*NOTE- You’ll Need Website Hosting and SiteGround. They provide excellent service (trust me I’ve used it) and great pricing. It starts at $6.99 now, and that’s one of the best prices I’ve ever seen! More on SiteGround and other hosting services later on in this article.
Setting up a website may seem daunting if you’re not a web designer. I still have nightmares just hearing people talk about using code to build a professional website.
If that were the case for me, I still wouldn’t have a website. To say I’m technically challenged is an understatement.
You need a website to do any kind of business online and it’s also critical for marketing your freelance writing business. However, building your first website can feel a bit overwhelming. After all, there are so many hosting and theme choices. How do you know what you need?
HInt-if you set up your website using Bluehost (another great, inexpensive web hosting service for beginners) or SiteGround, they make it super easy to set things up. But we’ll get into that in a little bit.
Here are some tips on how to build a website.
Information You Need Before You Build Your First Website
There are several things that you need to decide on BEFORE you build your first website. First, you need to determine your website’s purpose. What are you going to use it for? Is it a business website or a blog? How do you plan to make money with the site? Are you going to offer services or make money using ads and affiliate marketing?
The design of your website depends on the answers to these questions. Certain platforms are more effective for businesses, while others work better for blogs.
I’ve created a quick editable worksheet that you can use as you read this blog post. It takes the post and breaks it into a brief list so that you can fill in the blanks next to each step with your ideas or choices. You can print it off or fill it in on the computer, whichever is easier for you. Just sign up for it below.
Choose Your Niche
Before you build your first website, you need to choose the best profitable niche. Choosing a niche can be difficult. Trust me, I know! It took me a year to settle on the best profitable niche for me. That’s why I design the Niche Down to Level Up Your Profits challenge to help walk you through the steps of picking the best niche.
You can’t build your website without knowing your niche because that shit needs to be the first thing people see on your home page. They have to know what you do and how you can help them.
Features and Pages
When you build your first website, you want to create a list of the different pages or features that you want it to have. For example, do you want an online store, blog section, contact form, photo gallery, etc.?
If you’re not sure what features you want, check out your competitors’ pages or other writer’s websites for ideas and inspiration. Don’t copy other peoples’ sites, though! Many platforms offer free trials so that you can try it out before you commit to buying.
Choose the Best Platform When You Build Your First Website
There are several platforms available for creating your website today. There is also website design software that you can use to build your first website. Each has its pros and cons. Let’s look at a few.
Hands down, WordPress is the best platform out there. I’m not just saying that because I use that platform, but almost all of the writers, bloggers, and influencers that I know have WordPress sites. W3Techs says that 34 percent of all websites are WordPress.
WordPress offers two versions, WordPress.org and WordPress.com. You want WordPress.org. It’s free to use. You simply need a domain name and web hosting. For this reason, it’s also known as self-hosted WordPress.
The reason why you want the self-hosted platform is that you have total control over your website. It can’t be turned off by someone else as long as your business is not doing something illegal. (Don’t do anything illegal regardless of your website platform.)
There are also amazing paid, free, and custom plugins that you can add to help you integrate your website site with other systems that you need for your business. You can make money with WordPress.org and use Google Analytics for custom tracking and analysis of your traffic.
Create a membership site or online store to increase your income. Just understand that you do the updates and backup when you own your website. It’s effortless to do both on this platform.
One of the co-founders of WordPress created WordPress.com as a hosting service. It has five hosting plans. This platform is great for hobby bloggers or people starting a family blog. However, you lack control over your site.
WordPress.com places ads on all of the free websites, and you don’t make any money from them. You also can’t sell ads on your site. The platform doesn’t allow you to add plugins and you can’t upload custom themes. They can delete your website anytime they want to if they think you’ve violated their service terms. You can’t have membership sites, and there are no eCommerce options.
