Once you’ve procured your domain name and gotten yourself hosting, you come to a major decision point. What’s the best way to go about putting up a website?
Hosting Service Website Builder
Admittedly, most hosting services provide a website builder, but these tend to have limited functionality and range. Their purpose typically isn’t to enable you to do anything fancy, but guide you through a series of steps that will leave you with a very basic, functional website. For some people, this is enough, but I don’t advocate for it.
If you want to try it out, I strongly recommend creating a subdomain called “test” or “practice” and building a site using the hosting services program there. This will give you a very clear sense of what the site builder can and cannot do and, if you don’t like it, you just delete the subdomain. If you use the hosting services program on your main domain, you have to go in and figure out what files you need to delete and which ones you need to save. Far easier, I say, to just have a subdomain you can get rid of entirely.
A lot of people have taken to installing WordPress blogs on their domain in lieu of building an actual site. For simple efficiency and sanity, I strongly advocate this as the go-to choice for indie authors. First of all, the vast majority of hosting services have a one-click install option for WordPress. You install the software and you can start adding content immediately. The standard theme that comes with WordPress is a minimalist affair. I like it, but if the theme isn’t exactly what you’re looking for, there are countless free themes available through the WordPress site. You can also get free themes here, here and here, along with lots of other places.
If you still can’t find what you’re looking for in the free themes, you can also look into buying a “premium theme.” Premium themes tend to offer a wider variety of special features and functionalities and are readily available through countless online sources. Premium themes typically run in the $70-$100 range (circa April 2013), but pricing varies from provider to provider. If you’re inclined to go this route, you can start the search here, here and here.
The final option is to have someone make a custom theme to your specifications. You’ll probably need to hire a web designer to build a custom theme for you and pricing may be an hourly rate or a flat fee. If you go this route, I’d advise you to work with a designer who offers a flat fee option. As of April 2013, the base rate for custom Wordpess themes looks to run around $400 and go up from there, depending on the complexity of the project.
Then there is the do it yourself option. Way back in the day, this is the route I picked to creating the website for my series of novels. I used a WYSIWYG (what-you-see-is-what-you-get) program called Kompozer. I cannot begin to tell you how many hours I poured into building that site and, when it was all said and done, I wound up with a basically functional site that I probably could have built using the hosting service website builder. Here’s a picture of the homepage for site I built.
The real lesson to take from this is that, unless you happen to be a website designer by day and writer by night, you probably have no business trying to build a website from scratch. It’s a wildly aggravating process and, every few years, advancements come along that make your website look amateurish and outdated.
If you’re still committed to building the site yourself and you don’t have a website design program installed on your computer, you’ll probably want to either sign up for something like Adobe’s Creative Cloud service for the Dreamweaver program or get comfortable with a browser-based HTLM5 editor like Aloha or Raptor.
Professional Web Designer
Your final option is to hire a web design professional to build you a site from scratch or to fix the mess of a website you tried to build for yourself. You may not think it’s worth it, but web designers exist for a reason. I’m getting my website (remember the picture above) redone by a pro right now. What you see above took me (too much time face consciously) to finish. This is what my brother came up with as a demo fix for that site in an hour or two, while sipping coffee and petting his cat.
It’s a completely different visual experience and that’s not even the finished version. If you’re not a web designer, don’t like the WordPress options, and the limitations of your hosting service’s website builder leave you cold, I’d recommend hiring someone to do the work for you. You’ll get a much more professional looking end-result and fewer migraines. Also, in case you’re wondering, yes, my brother is for hire.