I’ve been asked many times “how to build a website DIY” or “how to build a website for free”…
I’ve been asked this question what feels like a million times. As a result I’ve written many emails and had many great conversations, answering this same question over the course of my career. Recently a husband and wife team looking to move their startup idea from vision to real life venture asked the same question…so I figured now was a great time to finally write a post with that same info.
I’ve done my best to include links to the services I’d recommend specifically for novices and intermediate folks alike, I’ve purposely left a lot of more advanced stuff out of this in order to make it easily digestible. You’ll find links to resources and my personal recommendations for learning resources to help you DIY your new website if you’re up for the challenge.
…with that outta the way:
My first response when somone asks me the above questions is, it depends. What’s your skill level? What are you trying to accomplish? What’s your timeline for this? How much free time do you have on your hands? And what tools do you currently have access to?
If you’re a novice, with only a modest amount of free/extra time you can set aside for this, in my professional opinion, I’d recommend checking out SquareSpace first.
Before I jump into this though…
I’m a web developer by trade, I run a small agency with my wife and partner. As a professional developer, I build most of what I do as part of custom projects, often from scratch, and as part of a team of folks delivering projects. I’ve worked on everything from eCommerce stores, to content managed websites for small businesses, to official hubs for entertainers and other public figures, and even as part of a team doing web development on multi-million dollar projects for large enterprise organizations as a contract developer. I’ve been doing this for a hot minute.
Like you I also started as a novice and I probably had many of the same questions you do right now…I’ve been asked this same question by folks who are designers looking to build skills in development; family members curious about what I do; folks from around my hood at various points in life hoping that they could level up to better circumstances in life, etc. Knowledge is power, and if you can get it directly from someone you know who got expertise, even better.
If you’re a novice, with little time on your hands and a small budget…
I’ve worked within the system a few times helping folks who had purchased a plan with them. From my experience with that platform as well as from observing the people who were using it who also were not tech pros, I found it was a good fit for novices.
SquareSpace works hard to be easy enough to use and very minimalist so that there are less new concepts for you to grasp right away. Your website’s design will be locked into the constraints of a layout template with a visual theme which will make getting a visually nice end result much more likely for a novice. Templates aren’t always a bad thing. And a template created by a professional designer, is a huge step up from you working to do the design on your own.
SquareSpace is what’s called a Hosted solution, meaning they (SquareSpace) host everything for you. This eliminates a lot of technical challenges for you and means you need minimal overhead to get going. It should be a great option for folks with no technical expertise.
There are of course drawbacks to using hosted solutions, but if you’re considering this, you’re probably not in a situation where this matters right now.
If you need to sell products or make transactions, SquareSpace also has some online commerce features you can use for selling products.
If your goal is to build multiple websites, don’t try and do them all at once, start off by first just building one website from start to finish. Get acclimated to the process, then do a second website, and finally a third.
OTHER POPULAR HOSTED OPTIONS
Ghost CMS https://ghost.org/
If your website is going to be primarily and online storefront of some type. I’d recommend a hosted solution that focuses tightly on eCommerce. The companies below will host the site and also have site building features included.
DIY So the options above are a decent place to start if you’re looking for hosted options. If you’re looking for something a lot my DIY, then read further and I’ll share some options that’ll require a various amount of technical skills to build your own website. Keep in mind, it’s going to require an investment of time on your end, and in almost all case, you’ll need to spend at least a few dollars to get your finished website online too.
If you want to learn the ins and outs and do the process yourself, below are some great places to start. Depending on what you’re trying to build, you’ll need to have a fairly firm grasp on the fundamentals. The more ambitious your project, the more you’ll need to know. Of course, without having any expertise, you’ll likely not be equipped to know what is ambitious and what isn’t. As you dive into your learning, that’ll become more clear.
There are enough free resources below to get you leveled-up if you’re able to invest enough time into it and have access to some technology — a computer, web browser, and a code or text editor.
If all else fails — YouTube and a good search engine (DuckDuckGo) will be your best friends! YouTube is a great resource if you’re a visual learner.
FreeCode Camp http://freecodecamp.com/ This is a free platform. They’re goal is to help provide you to tools and a platform to enable you to build professional level skills in web technology. They have step-by-step instructional style courses. They’ve built a community, there’s a forum for getting help, as well as seasoned instructors. When all is said and done, you can even get certificates if you put in the time from start to finish.
Udacity Classroom — Udacity
https://www.udacity.com/course/web-development--cs253 They’ve got a mix of free and paid courses. I’ve also added a link directly to their web development course.
JSHomes https://github.com/jshomes/learning-resources If you’re not familiar with GitHub, no biggie if you’re not, this link is to is a listing setup by a developer I respect a lot named Eric Elliot. He’s put together links to various resources for learning all kinds of web technology. Most of the resources listed are free as well.
Chris Hawkes https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCfV36TX5AejfAGIbtwTc7Zw I follow Chris on YouTube. I appreciate his often dry whit and straightforwardness. He seems pretty down-to-earth and laid back as well. Give a few of his videos a watch and decide for yourself if he’s a good fit for your tastes.
Traversy Media Much thanks to Sean Smith for this recommendation. Swing by Twitter and Give him a follow as well. Shawn’s an ExpressionEngine and Statamic developer for hire as well if you’re ever in need of some expert help. Their YouTube channel says they:
So Tizag is a throwback jawn for me. I first caught wind of this site many years ago on a recommendation from colleague and friend Jon Christensen. They’ve got some great starter tutorials on HTML and CSS among other web technology. I’m adding them because they did a great job of making learning the foundations easily digestible — great option for intermediate learning.
Okay, so now you’ve decided you’re going the DIY route. If you haven’t already dipped into a course, you should know upfront that DIY means you’ll need to most likely spend a few dollars for what’s called website hosting. Web hosting is basically leasing your space on the internet for your new website. I often compare it to when you start are new brick-and-mortar store you lease some space in a strip mall. The web is similar. If you’re going full do-it-yourself, you’ve gotta “lease some space” for your new venture. That space is called “web hosting”.
From there if you’re not going to build everything from the ground up yourself, you’ll likely want to use some sort of tech platform as your foundation. This will power things like enabling you to easily add new pages and manage your website’s content.
The info below is just a quick overview of some very easy to use platforms that will require the least amount of advanced web technology skills.
SELF-HOSTED WEBSITE PLATFORMS
Remember, you still will need some minimum intermediate technical skills to use the following tools as well as to get your website hosting up and going. If you don’t know what web hosting is beyond this article, you’re probably not yet ready to build your own site with one of these. If you’ve got someone who can help you out, then def reach out to them for further recommendations.
WordPress (my least favorite of the platforms; sorry, not sorry.): http://wordpress.org/
Website hosting if you go full DIY and build a website from scratch
Nexcess https://affiliate.nexcess.net/offer?item=Mzc0OTR8Nzk4 This is my affiliate link for Nexcess web hosting. If you’re thinking about trying ’em out, please use the affiliate link. You’ll get hosting with a really good company and I’ll get some coin — preesh!
I’ll add some affiliate hosting links in the near future.
That’s about it. If you’ve got more questions, you can drop them as a comment below.