How to Build a Website

A step-by-step guide to building a website, including deciding between using WordPress or a website builder. Plus, tips on customizing and managing your website.

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Last Updated on September 5, 2020

It’s now easier than ever to create your own website, even if you have limited technical skills. While it may be tempting to outsource the job to a freelancer, that approach has its drawbacks. It costs more, you won’t be able to make changes yourself, and you’ll have limited knowledge about your own website. Our comprehensive guide answers the most common questions about building your own website, including which platform is best, and also provides useful tutorials to walk you step-by-step through how to build a website. Regardless of your skill level, this guide offers all the information you need to create a functional, unique website for your small business and detailed instructions on how to make a website.

Beginner’s Guide to Building a Website

Identify your website’s purpose

Before starting to build your website, make sure you have a clear understanding of what your website needs to do. This will help you decide which website builder is best for your website as different platforms are better suited to different purposes. For example, if you’re starting a website for a small business or online store, you’ll need to build a website with ecommerce and customer engagement options. But, if your website is meant to be an online portfolio for personal branding, then a simple but professional-looking website should suffice. Also, consider your audience (aka your customers). What information and functionality will they expect from your website? Pro tip: Research the websites of similar businesses to see what they do well and what your site could do better for inspiration.

Choose your domain name

While you won’t execute this step until you choose a platform for building your website, it’s important to start thinking about your website’s domain name now. A domain name is the web address where people find your website, so it’s not a decision that should be made lightly. Good domain names should be relatively short, and easy to remember, type, and say. Since this is how people will find your website, it should be as accessible as possible. In most cases, you’ll pay for your domain name annually. Registering and owning your domain name means that no one else can have the same web address as you.

Website builder vs. WordPress

The first step in creating a website for your small business is deciding which platform to use to build the site. If you are doing it yourself, you have two options:

  • Using a website builder, like Squarespace, Wix, or Weebly, or
  • Using WordPress, which is an open-source content management system (CMS).

There is no one-size-fits-all answer to which type of website builder software is better — each approach has its own advantages, disadvantages, and supporters. Ultimately, you’ll need to decide which option is going to work best for you. Below is a breakdown of the pros and cons of each option.

WordPress: Pros & Cons

ProsCons
>Very popular — roughly 30% of websites worldwide are created through WordPress
>As a content management system, WordPress is the most flexible platform in terms of design and functionality
>Easier to switch your site to a different web host
>Costs are typically lower than building a site with a website builder
>Bigger learning curve than website builders — users may need to implement some code to adjust themes and plug-ins to customize the site
>WordPress’s back-end form editor abstracts what the actual website looks like
>Can be more time-consuming to create a website using WordPress
>Web hosting is not included
The Bottom Line: WordPress is ideal for individuals who have some basic coding and technical skills, want full control over the look and functionality of their website, don’t want to be tied to a particular web host, or need a bigger, more customized website.

Website Builder: Pros & Cons

ProsCons
>Easy to use — most website builders use a simple drag-and-drop or “What You See is What You Get” style of editor
>No coding knowledge needed
>Includes website hosting
>Typically less time-consuming to build
>Website builders have less flexibility in functionality and design than WordPress
>Cannot switch website hosts; moving to a new host means rebuilding your website from scratch
>Not as useful for more advanced, complex websites
>Slightly more expensive than WordPress.
The Bottom Line: Using a website builder is ideal for individuals with no coding or technical skills, who want to build a website quickly and don’t mind sacrificing some flexibility for simplicity, or for websites that do not need to be very complex or customized.

Building a website for free

If your business is new and funds are limited, creating a website for free may seem like a great way to cut costs. But creating a free website isn’t a viable option, especially for small businesses. Most free website building options have significant limitations that are too restrictive for the functionality and branding that a professional website needs. For example, free options include the name of the web host in your web address, creating a clunky, amateur-looking domain name like www.yournamee.wix.com. Additionally, many of the ecommerce, communication, analytics, and marketing tools needed to operate a small business online are only available with paid plans. Paying for a website doesn’t need to break the bank, though. It’s possible to build your own professional-looking website for under $200 compared to upwards of $5,000 for hiring someone to do it for you. Other costs associated with building and maintaining your own website include registering your domain name, web hosting, templates (although many great free ones exist), and add-ons or plugins.

Step-by-step guide to building a website with WordPress

If you’ve chosen to create a website through WordPress, great! All of the instructions you need for getting started with WordPress are below. If you want to use a website builder instead, go here for further guidance.

