ago, I went on a course at college to learn how to build a website. I learnt a bit of code, I had a play on Dreamweaver, and then I sat down and realised I didn’t want to spend my life tweaking a website. I like to write, and I like to take photos. I looked at WordPress – a free, open source blogging platform. And here’s how I did it.

Finding The Right Domain Name

A website name is not the be all and end all of everything. It’s a lot about brand these days. Look at some of the biggest brands out there. Orange, O2, Red Bull. Do their names say anything about what they do? Nope. Do you know what they do? Probably.

Having a memorable website name always helps – it’s not always easy to remember the full URL of a website, so something which sticks in the mind is a bonus. For example, you’re unlikely to remember the extension of a URL (the .co.uk or .com or .org), but simply saying to someone, “Just Google Shuttercount and you’ll find the site” will allow visitors to find you straight away.

So if you’re unsure, how do you know what name to use? That’s where Google Adwords comes in. Set up an account with them (which is free), and you’re presented with the following UI

Screenshot of the Adwords menu

Go to the Keyword Tool as shown above, and enter a keyword. In my example, I entered “Event Photography”. Now set aside about an hour to browse the results. I say that, because this tool is very absorbing once you get going. The bizarre phrases people search for always amuse me. You can sort the columns by the keywords themselves, as well as the number of searches made against a particular word.

Screenshot of an Adwords search result

By playing with search terms, you can have an idea of what sort of names you could use that would be relevant to your site. Ideally if you want people to find your site through search engines, you will want at the very least to have a domain name that reflects a little bit about what you do. This is not essential. Getting your site to rank highly in Google searches is an art form. Indeed, a lot of people make a lot of money getting sites onto page 1 of Google’s search results. If it was all about the domain name, then they’d be out of work!

Whilst you’re doing this, open another internet window with a site that allows you to buy domain names. I bought my domain name from 123-reg. Their website is clear and easy to navigate, and it’s quick and easy to search for domain names. When you get an idea, type it into the Domain Name vendors site and see what’s available. Usually, you’ll get a list like this.

A screenshot of doman name search results

In most cases, you’ll be able to get a version of your name with a suffix (.co.uk, .com, .org etc) that’s available. The next question is “Is the name more important, or is it the suffix?” Do you want a .co.uk address more than you want greenbubble? Or do you want the .com address? Or are you happy with .me? I’m not sure what the latest rumours are regarding how important the suffix is, but if you’re reading this, chances are you are starting on your web-presence road. Go with what you like. From the example above, you can see how the more common extensions are taken, and the less common ones (.tv, .uk.com etc) aren’t. Have a look at the site that is taken. If it’s a massive site with a huge web presence, having the same name (with a different suffix) will get you caught up in all their traffic. And unless you’re an expert, you’ll always be in their shadow.

When you’ve settled on a name, or if you’re like me, and have a few ideas, grab a few suffixes. Fill your shopping basket by checking the tick boxes. If you end up with a huge list – don’t worry too much. Brainstorm a few names, then go through your shopping basket and just remove the ones you don’t like. Within a short period of time, they’re yours. Well done! Now what?

Finding A Good Domain Host

So you have a name. What happens if you type it in on the browser address bar?

It’ll go to a landing page at the company where you bought the domain name. Probably, that company has put ads on there. They have basically “pointed” internet traffic to that name at a one page website that has ads on it. You need to get that traffic pointed at your hosting space.

Hosting is different to domain names. The two are completely separate. Buying a domain name is a bit like joining the library. Your domain name is your library card, but you’re not forced to go back to the same library to use it. You can use that card anywhere (within county boundaries – but this is an analogy!).

You can usually get hosting from the same place you get your domain name. I wouldn’t recommend it, but some people swear by it. If you do go down this road, it’s likely the Domain Name company will point your name to your hosting account for you. Job done. If you go with someone else for hosting, all you need to do, is change the DNS setting at your domain name company website. This may sound complicated, but it isn’t. In fact, if you Google “how to point my 123reg domain name to xxx” (where xxx is your hosting service) chances are you’ll find a way. What you are basically doing is this: When someone types your web address into a browser, the internet knows that your name is registered with (for example) 123reg. So off goes the query to 123reg saying “where is this website?”. If your site is hosted by 123reg, they reply saying “It’s here!” and the page is served up. If it’s hosted elsewhere, you need to make a change at 123reg saying “if someone comes to you looking for my website, point them here…” That’s it.

So why would you not have your domain names and hosting under one roof?

Check the internet!

There are a LOT of people who have problems moving their hosting if their needs change. Let’s say the hosting company gets too expensive? Let’s say you want a subdomain, but your current host doesn’t provide them? Let’s say their customer service is really bad and you want to move! If you have a complaint and it isn’t resolved, the only way I know to hurt the company is to stop paying. So guess what happens to your domain traffic if you stop paying! Usually – account blocked. So now, not only is your access to your site blocked, but you can’t access your Domain Provider to point your domain name somewhere else.

If you are hosting with someone else, and you have problems, you can set up the hosting somewhere else, switch your domain name to point at the new site and you’re still up and running. If they shut off your hosting, your site is still live.

