Having decided to quit our jobs, get married and get on a plane to travel the world, we quickly realised that we needed a website. We’re quitting our jobs and setting up on our own, making the most of Amy’s creative side with our travel blog and using my digital marketing expertise to offer digital services to clients.
If we are going to live the digital nomad life, we need a blog/website that helps us to appear professional, skilled and authoritative to potential clients. Just over a week ago we sat down and created a website from scratch. Now I’m writing a series of posts to tell you exactly how I did it, and why.
This is post one in the series, covering the basics:
- What is a blog versus a website?
- How should you choose and buy a domain?
- What is hosting, and how do I get it?
- What’s the difference between a CMS and a Site Builder?
Do I need a blog or a website?
Unsure if you need a blog or a website? Or what the difference is between the two? It’s actually pretty simple. A website is a collection of pages available on the internet, located on a domain name.
A domain name is the URL you type into an internet browser, such as www.toneverland.com leads you to this website. It’s a bit like a street address but on the internet.
A blog is a collection of posts, typically organised with the most recent posts at the top of the page, located on a website. Blogs can be written by one person with a passion, or a huge number of experts on a company website.
A blog is normally organised into categories. Categories group all posts about the same topic. This blog post has been tagged with the ‘website’ category. If you scroll to the bottom of this blog you’ll see the website category, allowing you to click on it and find all of our other posts about websites.
We also blog about travel, and so we have a different category called travel. Using categories on our blogs means that if you, our blog reader, are interested in how we to build a successful website, but not at all interested in how we travel, it is easy for you to find the relevant content.
If you want a site that is future proof, you want your very own website. Don’t worry, when you start it doesn’t have to be huge. In fact, it could just be a blog.
But you do want to be able to turn it into a full website in the future without having to start from scratch. You may want to add a ‘contact us’ form for example, or an ‘about us’ page.
This blog series is going to take you step-by-step to building a very simple website with a blog, that is small and easy to manage. However, it is going to be set up on one of the world’s most popular CMS’ (content management systems), WordPress. That way, it can grow and develop with you.
Website domain name – URL
The very first job in setting up a website, or a blog, is choosing your domain name. It sounds pretty simple, but it is possibly the most important decision you will make. A domain name is the website address for your site, such as google’s website address is www.google.com.
Picking the right domain is very important. It needs to be easy to spell, not too long to type and memorable. Essentially you are creating your brand. If you are a small business, your website domain should be your brand name.
In our case, our website will showcase tips on how and where we travel as well as showcasing the digital and website services we offer. Obvious names came up like ChloeandAmy.com, TwoGirlsTravel.com and escapethe9to5.com. So why didn’t we choose them?
ChloeandAmy – first off, this gives no hint at all as to what you’ll see when you visit the site. It’s not clear. Secondly, Chloe and Amy are pseudonyms as we are blogging anonymously until we quit our jobs.
TwoGirlsTravel.com – was already taken. When thinking of domain names, keep typing any you like in to a web browser (like google chrome, or internet explorer). About 80% of the names we liked were already taken.
Escapethe9to5.com – as much as we love the theme, having a website address with numbers or symbols isn’t a great idea. It makes it less likely somebody will remember your URL correctly. You want to make it as easy as possible to find your site.
ToNeverland.com – was available, original and had special meaning to Amy and I. We’ve been together since we were young and carefree, and Neverland was always a theme to us. It gives us a brand identity, especially as we can’t use our real names or photos of us to connect with others during the first 18 months of blogging. Our website is now following our adventure as we escape to Neverland!
Once you’ve found your domain name, and checked it is available, it is time to go and buy it. You can buy a domain name from tonnes of companies, some of the more common ones include Register, Go Daddy and 123 Reg. The prices are always similar, so it doesn’t really matter which you choose.
You will be presented with lots of TLD’s (top level domains) when you go to purchase your domain. You’ll see endless options, from the more typical .com, .co.uk, .fr, etc. through to new options like .london, .travel or .blog.
Always choose .com! Whilst any TLD will physically work, you want to appear reputable and trustworthy. If you carry out a search on google for second hand ovens, are you more likely to visit the website www.secondhand.com or www.secondhand.biz? I’ll bet you choose .com, as it seems more familiar and therefore more trustworthy.
There’s also an ongoing debate amongst the SEO community about the SEO value, or harm, of TLD’s. As there are so many established websites on .com already, you are placing a relatively safe bet sharing a TLD with the likes of Amazon, eBay and Tesco. Still not convinced? Moz recommend .com over new TLD’s on this guide to domains.
Important note on domain name purchasing: when you purchase your domain you’ll be offered tonnes of other services, whoever you purchase from. Ignore the website builder, email marketing and everything else they throw at you. They are looking to make up their profits by upselling additional services to you. If you need those services, there are many better options out there that specialise in these areas, some of which I’ll cover in this blog.
Hosting your website
Congratulations! Now you’ve bought a domain name, you alone own that website address. It’s an exciting moment. But what do you do next, and how do you put your design onto that web address?
