How to Build a Website: A Step by Step Guide
Getting online is easier than ever. There are now over 200 million active websites, and a lot of them were made by regular folk like you and me.
Today anyone can make a website, regardless of technical skill level. We know it can seem like a daunting task, but there are tools available today that make the process easy. This article will walk you through making a website-step-by-step.
There are two ways to make a website: with a website builder or with WordPress. There’s no question about it: website builders like Wix,Squarespace and Weebly are the best way for tech novices to get online. They are perfect if:
- You don’t know how to code
- Want to focus on content and strategy
- Value all-in-one convenience
- Want to start selling things online
WordPress meanwhile is a neater fit for:
- Backend control and advanced customizability
We’ll be going through the website building process for both approaches here. You’ll be surprised by how simple it can be, especially when using a website builder. It’s possible to build a website in just an hour if you follow our seven easy steps.
Sounds good? Let’s go….
Step 1: Choose Your Website Builder
An enormous number of people use website builders to make a website. Wix has well over 3 million paying subscribers and Shopifyrecently passed 1.2 million. Platforms like Weebly and Squarespace keep their cards close to their chests, but it’s safe to say tens of millions of people are making websites using builders.
Why is this? Website builders mean anybody can make a website, regardless of technical skill. In the early days of the internet, making a website required a working understanding of HTML (Hypertext Markup Language).Then CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) came along to make things even more confusing.
Website builders take care of the technical jargon and let you focus on design and content. Some do this through templates, others through drag and drop interfaces. Some are even dabbling in artificial intelligence that builds the site for you.
That does then mean choosing the right website builder is very important. Different builders serve different needs. Moving forward with the right one is essential to making a website you’ll be happy with.
Which website builder should you choose?
What is the best way to build a website? Which website builder should I use? What’s the easiest way to build a website? These are questions we get asked every day. There are so many questions and so many builders. We get it, it’s hard.
That’s why we’ve conducted in-depth research. Personal experience with website builders is all well and good (and we have plenty of it), but we test builders with people just like you. So when you’re making your own website, you can rest assured we’ve got you covered.
Our team conducts user testing and interviews, and painstakingly tracks hundreds of features across dozens of products to provide you a bird’s-eye view of the market. We want you to find builders that fit your needs. With that in mind, here’s the lowdown on the top builders for creating websites around today.
Wondering what all this actually means? Not to worry, we have a bite-sized breakdown below. To learn about our research in more detail check out our methodology page.
To be clear, the builders listed above aren’t the only ones worth considering. Not by a long shot. They perform best overall in our research, but, again, it comes down to your needs. WordPress.com, for example, is superb for blogging, while Shopify leads the way on ecommerce.
Be clear on what your priorities are, have a browse through our comparison chart and reviews, and settle on two or three builders that seem like a good fit. Once you have that shortlist, you’re ready to start testing.
Test your website builder
We can point you in the right direction, but only you can know which builder feels right. Almost every website builder offers free trials, so take advantage. Signing up is simple and there are no strings attached, as you can see below.
Step 2: Sign Up for the Right Plan
Once you’ve settled on a website builder, you need to sign up for a plan. Website builders tend to offer multiple plans. Different sites have different needs, and plans ensure you aren’t paying for things you don’t need.
This is a massive plus of website builders compared to web developers. A web developer can cost between $300 and $1,000 for template customization alone, and a fully customized website built from scratch will often amount to thousands. Making your own website using a builder, meanwhile, allows you to get a fully functioning website up and running for less than the price of a coffee.
Which plan you choose depends on your needs. Are you making a website for a portfolio to showcase your artwork? Wix’s Basic plan, costing $5 a month, will probably do. Want to create a website for your business that will get thousands of visitors and have multiple staff accounts? Then the VIP Plan, costing $25 a month, may be a better fit.
Rest assured there’s a plan out there for everybody. If in doubt, start small and scale up.
Can you make a website for free?
You can make a website for free, but there are catches. Free accounts on website builders hold a lot of important features back. You can’t use custom domains, and your free site will have ads for that website builder. If you’re looking to learn more about website building then the free options are worth a look. However, if you want a professional, feature-rich website you’re going to have to pay at least a few dollars a month.