Step 1: Choose a web hosting service

A web host is the server location where the data that makes up your website lives. If you think of your website as a building, the domain name is the address where people can find your property, and the web host is the real estate on which the property sits. Organizations with huge, high-traffic websites have their own dedicated servers, but for most small businesses and professionals, shared web hosting is usually sufficient to handle the website’s traffic and storage needs. There are many website hosting services available; we recommend InMotion Hosting for its versatility, accessibility, and affordability. Besides coming with WordPress software pre-installed, InMotion Hosting includes a free domain name, the ability to create unlimited email addresses, free Solid State Drives (SSD), and more. Its monthly hosting fees are affordable, although they only offer annual, not monthly, subscriptions. Other popular hosts that work well with WordPress include BlueHost, DreamHost, HostGator, Site123, and GoDaddy.

Step 2: Register your domain name

Once you decide on a web hosting service, and choose your plan, the next step is registering your domain name. If you are using InMotion Hosting, your domain name is included with your hosting plan. If you are using another website host, they will walk you through the domain name registration process. This is also a good time to set up a dedicated email address for your business, if you don’t already have one. By a dedicated email address, we mean one that has your business name as the domain name, not @gmail.com, @yahoo.com, etc. Because your business now has a domain name, you can do that! Depending on your web host and plan, you may have the option to create multiple email addresses, or just one. There may also be an option to forward emails to your business email account to a different email account.

Step 3: Install WordPress

One of the perks of choosing InMotion Hosting as your website host is that it comes with pre-installed WordPress, so you don’t need to do anything else to start building your website in WordPress. Your WordPress login details will be included in your InMotion welcome email. Many other popular website hosts come with pre-installed WordPress software. If you are using any of those hosts, this is a relatively simple step. You can also install WordPress manually:

  1. Log into cPanel.
  2. Under MySQL databases, create a database. Write down the name, including the prefix provided; you’ll need it later.
  3. Create a new database username and password on the same screen. Write down these details as well, including the username prefix provided.
  4. Add the user to the database. Give the user all permissions when prompted.
  5. Open your FTP client and log in to your hosting account.
  6. Download the latest WordPress release from WordPress.org.
  7. Unzip WordPress and upload it to your public_html folder (or a subdirectory, if you prefer).
  8. Navigate to yourdomain.com and follow the installation instructions. Leave the hostname as localhost when prompted.

WordPress will set itself up in the directory that you chose in step 7. You can log in using your new WordPress login details and start setting up your site.

Step 4: Customize your WordPress website

In this step, we will cover how you customize your out-of-the-box installed WordPress website. This includes choosing the right WordPress theme, installing plugins, and creating contact forms and terms of use pages. We also recommend some of the most useful and popular WordPress plug-ins.

  • Delete pre-installed content: Your newly installed WordPress website comes with pre-installed “dummy” content, which you can safely delete.
  • Change permalink structure: Permalinks are the technical term for the URLs of the content that you publish on your WordPress site. Although you can change your permalink structure at any time, it is best to do it as part of your set-up process. Changing the structure later will deactivate any previously established pages.
  • Disable comments: WordPress lets you easily disable users’ ability to comment. You can also enable or disable user registration, if necessary. If you want to keep comment and registration functionality, there are plug-ins that will help you block spam.
  • Choose a theme: Choosing a theme is one of the biggest decisions you will make when creating your website. The theme or template you choose will determine the look and feel of your website. WordPress has thousands of free and paid themes to choose from, as well as frameworks, which let users build their own themes. It’s easy to get overwhelmed, so here are some tips for choosing the best theme for your WordPress website.
  • Add plug-ins: Plug-ins are the key to customizing your website’s functionality. They are apps that let you add new features and functions to your site. As with themes, there are thousands of free and paid plug-ins available. Here are some of the most popular plugins for small businesses to get you started.
  • Install Google Analytics: Google Analytics helps you understand how many visitors your site has, where they are coming from, and how they engage with your site. Various plugins are available to help you install Google Analytics, so you can improve your website as a customer engagement tool.
  • Create a contact form: A contact form gives your users an easy way to reach you without using your email address. You can create a contact form by adding a plug-in; we recommend using Contact Form 7.
  • Update privacy and terms of use page: If you own or operate a business, then you will likely need a privacy policy, terms of use, and various other legal documents. WordPress has you covered with plugins for privacy policies, terms of use/service, and cookie consent.
  • Automate backups: You should be backing up your website, otherwise you risk losing all of the information it contains. Using an automated WordPress site backup and restore service will give you peace of mind. You will also want to make sure your site is secure from hacking, viruses, and other threats.

