Just build your own website
It’s only when everything is up and running, and running fairly smoothly, that you can sit back and say, ‘That was relatively easy.’
At least, that’s been my experience of building a site. I know there are supposed to be drag-and-drop website building thingies out there, but NOTHING is ever quite as easy as that.
So, just in case you’re searching for a way to build your first site, this was my experience.
It's not my first
Yes, to be fair, this isn’t my first site. I’ve built quite a few.
Back in 1999, we had a company brochure. The printers kept on at us about this newfangled thing called the WorldWise Interweb and told us we need a website. They could do it for us, they said. Then went on and on and, in 2000, we relented. And never looked back.
Commercial sites were frowned upon back then. The internet had been built by scientists for scientists and they only seemed to understand spreadsheets. So you had to force picture and titles into places they didn’t want to go. Everything was trickery.
Then I started to wonder if I could make my own sites. ‘It’s easy,’ said my site-builder. ‘You simply have to learn Dreamweaver’. So I tried to learn Adobe Dreamweaver. Then I learned HTML and CSS. I was far from good at it, but I managed to get a few sites up and running.
There are good things and bad things about WordPress. ‘Proper’ designers may well look down on it. any open source software can have security issues but it’s a godsend to simplicity (relatively).
Of course, you don’t need me to tell you you first need a domain name. I’m always buying domain names because I tend to think up a business idea and, when I discover, ThisIsABrilliantBusinessIdea.com is available, I buy it before I lose it to someone else. I do nothing with it (other than renew it every couple of years). But getting a good, memorable name is a great way to start. I was AMAZED that ChristmasMurder.com was available.
You can research until the cows come home for the best place to host your site. I’m with Siteground. I was with Heart internet for years. I don’t think it matters (GoDaddy is always up there). Siteground seem to have a reputation for supporting WordPress sites and, importantly, their loading time is (apparently) fairly swift. NOBODY waits more than a few second for a home page to load.
These days, nobody waits for anything.
The next thing to think about is your theme. And if you are anything like me, this is incredibly tricky.
The thing is: ALL THEMES ARE ADAPTABLE. In fact, you want to adapt them. So whichever theme you go for, you will alter it anyway. You may just as well stick with the regular WordPress themes (you may also want to check out CHILD THEMES and the advantages of that).
But I discovered Generate Press. Now, having used it for a while, I can’t remember what the advantages are other than a belief (from my research) that it, too, is a lean theme. That means it doesn’t carry loads of special effects that take ages to load, so your site should load quicker. Other than that (and that is a massive advantage), I can’t imagine it is better or worse than other themes.
There are also PAGE BUILDERS. These work with your theme and make the process of putting your page together much easier. There are several to choose from. Divi is big one but I use Elementor. Again, can’t remember why but I’ve always found it to be easy to use.
My policy is that it is ALWAYS best to pay for themes. The reason being that the company who make them are more likely to stick around if they make a few dollars. Free stuff is great but how the heck do the programmers do it? Maybe they drive a bus in the day and work on their code at night. I don’t know. But s few dollars (it’s always dollars – and if you’re not in the USA, the banks will charge you a few quid for the hassle of converting dollars to sterling) doesn’t seem much of a price to pay for stability.
Generate Press costs $59/year or $249 for life. The latter always seems like a great option until you try top work out who’s life they’re talking about. If you’re 18 years old, £249 for 60 years or so is pretty good. At my age, I won’t get that much use from it (maybe it should be pro-rata?). But anyhow, it is their life they are talking about so consider how long they are likely to be required and/or to stick around.
Plug-ins are what make WordPress WordPress. They are simply bits of code to enhance your site. But instead of you tapping that code into the site itself, you load a plug-in to your Dashboard (where you operate your site from) and the code is hidden away.
But, once again, beware of overload. If this post helps AT ALL, it is to stress that you need to keep everything lean. Some plug-ins will carry a load of code and will slow the loading time of your site. The trick is to use them, but use them sparingly. Think about the advantages to you and your audience: Do you REALLY need to offer visitors to your site the ability to change the colours on your site? Probably not. So gimmicks are great, but not at the expense of loading times.
Same goes for the images you use. Keep them lean.