Check out what you can get just by signing up to the most basic website builder premium plans:
*Squarespace is the only builder that doesn’t have a free plan, so to get the features you will have to pay a modest monthly fee. It does, however, offer a 14 day free trial so you can try before you buy.
Step 3: Choose a Domain Name
A domain name is the bit of the URL (the long address in your browser’s search bar) that identifies a web page — in this case your website. You can register them separately at sites like GoDaddy and Namecheap, but website builders offer to do it for you when you sign up with them. Most provide it for free (at least initially), while a handful charge a few extra bucks.
A domain name is one of the main ways a site presents itself to the internet, so make it count. Here are a few rules of thumb when choosing a domain name.
- Make it relevant. This sounds obvious, but it’s worth mentioning. Make sure the domain matches what visitors see when they visit your site. If your company is Vintage Pantaloons ™, don’t register the domain flipflopsfromthefuture.net
- Keep it short, or at least memorable. If you want people to remember your site don’t pick a domain that’s dozens of characters long. It will look silly and no-one will remember it
- Avoid numbers. It’s generally best to avoid numbers in domain names. It (generally) looks unprofessional and adds another element for people to remember.
- Check the branding doesn’t already exist. There are millions of websites already out there. That means there millions of domains already taken. Check whether yours will stand out before committing to it
Once you’re sure about a domain, simply register it as part of the signup process with your chosen website builder. Some of the leaner plans will require an annual renewal fee of around $12, though with premium plans it’s usually included.
Once you’ve got your unique domain name, what happens if you want to move?
This is a very common question we get. Don’t worry. When you purchase a domain name — from a website builder or through separate registrars — you own the domain name and can take it wherever you want.
Step 4: Pick Your Template
OK, so you’ve followed our steps to the letter: you’ve chosen a website builder, signed up for a plan, and registered a domain. You’re ready to start creating a website. Rather than leaving you to do this all by yourself, website builders support you through the process with templates.
Templates provide a framework for your website — a coherent, attractive canvas for you to paint the content of your site onto. They’re how you can have a site that looks good without having to hire a designer. Templates dictate color scheme, what your homepage header and menu bar look like, and the content width on your site, so it’s essential to pick the right one.
Whichever website builder you’ve chosen, you’ll have an extensive selection of design templates to choose from. Generally speaking, the better your plan, the more templates you’ll have access to. The top builders provide hundreds of templates across dozens of categories. Whatever the focus of your site is, there will be a template for it.
These are just a handful of the categories you can expect to find when starting your own website:
- Online Stores
Think of templates as ‘clothes’ for your website. If you don’t like one set of clothes, just change to another one to give your website a completely different feel. And again, don’t rush into it. Choose different templates, browse them, see if they fit. The whole point of templates is choice, so dive in and find one that feels right for what you want to achieve.
Step 5: Customize Your Template
As we said in the last step, templates provide a framework. Given how many people use builders to make a website nowadays, odds are there are a few sites out there with the same framework as yours. At the very least you will need to populate a chosen template with content specific to you. And to really stand out, you’ll need to do some customization.
Building a website is like cooking a dinner. Just like cooking, knowing how to build a website from scratch is much easier with the right tools and instructions. A template gives you a recipe — you can choose to follow it or you can mix up the ingredients and style to give your dish your own flavor.
What goes into customizing a website? Well, that’s largely up to you. Website builders are very flexible these days. Customization can include:
- Adding new pages to your navigation
- Changing the size, colors, and fonts of buttons
- Adding new elements like contact forms and menus
- Editing the images on your homepage gallery
- Choosing a different color palette
- Linking/embedding social media channels
The best website builders walk you through all these things, so don’t be intimidated. They understand their purpose is to make web design easy. As is so often the case with website builders, don’t be afraid to play. You’ll be surprised by how how much you can do.
Watch our video tutorial to see how easy it is to customize pages and menu bars in Wix:
If those template customizations don’t look like enough for you (though if you’re building your first website, they will be), you might want to think about building your website on an open source platform like WordPress.org. You will get more flexibility, but if you’re not a coder, learning WordPress takes a lot of time — especially compared to drag-and-drop builders.
