So you’ve seen thousands of websites and now you want to put your creativity to work and turn it to profit by making your own but you’re not sure how to get started. Rest easily, you’ve come to the right place to learn the basics of setting up a website, writing or obtaining content, placing ads onto your website and promoting it to the surfing public. I’ll tell you the truth: you might make some money, if you’re dedicated; and you’ll make a lot more money from your website if you follow the tips I am about to share with you here and if you expand on those tips by taking advice from other webmasters as well.
There are over 100 million registered domain names. If you don’t believe me you can take a look at ZookNic to find out the exact number. Every one of those domain names will compete against your domain name for the attention of the millions of Internet surfers who are just looking for somewhere to spend their money. And if you want to kill your competition you must starve them of their surfer traffic. As a new webmaster you have a bit of work to do to make your website attractive enough to change the habits of all those credit card carrying surfers and make them want to visit your site.
Don’t worry, because once your website is published you will already have beaten around 50% of your competition just because so many of all registered domain names are either unused, unadvertised to the general public or are owned by cybersquatters who point their domains to holding pages.
To help you on your way to webmaster stardom, here are 10 considerations you need to think about as you get your website started:
- Your Idea
- Domain Name
- Server Space
- Sponsors (the easy bit)
- A Little Bit of Knowledge
- Useful Resources
Each consideration is talked about on the next few advice packed pages. By the end of this article you will know enough to get started and to keep going for a lifetime of fulfilling Internet achievement.
You can run a website in your spare time. A lot of webmasters do. Different types of website take different amounts of time to set-up, update and market. It isn’t always easy. Well used forums require a lot of moderation. Any site that allows visitors to leave comments will need to be monitored for spam and inappropriate comments. A website that allows none to little visitor communication shouldn’t take up too much time, right? Wrong. Anything could go wrong. You might find your server’s off-line or your database becomes corrupt. Thankfully, database and server errors are relatively rare; and server problems are usually down to your host to fix while a database can usually be easily repaired or replaced with a back-up.
So you’re probably wondering why I’ve brought up the time element.
When deciding your website’s format, consider how much time you can devote to its administration. Will you be updating its content daily, weekly or as and when you feel like it? Will you be using your own (unique) content or content provided by article directories? Are you willing to do it as a hobby if it doesn’t work out as a business?
They are just a few considerations. You won’t really know how much or how little time your website will need until you get your hands dirty and create it. You might use an installable package like WordPress (for blogs), SMF (for forums), Gallery2 (for galleries) or Joomla! (A powerful general purpose content management package).
Software packages like WordPress and Joomla are called content management systems (CMS). They require little to no knowledge of html, php or any other scripting language and make website development as simple as installing a game on your desktop PC.
Using a Content Management System will make your life as a webmaster so much easier. Even though little to no knowledge of scripting languages is required to use a CMS, it’s better to know a little html or php (both are easy to learn) just in case you want to add an extra tweak but generally, once they’re installed and set-up, you need only moderate, add content and tell the world about your website.
Many web hosts provide click-n-run installation of CMS software via applications like Fantastico Deluxe which comes as part of cPanel (the desktop like server management interface).
So your three big time eaters are:
- Site moderation (checking for spam and abuse),
- Creating (or finding) content,
- Publicising your site.
And don’t under estimate the amount of time you’ll spend tinkering with settings and templates just to get your site exactly as you want it (which nobody ever does).
You already have at least one of these otherwise you wouldn’t be here but there’s more to setting up your website than knowing what you want to put into it.
You need to decide whether you want a blog or a forum, gallery or a shop. Will your website be a host for online games or will it be a provider of information?
You must work out the type of surfer your site will attract then decide how you want those surfers to interact with your website before you choose a domain name to register and the best way to build your site.
Ask yourself these three questions:
- What’s the purpose of my website?
- Why will visitors come to my site?
- What’s the best way for my site to satisfy its visitors?
