There’s no way around it.
To get started making money online, you are going to need a website.
No if’s, and’s, or but’s.
Maybe your plan is to set up a bunch of sweet niche sites or a more in-depth personal blog. Or perhaps you simply need a site to sell your drop-shipped products.
Whatever your online aspirations, getting a website up and running is the most important first step. It can also be the most intimidating for some.
This guide will show you everything you need to know to set up your first site cheaply and, most importantly, easily.
Don’t worry: I’m not going to throw anyone in the deep end first and talk about anything too advanced. Marketing, SEO optimization, website architecture; all this stuff will come later. We’re just setting up the foundations for your new site now and getting it ready to be a huge success.
Let’s not waste any time though. Here’s what you need to do first when setting up a brand new website.
Before starting your website
Let’s assume that you already have a niche picked out for your site.
If not, take two steps back and jot down some ideas. This is an important phase that mustn’t be overlooked – it’s going to determine how you use the site after all!
If you know what your website is going to be about, then get excited…
“Because in less than sixty minute’s time, you will have your website.”
Now, you’re going to need three things over the course of this process…
- A debit/credit card and a budget of around $100
- A computer or large tablet (not a phone!)
- Your favorite beverage
I’m going to walk you through this step by step, screenshot by screenshot.
After you finish following these steps you’ll have a beautiful website and you’ll also understand the basics of how your website works.
Choosing Your Domain Name
Our domain at Ditch your Desk is DitchyourDesk.com. Facebook’s domain is Facebook.com.
Depending on which niche you’ve chosen, you’ll want a domain name that reflects it.
For example, if you’re making an affiliate site that sells camera accessories, you’ll want your domain name to sound appropriate. Including photographic terms, like shutter, or aperture, or click, or focus would all be good ideas.
Next, we need to make sure your domain is actually available. This means we need to be sure no one is already using your domain name.
There are a couple of places you can search for and buy new domain names. GoDaddy is one widely used example.
When using dedicated registrars though you will need to pay for the domain name, usually in the form of a flat rate paid yearly. Whilst rates are usually very low, you can actually choose a domain name for FREE if you do so through your hosting provider. For that reason, it might be best to make sure the domain is available first and then wait to claim it using your hosting provider instead.
How to choose a good domain name
Here are a few things to keep an eye on when picking a domain name…
Don’t complicate it (and avoid numbers and hyphens)
How annoying would this be?
“Hey check out my site! It’s no9-5foru.com! That’s spelt n-o-number-nine-hyphen-number-five-f-o-r-letter-u.com!’
Wayyy too complicated.
Do yourself and your future audience a favor – no numbers, no hyphens, no shortened versions of words (you/u), no capital letters, and no slang. You want your domain to be simple and clear.
Keep it short
Simplicity is key. Any domains over three or four words should be reconsidered. You want to convey the message of the business in as few words as possible.
Think of www.thebrokebackpacker.com.
Simple, easy to remember and the message is immediately apparent. There’s no guessing how it’s spelled or debating what kind of content you’ll find on that site.
Don’t pigeonhole yourself (and think big in scope)
Often the path of our online endeavors will change. It’s almost a guarantee. Life will throw your curveballs, your niche/market will evolve and your personal interests will change.
So the best way to set yourself up for this? Choose a domain that isn’t too specific. You want to settle on a name that doesn’t tie you down and that will give you some room for flexibility.
Let’s say you want to start a pizza-review blog based in New York, so you name it nyslice.com
Which is all fine and dandy…
Until you move.
Then you’re fucked.
Then you have to decide whether you have to continue with this name, re-brand, or sell the site.
So instead, do yourself a favor, and choose something that is more flexible.
We see this problem a lot in the travel blogging niche. Someone names their site vietnamtraveler.com – and it’ll be a great first year! But then after a year eating Vietnamese food, the VietnamTraveler now wants to venture to other parts of the world…
The lesson? Instead of tying yourself down, give yourself a domain name that is malleable. You want something that can adapt and evolve as your brand will adapt and evolve.
Hustle Note: An idea worth considering is just to go with www.yourname.com. While the domain won’t reflect your niche, as your site grows, it will give you an enormous edge in personal branding. But with pros come cons. A website named after you will be very difficult to sell further down the line.
As Bruce Lee said – be water.
Choosing Your Hosting Provider
You might be asking yourself: “what is hosting?”
Let’s make this real simple – I like to think of hosting like paying rent.
There are ways around paying rent in the real world. Sure, you could go deep into the woods, chop down trees, collect lumber and learn how to build a house from scratch. Similarly, rather than renting your website space from a hosting provider, you could look into building your own hosting servers but hell, that would be a huge mission.
Rather than getting bogged down yourself, you should rent your space from an already established hosting provider. Then, you can jump straight to all your lucrative online business ideas and the journey of becoming an entrepreneur.
Think of your hosting company like your landlord – so Now we just have to find a landlord…
Best Hosting Companies
There are tons of hosting companies out there offering all sorts of packages.
