So, you want to build a website… buuuut, you don’t think you know enough about computers/coding/web design. Fortunately, you can build an awesome website much more easily than you think!
When we started Loophole Travel, we had literally no idea how to build a website! Terms like hosting, SEO, SSL, sidebar, and plug-in were completely foreign. Still, we have been able to build a (we think) beautiful, informative, and even profitable website. If you have something to offer the world, or if you just want to chronicle your hobby or personal adventures, follow our seven easy steps to building a successful website. You will be up and running in no time!
For this guide, we will assume you already have an idea for what kind of site you want to start. Think about your hobbies, interests, and passions. People love to hear from someone who is truly passionate about a certain type of subject, no matter how niche it may seem.
Step 1 – Secure a Domain Name
The first thing you will need is a strong domain name. A domain is your identity online, where people will find you. I think of a domain like a street address. A few things to keep in mind when selecting your domain name:
- Keep it Concise – Do not use long or complicated words. People are more likely to forget or misspell complicated domains. You want to be easy to find.
- Use Real Words– Unless you are starting a business like Lyft, Flickr, or Imgur, you should stick to actual words.
- Spell it Correctly – You may be tempted to change the spelling if your “perfect” domain name is already taken. Don’t do this, because people will rarely type your alternate spelling into their browser. You don’t want to have to repeatedly spell your domain name for people.
- Stay on Topic – When people hear your domain, they should have an idea what your website is about. Vague names don’t increase curiosity, they turn people away.
Once you have some thoughts together, you will need to register your domain. This claims it as your own and prevents anyone else from using it. Domains ending in .com are obviously the most popular, so you may not get your first (or second) option for a .com. You can also use .org, .biz, .guru, and many others. These are less ideal, but Google will index them all the same as .com domains. Check the availability of your domain name using this handy tool. If your domain is available, you will be directed to Bluehost to set up an account and register the domain. Not sure about hosting, read Step 2.
Once you find a domain that is available and works for your site, you can register if for free if you purchase a hosting plan, which I will discuss next. Congrats, now you own your very own piece of the World Wide Web!
Step 2 – Hosting (self-hosted vs. wordpress-hosted)
If you understand a domain to be like a street address, the hosting server will be like the empty lot where you plan to build a house. All of your content will be built and “live” on a server at your chosen hosting platform.
There are a few big players in the hosting space. For Loophole Travel, we use Bluehost as our hosting platform. They offer plans as low as $3.95/month for simple websites. Once you set up an account, you will have access to log in and set up your website on their servers.
Another option is to simply allow WordPress to host your site on WordPress.com servers. This will significantly limit your ability to customize your website. WordPress also retains the right to place their own ads on your site, and monetizing your site is against their terms. Under this option, your site would also have a domain of www.yoursite.wordpress.com. I recommend starting with the self-hosted option, because moving from wordpress-hosting to self-hosting can be a frustrating process.
Step 3 – Install WordPress
So far, you have an empty lot with a street address. It’s time to start building a house! The first step to build your house is to lay the foundation. The foundation of Loophole Travel is WordPress (.org, not .com). We use WordPress to do everything from writing content and uploading media, to tracking statistics and placing advertisements.
You can find the latest version of WordPress here. Download it and head over to your Bluehost login. There you should find an option to install WordPress on your hosting server. This is a surprisingly simple process involving just a couple clicks. Now you have laid the foundation to build a great site!
Step 4 – Select a Theme
Your theme will now provide the character for your website. This is like picking out what kind of house to build – a single story ranch, a log cabin, or sleek, modern mansion. WordPress offers a variety of themes, from basic themes (free) to themes with lots of bells & whistles (premium). Other online marketplaces also sell themes. We purchased a theme from Themeforest.com for $49 and installed it on WordPress. Once your theme is installed, you can customize it however you see fit.
Step 5 – Write Content
“Content is King!” This is the battle cry of publishers everywhere. Your house can be really flashy on the outside, but if the inside sucks, nobody will stick around! Keep your content engaging, and write as consistently as possible.
Hopefully, you have selected a topic for your site that you are passionate about. This should help you create interesting, useful content with minimal effort. Just write about what you love. Show people why you love it. Provide some instructions so they can experience what you have. Always think about why you are writing something. Try to provide value, and people will keep coming back.
Research your content as well as you can. If you write something that turns out to be false, whether intentional or not, you can quickly lose trust with your readers. Trust is tough to build, and nearly impossible to rebuild. Another way to build trust is to use correct grammar and spelling. A few typos are permissible, but take some time to proofread your writing. Even the most intelligent content can be discredited by poor grammar and spelling.
Step 6 – Customize
Once you have some content built up, you can start to customize your website. Here, you are adding the final trim to your brand new house. Within the WordPress dashboard, you will have the option to customize your theme. Depending on the particular type of theme you picked, you will be able to change colors, add slideshows, build sidebars, configure menus, add logos, and much more.
In addition to the visual aspects, you can also download plug-ins. These add functionality to the back end of your website. Plug-ins can do things like track visitors, help with ad placement, implement e-commerce functions, prevent spam, facilitate comments, and more.
When it comes to adding design elements or back-end functionality, YouTube is often your friend!
Step 7 – Promote
Now that your house is built, furnished, and the details have been polished, you’re ready to invite people over! Visitors do not often stumble into your site randomly from the web. You need to get the word out. Social media is a fantastic tool to use for traffic.
I use the publicize function within WordPress to automatically publish content to a Facebook page and Twitter account. You can also get some pretty significant traffic from Reddit, but you must be careful about obvious self-promotion there. If there’s one thing people on the internet hate – it’s self-promotion! If you plan to drop links to your website on forums like Reddit, you should actually become a part of the community. Contribute to helping others without mentioning your site for a while. Eventually, you will build some trust and you can add a link with your advice occasionally.
Word of mouth can also help bring traffic to your website. This is why I said in Step 1 that you need an easy-to-remember domain name. If people talk about your website, it should be easy for them to speak the name.
A sort of last resort for driving traffic is to pay for advertising. There are lots of options, many of which are beyond the scope of this post. The two most popular advertising platforms are Facebook Ads and Google AdWords. We have used both, because they allow you to finely tune your target audience.
Alright! Now you are ready to build a house… errr, website. Go find a domain, set up a hosting account, install WordPress, select a theme, write some content, customize your look, and tell everyone what you’ve built! Good luck, and we hope to hear about your success soon. Cheers!