I am not a geek and wouldn’t know code if it bit me… but I’ve set up multiple websites, including this one.
Here is a simple step-by-step list with links to the tools I use.
But wait, what’s the learning curve like?
I launched my first website in 2010 using the Stumble Around Blindly method. I didn’t know what anything was called, and there may have been a little hair-tearing and shouting, but over time I became comfortable with it. Enjoyed it, actually.
The good news for you is that the software has become a whole lot easier to drive since 2010.
I currently manage 3 websites that I set up myself: my editing and writer-coaching site here at smallbluedog.com; my online hub and creative author site at belindapollard.com; and gracewriters.com for Christian writers.
You CAN do it yourself. It doesn’t have to be hard, and it doesn’t have to be expensive.
- DIY has given me a lot of power over my online marketing hubs – when I have an idea, I can jump in and experiment.
- When I want to know how to do something, I just google it. Someone somewhere will have asked that question before, and someone else will have answered it. Initially, I won’t necessarily know how to describe what I’m looking for, but I persevere and solutions emerge.
- I don’t have to wait weeks or months for a web developer to be available when I want to make additions or deletions.
- When there’s a typo, I don’t have to describe it to a web developer five times. 😉 I just login and fix it.
After about 8 years, I also found a guru who now kindly steps in (for a fee) when I encounter occasional tricky things that I’d really rather not research. But the rest is DIY.
This is the basic path I’ve taken with my sites. Note: Some of the links below are affiliate links. I only ever recommend tools that I use and like.
Step 1: Register a domain name
Your domain name is your address on the internet, the .com address (or .co.uk, .org, .ca, .za, etc etc).
- For authors, your own name (or pen name if you’re using one) is probably your best choice, if it’s available.
- For editors, you might choose between your own name and a business name.
Domain names require an annual payment to stay registered.
There are lots of places to register a domain name and they all achieve the same basic objective, from the big ones like GoDaddy to others less well-known.
I now use Australian registrar VentraIP after trying quite a few. I have found them very professional and the support is great, fast, and comprehensible to a non-geek.
If I wasn’t already using VentraIP, I’d probably have registered my domains with SiteGround, my hosting provider. See my power tip below. (I only moved my hosting to SiteGround recently. I have about 20 domain names registered and I don’t want to bother moving them all. 😂)
BUDGETING TIP: I learned that cheap domain registrars are often only cheap the first year, and often charge extra for features other registrars include in the regular price, such as making your email address private to reduce spam. I also really battled to access the helpdesk at the cheap domain registrar I used initially. Sometimes it’s easier to just go for a quality registrar from Year 1…
POWER TIP: If you register your domain name with your hosting provider, it can make the website setup process simpler, especially when it comes time to point your Domain Name Servers at your shiny new website (don’t worry if you don’t know what a Domain Name Server is yet). You can usually even register the name as part of the process of setting up your hosting account. If I were starting out now, I’d do it that way.
Step 2: Choose a hosting provider
Your host is basically the people who own the computers your website will live on.
I currently use SiteGround because they are high quality, reliable, not expensive, and my websites load quickly on most continents. (haven’t checked Antarctica…🥶)
Previously, I used Hostgator for quite a few years. They had cheap options and lots of helpful how-to videos which were good for a newbie, but my sites were slow to load for my readers in Europe, and I had to pay extra for things that SiteGround includes. Hostgator were also relentlessly trying to upsell me things I wasn’t sure I needed.
If I were setting up a site for primarily Australian readers/customers, I’d be very tempted by VentraIP as they have some affordable hosting plans and I’ve loved dealing with them for domain names. The reason the location of the host matters is that geographical distance has an impact on website loading times.
So, just to be clear:
- If I were setting up my first website today, for Australian readers/customers, I’d use VentraIP for both domain registration and website hosting.
- If I were setting up my first website today, for global readers/customers, I’d use SiteGround for both domain registration and website hosting.
Hosting agreements usually require an annual payment. Hosts frequently offer specials when you sign up, so it’s worth getting as many years as you can afford at that time.
There are also various free options around, which you could explore.
BUDGETING TIP: Some of us can only afford a free website initially, and there’s absolutely no shame in that. These are my reasons for avoiding free hosting if possible.
- The URL they give you is sometimes long and weird – difficult for marketing.
- You don’t own the site, someone else does – so you can lose it.
- They often require you to allow advertising on your site. You have no control over what is advertised. (A competitor? Something you are ideologically opposed to?)
- A friend moved from a free option and lost more than a thousand hard-won subscribers, because there was no way to transfer them.