But out of all of the hosting options, we recommend going with Bluehost. Here’s why.
There are four things we look for in a hosting provider.
- Affordability – a digestible price.
- Speed – a slow site kills traffic.
- Customer service – you can thank me later for this one.
- Full package – offering more than just hosting, but other perks like choosing a domain name, a website theme, and more.
Bluehost is our #1 hosting recommendation because Bluehost does all four.
I have been using Bluehost independently and on the same projects for years. They provide quality hosting at the cheapest price on the web.
How cheap? Try $2.95 a month.
I know – $2.95 a month to run your business cheap is basically nothing. But Bluehost is more than just their low price.
Far and away the best part of Bluehost is their customer service. Anytime I had issues, all I did was make a call, and the problem was quickly resolved.
To be fair, there are a lot of good hosting providers out there, such as WPEngine, Kinsta, and Siteground. Each of these has their own pros and cons: WPEngine and Kinsta offer unrivaled performance, but are very expensive; Siteground is more affordable but is impossible to use for those not versed in server-side operations.
If this is your first online project then picking Bluehost is a no-brainer. It’s affordable, offers good performance, customer service, and more. Win, win, win.
Setting Up Hosting
If you’ve chosen BlueHost as your provider – as you ought to have done – then the next step is setting it up.
Full disclosure: setting up hosting can be tedious. There’s a lot of calibration that needs to be done.
But with BlueHost, the process is much more straightforward.
Step #1 – Click the button!
If you haven’t already, click the button below to get started.
You should be taken to this screen.
Click the green button that says ‘Get Started Now’
Step #2 – Pick your plan
You should then be taken to this screen, where you can select your monthly plan for Bluehost…
If you are planning on taking your website to the next level and are interested in the juicy extras, the prime option at $5.95 a month is completely worth it!
But if you aren’t sure or this is your first site – don’t worry. The $2.95 plan has everything you’ll need (and you can always upgrade later).
Click the green ‘Select’ button for the plan you want for your business.
Step #3 – Pick a domain name!
You should now be at this screen…
Which means you now get to pick your domain name!
If you know the domain name you already want, go ahead and skip to the next step! If you don’t know what your domain name is yet, here’s some helpful tips.
Step #4 – Gotta pay!
Once you have chosen your domain name, you should be taken here…
Please set up your payment information with a debit or credit card.
Step # 5 – Choose a password
Now you should be looking at this screen.
…and create your password! You’ll know you’ve chosen a good password when you click the blue ‘Next’ button and see this screen.
Step #6 – Picking a Theme on Bluehost
If you click ‘log in’, you will now see this screen.
You are going to choose a theme on Bluehost, but don’t worry which one you pick – it’s only temporary. We are going to easily change it a bit further down the line.
For now, pick whichever you like and head to the next screen.
Step #7 – Installing WordPress
Once you see this – you can start building your site! Click the blue button to get acquainted with your new best friend, WordPress.
You now should be looking at a screen like this.
Click the blue ‘Launch’ button, which will then show you this screen…
Type in your site title and go ahead and give it a bit of a description. Anything will do. Don’t worry about making it perfect – you can easily change it later.
Click ‘Next Step’ and BOOM! WordPress is now installed!
Go ahead and click ‘Log in to WordPress’.
YOU DID IT!
Last note on BlueHost: from now on, you’ll have little interaction with Bluehost. Remember, they are like your landlord. They collect your rent, but mostly they leave you alone (unless you need help with something technical).
By now, we should have a business name (domain) and our office (hosting)! Yay! We now have a legitimate website.
But wait. Our website is empty.
Don’t worry, this is all a part of the process. You see, Bluehost only rents you the room. They are a landlord, not an interior designer.
Now you have to decorate. That’s what a CMS is for. A CMS – short for “content management system” – will give you a free hand in designing your new site. It helps decorate and organize everything.
There are a lot of different CMSs available. Drusel, Squarespace, and Joomla are all examples.
But there is one CMS that almost everyone knows and loves: WordPress.
This is, without question, one of the best and most popular CMSs out there, and it is especially good for new website owners.
While it can come with a bit of a learning curve, WordPress is an absolute godsend. It has simplified the blogging process and currently powers nearly 30% of the world’s most popular websites.
Want to take your business to the next level?
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Choosing a WordPress Plan
WordPress has many different plans – which one you choose depends on how much control you want over your site and what you’ll be using it for.
The Personal Plan is the most basic and costs $4/month. But it’s just that: basic. I recommend to anyone considering the Personal plan to spend the extra $4 and get the Premium Plan for $8/month.
Once you’ve had your website for a while and have had some success – and I know you will – then you might want to consider upgrading to the Professional Plan. It costs $25/month and offers a range of extra features, most importantly the ability to add plugins. These extensions are super useful and will help take your game to the next level.
- If you’re just looking for a simple site that you can use to show off some of your work, go for the Personal or Premium Plans.
- If you’re looking to start a serious blog or small business, get the Professional Plan.
