How to Make a Website From Scratch

how to make a website from scratch

If the idea of building a website gives you heartburn, that’s fine. I’m not going to try and convince you to code your site from the ground up. I will, however, say this:

You STILL need a website.

The reality is that potential employers will be entering your name in their favorite search engine, and you want to be totally sure they see something professional in the top results for their search.

The main reason to have your own website is to have total control over the most credible search engine result for your name.

Even if you have no intention of blogging or learning to code a website, you should own your domain and have it display a bare-bones website with your contact information and links to some examples of your work, positive press coverage about you, etc. In today’s world, if you are putting yourself out there publically in any way that might have people looking for more information on you, having your own website is really a no-brainer. It’s like filing your taxes or having a bank account. It’s just something you have to do.

With that out of the way, let’s talk about how to make it happen. I’ll break this down into three basic steps:

  1. Securing a domain name
  2. Web server space
  3. Actually creating your website.

Simple enough? It does get a little tricky, but I will try hard to keep it as simple as possible.

Note: I’ve put a lot of time and effort into making Repatriate.Me what it is. Purchasing services through the affiliate links in this article is greatly appreciated as it helps me keep things running.

Domain names for job seekers

Owning a domain name featuring your real name is our starting point. It’s cheap and easy to do, so even if you do not have the time for any other of the steps, you can at least get your domain secured for future use. In my case, I have StevenDWard.com, but it was not my first choice. I would have preferred to have SteveWard.com or StevenWard.com, because shorter domain names are always better. Someone got to those domains before me though, so I had no choice. If StevenDWard.com had been taken, then I would have tried all three variations with different domain TLD extensions (.net first, then .me, .us, .co, .io, etc).

Hop over to Namecheap.com and start plugging your name into the search box. If you really can’t find any variation of your name with any of the professional-sounding domains (.co.uk isn’t going to work if you are not actually from the UK), try mixing in some of these modifiers:

  • Mr/Ms/MBA/PMP/other appropriate title, as in: JohnSmithMBA or MrJohnSmithMBA.
  • Career-related verbs such as ‘writes’ or ‘teaches’: JohnSmithWrites.com or JohnSmithTeaches.com
  • Various combinations of your name with words like contact, connect, official, real, site, website, etc: RealJohnSmith.com, JohnSmithConnect.com.

With Namecheap, you will get the first year free of ‘WhoisGuard,’ but sometimes it is not immediately applied, so make sure you do this immediately.

Once you have your domain name secured, you can point it (temporarily) to your LinkedIn profile while you get the other steps set up, but realize that your domain name itself probably will not rank very high in search engine results if it is set as an ‘URL redirect’ to another site. Getting some kind of standalone space is a priority.

If you did not use Namecheap to purchase your domain, you’ll have to google how to set an URL redirect with your service. If you did use Namecheap though, go to your Dashboard, then click on the “Manage” button for your domain. You should see a panel that looks something like this:

you get a website

That last section is where you can type in any URL you want to forward the domain to.

As I mentioned, this is not ideal for a long-term web presence for many reasons, but here are a few:

  1. It’s not a Search Engine Optimization (SEO) best practice; your fancy new domain likely won’t rank as high as you would like, if at all.
  2. If you are linking to something like a LinkedIn profile, you are still depending on an outside source that you do not directly control. LinkedIn is very mainstream, but who is to say it won’t get hacked or disappear for some other reason? It probably won’t, but it’s still best to not depend too heavily on any single source.
  3. You already have the domain, so you might as well carve out an extra space outside of the various web services for you and your personal brand. This by itself is going to make you look professional and competent for the modern workforce.

Now there are certain services, such as Tumblr or Medium that allow you to map your domain (attach it in a more organic way) to your page on their service. With some digging, you might be able to find a professional-looking enough template to make this a workable solution for yourself. I haven’t been overly impressed with any Tumblrs that I have seen passed off as a personal website but that does not mean it can’t be done. Weebly is an intriguing option as it was built for this exact purpose, but it only allows you to map your domain name to your Weebly site with a premium membership. Medium, on the other hand, allows for the domain mapping for free, but when I tried to do it I found the process quite convoluted and difficult. I eventually just gave up on it. Still, if you intend to make your blog/writing the main feature of your personal website, it could be worth going with Medium (and maybe they have improved the service since then). It’s worth investigating these three because if you can make it look good and professional, then you can skip the next, most confusing and expensive, step.

Oh yeah, one final word: Namecheap often has sales running on domain name registrations, so search google for coupons and discounts first (and using my affiliate link to help keep Repatriate.Me alive is appreciated too). Namecheap may be marginally more expensive than other domain registrars, but the couple bucks extra you’ll pay every year is very much worth it, in my opinion.

Choosing a web hosting package

Google is your friend when it comes time to investigate web hosting packages. I use MDDHosting, but even though the price is pretty competitive, for people that only plan on having a single basic website there might be cheaper, more streamlined options. Bluehost is a popular one with a good reputation too. HostGator is known for having some bargain-basement deals where you can get crazy cheap prices on a basic package, but they also have a reputation for poor customer service. I used Site5 for years and it was amazing, but I only ran hobby websites and I couldn’t justify the expense of it any longer. If you are building an ecommerce site of some kind, though, it is worth serious consideration.

