If the idea of creating a website intimidates you, you are not alone. The technical-sounding terminology may be a turnoff, but you do not need a degree in programming to build a website. Consider your existing digital footprint: whether you are a casual Facebook user or an avid tweeter with thousands of followers, the interfaces you are already using are similar to site-building tools. Yes, you can build a website without starting from scratch.
There are two ways to build a website: writing each page of code by hand (the “old school” method) or by taking advantage of free or low-cost tools designed for site builders without coding knowledge. Website templates have built-in coding that determines a site’s functionality and appearance. The visual interface in these tools allows you to immediately see how your content will appear. Template designers have already done the dirty work for you, and you can focus your energy on the site’s content.
Website templates all contain pre-scripted HTML and CSS. While acronyms may frighten non-users, the languages are fairly uncomplicated. Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) is the code that describes the way a site will function; for example, a shopping cart on a retail site requires precisely written HTML for it to work properly. When you work with a pre-designed template, HTML is generated for you and updated as you make modifications.
Cascading style sheets (CSS) specifically direct the appearance of your site. Particulars like font, font size, colors and backgrounds are all identified in CSS. Your template’s CSS is already coded into your site design before you begin working with it. Some knowledge of HTML and CSS is helpful when troubleshooting or if you want to tweak your site’s appearance, but you don’t need to know how to use code to successfully use a template.
Free hosting sites are a popular choice, especially for beginners. Users open an account with an email address and have instant access to templates and publishing space on the Internet. These hosting providers have to turn a profit, and they do so by placing ads on your website. Users generally have little to no control over the ad placement or products that appear on their pages. Free hosting services do not allow for-profit programs like AdSense.
Users of free hosting platforms do not own their websites. If the company suddenly goes bankrupt or finds your content unacceptable in some way, you can lose your website (and all your hard work). Free hosting services do not allow a unique URL, which may be important to businesses. For example, if you choose Blogger as a hosting platform for your company Antiquities Unlimited, your company URL will read antiquitiesunlimited.blogspot.com. You must purchase the unique antiquitiesunlimited.com in order to use that URL.
Paid hosting services can be purchased for as little as $5 or $10 a month. Most paid hosting platforms offer unique domain name registration as part of their fee. Paid hosting also provides extra customer support, more Internet bandwidth and e-mail accounts at no extra charge. Site owners own their content and may switch hosting providers. There are no ads on your website unless you choose to put them there to generate profit.
Popular Sitebuilding Tools
There are a plethora of software tools available for purchase, all of which are based on a downloadable content management system. However, the availability of reliable hosting options and website theme templates makes these unnecessary. The most commonly used platforms are Blogger and WordPress, each of which have pros and cons.
Blogger is one of the best-known platforms in the industry and has been in business the longest. Owned by Google, basic Blogger is free, though a few modifications are available for purchase. Blogger is entirely web-based and very easy to use; its website claims that a site can be established in 5 minutes. Blogger offers a free proprietary host and a small selection of design templates. Domain names without “blogspot” in the URL may be purchased for a small fee. Blogger is straightforward, operating much like a word processor. Text is entered in a WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) interface and a series of simple formatting options are available. When your content is complete you may publish with one click.
WordPress is an increasingly common site hosting platform; its popularity is based on its versatility and customization options. It is important to understand that WordPress consists of two entities: wordpress.com and wordpress.org. While the programming team is the same, the two systems operate very differently.
WordPress.com is a free hosting platform. Site content is hosted on WordPress servers, but you may purchase a unique domain name for a small fee, as with Blogger. The advantages to WordPress.com include daily backups on multiple servers, so users do not risk disappearing content. WordPress also offers customer support via its user forums, online chat or telephone help lines. WordPress.com offers over 200 design templates from which to choose. Because the hosting is free, these sites are subject to advertising.
WordPress.org provides software, templates, support and plugins for externally hosted websites. The WordPress script is free but it must be used on a paid hosting platform. Thousands of free and low-cost design templates are available from WordPress and private developers. Hosting services provide their own customer support and WordPress.org adds another layer of assistance should you need it. The popular plug-in feature allows nearly unlimited access to functionality that can customize and liven up your site, such as audio and video manipulation, shopping carts, linkage to other social media platforms and more. There are no ads on your website unless you choose to use adware for profit.
If you are looking for something simple, easy and free with no extras, Blogger may be the choice for you. If you are interested in more design options and feel that you may benefit from customer support, WordPress.com offers these things on a free platform. If you are willing to invest some money in a unique domain name and are interested in numerous design choices and complete control of your site content, then a hosted account using WordPress.org may be your best option.
If you need additional guidance in choosing how best to build your website, consider the following resources:
- 2CreateAWebsite: This beginner-friendly resource offers numerous articles, product reviews, tips and tricks for aspiring sitebuilders.
- W3Schools: This website is packed with tutorials on site development and coding languages, and also contains a useful HTML color chart.
- Lifehack Night School HTML: An interactive video and text tutorial on the basics of HTML.
- Lifehack Night School CSS: Learn the basics of CSS styling in this interactive video tutorial.