“How do I set up my own website?”
I have come across this question on public fora (or have had it asked to me directly) a number of times in recent years. So I thought I’d put the gist of my experience of creating my own website on my blog, so that everyone could benefit from it and hopefully follow in my footsteps.
The process of setting up a website can be broken into four steps, namely:
1. Building your website’s content (i.e. web pages)
2. Registering a domain name (such as www.yourdomain.com)
3. Finding a place (server, actually) to host your web pages
4. Promoting your website
And finally, who doesn’t like to earn a bit of extra money? So I’ll also tell you how you can earn money by displaying contextual ads on your website.
So here we go…
1. Building content:
Just as you need to have a manuscript first in order to publish a book, or a script ready before you can shoot a film, you need to first create the web pages that you will eventually place on your website. Quite simply, web pages hold the content that you see when you visit a website from your browser.
For instance, when you visit www.vijaypadiyar.in, the content that you see actually comes from a file named index.html that I’ve uploaded to my web server. So it’s really www.vijaypadiyar.in/index.html that you’re seeing.
Web pages are written in a language called HTML. However, one really needn’t bother learning HTML at all, because there are applications that let you design web pages in a graphical manner (WYSIWYG), in much the same way as you would prepare a graphical slideshow on PowerPoint. One such application is Adobe Dreamweaver.
Dreamweaver is a fantastic piece of software that’s a bit hard to pick up initially (as opposed to FrontPage, which is really as easy to use as Word), but once you get used to the menus and options, it’s a very powerful tool that lets you create complex web pages very easily. There are many tutorials on how to use Dreamweaver, so I won’t be going into any details on that front.
Typically, the process of creating web pages is as follows:
a. Prepare a structure for your site. To do this, you must categorize all the information you intend to put on your site, distribute the information in each category into a reasonable number of web pages, and keep the web pages for each category in different directories for easier management. Some important pages that must be present are: About Me/Us, Contact Me/Us, Sitemap and Disclaimer. A blog is always a great addition.
b. Choose a design or template for your web pages. This gives a distinct and uniform look to your website. A good design will give your website a nice visual appeal, but ultimately it’s the quality of the content that’ll bring in the visitors (and the moolah!).
c. Create the web pages and place them at their location on your site. All web pages must have links to the main pages of all other categories as well as links to other pages in their category. A link to the Home page, Contact page and Sitemap is a must. Note that the web pages must be saved with a .htm or .html extension. Also note that you must have an index.htm(l) file in your website’s root directory, as that will be the default home page.
Freebies: Most of us can’t afford Dreamweaver and FrontPage. Not to worry! There are excellent free software that let you design web pages, such as NVU, Trellian WebPage, PersonalWebKit and CoffeeCup HTML Editor. Microsoft’s old free FrontPage Express is also an option.
2. Registering a Domain Name:
A domain name or URL is a textual name for your website. It is in the form of www.yourdomain.com and uniquely identifies your website. So, how do you get a domain name for your website? Answer: Through a Domain Registrar.
Domain Registrars are basically firms that register a domain name for you, usually online through their website. You can type in your preferred domain name (www.yourdomain.com) and they will check if it’s available or already taken by someone else. If available, you can proceed to book it and make the payment online, following which they will register it on your behalf so that you will be the legal owner of that domain name.
Charges usually vary marginally from registrar to registrar and also depend on the extension chosen (.com, .org, .in, etc). I have booked my domain name (www.vijaypadiyar.in) through Rediff Domains, an India-based domain registrar.
Freebies: Of course, there are free options for those who don’t really want to spend money on purchasing a domain name. Sites like http://www.registry.cu.cc/ and http://www.freenom.com/ offer free domain names (such as www.yourdomain.cu.cc or www.yourdomain.tk), which is pretty good considering you’re not paying a rupee to get them!
A few points to keep in mind when getting a free domain name. The site that gives you the free domain name must provide:
- URL redirection (brief tutorial here)
- URL cloaking/masking (tutorial here)
- Path forwarding (brief tutorial here)
Other useful features include:
- Email forwarding (brief tutorial here)
- META tags support (needed for search engines to index your website)
- Favicon support (the tiny logo displayed at the left of the URL in the address bar)
- No forced ads (you don’t want forced ads on your website in exchange for the free domain!)
3. Finding a host for the website:
You now need to upload the web pages you’ve created to some computer that’s permanently connected to the Internet and which can be accessed from across the globe. Such a computer is called a Web Server.
Web Servers are basically powerful computers that host websites. They have huge amounts of storage space to support a large number of customers, and a super-fast and always-on connection to the Internet.
There are several firms that offer hosting space for a fee. The fee depends on:
- Amount of hosting space (for a small website, 50-100 MB would be a safe bet)
- Monthly bandwidth (1 GB/month is sufficient for starters)
- Features offered (e.g. PHP/Perl, SQL, FTP access, Cron jobs, etc.)