You can almost always play around with templates as part of the free trials, so you can get a sense of how easy customization is without spending a cent.
Step 6: Preview and Test Your Website
With your template chosen and customized, you’re probably itching to publish and get your website live. Slow down there. Knowing how to make a website is one thing. Publishing your website blindly is another.
Always preview changes to your website before publishing them. You need to be sure things are working the way you want them to. Some of the key questions to ask are:
- Is all the spelling and grammar correct?
- Are all the buttons on the menu working?
- Does your site fulfill a purpose?
- Is your formatting consistent?
- Does it function on desktop and mobile phone screens?
- Does the site load quickly?
- Is it optimized for search engines?
You’ll have done so well to get this far. Be vigilant. It would be a massive shame to build your own website, only to publish an unfinished site.
How do you preview your website?
Website builders make previewing your site really easy. Usually you just have to hit the preview button in the editor mode to see what your website would look like. Most offer a toggle so you can see how it works on different screen sizes.
An easy-to-use preview mode saves you a lot of time as you won’t need to keep saving changes and switching back and forth between editor and preview mode. You can make a change and then just hit preview to see how it would look live.
Top tip: Don’t just test your website yourself. You will be blind to some of its faults. Plus, you know how your site is supposed to work, so while you might find navigating it easy that’s not to say a stranger will. Get a fresh perspective. Ask family members and friends to test your site and give feedback. If they’re anything like our family and friends they won’t be afraid of offering criticism.
Step 7: Publish!
All this done, you should be ready to go. Before you hit that ‘Publish’ button and send your site out into that cold, unforgiving world, let’s recap the steps you should have gone through to get to this point:
- Choose your website builder
- Sign up for the right plan
- Choose a domain
- Pick your template
- Customize your template
- Preview and test your website
All done? Splendid. Press ‘Publish’! Tell your friends, shout about it in crowded streets, hire a blimp — get the word out. Your site is now live for the world to see. You can still customize and develop it of course, but you’ve taken the plunge. How very exciting.
If you’re still a bit unsure whether you can do it, especially if you feel that you’re not the creative type, we have a comprehensive What You Need To Build A Website guide that covers all of the checklist items above, plus Google Analytics, logo design and images, in detail.
Anyone can make a website, and (literally) costs nothing to find out. Take a couple of builders for a spin and see what happens. You just may wind up creating something wonderful.
How do you create a website for free?
Building a free website is fairly common these days. Most website builders offer a free plan, or a trial plan. You can build your own website without spending a cent, but it won’t have the bells and whistles of a paid plan. Overall, Wix offers the best and most comprehensive free plan of all the website builders.
Can I move from one website builder to another?
You can, but there’s usually a lot of hassle involved. Most, if not all, of the content will have to be moved over manually. Website builders are a bit clingy. This is why it’s so important to test a few contenders before signing up to one.
How long will it take to build a website?
On most builders you can create your website in less than an hour. We don’t recommend being quite so quickfire about it, though. The best way to make a website is to give yourself a solid day to play around with the software and fine tune your site. It can take much longer than this to make a website site though – it depends on how many pages you have and how much customization you need to do.
Will my site appear in search engines?
If you build a website that’s optimized for search engines, then yes it will. It’s a common myth that you can’t rank as well with website builders – you definitely can! How to create a website that ranks in Google will require good content, and a bit of background research into SEO. Building websites that people can find is key to a good website marketing strategy, and not that hard to do.
Step 1: Decide if WordPress is Right For You
Almost a third of all websites are built on WordPress. It’s a subtle, essential part of the internet. But it also requires more setup work and maintenance than most website builders do. The first step of building a website using WordPress is taking stock and knowing what you’re signing up for.
WordPress is not an all-in-one package. It’s a Content Management System (CMS). A CMS allows you to create and organize digital content. Other elements like hosting and domain registration are best done separately. It’s up to you to bring these together in service of a WordPress site. This isn’t nearly as complicated as you might think, but it’s not the easiest way to make a website. We wouldn’t recommend it to people uncomfortable with technology.
The first major logistic of setting up a WordPress site is web hosting. We have a full guide on what web hosting is, but in brief it’s a home for your website. The files that make up your website need a virtual location to live in.