So, if you choose to have a separate hosting account, you may have to remember 2 logons and passwords. You may have to search the internet to find out how to point your Domain Name somewhere else, but you’ll figure it out. In about 5 minutes. Maybe less.

So, with that out of the way, how do you choose a host?

For me, I knew I wanted WordPress. I’d run it before, and I hated having to upload stuff to the host, I hated having to go through complex WordPress updates – in fact, I hated the complexity of it all. Then someone told me about cPanel.

I won’t go into this in detail right now. Suffice to say that cPanel makes managing your hosting a complete breeze. So if you’re planning to have WordPress, I would seriously recommend choosing a host that offers cPanel.

When choosing a host, there are going to be a lot of different factors. All of these depend on what it is you want out of your website. Most hosts offer priced packages based on the following:

  • How much hard drive space they give you (This is like your computer hard drive)
  • How much bandwidth you are going to use (This is in terms of people surfing your site downloading stuff. This could be just pages of text, in which case your bandwidth is likely to be low, or you could be allowing people to download full rez images, in which case it may be high)
  • How much you are prepared to pay up front (Pay for 2 years get a discount for example)
  • How many websites you can have (You may want to have multiple websites with different domain names)

Your requirements are likely to be wildly different depending on what your site is trying to achieve. I can’t help you choose the right provider. What I can do is say that this site is hosted by Vidahost. I chose them because:

  • They were value for money in terms of disk space and bandwidth
  • They allow multiple websites on a single hosting. My wife and daughters can have their own sites now without me having to buy anything else (apart from domain names!)
  • They have cPanel
  • Their customer care seems very good
  • They are UK based

This last bit is important. Your website is sitting on your host’s computers (servers). When someone types in your address, the packets that make up your website need to be delivered to them. If my hosting is in Australia and my readers are in the UK, it’s physically further for those packets to go, hence the page may take a while to open. We’re only talking about a second at most, but that can be important. Lastly, if I have any problems, I’m calling someone in the UK.

So for £30/year I get up to 6 websites, 2Gb disk space and 25Gb downloaded data per month. For me, with a blog based website, and images saved for web format (i.e. much smaller in filesizes than a huge RAW file) this suits me perfectly. I spoke to customer care about what happens if I exceed things etc, and they were very helpful. I find this is a good way to evaluate customer service before you buy. Ask some questions – even daft ones. The best, is “How do I point my domain traffic to you?” You’ll need to know that!

Once you decide on a host, you’ll likely get an email with a username, password, and all the information you need to get going. I just checked my email, and it even tells you where to point your domain name to. Bonus.

If you do decide to use Vidahost, they allow me to offer a 10% hosting discount. Use the code “shuttercount” if you decide to take them up. They have some great user forums too!

How To Navigate Your Hosting – cPanel Explained

Still with me? Jolly good!

Before I shut up for now, let’s get WordPress installed.

Your provider should also give you a cPanel logon. It may be the same as your hosting logon – it may be different. It’s a good time at this point to get yourself sorted out with usernames and passwords. You’re going to have a few. Good security would be to have different usernames and passwords for each system, but I work in IT and I know what most people do. One username – one password. If you do go down this road, at least choose something different from your bank logon, your gmail accounts etc etc.

When you enter cPanel, you’ll get a screen a bit like this. You should be able to access cPanel either through your Hosts web pages, or have a dedicated link.

A screenshot showing the cPanel screen

First: down the left hand side, you can see your disk space and your bandwidth use. Keep an eye on this over time. The next bit you will use a lot is the “File Manager”. Click it. It won’t break.

A screenshot of the cPanel File Manager interface

This is a slightly different looking interface to your “My Computer” file structure. This is how you upload/download files to your site. Yep. You don’t need ftp. If you don’t know what that is – smile. You don’t really need to know… Yet…

Your hosting provider should send you instructions on where to put stuff. But all I need to know, is that I put anything I want on my website in the public_html folder. Realistically – once you get WordPress up and running, you won’t need this screen. WordPress can manage uploads for you and puts them all in the right place.

So how do you get WordPress running?

Close the file manager window and scroll down your cPanel. You should see an icon called “Softaculous”. Click it.

A screenshot showing the Softaculous icon

You then get a window open with a big list of all sorts of things. Feel free to have a look at the other stuff. Google will likely be your friend here. To install WordPress, open the Blogs folder (top left) and you can see WordPress. Click that. Then click the “Install” tab.

A screenshot of the WordPress install screen

There is very little you should need to alter here. Leave the installation directory blank. If you’re messing around with add-on or subdomains, this is not the tutorial for you. I’m assuming one site, on one domain name with one installation of WordPress. Your Site Name and Site Description can be changed later within WordPress, so don’t worry about this right now. Change it if you’re feeling daring though.

Change your admin username and password. Do not forget this. Seriously. Don’t.

If you want to put your personal email in the box so you get a notification, that’s fine. Click install.

It’s done.

If you type your web address in now, it should take you to the basic WordPress landing page. You can log in with your Admin username & password.

You now have a WordPress site on the world wide web with your very own URL. Congratulations!

My next tutorial will walk through the basics of WordPress. I’m too tired right now!

Bye!

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