So, you want a website, eh?

I’ve been doing websites a long time.  First ones I ever put online were back in the summer of 1995, almost 22 years ago now.  In all that time I get asked a lot about doing websites for people.  Those who know the Internet and know how it works have a handle on what that request actually means.  But most do not.  To that, I decided to write an article I’ve been meaning to do for awhile called “So, you want a website, eh?”  It lays out the various parts of what actually having an using a website comprise.  Partially because so many I run into don’t know this, but also so I can point to this and say “I’ve already answered that.  Please read this” (saving myself from explaining it yet again).  So here goes…

Here is a breakdown of the various parts of “having a website”.

Owning a Domain Name

The first thing you need is a domain name.  Unless you’re going with some sort of “group” thing like Blogspot or Tumblr, you need a domain name.   This blog runs off of the domain name joesiegler.blog – “.blog” is one of the newer top level domain names (or TLDs).  I used to use joe.siegler.net – but liked the .blog one better.

But however you use the domain name like that, it has to be registered by someone.  There’s a truckload of places around you can do this.  When I started with domain names, there was just a single registrar.  Network Solutions.  They’re still around, but an entire industry has popped up around them.   For awhile, I had everything at Network Solutions (also sometimes known as NSI).  I stayed there for ages, until I realized they were not the cheapest around – by far.  That’s still the case, although NSI has gotten better.  I moved to Godaddy for quite awhile, and that choice was driven solely by cost.  Godaddy routinely has coupon sales and discounts for renewals.   I was good with that, until I realized that Godaddy upsells the heck out of their other products.  Like *ALL THE TIME*.   They even would call my phone number to try and sell me other products.  When I was not interacting with them!   So I changed my account number with them from my cell phone to my Google Voice number, and then blocked them.  That annoyed the hell out of me, and was mostly behind my reason to leave Godaddy a couple of years ago.  One of my clients wanted their domains off Godaddy because of their CEO and elephant hunting, so there’s that as well.  But I wanted out because they wouldn’t shut up and leave me alone.

These days, I have all my domains now at Namecheap.  They don’t upsell you at all, and their registry is simple, and fast.  They don’t have the regular ongoing coupon sales and discounts like Godaddy does, but they occasionally have SUPER huge sales, so the combination balances itself out, and the lack of “nag” is huge for me.  That’s who I’m with, and if you need a domain name, check out Namecheap.

There are a truckload of domain registrars out there.  Some people (including Google) surprised me that they are one.  There’s a pretty huge list of them here if you’re so inclined to read about it.

Just buying a domain name once isn’t the end of it, though.  It is a yearly cost.  Every domain name registrar will allow you to register a domain for more than one year at a time.  In fact, that is encouraged, as if you have multiples, it is less hassle and you don’t have to think about it as much.  But it isn’t a cost you pay once and you’re done with.  It is a repeating cost, but how often that repeats is up to you.

One last thing.  There’s a controlling body who doles out the ability to be a registrar, and decides on new domain name extensions.  In the old days it was just .com, .net, & .org (plus ones you can’t get in the public like .gov, .mil, & .edu).  Now there’s a zillion of them.  That’s ICANN.  Icann stands for “The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers“.  No matter WHO you register a domain name, there’s a fee from ICANN for overhead.  Usually runs about 25 cents per domain name per year.  I’ve yet to run into a domain registrar who doesn’t pass that fee on to you.  There might be some who eat that, but I’ve not run into that.  One of the “costs of being on the Internet” that you can’t get out of.

Hosting the Domain

The next part comes in deciding where you will host the domain.  That’s generally called a “web host”.  There’s even more webhosts around then domain name registrars.  There’s a heck of a lot of them.  Google search for “webhosting”, and you’ll find a ton.  All claiming to be “the best”.   That is a HIGHLY subjective term, but there’s a few guidelines you can use to pick one.

  • Ask your friends – If you have friends who run websites, ask them who they use – and why.  If you have some friend who is running a mega huge site with millions of sites per month, what they use might be like shooting squirrels with a 357 magnum.  You can do it, but it’s way overkill.
  • Understand what you want – If you’re just starting out, you are not likely to need a super huge, mega site with multiple redundancies and various caches and content distribution.   You don’t want to UNDERBUY your hosting either.  That can be bad.   The big terms to look for are “shared” (lowest), “distributed” (better), and “dedicated” (the best, but the most expensive).  If you’re brand new, you can go with shared.  Distributed is what I use, but does require some back end tech knowledge to deal with.   I previously used to use dedicated, but determined my needs weren’t as great as that and went to distributed.