Back to WordPress.org. I mentioned plugins earlier, well WordPress.org has 50,000 free plugins that increase your site’s functionality and add more features. I’m going to repeat it, get WordPress.org. See, I’m saying that and I’m not even an affiliate!
So, if you don’t want WordPress, Squarespace is another very popular all-in-one platform with free unlimited hosting. That’s a plus! Many platforms have limits on bandwidth and storage, but Squarespace doesn’t. They have 24/7 support, and they offer advanced security. Squarespace seems to be popular with some writers, and I haven’t heard any nightmare stories about them, so that’s a plus.
This platform is robust and secure. There are many website designs to get you started, and they are flexible for any content. You can even add multiple templates at the same time to one website. Squarespace makes it easy to design your site with drag and drop features.
There are several cons to Squarespace, and one is limited integration with third-party services. This problem can hurt the growth of your business because most of us use multiple services such as email marketing and sales funnel builders to scale our business and increase our income.
Wix is another common website platform that I hear mentioned by others. It’s easy to use and has some great features to help you build an awesome website. It’s a fully hosted platform, so you don’t need to pay for hosting, which is nice.
There are hundreds of design templates to choose from, and each one is fully editable. Wix has a simple and intuitive drag and drop builder making it a breeze to build your first website. You don’t need to learn code to develop your site.
There is a free plan available, but it doesn’t come with a domain name and has limited storage and bandwidth. You get a free SSL certificate with all websites, but you’ll have to turn it on. Their pricing is reasonable.
Wix comes with hundreds of apps that you can add that provide additional features similar to plugins with WordPress. These apps enable you to add social media buttons, email marketing, contact forms, and more.
WordPress offers way more than Wix even though they are continuously growing their library of apps.
Wix offers several plans but their Free and Connect Domain plans show branded ads on your site. One of the most significant drawbacks is that if you ever want to move your website to another platform, it’s a complicated process.
Website Design Software
There’s also software specifically for designing your website, but it can be complicated and require you to know code. I don’t know about you, but when I hear the words “write code,” I just give up.
Dreamweaver is an advanced web design software to build, manage, and code dynamic websites. A simplified coding engine makes it easier to design your website.
The software lets you preview it live. It says it’s an excellent tool for beginners and advanced users, but you must have basic coding skills. To me, that means it’s not the right choice for beginners.
There is also software like Bootstrap, a popular framework for creating websites and web designs. It’s geared towards technical users and is very powerful.
There are pre-built, fully editable templates that work well with this framework. People use it to create web designs with CSS, JS, and HTML.
Drafting Your Website on Paper
Drafting your whole site on paper is an excellent idea to help the process along, especially if you plan on hiring someone to build your website. Most of us can’t afford to hire someone for our first website, but this can still help.
Like I mentioned earlier, you can write down the features and pages you want on a piece of paper. Take it a step further and map your site out.
How are people going to navigate your website and find what they need? What buttons or categories do you want your site to have? Think of how you’ll share your information and how you’ll promote your projects.
When I built my first website, I was so green that I couldn’t even visualize how to create a website so even drafting it on paper was overwhelming. I needed to see the builder and all of the options. See, I told you guys I was technologically challenged, and I wasn’t over exaggerating!
However, building your first website is a strategic process. Mapping out your website’s layout and purpose on paper brings clarity to the project.
It’s easier to make changes on paper than on your actual website. You may see things that you don’t like or want to change once you get a draft on paper. Now you’re one step closer to making your dream a reality! Yayyyyyyyyy!
Now you need hosting unless you picked a platform that includes it. There are several things to look for with hosting. How many websites, domains, and subdomains you can have as well as storage and bandwidth.
Do they come with an SSL certificate? Other features and bonuses include spam experts, dedicated IP, Office 365, type of performance, and more.
There are several providers to choose from. The top two I see mentioned over and over again are SiteGround and Bluehost. I personally switched from GoDaddy to Bluehost because of the pricing and the value.
But really it’s a toss-up between SiteGround and Bluehost because most of the bloggers I know recommend one or the other.