If you can use PhotoShop or similar, great. Experiment to see how small you can get the images before they look dreadful. You may be surprised. If I download a high quality image from a royalty free site, I will always keep the original, but I’ll shrink a copy down for my site.
As for Royalty Free images and, for that matter, music. there are loads of places to buy these. I use several (more bloomin’ money). Unsplash is brilliant because it’s free. But I also use DepositPhotos and, at times, Shutterstock and others. They vary in price and you have to remember you’re a member.
I bought a subscription to Primestocks.co as well. In fact, they seem to give you access to photos and images you can get elsewhere, but all in one place. So I’m not sure that’s worth it. DO NOT simply find something online and use it for free. There is always a chance you’ll be found out. You can, of course, use your own photos.
As for music, I buy from AKM music because you know it’s safe to use and you can use it again and again. It doesn’t offer the scope of something like Audio Network, but it’s a hell of a lot cheaper.
This is not the same for video.
There was a time when you had to host your own video. So you’d need to store it and then make sure it can play back on all the various browsers. Not so today. My videos are hosted on Vimeo (another $199/year) but you can host them on YouTube for free, or various other video hosting servers. WordPress is brilliant with video. You simply slide in the VIDEO element and link this to wherever your video is hosted.
Once you figure that out (and it always sounds easier than it seems at first), it will play on all browsers and all machines – computers, laptops, tablets, phones, TVs.
There is always advice out there, somewhere. You just need to search for it. But you need to know what it is you are searching for. Google or YouTube will almost always get you the answer you’re looking for but you need to persevere. You need to think what it is, specifically, you are searching for and if YOU were promoting that info, how would you market it.
For my first online mystery, I wanted the videos to be free to view and the clue-pack, the paperwork that makes the experience loads better, to cost virtually nothing. I chose £3.99 as it’s around $5. I will never make any money from it but I wanted to get the videos out there.
I had no idea how to sell anything online. I purchased Easy Digital Downloads, a paid for plug-in, but it didn’t work for me. In the end, I went with Woo-Commerce (as a plug-in). You can choose to build your website on Spotify if you want, but it’s quite expensive. The advantage to Spotify is that they only exist to sell. Your site sits on their servers (so forget the expense of Siteground or Generate Press). There is a monthly fee I think. It is a different route but, if you are selling a lot of different products, it may make life a lot easier.
For this site – ChristmasMurder – I wanted to find a way to hide the actual videos AND paperwork. Your big fear with selling digital products is that, once they have been created, they are easy to steal. Why would you bother to pay if all your mates told you to go to ChristmasMurde.com/here-is-the-video?
I didn’t know how to do this, other than pay a very expensive web-creator, so I searched and searched until it struck me that a SUBSCRIPTION service seemed like a good solution.
I don’t make full use of it. The subscription is perfect if you can charge your subscribers monthly AND give them price variations (Bronze, Silver and Gold). In my case, limiting access to 7 days and a one off (lifetime?) price of just £20 seemed like overkill. But it cost me £120, so what the heck, I bought MemberPress after much research.
It takes a bit of practice, but it’s good. Will I make any money? I very much doubt it but then I’m rubbish at promotion. And promotion is everything on the web. That’s the big rule (though I break it every time). Promote, promote, promote again.
Clearly, this is not a detailed ‘How to’ article on web design. But if I can do it, anyone can.
If you read articles on drag and drop and everyone says it is EASY, don’t get too disheartened to discover it’s not as easy as at first it seems. There is a LOT to get your head around. And then there are the various background things you need to discover (make sure your site is backed up – go to your hosting to do this).
It is also sometimes difficult to know which part of the jigsaw you need to look for. Is the problem on your site, is it a WordPress thing, a plug-in, or is it something your host deals with. They will each blame each other. The good sites, the paid for plug-ins, hosting companies, will have a decent support system so don’t be afraid to ask their experts if you get really stuck.
Finally, you can usually find course on most things on YouTube (make sure they are not too far out of date, the software develops all the time). I also use Udemy although, to be honest, I’ve never completed an entire Udemy course although, like my domain names, I’ve bought a fair few. DON’T pay full price at Udemy. They are always having sales where you can usually get a course at a fraction of the price.
Look forward to seeing your site. Go for it.