The host I use is called Linode.  These guys are quite good – 100% of their servers are all on SSD drives, which I knew was faster, but when I started using them, I was SHOCKED at how much faster SSD drives are over a traditional platter based hard drive.   No matter who you go with, choose SSD if it’s an option, it makes a world of difference.   Anyway, Linode gives you a a “virtual” dedicated server to play around with – you control the whole thing.  It functions like a dedicated server, but it really isn’t.

This is probably going to be the biggest cost of all of this going forward, depending on how much dough you throw at whoever puts the site together.  The cost for hosting is the biggest variable.   You might be tempted to try and save money and go cheap here, but this will also impact your site’s performance the greatest.   Godaddy offers some cheap hosting options, but this is very much a case of “get what you pay for”.   I would run screaming from any hosting option that involved Godaddy’s shared hosting.   Dedicated is the best performance, but the most expensive for sure.

If you’re looking for just something for a small blog/site, there are options like wordpress.com.  Wordpress is one of the most well known and best pieces of blogging software out there, and they have some decent options for hosting if you don’t care about your site being something like mysite.wordpress.com.   WordPress’ pay options aren’t that bad either, you can get away with a  cost of $50 a year and have your own domain name there, so if you’re thinking small, they could be an option.

But future expansion is something else that should be taken into account.  If you have big plans for the site, you might want to consider that from the start, and not buy too small, as it will hurt later in slowness of website, running out of space & bandwidth, etc…

Constructing the Website

This part basically comes down to one of two choices.  You do it yourself, or you pay someone to do it.

Doing it yourself isn’t as bad as it used to be in the old days when I started.  Most web hosts (WordPress, Godaddy, etc) have tools built in to get you up and running with a minimum amount of effort.  But these minimum amount of effort tools result in a website that looks like it was put together with a minimum amount of effort.   It is possible, but the sites that result from this method look well, “uninspiring”.    If you know something about computers and aren’t a total neophyte, you can put something together which will look acceptable, if not exciting.

More than likely you’ll need to pay someone to put the site together.  There’s no way I can tell you what this cost is, because it will depend on what the person doing it wants to charge you.   When someone asked me “Can you make a website for me”, I have these questions for them:

  • What do you want this to look like (in general)?
  • What do you want the website to do (features)?
  • What do you have planned for the future?
  • Ecommerce?

The third one there mostly goes into the next section, but you’d be amazed how many people want a website, but have no idea what they want on it.  I’ve done websites for people and when you deliver a work in progress, they say “Well, it doesn’t have x, y, z”.   I’ve learned to ask ahead of time.  Now if you’re paying someone to make site for a you, a lot of what you’re paying for is that person’s skill in putting it together.  However, that doesn’t mean it’s all on the creator.  The originator also has a role to play.   Say for example, someone who is in a business of plumbing parts wants a website, the person making it likely won’t know anything about these.  If you want a good, effective site, the person who wants it made needs to help the person making the site understand how the product in question is.   So when you pay someone to make a website for you, expect a lot of questions, unless of course the person making the site happens to know a lot about the website content themselves.

Ecommerce is a whole different ballgame.  Setting it up and running it will add to costs for sure, depending on how it is implemented.  Credit card processors can take a chunk of your sales, depending on how it is all set up.  Ecommerce can be a hidden cost for sure.

I haven’t done a website that doesn’t involve WordPress in a LONG time now.  It’s my defacto tool to use when building a website.  It’s free software, and you can install it on your own server for no cost (for the software).   It does require some knowledge about servers, directories, MySQL databases and the like, so self installation is not for everyone.  Some hosts have tools that will install WordPress for you on a single button.  I prefer to do it myself, but that’s me.  :)

This can be the expensive part, it can be the cheap part, it all depends on what you want, what your personal skill set is, and what someone might  charge you for it.

Ongoing Maintenance

OK, you’ve got your domain purchased.  You have hosting settled, and you have a site put together and online.  You’re done, right?   No.

You need to give some thought as to ongoing maintenance.  Websites that are set up and ignored die.  Nobody will care.  In order to make a site work long term, you need regular, ongoing content.   That is another thing you’ll either do yourself or pay someone to do.  Frequently the person who does ongoing maintenance did the site setup.  Doesn’t have to be that way, but I’ve done several sites that I was contracted to keep updates going on.

If you’re going to pay someone to do it, that’s another cost you need to factor into all of this.

Summary

So basically, “I want a website” has a ton of cost and creation issues that need to be addressed.   I hope this information is useful to some.  All of this is stuff I’ve discussed with anyone I’ve done a website to, or talked to about doing a site (even if I didn’t do it for them).

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