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The complete noob’s guide to making a website

So you want to build a website, huh? Well you’ve come to the right place. In this article, we’ll discuss exactly what you need to make a great website, but without delving too deep into the confusing details. We know you’re new to all of this Web development business, so we’ve condensed this guide down to just four simple steps. What you’ll find below definitely isn’t a comprehensive step-by-step guide. Instead, it’s a quick overview of the most important things you need to know, along with a selection of links to other helpful resources on the Web. Think of it as a jumping off point. Ready to dive in? Here we go:

Step One: Refining your Idea

brainstorming for a websiteThe fist step in the process is whittling down your idea into something that’s actually feasible to create. You can create just about anything on the Web, and things can get really complicated and off track if you don’t have a clearly defined goal to work toward. If you’re here reading this, you probably already have a general idea of the website you want to make. Maybe it’s a blog, a shopping site, a forum, or maybe even a new kind of social networking site that’ll blow Facebook out of the water. Whatever it may be, a good place to start is with some good old fashioned pen and paper. Draw out what you want your site to look like, but don’t worry too much about making it look nice – it’ll start to look good later on when you build it on your computer. For now you just want to hammer out EXACTLY what your vision is. What will your site be called? What do you want the layout to be like? What typefaces and colors will you use? Will people be able to leave comments? These are all things you need to consider, and figuring it all out right now make your life much, much easier when you sit down and start to actually write code. 

Step Two: Coding Camp

Think of making a website like taking a trip to a foreign country. You don’t necessarily have to speak the language to get around because there are all kinds of translator apps you can use nowadays, but if you DO know the language, making your way through town is a lot easier. The Web is no different. You don’t necessarily have to know HTML to build a website anymore, but it makes your life a lot easier if you do. For this reason, we recommend you at least learn the basics of HTML (and a little CSS) before you dive straight in to making a website. Even if you plan on using a program like DreamWeaver or a WordPress template to get things going, knowing the fundamentals of HTML is a good idea.

html codeTo quickly get acquainted with HTML, there’s no better place to go than Codeacademy. They’ve been offering their interactive HTML basics course for a few years now, and over time they’ve refined it so that it’s simple, easy to follow, and super effective. Each lesson helps you learn by doing, so you retain the information longer and can build on your knowledge from chapter to chapter. It’s an  amazing resource and it doesn’t cost a dime, so you’ve really got no excuse to skip it.

Once you’ve got a solid grasp on how to speak a little HTML, you need to make a decision. Do you want to hard code your site, or do you want to use website builder software? Doing it the hard way will give you more control over how your page looks, but it’s also much more time consuming. Conversely, using a website building software is generally a lot easier and faster, but it doesn’t give you nearly as much freedom in determining what your site looks like, so you’ll probably have to make a few compromises.

That being said, if you’re envisioning a complex website like, say, an e-commerce site with shopping carts and wish lists, it’s a smart choice to use a program to help generate some of the code instead of writing everything from scratch by yourself. So, to point you in the right direction, we’ve put together a quick list of some of some the best website-building software and resources out there.

Website Builder Services - These will let you pump out a simple, good-looking site in just a few minutes, but will most often provide access to your page through a parent domain. Think of this like running an office out of your parent’s basement. It’s nice because you don’t have to pay anything for the space, but it’s not the most professional way to conduct your business. That being said, it’s also worth noting that certain services, like Weebly for example, offer paid options that will remove the parent domain from the URL. This might be a good option if you’re simply looking to make a landing page or online portfolio without doing a lot of work. 

Text Editors – There are more full-featured programs than these out there, but if you’re looking for a good place to practice writing HTML, get yourself a program similar to the ones we’ve listed below:

WYSIWYG Editors - The following programs are just a few good examples of WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) HTML editors. In addition to text-based markup editing, these softwares allow you to edit your site through a simplified visual interface. The following programs are some of the best in the biz:

WordPress - We couldn’t figure out what category to put this one into, so we gave it it’s own. WordPress is a publishing platform and content management system all bundled into one, so it’s great for anyone looking to make a site with a lot of content. It’s super easy to use, there are a zillion different themes you can buy to give your site a snazzy look, and there are also just as many plugins you can use to give your site more functionality. Below we’ve listed a few good places to find themes and plugins.

Depending on how complex your idea is and the tools you choose to create it with, the process of actually putting your website together can take anywhere from a few minutes to a few months 

Step Three: Registering your Domain

domain name registrationIn order to get your site up and running on the Web, you need to register a domain. You can do this before or after you make your site, but since it usually costs a bit of money, it’s generally a good plan to hold off until you’ve actually got a website you can launch  This is basically the internet version of buying property – you’re carving out a section of Web real estate for your site by purchasing a unique name and address. In order to purchase these things, you need to go through a realtor – or more specifically, a domain name registrar. There are dozens of these to choose from, and lucky for you, we’ve got a pretty solid roundup of the best domain name registrars. Be sure to shop around until you find one that suits your needs – don’t just go with the cheapest one you see. 

Step Four: Buying Hosting

Domain name registration and hosting are tightly connected, and many services offer the two of them bundled together, but don’t let that confuse you – they’re not the same thing. When you register a domain name, you’re basically laying claim to a section of the Web by purchasing a name and address for your site. Hosting is a whole different game. It’s paying for your website’s data to be stored somewhere where everyone can access it. Your site is just a set of elaborate HTML files, so in order for those files to be accessible by other people on the web they need to be hosted – physically stored on a server somewhere so that they’re retrievable. Hosting generally costs a monthly fee based on your bandwidth and availability needs, and there are tons of companies out there that offer it. Here are a few good one’s to get you started, but keep in mind that there are plenty of other fish in the sea and these aren’t the only hosts available.

Summary

To sum things up, you really just need three things to make a website: code, a domain, and hosting. Coding is the hard part, but we still recommend doing it first because you probably don’t want to pay for domain registration and hosting until you’ve actually got a site for people to access. It can be a daunting process at fist, but just keep in mind that the Internet is nothing more than a network of people sharing information. If you ever get stuck, take solace in the fact that there will always be people out there willing to share their knowledge and lend a helping hand. 

If you’ve got any general-purpose questions about making a website, feel free to ask them in the comments below and we’ll see if we can help!