Write a few ideas down, draw a mock up of what you think your website will look like then decide how to present your site. You could use a photo or video gallery for a fan site but an interactive blog with photos and videos might suit you audience’s needs better; a blog teaching php is good but a well marketed forum for visitors to ask and solve problems will always attract more traffic. If you use a webhost that lets you set up subdomains then you could have a forum, a gallery and a blog hosted via the same domain e.g forum.your-domain.com, gallery.your-domain.com and blog.your-domain.com.
Use your ideas to help you name your site. List several names just in case your first choice is already being used. Use something snazzy, easy to remember and relevant to your site’s purpose.
Now you know what you want your website to do you are ready to invest a little bit of money registering your domain name and paying for hosting space.
Webmasters offer contradictory advice about the ideal way to phrase a domain name. Here is a sample list of that advice:
- use ‘keywords’ that surfers might type in to a search engine when looking for a site’s content
- do not use hyphenated words
- do not use non alphanumeric characters
- use short domain names
- only use dot.coms
Mostly, that advice is rubbish! But like most old wives’ tales, there is a grain of truth to all of them [I make no apology for any confusion]
Your main consideration is whether you website will be found through online methods like bookmarks, search engines and hyperlinks, or through offline methods like business cards and posters.
Your second consideration is whether you intend to reach surfers who reside anywhere in the world or surfers who live in a particular part of the world.
If your website’s sole aim is to attract surfers via online means then you can use any domain you choose. It is better if it is short, uses only alphanumerics and resembles the title and purpose of your website but as most of your site’s visitors will come from links, bookmarks and search engines your only really need to consider how recognizable your domain name is and how to publicize it. If your website’s traffic will come from offline marketing methods then you should use a memorable name.
The theory behind your choice of TLD is that sites targeting international traffic should have a non-local top level domain (TLD) e.g a dot.com or dot.biz; and sites aimed at local traffic should have a local TLD e.g dot.co.uk or dot.us. People searching for local businesses will generally prefer the website with a local sounding domain name.
Another point to consider is your domain names purpose. Some domain names are worth buying for their subdomain potential. Subdomains are treated as separate (unique) domains by search engines so can be used to create multiple sites out of one domain name. I purchased the domain bigbuz.eu purely because of its subdomain potential.
Also, bear in mind that you don’t “buy” a domain name, you lease the use of it on a yearly or several yearly basis – consequenty, you lose the use of it when you stop registering it.
There are lots of places where you can register your domain name. Just be careful that you use a reputable company and ensure that you can transfer your domain to another registrar without penalty should the need arise; and be sure you can edit your domain’s name servers (the IP addresses that tell browsers where to find your website’s server). Don’t register your domain name yet, though, find your hosting provider first because some hosts give away a year’s domain name registration when you lease space from them.
Before you can build your website you’ll need somewhere to store it – somewhere visitors may view it and interact with it. In other words, you need a host – a server to hold your site, serve data to web browsers and deal with requests from other computers.
A server is just a computer (like a desktop PC) that’s dedicated to the task of storing websites and serving webpages and other data to whoever or whatever requests service. Your hosting provider is something you should give a lot of consideration before handing over any money.
You can use free hosting, shared hosting or dedicated hosting.
When several webmasters share the same server (computer and storage) they are using a shared hosting package. When one webmaster uses one server for his (usually one) site then he is using a dedicated server. Some hosts provide free hosting space on shared servers to lure webmasters into buying addon services.
Shared hosting is cheaper, dedicated hosting is more secure and will run faster (generally). Free hosting is often restrictive and funded by ads provided by the host. JournalXtra (this site) is on a shared Hostgator server along with 20 or so of my other websites.
The most important considerations when leasing server space are:
- Bandwidth – is it restricted or unlimited
- Storage – is it restricted or unlimited
- Processor usage – is it restricted?
- Content – are there content restrictions?
- How many sites can you host – without additional costs?
