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Building Your Own Website

Introduction

Perhaps you’ve thought about building your own website. Here are some tips that may help you decide which route to go, depending on your needs. I don’t claim to be an expert on this topic and I admit that I’m biased, but perhaps some of this information will be helpful. I’m also assuming that you’re a normal human being and don’t want to dive into coding for a website, but rather choose a platform that allows you to focus on the content of the site rather than the behind-the-scenes technical aspects.

What if I enjoy coding and the technical aspects? Does that mean I’m not a “normal” human being. Well, if the shoe fits… πŸ™‚

Type of Website

What is your main purpose for creating a website? Here are some typical reasons:

  • You want to create a blog
  • You want to share digitized documents or photos with family and friends
  • You want to share information about your ancestors
  • You want a website for your company
  • You want to sell products

There may be many reasons to create a website and most will allow you to do a combination or even all of the above. Your main purpose is important in choosing which route is best for you.

Website Building Options at a High Level

Let’s just dive in. I’ll list some options and give my very biased high level overview of each one. There will be many other products that I won’t list because I’m basing this on my own experience or from my own research.

I’m also going to use a housing analogy where we compare websites from the range of renting a bedroom to owning your own home.

  • Blogger.com
    • Owned by Google
    • Free
    • Great way to get your own blog started
    • Super easy
    • Pretty much limited to a blog. Not many other website options.
    • Domain is typically something.blogspot.com, which is like renting a bedroom from someone. Don’t cook on a hot plate like Barney Fife did or the old lady that owns the home will yell at you.
    • Domain could also be a custom domain – something.com, which is still like renting a bedroom, but your friends think you have your own apartment.

    • Why is my blog going to be something.blogspot.com instead of something.blogger.com? This article explains it better than I can.
  • Google Sites
    • Free
    • I don’t have a lot of experience with this one. It’s probably easy to set up. It’s also probably fairly limited, but hey, it’s free.
    • Domain is typically sites.google.com/site/something, or sites.google.com/view/something, which again, is kind of like renting a bedroom.
    • Domain could also be a custom domain.
  • WordPress.com
    • Free, Paid upgrades
    • The leader in blog sites
    • Can do much more that blogging
    • Lots of plugins available for additional capabilities
    • Many themes to choose from to customize the look of your site
    • Domain is typically something.wordpress.com, which looks like you’re just renting a bedroom, but I would say you’re really renting a nice apartment.
    • Domain can be custom (for a monthly fee), so now you’ve upgraded to having your own apartment.
  • WordPress – with a shared hosting plan (sometimes referred to as WordPress.org)
    • Same as above except you install WordPress onto your own web hosting account. This is like owning your own home. Confused about what the difference is between a site on WordPress.com and one on a shared hosting plan? This article can help.
    • WordPress itself is free but you’ll need to pay a fee for your shared hosting plan.
    • What’s a shared hosting plan? Think of it as having your own web server. You can install programs (like WordPress), do your own scripting, create your own email accounts, upload your own files directly, just about anything that you can do with a real web server. The difference is that you don’t worry about any of the hardware. The company you partner with will be carving out resources from their vast resources of computers to give you some disk space for your site.
    • More involved to get started, but once things are set up, you can manage your site from the WordPress dashboard and you won’t have to get into coding.
    • Tons of plugins available that you can install. Many are free. Some charge a fee.
    • Tons of themes (free and paid) to customize the look of your site.
    • Who’s a good hosting provider? There a lot to choose from. My favorite right now is SiteGround, but Bluehost and Hostgator are also very popular. I’ve also used LunarPages for years and been happy with their service. Almost all of them charge a monthly fee (usually paid annually – tricky marketing) from around $3 – $10/month with higher fee tiers to give you more space, bandwidth, etc. The lowest fee option is usually fine for most websites.
    • WooCommerce (free WordPress plugin) can be used to add e-commerce capabilities for an online store.
    • WordPress is very popular, which means a lot of options for you.
    • Heard of “Managed WordPress Hosting”? Here’s an article to explain what that means.
    • Ultimate Guide: How to Make a Website in 2018 – Step by Step Guide (Free)
  • Weebly
    • Free, Paid upgrades
    • The free site will show a little Weebly banner in the footer of each page on your site.
    • The free site will be something.weebly.com. Looks like you’re renting a bedroom, but really, it’s a decent 2-bedroom apartment.
    • Paid version can have a custom domain, so now you really are in a decent 2-bedroom apartment.
    • Lots of plugins (installed apps) available, some free, some paid.
    • The great thing about Weebly is it’s drag-and-drop interface. You have lots of options to customize your pages with a very easy to use interface.
    • Some downsides with Weebly are the lack of accessing files directly like you would with a shared hosting provider. E-commerce is not as feature rich as the WordPress/WooCommerce approach.
  • Shopify
    • Paid, about $30/month and up
    • Great for getting an online store up and running
    • Lots of themes to choose from, free and paid
    • Limited ability to customize pages on your site. Shopify is really for an online store that maybe has other pages, not the other way around. In other words, if your primary goal is to sell stuff, go for it. However, if you want to have a website with the ability to customize how it looks and you also want to sell things, Shopify is not for you.
    • One thing I hate about Shopify is that almost every plugin that’s not free wants you to pay a monthly fee. I hate that. Let me pay $50 for it and be done with you, not $4/month. Grrr.
    • Oh yeah, the housing analogy. I guess this one is like renting a townhouse, which is just like a 2-bedroom apartment but it costs more and your friends are more impressed.
    • This article compares Shopify to WooCommerce for building an online store website.

Like I warned you, this review is very biased and there are a ton of other options like Wix, Squarespace, and who knows what else? This article isn’t meant to review them all, but to just give a high level overview for the above options. I hope it might help someone out there.

By the way, I use a shared hosting plan with WordPress and the Total theme by WPExplorer for this site. I use Weebly for calvinknight.com.

Cheers!
(I think that must be a cool way of signing off at the end of a blog even though I’m not from the UK, right?)

Calvin Knight

I have always been intrigued with the process of finding information about my ancestors. I also love learning new ways to implement technology. By day I'm a database developer.

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