WordPress actually offers a free plan but IMO it’s completely useless because of ADS. WordPress will display ads on your site, that is unless you upgrade to Personal (very clever WP…)
If you’re using BlueHost, then you should’ve been prompted to set up WordPress already. That’s all there is to it.
If you’re not using BlueHost, then check with whichever hosting provider you’re using. Almost every single one offers some sort of tutorial about how to do so. The process is usually quick and painless.
STOP: Do you have an SSL certificate yet? BlueHost and most other hosting providers should provide you with one automatically. Make sure you have one as they are mandatory these days.
Choose a Theme
You have now completely finished setting up your first website and can get to the fun stuff – making it look awesome. At this point, you’ll need to choose a theme.
Themes are what makes your site look good. Basically they’re like premade templates.
Remember what your site looked like before? Did you notice how empty it was?
Apply a theme and BOOM all of a sudden your site is starting to look like a real one! There might be headers, footers, a sidebar, boxes, forms, images, anything! It really depends on which theme you use.
There are hundreds, if not thousands of themes available in WordPress’ Theme Library. Many of them are free and totally usable.
Others are premium i.e. they cost money to use but these usually offer additional features that will help you design the site.
My suggestion: just pick a theme that looks interesting and start playing around with it.
Don’t like the theme you’ve installed or what you’ve done with it? No problem! You can install a brand new theme at any time.
To set up your theme, simply login into your site’s WordPress account and find the Appearance panel in the sidebar on the left-hand side. Under the Themes submenu, you can find and choose the theme you want (make sure to activate it). Under the Customize submenu, you can edit the theme further and start to really make it shine.
There are also submenus for Menu, Widgets, AMP, and Customize CSS. You shouldn’t have to worry about these now. Set up the menu and widgets when you’re ready. Only add AMP and CSS if you know what these are and are comfortable using them.
Check out ThemeForest for even more amazing WordPress themes!
Want to build your own theme?
Look at you! Sounds like you’re ready to really take your site to the next level!
Let’s be honest: there are some downsides to using an “off-the-shelf” theme. Despite there being some very sexy premade themes out there, you won’t have total control over them.
If you’re looking for an easy way to have more control over your site, then try using a theme builder!
Theme builders give you way more options to customize your site. They are separate from the theme itself and usually work alongside it.
Popular theme builders include Thrive and Beaver Builder – but if there’s one that stands totally above the rest it’s Elementor.
Elementor is super easy to use and very powerful. It uses drag-and-drop blocks to create sexy landing pages and templates for various parts of your theme. It has almost everything that a webmaster could want and more.
Elementor can either be used for free or unlocked for a yearly rate. Many people get by using the free version plus some third-party add-on plugins.
If you want ultimate control though, invest in the premium version. It’s $50/year for one site, which is a very reasonable amount.
Insider tip: once you’ve gotten a feel for Elementor and are comfortable using it, try to optimize your site for speed. Elementor can cause slower load times but with a little fine tuning you can avoid the worst.
Check out this amazing article for some ways to speed up your site.
Now that you have your site and a means to populate it with beautiful content, just one thing remains: populating your site with pages and content!
First, make sure that your site has at least a bit of branding. Create a logo, assemble a color scheme, and choose a dope font (font is super important IMO). Having some branding will help you focus the site and make it more recognizable to readers.
If you need some branding inspiration, I find that looking at your competitors and what they’re doing helps. Emulate them if you like but don’t copy them exactly (be unique!).
After you have your branding locked down, start building the key pages of your site. At the very least, you’ll need a homepage, an about page, a contact page, and blog landing page (if you’re starting a blog).
Your homepage is like your storefront: it should serve as an introduction to your site and direct readers to key areas.
Once you have your pages set up and the groundwork laid, then it’s time to start creating content.
People, this is one of the most important parts of owning a site: by adding content you’re making it grow!
Too many people start a site and then never touch it again. Predictably, these sites never get far.
If you want your site to succeed, you need to nurture it!
Create content, write articles, make videos, add products; whatever it takes to make your site bigger and better! This is one of the hardest parts of owning a site but if you can nail content creation, you’re bound to succeed.
Over the course of this article, we’ve covered everything that you need to do to start a new site, including:
- Choosing a domain name
- Setting up hosting
- Installing a CMS
- Selecting a theme
- Populating your site with content
If you’ve followed everything I’ve talked about up to this point, you should have a working site! Congratulations!
Being a website owner isn’t always easy – there’s a lot of work that goes into it beyond what we’ve covered in this post.
But if there’s one that I want you, my gallant reader, to take away from this post, it’s that starting a site is EASIER than you might think. All it takes is a bit of effort and some cash upfront to get the ball rolling.
And that little bit of effort and cash you invested at the beginning? Those could pay off big in the future if and when your site succeeds.
The rest, folks, is in your hands.
**Yay for transparency! Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. This means that if you make a purchase, Ditch Your Desk will earn a small commission at no extra cost to you**