- IP address – do you need a dedicated IP address
- Reliability – it should have at least 99% uptime
- Linux or Windows – Linux is faster, more secure and widely supported
- Location – what content laws apply in its location
- Servers back-ups – are they regular?
- Support – Is the support team fast, efficient and easy to contact?
- Reputation – what do other webmasters say?
- Scripts and software – what do you get for your money?
- Databases – do you get multiple, non-shared databases?
- SSL – is it available and is it free?
There are many more items you need to consider but they are the main ones.
I use Namecheap to host all my websites on a shared Linux server. I can host unlimited sites, use unlimited databases, use unlimited bandwidth and unlimited storage. They provide cPanel hosting which makes installing software and managing websites a breeze. I’ve been with them for a long time and recommend them to all my friends and customers.
I register some of my domain names through Namecheap because they are cheap.
So, you now have ideas for your website, your domain name and your hosting provider. Well done! You’re a webmaster (well, o.k, an apprentice webmaster). What’s next?
Now comes the easy and fun bit. Build your site.
If you want visitors then you need something for them to visit. Fortunately, most web hosts make it easy to make a website by providing near single click installation and set-up of content management software like WordPress, SMF, Gallery2 and Joomla. Don’t be worried about installing them multiple times – we’ve all done it. JournalXtra was once a blog, then a forum, then another blog then a different forum package before I settled on a Simple Machines Forum. Two years later and I’ve converted it back to a WordPress blog. It’s all experiance :)
Once you’ve got your hosting package, look around your control panel and get use to it. Try all the software packages so you know what they do and how they compare with each other. If you can use html, php or pearl then write a webpage. In other words, get familiar with being a webmaster.
A website without content is a garden without flowers. Content is king supreme when it comes to getting and keeping visitors. There are many ways to get content:
- you can create it
- you get it from somewhere else
- you let your visitors create it
Each has its own merits and demerits: the more original your content the better. People don’t like to keep re-reading the same old same old. From a search engine standpoint, it doesn’t matter whether your content is original or not; it will always serve the page that best suits the given search terms. If the content is duplicated then it’ll just return the page with greater page rank. But remember this: search engines only recognise text. No matter how nice your pictures, videos and audios, a search engine’s crawler will only notice it if it is surrounded by text and has a textual description.
If you are stuck for content, there are lots of content providers out there. Some charge whereas others give it away. A few are listed at this article’s end.
To attract visitors you need to do a bit of shouting. Let the world know about your site. Tell friends about it, add your website’s link to the signature you use in emails and forums, submit your website’s address to as many search engines as you can, use social bookmarking to spread the word to people who might be interested in your site, ask other webmasters for reciprocal links (search engines rate websites by links from other websites according to how many websites link to them and how valued those inbound linking sites are to others (as measured by inbound links to them). Reciprocal links are best when arranged through intermediary sites e.g. A to B to C to A), submit your site’s details to directories. Get reviewed by review sites. Post comments in blogs and forums. Another way to advertise you site is article writing: write articles containing links to a more indepth article on your site then submit it to article directories, you can even write a press release announcing your site’s opening or or pay for advertisement or join a banner exchange. The options are almost limitless.
More advice about free website traffic sources is available in this JournalXtra article.
It’s all about the money.
Turning your hard work building your website into a few dollars is easy but making loads of dosh requires either hard work or your site to cover a very good subject (preferably niche) or, even better, both. You can accept donations, place advertisements, sell site branded merchandise (mugs, t-shirts, pens…), join affiliate schemes and take up many other opportunities. Different sites require different methods. You will learn what will work for your site by trial, error and the application of common sense. For example, when you have a travel blog then it makes sense to join a travel affiliate and sell and advertise travel products and services along side it; when you have a photo gallery, sell cameras; and when you have a forum, target ads and sales according to the subject of the posts in a thread. Stay away from banners – people ignore them; instead, use inline text links; they’re non-intrusive, don’t look like adverts and visitors feel more inclined to click them. Banners are good for brand awareness and decoration but little else.
