This post is for readers that do not already have a website and are not expert/professional “webmasters”. If you already have a website or are a seasoned professional, this post will probably not interest you.
Whenever I talk to a non-webmaster about creating a website or a blog – whether it’s for fun or to make money, they almost always respond with something like “..but I’m not a computer geek, I could never make a website..” I try to explain that really all you need is a basic (normal) understanding of how to use your computer, and I even remind them that when I created GrownUpGeek.com I knew nothing about Unix servers, PHP, or MySQL, and that knowing HTML is not even necessary. And yet many still walk away with the idea stuck in their head that creating a website is just “too technical” or “too expensive”.. So this post is for those people (you know who you are) – and hopefully for others that might stumble their way here via Google.
Creating A Blog
If all you ever want to do is make simple posts, and maybe get some comments from readers, a blog is probably all that you need. You can easily setup a free blog at Blogger.com or WordPress.com and be up and running literally in minutes. If you plan on monetizing your blog with advertising such as Adsense, then stick with Blogger.com since WordPress currently does not allow any form of advertising on their hosted blogs. Remember though, if you want to do anything other than just making simple-posts such as selling items, creating a forum, or anything else beyond making simple posts you might be better-off creating a “real site”. If you start off with a simple blog, then later decide you have out-grown it, migrating it to a ‘real’ site might be a real hassle. So take a minute to think long-term (say, at least 1 year) and be sure that a simple blog will be enough.
Creating A Real Site
Creating a “real” website does not have to be difficult, and certainly does not have to be expensive. I started GrownUpGeek.com on a shared hosting plan at PowWeb.com for $7/month. We stayed with PowWeb for nearly a year until traffic really started to take off and we could afford to move up to a faster dedicated server. You will also need to choose a domain name for your site which you can easily do with PowWeb or just about any other hosting provider. Between buying your domain name and signing up for your shared-hosting service you should be able to get out the door for $20-$30 and less than $10/month. Most hosts will usually give you a big discount if you pay for 6-months or 1-year in advance making it even less. I think I spent around $100 for my domain name and the first year of hosting we I first got started.
Most hosts offer some kind of one-click install or site-builder that will literally install a CMS like Drupal or Joomla with one mouse click. Once your CMS is installed it is literally a matter of choosing options of how you want your website to look and function – everything is pre-programmed and nearly ready to use. Setting up a CMS via your host’s one-click install is not as fast or easy as setting up a blog, but it is pretty easy and you can probably have your website up and online within an hour or two.
But Wait, There’s More!
Setting up a website or CMS with a one-click solution is fast and easy, but if something goes wrong (and oh, it will) there are a few other things you’ll need to know, but should not be afraid of:
File Transfer Protocol .. FTP is a method used to transfer files to your webserver. So if your host tells you to “FTP” something to your server, they’re just saying you need to copy something to your server. Unix web-heads will tell you that you have to “shell” into your server, then do GET commands and PUT commands – but phooey all that. I don’t think I’ve ever done “command line” FTP (file copies) – I certainly did not the first several months after I started GrownUpGeek.com. All you need to do is get a “GUI” or “Windows based” FTP program. This will let you drag and drop files from your PC right to your webserver the way you’re probably already used to doing (note: if you don’t know how to copy files around on your PC, you might want to stick with a free ‘blog’). All you need is your FTP address and login info, which your host will provide you. There are my Windows FTP programs you can use, most of which are free. I have used WinSCP and SmartFTP, and on my Mac(s) I use CyberDuck. These FTP programs will also allow you to easily change the file permissions on your Unix server which you may need to do from time to time.
MySQL is a database program that most ‘dynamic’ websites or CMS systems use. Instead of storing every page as an .HTML file, your pages (and user’s info, photos, etc) are stored in the database. If you use one of those one-click website installs, your MySQL database will probably be created for you, and you probably won’t ever have to think about MySQL again. Some however require you to create the database, the “database user” and the database password. All of these things are pretty easy if you use phpMyAdmin.
phpMyAdmin is a web-based program for managing MySQL databases and most hosts make it available in your “control panel”. You can use phpMyAdmin to create your database (just give it a name) and create your database user/password, which is what your CMS or Dynamic website will use to connect to the database. Using phpMyAdmin is so easy it’s almost self explanitory, but most web server hosts will have links with detailed instructions if you get stuck.
One little note: When creating your database user-name and password, don’t use your name, or an easy name like “joe”. This user name and password will be used only by “the website” and it needs to be secure. Use a long user name like: xQ&49@QGrL and a password that is even longer and more confusing.. Be sure to store them in a safe place.
Editing Configuration Files:
Sometimes you might need to create or edit a ‘configuration file’. For example in Drupal, you need to update the ‘settings.php’ file with the name of your database and the database user-name & password (all of which you create in phpMyAdmin). This might sound scary, but it really isnt. Just use your FTP software to drag ‘n drop the file to your PC, open the file in Notepad or TextEdit for Mac, type in your changes, save the file, and use your FTP software to drag n’ drop it right back to the server – easy!
So there you go.. The (very) basics of easily and cheaply creating your own website for fun or profit. Now here’s the BEST part. If you have a question about creating a website before you dive in and create one yourself, post your question here and I will do my best to answer it or point you to someone/someplace smarter than I am to get it answered.
Affiliate links: This post contains affiliate links for PowWeb.com. I started Grownupgeek.com with PowWeb and have been very happy with them and I still use them for some of my domain name registrations. If you hate affiliate links you can go to Powweb directly at www.powweb.com