Step 5: Manage your WordPress website

In the final step, we discuss how to manage your WordPress site, including creating pages and posts, adding categories and tags, and effectively using images and videos. Lastly, we’ll dive into how to optimize your WordPress website for SEO, ecommerce, social media, and mobile devices.

  • Create pages and posts: When adding content to your website, you have two options: pages and posts. Pages are static, while posts appear in reverse chronological order. Your site will likely contain a combination of both as they fulfill different purposes.
  • Create categories: Once you create pages and posts, you can use categories and tags to classify your content and make it easier for users to find. Using categories and tags effectively can also boost your SEO.
  • Create navigation: WordPress’s built-in menu system allows users to navigate your site via links to pages, categories, custom links, and more. Optimizing your website’s navigation will ensure your visitors can find the content they’re looking for quickly as well as explore the rest of your website.
  • Add widgets: Widgets help you customize the look of your website by adding content in the sidebars and footers. WordPress offers many different widgets for social media, ecommerce, communications, and more.
  • Add images and videos: Visual content helps engage your users and hold their interest, so it’s a good idea to integrate photos and videos into your website. Images and videos you upload to your WordPress site are stored in your media library.
  • WordPress SEO: WordPress is “out-of-box” SEO-friendly, but that doesn’t mean you can’t search engine optimize your site further. Yoast SEO is WordPress’s most popular SEO plug-in.
  • Add social media functions: Sharing buttons make it easy for your users to share your content and to get the word out about your business. Social Warfare and SumoMe are two of the most popular social media plug-ins for WordPress.
  • WordPress security: Basic security measures are built into WordPress, but you should take extra steps to protect your site from hacks and malware. Our recommendation for WordPress security plug-in is iThemes Security Pro.
  • WordPress ecommerce: WordPress can power just about any type of website, including fully functioning online ecommerce stores. WooCommerce is one of the most popular ecommerce solutions for WordPress, but there are many other plug-in options to choose from.
  • Mobile optimization: Ensuring that your website looks good on mobile devices is crucial. Nearly 60 percent of users won’t recommend a business with a poorly designed mobile site, so be sure to test your website on multiple platforms, and make it as mobile-friendly as possible.
  • Start an email list: Email marketing and building your email list is an effective, low-cost, and high-conversion monetization tactic. There are a number of different plugins available to help you build your email list.

Step-by-step guide to building a website with a website builder

If you’ve decided that a website builder is the right choice for you, this section will give you an overview of the set-up process, including tips for choosing the best website builder and plan. As each website builder has its own unique interface, you will have to refer to their website for exact instructions on how to customize your website, although we give you a general checklist for things you will need to do to get your website up and running.

Step 1: Choose a website builder and plan

The next choice you have to make is which website builder to use. We compare the most popular website builders below, but you should also do further research to find the platform that best fits your needs and aesthetic. Some website builders offer free trials that let you get a feel for their interface before committing to a paid plan. You will also want to think about what kind of plan or subscription you need. Most website builders offer tiered plans with a range of features for advertising, marketing, ecommerce, support, and more. If you’re not sure right now exactly what your website will need in the future, don’t worry. You can typically start with a lower-tier plan, and upgrade when necessary.

Which website builder is best?

best-website-builders-badge
There is no one-size-fits-all-answer to which website builder is best. It ultimately comes down to your particular needs and wishes. However, there are a few important things you should consider when making the choice, including your budget, what features and functions are most critical to your website, and whether the website builder has an interface that you understand and feel comfortable using. This comparison chart offers a look at the price ranges for various website builders, as well as a brief, basic overview of some of their key pros and cons.

WebsitePriceProsCons
Squarespace$12-$40/month (when paid annually)>Good theme selection
>Themes optimized for multiple platforms (computer, smartphone, tablet)
>Excellent blogging tools
>No back-up and restore feature
>Limited app selection
>Not as easy to use as some other sites
Wix$13-$39/month>Very flexible
>New features added regularly
>Hundreds of free templates
>Best app selection
>Not ideal for complex websites (more than 30 pages)
>Cannot easily switch to a new template
>Loading speed is slower than some other sites
Weebly$6-26/month>No storage or bandwidth limitations for paid plans
>Can support large, more complex websites
>Easy to use
>Themes optimized for multiple platforms (computer, smartphone, tablet)
>Limited app selection
>Not ideal for multilingual sites
Shopify$29-$299/month>Ideal for online stores
>Comprehensive point-of-sale options
>Multiple editor options available (WYSIWYG or HTML/CSS)
>Limited free apps
>Limited free templates
>Transaction fees may apply
Webnode$3.95-$19.95/month>Allows creation of multilingual sites
>Themes optimized for multiple platforms (computer, smartphone, tablet)
>Good SEO features
>Most plans include free domain name for a year
>No app store
>Limited ecommerce and blogging capabilities
Site123$0-$12.80/month>Allows creation of multilingual sites
>Best free plan
>Easy-to-use editor
>Limited design flexibility
>Higher price for plans
Jimdo$0-$39/month>Mobile-optimized for all devices
>Easy-to-use editor
>Social media integrations for photos and business info
>Limited e-commerce options
>Limited design flexibility