We’re going to go through this step-by-step guide using web hosting company Bluehost as an example because they’re one of the services explicitly recommended by WordPress. Do keep in mind though that lots of other web hosting providers are available.
Check out our comparison of the best hosting providers to get a sense of what other services are out there.
If you’re not fazed by any of this language, read on. If this all sounds a bit too technical for you, check out how to make your own site using a website builder instead.
Step 2: Buy the Right Hosting Plan
Before you can get down to the business of building your WordPress website you need a place for it to live. This requires a hosting plan. Signing up for a hosting plan is easy. Signing up for the right hosting plan is where things get a bit trickier.
There are various types and tiers of hosting designed for everything from tiny blogs to online stores with millions of visitors per month. For an idea of the range of plans available, just look at Bluehost:
Some of the main types of hosting are as follows.
- Shared. Where you share a server with multiple other websites. This helps to keep costs down, but limits how much traffic your site can handle. These plans are best for small and starter websites with modest traffic.
- Virtual Private Server (VPS). These mimic the control of a dedicated server, but still share space with other websites. A good half-measure if you’ve outgrown a shared plan but don’t want to commit to the cost of dedicated hosting.
- Dedicated. A server all to yourself. These plans can take a lot more traffic and offer full admin control. On the flipside, as you can see, they also cost a lot more. Dedicated hosting is for the very top tier of sites.
If you’re just starting a website it’s highly unlikely you’ll need to look past shared hosting. If, further down the line, a shared plan proves inadequate you can simply upgrade. For your first WordPress site a basic shared plan will see you right.
Step 3: Choose a Domain Name
A domain name is the virtual address of your website. Ours is websitebuilderexpert.com. That’s where you find us. The New York Times’ is nytimes.com. That’s where you find them. And so on. Your site needs one too, and when setting up a WordPress site it’s something you may have to take care of yourself. Bluehost lets you choose a domain for free as part of the signup process.
If you’d rather get one separately, simply go to a domain registry site like GoDaddy or Namecheap, find a name you like and is available, and buy it. It’s that simple. Once you’ve acquired the domain the registrar will give you an account. It’s through this that you can attach a domain to a site. More on this later.
How much does a domain name cost?
There’s not a set fee for domain names. Their value tends to be set by the market. Facebook bought fb.com in 2010 for $8.5 million, while the 2005 purchase of lasvegas.com amounted to a cool $90 million.
Don’t panic. You probably won’t have to pay millions for your domain. Regular, non-famous domains cost in the region of $12 a year. Far more manageable.
Choosing a good domain name
There’s no secret formula for choosing a great domain name, but there are some rules of thumb worth sticking to when starting a website.
- Relevance is key.Make sure your domain matches your site. If your business is called ‘Green Paper’, don’t register pinkclouds.com.
- Short and sweet. You want people to remember your URL, so the shorter the better!
- Don’t use numbers. It’s a little awkward to have numbers in a domain name, as people don’t know whether to type ‘3’ or ‘three’, for example.
- Be unique! Make sure the domain isn’t already taken. Sounds obvious, but saves time in the long run.
Once you register a domain, it’s all yours. You only lose it if you choose not to renew, at which point it will be put back on the market.
Step 4: Install Your WordPress Site
Once you sign up to a hosting plan with Bluehost, an account will be made for you automatically, though setting up a WordPress requires something from you: a click.
WordPress’s massive popularity means it’s in the interest of hosting providers to make setup easy. Accordingly, most offer one-click WordPress installation. In the case of Bluehost, that means going to ‘My Sites’ on the dashboard. As you can see below, it’s very easy to find.
If you bought a domain name as part of signing up, a WordPress site will already be there (a no-click setup!). To create a new one, you simply click ‘Create Site’. Most web hosting providers offer a similar experience
For a complete walkthrough, check out our guide on how to install WordPress with Bluehost, or watch our 2 minute how-to video:
Step 5: Choose a Theme
While website builders have templates, WordPress has themes. Your theme affects how your site looks. There are free themes and paid themes, and you can change your website’s theme as often as you want.
