The journey to that website of mine

Because that’s what it turned out to be: a journey. A long and steep learning curve journey, culminating in a very satisfying feeling of beating the odds and producing a nice, fulfilling result.

Since I work in the domain name industry, as well as a communications professional, it made a lot of sense for me to personally test things out by attempting to buy a few domains and put them to good use. What seemed like a fairly easy, straightforward, sensible and fun idea turned into a pretty impressive workload to achieve the launch of the www.alexinthewild.world website.

Recipe for a tasty website

Ingredients:

At least one slice of domain name
A bowl of content management system (CMS)
50 mL of CMS template (optional)
A teaspoon of web hosting
A steady stream of Internet access
A sprinkle of patience
500 g of will to learn

Where to get the ingredients:

Internet service provider (ISP)
Registrar
Web hosting provider
The web (to find a CMS or website builder)
Lynda.com or the like (for basic training on these tools, concepts, etc.)

Preparation:

The best way to describe how to create a website is to say that it works in the reverse logic of your basic instincts, every step of the way. For example: a normal human being’s first reflex will be to decide on a cool design, have some vague idea of the content, think of a few menus, then on various layout options, followed by very vague thoughts about a domain name. Or one may already have created a basic landing page on Wordpress, then think about getting a better domain name (one that doesn’t include “wordpress”), as well as a more interesting email address.

Now work your way backwards, and you’ll have a good idea of what creating a website implies. The extra challenge is that many of the necessary components of a website (domain name, hosting, CMS, Internet access) are offered by one or more providers. For example: your ISP may offer domain names and hosting, a registrar may offer a website builder (CMS) and hosting, etc. So here’s how to go about it.

First, get a domain name.

I’m not just saying that because I work in the DNS industry: a domain name is the stepping stone to your website and/or email address. Plus, most of the time it’s the least expensive ingredient, and the easiest to get. Shop around registrars to find the best deal or compromise between cost and security. Tip: buy a few domains if you feel extra inspired. Country code domain names (ccTLDs), for example, are legendarily cheap, so you can afford a few and decide on your favourite later on.

Second, give some serious thought to the purpose and future content of your website.

Simple blog? Landing page for your business? Or a more elaborate platform including online shopping? The purpose of your website will make a huge difference in what tool (or web design agency!) you will use to build your website and resources needed to create it. There are very user-friendly website builders out there, as well as CMS’ such as Joomla and Wordpress, but keep in mind that cost is directly correlated with flexibility and potential complexity. In other words: a free website builder will offer you a very basic template that’s not easily customizable. An open source CMS such as Joomla (which I used for my website) might require you to learn a lot more than you expected about WAMP, SQL databases, CAM, CSS and HTML coding, transfer from local to shared hosting, but you will be more in control of your content and have greater flexibility. It depends on how much you want to “get into it” yourself and on resources (time and money) you want to dedicate to your website.

Third, think about layout (but don’t act on it yet).

As mentioned above, design and layout are the very last thing you’ll actually act on, but you need to have a very clear plan from the start. So browse away, benchmark those cool websites, take note of the features you would like on your site, get some ideas of templates you would like to use, and then start working on…

…Your sitemap.

You really need to have everything ready on paper before starting to work on your website, so the best approach is to build a sitemap (web pages you’ll need, menu items, add-on components, etc.). 

Fourth, get ready for the unique logic of a CMS and start building that site.

As I learned the hard way on a Joomla basic training on Lynda.com, the order in which a site is built is counterintuitive: first you create categories, then articles, and then menus (CAM approach). It’s only when these three elements of a website are created that anything will appear on the front end, and only then that you should apply a template to your site. It’s quite confusing at first, but that’s why you need to have thought through your sitemap beforehand. That logic might also explain why you’re struggling with some all-in-one website builders.

Finally, it’s launch time! Find a web hosting provider and transfer your site if you have been working locally.

It’s all there, all done and looking the way you would like it to? Congratulations, you’re ready to launch your website! Depending on the hosting package and provider, you’ll have more or less help with launching your site, so it’s worth shopping around. If you have already been working on your site on shared hosting, then it’s “just” a question of making it public.

“Please tell me there there’s an easier way to do this”, you ask.

YES, of course there is! Downside: you’ll very most likely spend more money on all-in-one solutions or on a web design agency if you simply cannot bother with (or don’t have time for) a homemade approach. Thankfully, there are quite a few platforms now that will help you throughout the whole process (domain purchase, web hosting, website builder, support, etc.), although understanding the basic principles mentioned above will definitely come in handy. Among the most common and best rated: Squarespace, Weebly, WIX, Strikingly, GoDaddy, Web.com, Jimdo and many more (see a full list here and here). How to choose? According to costs, ease of use and purpose of your future site.

Conclusion

In my line of work, learning about the intricate details of website building and hosting (and I’m pretty convinced I only scratched the surface, even after all those efforts) is extremely useful: not only because I experienced the challenge of making domain names relevant, but because I can have more serious and efficient interactions with web agencies working on our organisation’s website. You know that moment when the IT guy tells you “nah, that’s not possible, we can’t implement that” and you just have to accept it because you have no clue if what he says is true? Well now I’m just a bit more equipped to say “wait a minute, I’m pretty sure it is possible”, which is satisfyingly empowering.

Plus, and most important for me, I have my very own website! Why bother, will you ask? It conveniently frees me from the social network behemoths and allows me to take back control of my own content. The best way to describe it is the difference between owning and renting a house. Facebook is a huge apartment building (make that a huge network of apartment buildings!) where you’re renting out a furnished flat. It’s nice, you’re comfy, all your friends live nearby, but you will never own the place and theoretically, you can be kicked out by the owner at any time and nothing in that flat is really yours. How many photo albums, fun posts, life milestones have you shared there, and what if Facebook would close down tomorrow? Lots to lose, in other words. So I’ve decided to buy my own place! The downside is that it’s not directly connected to all my friends (it’s in a new neighbourhood in the suburbs, let’s say), but at least the content on that site is mine, so I can peacefully post away and share those articles on social networks. Nice!


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