If you are looking at building a commercial site and are willing to spend a little money, but not the kind of money you would spend on hiring a web developer, then take a serious look at Weebly, Squarespace, or Shopify. They are pricey, but take a lot of the difficult decisions out of hosting as well as building your site, allow you to map your domain name to their servers, and sites hosted by them tend to look pretty good to be honest. A paid plan on WordPress.com might be an option as well, but I do not have any experience with it. WordPress is a content management system available for free to install on your own server, however the company also runs a commercial site that will host it for you. Many people start off with a free wordpress.com account and find that they quickly outgrow it and want a self-hosted website.

A couple tips:

  • You’ll get the best deal purchasing 1-3 years at a time, rather than month-to-month. This makes doing your homework on your prospective web host rather important. You do not want to change web hosts frequently anyway as it is a gigantic pain in the ass to migrate your data without breaking it, to be honest.
  • Narrow it down to 2-3 companies, then scour coupon sites and use the Chrome browser extension “Honey,” which makes finding discounts a lot easier.
  • Get on their mailing lists, especially HostGator, to be in the loop on any big sales they may have.
  • Be wary of smaller, unknown web hosts. Some of them, like my favorite, MDD Hosting, are great, but others not so much. Getting into the web hosting business is pretty easy because many of them just rent space from OTHER web hosting services that provide a nearly turn-key business plan. But why not just go directly with the main company in the first place?
  • It’s standard practice for the web hosting company to entice you with a free domain. Don’t do it, especially not for your most important domain. Your domain name and web host should be provided by different entities, or you may find yourself locked in when you want to move one or both of them.

Building your website

Unless you are wanting to learn how to be a web developer and build your site from the ground up, you are better off using WordPress as a content management system (CMS). Pretty much all web hosts these days have a service such as “Softalicious” or “Fantastico” that offers a slew of CMS packages for auto-install on your domain. Find that link in the dashboard of your web host, and then install “WordPress.”

WordPress was initially designed to power blogs, but it has grown to be so much more than that. It is capable of running a commercial website, if that is something you are thinking of doing, but a basic personal website can be up and running in a few hours whether or not you actually intend to use it as a blog. StevenDWard.com runs on WordPress, as do ALL of my other websites, even though I know HTML, CSS and JavaScript pretty well. WordPress is not perfect, but for beginners it is the smoothest and fastest introduction to creating and managing your own website.

On the install page all you really need to worry about is your username and password. The pre-sets should work fine for everything else, and you can add details on your site name and such later. Once it is installed and you are logged in, you can get to work customizing the look and layout of your site via the “Appearance” menu. Here you will find a place called “Themes” that allows you to search for free themes, or install ones that you have purchased from a third party.

It may very well be worth spending a little money on a quality premium theme. How much do you make per hour focusing on your current job? Spending a little money up front could save you many hours of searching through free themes you like as a base, plus the time it takes for tweaking all the customizations. ElegantThemes is a massive theme database but it follows the yearly subscription model. I like the theme Latte for this, but by the time you read this article there may be something better on the market. Once you get a nice theme picked out and installed, you can customize it with images. Use a professional headshot if possible, and free stock photos from Unsplash.com.

Tips on building your website:

  • “Bootstrap” is a design concept that is all the rage these days because it is designed to look good on mobile without having a separate mobile site. It’s also pretty easy to use and many WordPress themes are based on it now.
  • “Responsive” design refers to the website being designed to be used on both mobile and desktop. You don’t have to choose a bootstrap-based theme for your WordPress, but you definitely should use a responsive theme.
  • Keep it as simple as possible. Make an outbound link to your LinkedIn profile instead of copying and pasting your whole resume.
  • Keep it focused on getting the job you want. You are not writing a newspaper article about how you are a genius polymath that does a little bit of everything. Choose one general area and focus on that.

Aside from that, it’s up to you. You could spend weeks tweaking your site once it is up, but make sure to take breaks and come back and look at your site with fresh eyes. If you are friends with any designers, ask them to take a look at it.

Paying someone to do it for you is also an option, but it can quickly get expensive because you are paying for all of the above costs, plus the time of a professional developer that has put a lot of time and effort into their craft. If you are okay with that, then one such person is fellow repat Sean Smith, the man behind Caffeine Creations. He specializes in small and medium size business websites and would be happy to help other repats.

A Final Thought

Getting a website off the ground can be a deep rabbit hole that sucks up a ton of time, energy, and funds. It does not have to be though. Keep your main objective in mind (‘Get a job’ or ‘Land freelancing clients’) in mind and do not try to include a single thing that distracts from that mission. If you enjoy the process, you can make other websites later dedicated to your other interests.

If you can stay on task and follow the instructions above, you should be able to get a respectable online presence up and running in a few hours, with an initial monetary investment of $150-$250 (including 2-3 years of hosting). That makes this one of the cheapest things on your repatriation to do list. It may not be expected for everyone to have their own website in 2016, but I strongly suspect that by 2020 it will be the norm.

Good luck, and don’t be afraid to share your final project with me on Twitter (@StevenWard). I’d love to see it!

2 Comment

  1. […] a narrower and narrower field that have a lot of the same keywords. Make sure you are populating your personal website and social media profiles with these keywords as well, because your prospective employers WILL be […]

  2. […] already published a tutorial and a webinar on getting your own website up and running and these lessons mostly apply to websites […]

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