The first step is to find hosting for your site. Very simply, hosting a website involves finding a server that your website files can be saved on. Whenever you visit a website, your internet browser is connecting with a server that contains all the files that make up the website you are visiting.
These files are full of html, which is the ‘language’ that makes up the design of a website. For example, even a basic blog will have fonts, font sizes and a picture or two. This information has to be saved somewhere, and be accessible when somebody visits your website.
If you were to save these files on your computer, then turn it off, it will be offline. That means that when somebody visits your website address, their internet browser won’t be able to connect to the files saved on your computer. And so there will be no website to see. To make sure your website is always accessible, you need to purchase some space on a server that is always online. That’s where hosting comes in.
I’m a digital marketer. I spend my days focusing on website design, content, building website traffic and generating leads from the internet. I’m pretty comfortable with all things online marketing. But I was new to hosting.
I made a big newbie mistake that took a lot of time to fix, and I’d like to help you avoid it. When I purchased my domain name from 123 reg, I also purchased hosting. It is important to point out that this is only my experience, and as it happens my dad’s business website is hosted at 123 reg and he’s had no problems at all.
The problem I had was a very slow website. I carried out a load speed test using pingdom, and my site took 11.5 seconds to respond. That is just no good. Most website visitors will not wait 11.5 seconds for your page to load.
Worse still, search engines will downgrade your position in their search engine if your site is slow to respond. That is exactly the opposite of what you are trying to achieve.
There are many, many different reasons that can cause a website to load slowly. Poor coding, slow scripts and messy plugins to name just a few. But as my website was completely new, and contained almost nothing, I could immediately diagnose the issue.
My problem was a slow server response time – meaning the hosting I had purchased was on a very busy server. When you purchase hosting, you will typically buy some space for your files on a server, which lots of other people also buy a bit of space to host their websites too.
In my case, I’d ended up on a server that was most likely full of lots of either busy, big or badly coded websites. This slowed the whole server down, therefore slowing down my website.
I carried out some solid research on good hosting companies. I wanted something that didn’t break the bank, but was going to provide me with a fast website with a reliable company. There’s a good number out there if you really do your homework. In the end I went with Siteground.
I came across Siteground on a number of other blogs, from other travelling couples through to technical reviews on website hosting. I read up on honest reviews and recommendations. Then I checked out online review websites to make sure their hosting really was up to scratch. After I’d completed the shift from 123 Reg to Siteground, my site went from a load time of 11.5 seconds to 1.9. Much better.
Shifting hosting provider wasn’t the simplest thing I’ve ever done, and I’d avoid it if you can. I had six web chats with Siteground throughout the process! I’m happy to say they were really helpful, and helped me get up to speed quickly. By contrast, I tried to web chat with 123 Reg twice. Each time I sat with the window open for more than 15 minutes without so much as a ‘Hello’ before giving up.
On ToNeverland I occasionally include affiliate links. I only include them to services I use and recommend. Click on the banner above to find out more about Siteground, and if you end up purchasing hosting from them I’ll receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. It’s the equivalent of buying me a coffee as a thanks for helping you find a reliable hosting provider 🙂
Adding a CMS
Once you’ve bought a domain name, and hosted it on a web server, you are live! If you visit your web address, you’ll find something pretty basic explaining that this website address is owned. Next you need to add a CMS to your site to allow you to add content and design.
CMS stands for Content Management System. It does what it says on the tin. You add the content you want to sit on your website to it, and it places it as website code, meaning internet browsers can interpret the code and display your website to other people.
According to BuiltWith, almost 40% of all websites on the internet use WordPress as their CMS. Approximately 500 websites are created every day using WordPress, and big names such as National Geographic and the New York Times use it too.
Because it is so widely used, lots of other companies design themes and plugins you can add to your WordPress site. This means you can add features, forms, designs, and tonnes of other things. I hosted mine on WordPress, and I recommend you do the same.
There are other options out there. Some top CMS options used by businesses include Drupal and Joomla. These are highly capable beasts, but the learning curve will be very steep for anybody new to creating and editing websites.
Equally there are options that are simpler than wordpress. Website builders or blogging platforms like Wix, Weebly, Blogger and Squarespace are incredibly simple to use, and normally include free hosting. However, there is a serious trade off. For a start, using a free plan with a website builder means you will not be hosting on the your own domain.
Instead of mywebsitename.com you’ll end up with mywebsitename.websitebuildername.com. This makes you look less credible and really won’t help with SEO (how your website ranks on search engines such as google). If you create your site on a website builder’s platform, you are limited in what you can do with your site.
If you grow your site, and want more flexibility, there isn’t too much you can do about it. In most cases you will be unable to get your design out of the website builder, meaning you can’t just go and upload it to a new CMS.
If you’ve built up a following, and managed to get other websites to link to yours (another important SEO factor), you will lose all your hard work. All of those website links will be going to the website address mywebsitename.websitebuildername.com, but your new website will be at the address mywebsitename.com. This means you are essentially starting from scratch.
For anyone serious about building a website or a blog, and not a veteran CMS user, I recommend WordPress.
If you are ready to set up your new website then jump to the next post, getting started with WordPress.