One of the more important needs of any webmaster is a little bit of knowledge and fortunately we have search engines to help us get that.
Likelihood is that if you hit a snag then either someone’s already posted a solution for it on the Net or someone in one of the many webmaster support forums will be able and willing to help you through it.
When I first started out I installed Joomla onto one of my domains and every time I tried to access my website I was greeted with an error page telling me I didn’t have permission to browse the site’s index. Nobody had told me that before my site could be browsed I’d need to create a file in the installation directory called .htaccess, open it up for editing, type DirectoryIndex index.php, then save it. I had to use Google to find that solution. If you hit a snag, feel free to post a question in the comments on this page; I’m more than happy to help.
Finally, bookmarks, make space for them because you will collect loads of them. You’ll need bookmarks to html and css guides, clipart and stock images, your content management system’s support pages, sponsors, forums, blogs and many others besides.
The webmaser support forums will become important to you over time. You will build long lasting relationships with other webmasters who’ll advise you on your website’s look, feel and operation. They’ll keep you up-to-date with the latest tips and tricks for attracting traffic and dealing with spammers.
Here are a few of my favorite bookmarks:
Advertisers like these tend to pay per visitor action e.g per click or per impression. These are good for sites with high visitor numbers.
- Google Adsense – search for Google Adsense and sign up to display Google’s adverts.
- InfoLinks.com – text based ads automatically placed over inline text by a java script.
- Adbrite – text, banner and full-page ads. You can even advertise over your videos with their watermarks.
These are companies that “warehouse” affiliates products and services. Service and product providers register with these companies so that you can easily join their affiliate programs ands advertise (or pre-sell) them. These tend to pay commission from your referral’s purchases. Good for both high and low traffic sites.
- TradeDoubler – use banners and links to advertise electrical goods, services, holidays, insurance products, books and anything else you can think of.
- AffiliateFuture– use banners and links to advertise electrical goods, services, holidays, insurance products, books and anything else you can think of.
- AffiliateWindow – – use banners and links to advertise electrical goods, services, holidays, insurance products, books and anything else you can think of. AffiliateWindow also provides an online shop api.
- RegNow – Sell software and offer free downloads through RegNow. Provides pre-made shop templates (php, xml and Java)so you can create your own online download store simply by uploading the required software script.
Website Design Reference Pages
These are the pages I found most useful when learning html. I still refer back to them whenever I forget html tags and their corresponding css selectors:
- Cookwood – Very handy CSS and HTML reference. This compliments a book written by the site’s owner. The contents of the book is available at the Cookwood website. I use this site quite a lot.
- HTML.net – Beginners HTML and CSS guide. Very easy to follow.
- HTMLDog – An entertaining site tat teaches HTML and CSS in a very relaxed way. I highly recommend htmldog for for people who want to learn html.
- Tizag – Another useful guide to HTML and CSS. This one provides good, followable usage examples. Much better than the examples offered by w3c
May webmaster forums exist. Some are better than others. The best advice I can give you is that you join a few and see which ones are best for your needs. Second bit of advice: be careful with DigitalPoint, it’s trawled by scammers, advertisers and wannabes; some advice offered at DigitalPoint is really good but most of the posters are immature and very willing to mock new and innovative ideas as well as nick other content from other webmasters:
- WarriorForum – One of the best affiliate marketing advice forums I’ve seen.
My Favorite Host and Domain Registrars
Every webmaster has a preferred web host and domain registrar. Different people, different countries, different needs. I like these ones, although, overall, I prefer Hostgator for both domain registration and hosting, 123-Reg do put on some good registration deals. Webs provides free websites with paid upgrade opportunities:
- Namecheap for hosting and domains
- WP Service Masters
This article has been written as a very basic introduction to setting up a website. Its scope is only to point out a few considerations that beginners usually miss. I hope it’s been useful. If your aim is to develop an adult site then leave a message and I’ll offer some guidance.