Step 2: Register your domain name

Once you select a website builder and sign up for a plan, you will have to register your domain name. Depending on the website builder and plan you’ve chosen, you may be able to register your domain name for free (at least initially) through the website builder, or you can register the domain name separately through a registry service like Domain.com or GoDaddy.com. This is also a good time to set up a dedicated email address for your business, if you don’t already have one. By a dedicated email address, we mean one that has your business name as the domain name, not @gmail.com, @yahoo.com, etc. Because your business now has a domain name, you can do that! Depending on your website builder and plan, you may have the option to create multiple email addresses, or just one. There may also be an option to forward emails to your business email account to a different email account.

Step 3: Select a website template

Templates are a website builder’s superpower. These ready-made layouts let you easily visualize what your website will look like with your own content. Website builders offer hundreds of different templates, usually grouped by category like business, creative, online stores, and more. While you can choose any template you like, searching by category is a good way to find the optimal template for the type of site you want to build. Keep in mind that with most website builders, you can further customize your chosen template by changing the color scheme, fonts, graphics and more, so even if a template isn’t exactly what you want, you can usually tweak it to meet your exact requirements. Take some time to play with multiple templates before choosing one, to be sure that it’s the one you want. Depending on the website builder, it can be difficult to switch the template once you’ve built your website.

Step 4: Customize your website

This is the point where you really make your website your own. Using the tools provided by your website builder, you will add content, navigation, communication, ecommerce, and other functions to your website. The exact instructions for customizing your website will vary based on the builder you use, but below we give you an overview of the steps you’ll take to create a fully functional website.

  • Create pages: Most website content comes in the form of pages (static or evergreen content) and posts (regularly updated content). With a website builder, you can create a page or post with the click of a button, and add content by dragging and dropping elements like text, titles, dividers, images, and videos.
  • Add images and videos: Websites rely heavily on multimedia elements to engage users and hold their interest. With website builders, you can add individual photos, photo galleries, videos, audio files, and more by dragging and dropping those elements wherever you want them on your website. You can upload photos and videos from your computer, embed videos from sites like YouTube, or search the website builder’s existing media library.
  • Build navigation and menus: It’s critical that visitors be able to find what they are looking for when they visit your site. In most website builders, you will create your pages, and how to navigate to them, simultaneously. Once you have pages set up, you can also create dropdown menus to help visitors find their way around your site.
  • Create a contact form: A contact form gives your users an easy way to reach you without using your email address. Most website builders include contact forms as a drag-and-drop element that you can place anywhere on your website.
  • Add apps: Website builders offer dozens of different types of apps to help extend the functionality of your website. You can add apps to your website for communication and social media, ecommerce, marketing, design customization, and more.
  • Update privacy and terms of use page: If you own or operate a business, then you will likely need to include a privacy policy, terms of use, and other legal documents on your website. Install analytical tools: Many website builders include analytics in their plans, so you can monitor your website’s traffic. Additional analytical tools may be available through your website builder’s app store so you can customize the information you receive.
  • Block spam: With many website builders, it is easy to turn commenting on and off. Having comments turned off will control the amount of spam your website receives. However, if you want to give your users the ability to comment, most website builders give you various settings and apps to help you control spam.

Step 5: Manage your website

Below are some ways to successfully manage your website. Because each website builder is different, these things may be offered as part of the set-up process or specific theme, while others you may have to source out a plugin or widget.

  • Start an email list: Website builders make it easy to create email lists and connect with subscribers with included newsletter forms or email list builder apps.
  • Mobile optimization: Increasingly, website builders are creating templates that automatically adjust for mobile optimization, but it’s still important to check your website on multiple devices to make sure it looks good across various platforms.
  • Ecommerce features: For some website builders, you have to have a specific online store or ecommerce plan to sell items on your website. Others allow you to use ecommerce features or apps.
  • Social media functions: Social media apps and sharing buttons make it easy for your users to share your content and to get the word out about your business.