The upside with free themes is the cost, obviously, though bear in mind a nice free theme is likely being used on a lot of sites already. Paid themes are more ‘exclusive’ in that sense. Some only require a one-off payment, while others offer a subscription in exchange for support, updates, and maintenance.
Once you select your WordPress site you will find yourself in the WordPress dashboard. Get used to it, it will be your online control room from now on. It’s here that you can manage themes. A handful of default themes are waiting for you when you arrive, and adding new ones only takes a few minutes.
The best place to find themes is through WordPress’s own Theme Directory. Search for the types of themes you’d be interested in. If you’re setting up a newspaper search ‘newspaper’, if you need a site for your café search ‘cafe’. There’ll be dozens, if not hundreds, of contenders. Clicking on a theme takes you to its own page where you can see user reviews and preview the theme in action.
Once you find a theme you like, download it. Go to the ‘Themes’ section of your WordPress site, select ‘Add New’, and upload the theme you’ve just saved. Voila. You now have a new theme. Rinse and repeat until you find one that feels just right.
Step 6: Create Content and Pages
Adding content to WordPress is much more structured than you might think. Content on WordPress sites essentially breaks down into two types: pages and posts. What they look like will depend on the theme you use.
Pages are static one-off pages that make up the backbone of your site. Your homepage and contact page would be pages, for example. Posts are more timely. If your site has a blog, each entry in that blog would be a post.
Creating pages and posts is easy. Both require a couple of clicks in the WordPress dashboard. For pages you go to ‘Pages’ and ‘Add New’. For posts you go to ‘Posts’ and ‘Add New’. Both ‘Add New’ options will take you to the editor, where you can add content, preview, and publish.
To add pages to your main menu you simply go to ‘Appearance’ and ‘Menus’. From there you can select which pages appear in which menus. For most sites and most themes you’ll only need one navigation menu, so putting one together is easy.
Step 7: Install Plugins
Plugins are bits of software that can be added to WordPress to improve the functionality of your site. Default features offer enough to make a perfectly good website, but plugins are often necessary to take it to the next level.
WordPress has tens of thousands of plugins for everything from search engine optimisation (SEO) to image compression. Browse the WordPress plugin directory and you’ll soon get a sense of how vibrant and creative a community it is. Each plugin has its own page with descriptions, screenshots, user reviews and more.
To install plugins it’s easier to browse within your WordPress dashboard. To do this go to ‘Plugins’ and ‘Add New’. There you can sort through featured, popular, and recommended plugins, as well as search for them yourself. To install simply press ‘Install Now’.
Here are some of the top plugins if you’re unsure where to start:
- Jetpack. Made by Automattic, the team behind WordPress, this is essentially dozens of plugins within one plugin. In-depth site stats, automated social media posting, and lazy loading (a way for pages to load faster) are just a handful of the features available
- Google Analytics Dashboard. This one’s a no-brainer. Google Analytics is a superb, free tool for tracking traffic to your website. This plugin allows you to see everything in your WordPress dashboard
- Social Media Share Buttons. You want your content to be shared right? This plugin allows you to add fully customizable social share buttons to your posts so they can get as much exposure as possible
You manage your plugins in the ‘Installed Plugins’ section of the ‘Plugins’ tab. There you can edit plugin settings and toggle installed plugins on or off.
As ever, don’t be afraid to test things out. You have a whole lot more to gain from plugins than lose. Worst case scenario you simply deactivate a plugin you no longer want to use.
Step 8: Publish!
All right, we’re almost there. Before publishing your WordPress site let’s recap the steps you should have gone through to reach this point.
- Decide if WordPress is Right for You
- Sign up for the right hosting plan
- Choose a domain name
- Install your WordPress site
- Choose a theme
- Create content and pages
- Install plugins
All done? You’re ready to go. Don’t think the work is over though. A good website is never finished. You’ll see. The internet is constantly evolving, and your site will too. The life of a WordPress site is a steady circle of stages six and seven, with a bit of theme customization thrown in for good measure.
Making and maintaining a WordPress site is a deeply rewarding experience. You will learn about design, content, search engines, coding and more, and the structured framework WordPress gives you will always keep things manageable.
If you’re still not sure whether WordPress is right for you, check out our full WordPress review, or if you’re ready to get started, hit the button below!