Creating Your Website Tutorial | Part 1: Choosing A Platform
Hi! You're at Part 1 of this series. Easy navigation for reference:
Part 1 | Choosing A Platform (📍You're here!)
Part 3 | Crafting Your Content (Coming soon)
The finance bro is a creative chef. The software engineer is a talented flautist. The designer is an amateur astrologist. George W. Bush paints.
Personal websites are not just for "creatives." Regardless of where life finds you, we're all born & bred to create in areas beyond our professional vocations. So how do you explore the fullness of your voice? How do you expand on the breadth and depth of your experiences, dreams, and goals beyond a listless resumé/LinkedIn or casual Instagram?
By creating your own canvas. Via your own website.
After 5 years, 5 platforms, and countless iterations of both personal & professional web projects, I've put together a 3-part guide for *anyone and everyone* to build his/her own website. No design or coding background needed, just a drive to do something in this world. The exciting part: it's fun and satisfying and easy given the plethora of tools out there. The not-so-glamorous part: it's a marathon of unfulfilling drafts and a eternal work in progress.
But no matter, this 3-part tutorial will equip you with the solid foundation to tackle the small small issue of who you are, in digital format, for the world to see. Bon voyage.
Part 1 | Choosing a Platform
Part 1 covers the logistics of getting everything up and running. We'll go over 5 key elements:
Purpose will drive all three parts of the tutorial because Purpose. Is. Key. You first need to define what it is that you want to create. This then drives every decision you make, whether development or design.
Is this a professional portfolio to showcase your work to recruiters? Is it a blog to share your expertise or experiments with friends? What kind of work—projects that need explaining or images that speak for themselves? What kind of expertise—visual or verbal? Is it all of the above?
Then, what kind of content do you have? What display formats would best serve it—tables, gallery slideshows, inventive interactive elements? What functionalities do you need—email & form integration, custom coding control, e-commerce capability?
Not to worry, you're going to develop and hone your needs as you look into the right platforms to channel them. But developing your initial ideas as much as you can will only help you, so forecast your content types and structures to the best of your ability.
When you think of creating a website, you think about how it looks and how to build. But what determines this is structure and cost. Each platform has different pricing models, web hosting costs, domain costs, photo hosting costs, and template costs—just to name a few. How much do I spend? What's worth it? If money is a concern, this rule of thumb has never failed me:
Upgrade only after your current platform begins to limit you.
A photographer (Thanks Anh!) once advised me this when I was thinking about buying a new lens. It's now my benchmark for all creative investments, from photo equipment to web platforms to musical gear. Starting with the *aspirational new-fangled* platform will waste your money in the beginning if you're not even utilizing all its functionalities (beyond its pretty looks). Once you start running into significant roadblocks in displaying your work, that's when you know you have milked blogger-or-wix-etc to its fullest. To help with deciding, below are the top platform players across the Low, Medium, and High Budget ranges:
These are great starter platforms & the cheapest options since the only elements you're potentially paying for are theme & a custom domain (estimated costs below).
If you want to start on $0 and experiment around, Blogger & Weebly offer free versions with their subdomains (blogspot.com & weebly.com).
Blogger (Blogging only, would not rec for showcasing work)
$0 for hosting, $12/yr for third party domain, $40+ for good template
Good fit if you (a) just need a very simple template you don't plan on touching or (b) are willing to get your hands dirty with at least basic HTML/CSS to make style/structure edits. As an example, I broke down each element of my old blog's homepage below.
I used an intro Codeacademy course to learn the basic structure of code and then googled specific coding needs as they came up. There are *tons* of tutorial blogs as well as Github open source directories. Another plus here: great integration with Google Domains & Google Analytics.
$5+/mon for hosting, $12/yr for third party domain on non-domain inclusive plan
Friendly UX, drag-and-drop building. Good starter platform.
$0 for hosting on Weebly subdomain or $8+/mon
Friendly UX, drag-and-drop building. Caveat—free plan doesn't allow connecting your own domain.
Wordpress.org (*not .com)
$4-8/mon for third party hosting, $12/yr for third party domain, $40+ for good template
A classic. You can customize pretty much any element, and there are many free plugin functionalities (similar to extensions for Chrome) available to add. But an added factor—you need to decide on and set up a paid monthly web host, e.g. Bluehost or SiteGround.
$89 one-time fee, built atop Wordpress
Not a platform itself but a designer-oriented portfolio frame, based on Wordpress. Started by Tobias van Schneider, a reputable design industry voice. Modern aesthetics, full customization ability, and cheaper in the long run vs. Squarespace if you're want to/willing to put more effort into customizing.
$12/mon for hosting (domain included), $6/mon first yr for students
Pioneered the combo of modern aesthetic + UX simplicity. Another plus: ability to easily rotate through multiple themes over the years as your work evolves (you can work on new template drafts while your existing site stays live).
$6-12/mon for hosting (domain included)
I've never used Format, but themes/pricing look imitative of Squarespace.
Cool layouts, more customization.
Many of the aforementioned platforms include custom domains with their paid plans, but it's worth looking into non-platform specific domain hosting if your situation warrants it. The convenience of a centralized domain host could be worth absorbing the sunk cost of an included domain if you anticipate ever (a) switching platforms or (b) owning multiple websites (especially if across multiple platforms). Keep in mind there is a transfer process that can potentially run into complications, though it's been manageable in my experience.
If this situation applies to you—my process started with comparing pricing & support offered across different platforms (Go Daddy, Namecheap, etc). I then decided on Google Domains for the competitive(ish) pricing, easy management platform, security and company credibility, and support (e.g. during the domain transfer process).
Bandwidth and storage: two very important words if you're displaying visual assets. Many platforms now offer unlimited bandwidth/storage (another factor to consider when choosing), but if not, you'll want to find a separate place to host your pictures so you're not lagging up your site. Aka:
Higher quality images = larger data file = takes up more bandwidth (the volume of info an internet connection can handle per unit of time) = slower load time.
Another perk of third party image hosting: Organization. If you're batch uploading pictures for blog posts and want to easily rearrange photos within a post, it's helpful to have your pictures stored in albums on a site like Flickr, 500px, Photobucket, etc. (Beware pricing plans.) You then copy paste the HTML code directly into your blog post and voila!
But—(bear with me, tech is an ever-changing industry) with all the internet advancements over the years, connections now are much more robust than when I started blogging years ago. So if you're (a) not blogging and uploading tons of pictures and (b) too lazy to prioritize this, it likely won't make a *huge* difference anymore.
Google Analytics. Find your Tracking ID, set it up, now, asap, ok good. If you want to grow, make money, make sure your mom isn't the only one checking you out—this *free* resource is a gold mine. You'll have to dig for the nuggets, so that's another beast for another time.
Last Rule: Just Start.
There's no perfect platform, so make a calculated jump, and make something. You're not tied to anything, and the best fit will evolve to reflect your personal growth. Switch platforms, try new templates (I redo it semi-yearly), change domain hosts, and shell out the bucks when it's time. And have fun.
Part 3 | Crafting Your Content (Coming soon)
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