- Reliability (99.9% guaranteed uptime is the norm for paid web hosts)
These firms usually advertise various plans on their website. You need to find a plan that’s suitable for your needs and a firm that’s reliable and charges a reasonable fee. I use the Starter Plan from BizzHost, an India-based host, which I find is quite sufficient for my needs and inexpensive too.
Typically, once you choose a plan and make the payment online, your account is setup and you’re given a username, password and a separate folder on their server only accessible by you (usually /home/username). You then need to upload the web pages that you created earlier to your folder on their server (typically via FTP). This will make your content publicly accessible over the Internet, so anyone can view it anytime by visiting your website.
A paid host will also give you a list of Name Servers (usually two). Name servers are computers that translate domain names into IP addresses, which is what computers actually need to communicate with each other. Typically, they are named as ns1.someserver.com and ns2.someserver.com.
Once you have the NS details for your host, go to your account on your domain registrar’s website, navigate to the ‘Edit DNS’ section and enter the Primary and Secondary NS details and save it. This effectively binds your domain name to your site’s web server, so any computer trying to access your domain name is directed to your website’s host. Once saved, this information will take a few hours to propagate across the Internet, following which anyone from anywhere in the world will be able to access your website.
Freebies: Once again, there are free hosts available that give you free space for uploading your web pages. Some of the well known ones include 50Webs, AwardSpace and so on. You can get a comprehensive list of free web hosts from http://www.free-webhosts.com (Tip: Check the “No forced ads” section).
However, before closing in on a free host, look for these important features:
- No ads (many free hosts, most notably Tripod, will add their ads at the top or bottom of your web pages and disfigure them)
- Check if FTP uploads are supported, in addition to a web-based file manager
- Check the disk space and monthly bandwidth offered
- Check if subdomains are supported. If so, your website’s URL will be something like yourdomain.50webs.com. Then you can redirect your free domain name (such as www.yourdomain.eu.tf), which is relatively more elegant sounding and easier to remember, to this URL.Alternatively, if only domains are supported by your free host, then you will need to buy a domain name and point it to the name servers provided by the free host, as explained earlier.
A third option is to use a formal domain name with free hosting. Some people want a paid domain name for professional or aesthetic reasons, but want free hosting. Now, some domain registrars (mine included) don’t support redirecting to URLs (such as yourdomain.freehost.com). They only accept name servers. In that case, you can use Zone Edit, a free DNS service. You provide them your registered domain name as well as the URL you want to redirect to, and they will give you their name server addresses which you can enter in your domain registrar’s account. Once done, any computer accessing your site will be routed via Zone Edit to the target URL.
Other useful features include:
- Ability to put your own ads on your web pages, so you can earn money off your content.
- Ability to run PHP/Perl scripts from your folder on the free host, which is useful for adding stuff like guestbooks, feedback forms, etc. to your website. If not supported, there are many other sites that offer free guestbooks and feedback forms.
Please bear in mind, however, that free hosts are not always reliable, so you might have more downtime than you would with a paid host. Also, free hosts are very likely to shut down their services at any point of time, so always keep a backup of your web pages somewhere, in case your host disappears one fine day!
4. Promoting your website:
Setting up your website is only one part of the story. It’s of no use until people know that your website exists! For this, you need to submit your site to various search engines, such as Google, Yahoo! and Windows Live Search. All major search engines have a “submit site” form on their sites, so find it and submit your site there.
This should get your site listed on these engines in a few weeks. However, to ensure that more pages from your site are indexed, and new pages are indexed faster, you need to place a Sitemap in your website’s root directory. This is basically a file, typically in XML format, containing a list of web pages on your website, which makes it easier for search engines to find and index them.
There are several sites that can generate XML sitemaps for you, such as https://www.xml-sitemaps.com. You just need to enter your site’s URL (actual subdomain URL in case of free domain names) and it will generate the sitemap for you. You then need to upload it to your site’s root directory.
An easy way to promote your site is to add your site’s URL in your signature in emails and on public forums, so that whenever you email anyone or post a message on such a forum, your site is displayed to the receiver or readers.
Monetizing your content:
Want to know how you can make some money from your website? Google AdSense lets you insert ads on your web pages and pays you whenever someone clicks on them. You can choose which ads you want to display, where you want to display them and also edit the colors and fonts so as to integrate the ads with the look and feel of your page. That’s because ads that are strategically placed and are blended in with the rest of the page tend to be more clicked on, as opposed to ads that stand out prominently from the rest of the content.
I am not including a tutorial on Google AdSense, as there are enough of those already. You can read them before you get started. To open an AdSense account, go to the AdSense home page and follow the instructions.
Well, that’s all there is for now to this article. I’ll keep updating it with more details as and if I deem necessary. Hope you found the information useful and, more importantly, will use it. Do mail me your experience if you actually end up creating your own website!