Thursday, March 29, 2012

How to Own Your Own Website (Even If You Can’t Build One) Pt 1


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You’ve probably put up plenty of pages and accounts on various services and blogs. But today, learn how to become a real website owner and put together an awesome feature-rich website of your own with little to no experience.
Having your own website is expected in many fields. You can host your resume and various files, or put up an online business card to make sure that you’re one of the top results when you do an ego search on Google. Whatever your reason is, you don’t have to pay hundreds (or thousands?) of dollars to have somebody else make a website for you, when you can use free software and cheap hosting to make your own in minutes. In this first part of a multi-part series, we’ll discuss how to put up a simple website and and how to start owning your own domain.

Purchasing a Domain and Hosting

To own your own website, you usually have to pay for a minimum of two things. To make your life easier, you can get both from the same company. The first thing you need is a domain name—that’s the URL that you type into your browser to find your website. Basically, buying a domain is putting yourself on the map so that remote computers can find you. You pay a fee, usually once a year, to notify the services necessary to direct your URL to the second part of your website, your host.
Domains can be registered on any major hosting site, although there are some dedicated domain registrars around. You can absolutely buy a domain from a registrar and host it with another company. This is not terribly difficult and involves changing the A Host settings. However, for the sake of simplicity, we recommend buying hosting from the same company that sells you your domain. Expect to pay anywhere from $10 to $25 USD per year for each domain you buy. Many companies offer incentives for buying hosting and domains, and may give you a discounted or even free domain.
(Author’s Note: Be careful using the “Check Domain Availability” search bars. Depending on the integrity of who is doing the search, the registrar may register the domain out from under you and force you to buy if from them. If you’re searching for a domain, be ready to buy it right away!)
Hosting is the second required part of the equation. Hosting is space and bandwidth leased out from a bunch of remote servers that pipe your information throughout the web. While it does some fancy stuff and crunch some data for you, you can basically look at your hosting as hard drive space you can store the stuff that makes up your website. That’s quite an oversimplification, but since we’re not writing about how to run your own server or write your own web applications, we’ll do fine with our simple explanations today.
   
Hosting can be bought at a number of places (such as all of the above) with lots and lots of fancy features, most of which you won’t use unless you’re going to hire a developer (or learn more about developing applications for the web). The only ones that are important (as of the date this article was written) are:
  • PHP version 5.2.4 or greater
  • MySQL version 5.0 or greater
Hosting like this can be bought (usually) for less than $10 a month, although your mileage may vary. Even the most basic of plans offers PHP and MySQL, which are both required for loads of common software for the web. Find a one stop shop for hosting and domains at any of the following providers.
Dreamhost and Bluehost are two hosts that feature easy integration with WordPress, so you may want to use one of them if you’re a beginner and following along with our how-to. If you’re not afraid to get your hands into some confusing setups and help files, you can set it up yourself on any server that you choose. We recommend sticking with Dreamhost or Bluehost for most, if not all, readers of this article.
On a final note about hosting and domain registration—don’t agonize over a clever domain. If you’re going to put up a website to promote yourself or use as an online business card, simply using your name as a domain is perfectly acceptable. Use your name, your Xbox username, your first dog’s name, or whatever. It doesn’t have to be a huge ordeal to pick a domain because you’re probably not going to build the next Google on it. Besides, you can always buy a second (or third or fourth) later.

Web Software for A Feature-Rich Modern Site

If you started dabbling with HTML several years ago, you might have noticed that web pages have become quite a lot more complicated. If your understanding of HTML scripting hasn’t grown with the web (or is simply nonexistent), have no fear. Modern web pages are more robust than a few random text files coded in notepad and tossed on the internet. Most modern websites have a Content Management System behind the scenes that allows non-technical users to update content, design, and customize feature-rich web software using only a web browser.
Three of the most popular software packages are WordPress, Joomla, and Drupal. All are free downloads, and all will allow you to manage, design, and update a site of your very own. Our how-to today is going to focus on installing WordPress.org software. All are fairly easy to install, even without using a host with integrated “One-Click” style installers for the software.
The one click scripts can download, install, and create all of the necessary MySQL databases you need to use the software. It’s seriously almost too easy. Let’s take a look.

Installing WordPress (The Easy Way)

When you log into your shiny new hosting, you’ll likely be faced with some kind of control panel. This is a common software for a web hosting control panel, simply called Cpanel. On it, likely near the bottom, you can find a section called something like “Site Builders” where you’ll find “1-Click Install” or “Simple Scripts.”
Click the link for the 1 click install software.
Most of the sites will have lists of software they will download and install for you. Find WordPress from the list they give you and choose to install it.
Simply tell it to install it on the next screen to continue.
You should be able to pick the domain you bought earlier, provided you also bought it from the host. Select the dropdown and find your URL—something like http://www.myawesomewebsite.com and it will do all the hard work for you.
You may have to agree to some software terms and conditions. Nothing surprising here.
From the scripts screen, you should be given links to your new domain and to the “backend” page that logs you into your content manager. It’s fairly simple to use, but we’ll cover it as well as some other basics in an up and coming article.
And congratulations! You now have your own WordPress.org website based on your own domain ready to be customized to your heart’s content. Check back with us as we expand this multiple part series, to cover basic customizations in WordPress, a more advanced install, and some tips on getting a great website out of your basic WordPress install.