- Another friend had a difficult time extracting her website content when she decided to leave a free platform.
Step 3: Choose the software your website will run on
There are various options, but I use and love WordPress which I get from my hosting provider, SiteGround.
POWER TIP: I actually do not get WordPress from either the WordPress .com or .org websites, and I don’t recommend this for others as it’s an unnecessary complication. Most quality hosting providers have WordPress preloaded as one of the options. When you set up your website in their control panel, you can just click a button and WordPress is installed.
These are benefits of WordPress that appeal to me:
- The basic software is free and constantly being updated and expanded and strengthened.
- Lots of gorgeous design variations are available, many of them free.
- It includes powerful tools to help you share online and boost your discoverability in Google.
- Lots of plugins are available, many of them free. Plugins are little pieces of software that add extra functionality to your website, such as auto-sharing your past blog posts to Twitter at regular intervals. You’ll be surprised how much you want plugins once you get started, even though right now you are saying, “Why would I want that? I only need a simple site.” (See? I know what you’re thinking, because I’ve been where you are. 😉 )
WordPress is especially good for adding a blog to your website in a seamless and powerful way, and blogs can have many benefits.
What is a ‘blog’? ‘Blog’ is both a noun and a verb. A blog is just a type of website (or part of a website) that gets updated fairly often with new content. You don’t have a website AND a blog, you just have a website that contains or doesn’t contain a blog.
Do you need to blog? I see great value in blogs on the websites of authors and editors, because we are wordsmiths and it helps hone our voice and get our writing out there, but especially because blogging lifts our sites higher in the Google search rankings even if we don’t post new content very often.
Blogs also help people discover our websites because visitors share our content to social media etc.
If you are seeking traditional publication, a blog can also help publishers to find you on the internet.
Having said all that, you can certainly have a website and choose not to blog.
You can also use WordPress as a static website without a blog section.
Step 4: Choose the design template for your site
WordPress calls the design template a “theme”.
There are various free themes built into WordPress. I experimented with those initially. You can customise settings, layouts and colours to make it suit your brand or message.
I now use premium Studiopress themes on the Genesis framework. If my website is a body, WordPress is the skeleton, the Genesis framework is the muscles, and the Studiopress themes are the skin and hair and clothing.
Premium themes are usually a one-off purchase of less than $100 US.
This site runs on a theme called News Pro which I chose because I wanted to make all the information I have here easier to find; my author/creative site runs on Author Pro which helps with displaying books; and Gracewriters runs on Infinity Pro.
This is what I like about Studiopress:
- I’ve found their themes much easier to use and understand than the design templates I was using before.
- They provide detailed instructions for how to set up the site, which I follow step-by-step.
- They have support forums where I can ask questions.
IMPORTANT: Whatever design template you choose, make sure it is mobile responsive and will automatically resize to fit on people’s phones or tablets. Even if you don’t access the internet on a phone, a vast number of your potential readers and clients do.
Step 5: Choose your email list manager
Building an email list via your website creates a direct connection with your readers, customers and supporters.
I’ve been using AWeber to manage my email lists for many years, and I love them, and they have now added a free level. Woohoo!
- Lots of attractive templates for creating subscription forms for various locations on your website.
- Useful ways to manage and organise your lists of subscribers.
- Beautiful templates for newsletters.
- Systems for sending out emails to your subscribers, including automated sequences. For example, you might want to send each new subscriber a series of three interesting emails over a couple of weeks.
- Statistics for keeping track of when and how and why and where people are subscribing (or unsubscribing).
SOMETHING TO CONSIDER: You might be tempted to put off setting up an email list, but it’s worth it to do it early, especially when you can start for free. That way you are figuring out how it works and experimenting with different ways to acquire subscribers, while your site is still unknown and there’s less pressure on you.
Step 6: Create some content…
My top tip about writing content and choosing images or videos to add to your website is: don’t fret too much.
You can always change it later.
It’s easy to change it, because you are running your own website!
I suggest you start with:
- A home page
- An About page
- A Contact page
You might also add a page for your books or portfolio, and a Hire Me page, depending on your current career stage and the purpose of your site.
I’ve listed some more useful things you might add in this article: 7 Vital Website Ingredients for Authors and Editors.
Visit other websites and gather ideas and inspiration. What do you like or not like, and why? How many words have they written for each part? How many images or videos did they use? Is the tone friendly, funny, scientific, creative, serious?
POWER TIP: Start small and simple to make it easy for you to begin. You can always expand each page as you get inspiration and start to feel comfortable on your website.
What’s your experience of setting up your first website? What are your biggest concerns and questions about the process?