Now, of course, I am an affiliate of Bluehost, but I’m thoroughly happy with it as a hosting service. I only recommend services that I genuinely think are good products and would recommend to my mother. Which I actually have! However, I digress.
Bluehost offered a free SSL certificate which GoDaddy was going to make me pay big money for. Also, the price for hosting blew GoDaddy out of the water. We’ll talk more about GoDaddy in a little bit.
Bluehost’s least expensive hosting plan includes some great features such as the free SSL certificate, 25 subdomains, one website, 50 GB of SSD storage, and their standard performance.
The other packages are very affordable and offer things such as unlimited SSD storage, high performance, unlimited websites and subdomains, and more.
All of Bluehost’s packages come with one free domain name. They also have 24/7 customer support and are quite friendly and knowledgeable.
SiteGround is another fantastic hosting service. They offer WordPress hosting, and then they have another category for hosting. The main difference between the two hosting services is the platform. There is more freedom with WordPress as we discussed earlier.
I’m going to focus on WordPress hosting since it’s the most popular — Siteground places more limitations on their features. Their lowest package provides you with the essential WordPress features.
You don’t have access to the Premium features. Like with most things, you get what you pay for because SiteGround limits you to 10 GB of web space and 10,000 monthly visits. Even the highest packages place limitations on you, such as 30 GB of web space and 100,000 monthly visits.
SiteGround provides excellent service and has a superb reputation. In my opinion, it’s a little more limiting in its features. You do get a free domain for one website, however. Still, most of the people I know use Bluehost.
I’m going to mention GoDaddy because I used them, and many people don’t like them. I’ve heard that they have lousy customer service. Let me tell you, I had to contact them many times, and they were always great. They have 24/7 customer service and technical support.
Their economy package starts at $5.99, so their service is a little bit more expensive than the other ones mentioned. The service comes with one free domain name and free business email for a year. Neither Bluehost nor SiteGround offer that.
You get one website, 100 GB of storage and unmetered bandwidth. The most significant difference is the Ultimate plan, which gives you a free SSL certificate for a year, free premium DNS, and unlimited databases.
One of the reasons I switched was because I didn’t purchase an SSL certificate early on because I didn’t understand the necessity. With GoDaddy, if you don’t purchase it initially it’s quite expensive to add. It’s important! Read this article that explains the importance of an SSL certificate.
There are more hosting services that you can research. Bluehost, SiteGround, and GoDaddy are just three popular services that you’ll hear a lot about. Make sure you compare the services to your requirements and try to think about what you’ll need in the future as well.
The next critical choice to make is your theme. I’m just going to briefly touch base on this topic as I may write an in-depth article on comparing specific themes if you think that would be helpful.
If you’re just beginning, there are plenty of great free themes to choose from. They won’t be as customizable as premium themes but there are thousands of free ones available.
You’ll hear the Genesis framework and Divi theme thrown around quite a bit. Premium themes that require the Genesis framework are a little more expensive but incredibly powerful. My writing business website utilizes the Genesis framework with the Authority Pro theme. and it’s amazing. It gives your site a professional clean look and has impressive features.
The Divi theme is another great premium option. It’s drag and drop builder is intuitive, responsive, and easy to use. It has so many great features and is well worth the price. The theme for Writer’s Life for You is Divi and while there is a bit of a learning curve, it’s totally worth it. Divi lets you really customize your website and has a drag and drop builder or you can use the Gutenberg editor.
In the End
In the end, there are many decision to make when building your first website. The possibilities are nearly endless, which can be overwhelming. Follow this guide and plan your site out on paper first. Then choose if you want to hire a designer or do it yourself. I’ve done all my websites myself, and if I can do it, anyone can!
Next, choose your platform. I highly suggest WordPress because of the future systems you may need to integrate later in your business such as email marketing, sales pages, and more. Then decide on hosting and pick a theme. BOOM! You’re ready to build your first website.