If you’re in the position to build a website for your business, you likely are quite lost when it comes to where to start. There are so many web hosting platforms out there…do you need to code the website yourself? Should you just hire a web design agency to deal with everything? What does “self-hosted” even mean?
Believe it or not, once you dig in and do some research, it’s not as complex as you think. In this post, I’ll break down everything you need to know when it comes to finding a platform to build your website on. Forget reading multiple posts on Google to figure out what’s going on – this post is all you’ll need!
*Note: this post contains an affiliate link, but they are only to products that I have used myself and wholeheartedly recommend. I may earn a small commission if you decide to purchase through my link.
Step 1: Figure Out What Software You Would Like To Build Your Website With
There are multiple options out there, I’ll just cover a few that I recommend for business owners/are most popular.
This is the one I build websites with for all my clients. It’s got great flexibility and scalability: the sky is the limit when it comes to features you want to build on the website. Cons are that it does take more effort to maintain. Particularly, it’s up to you to make sure you have the right security measures in place. If you have no time to ensure that all of your stuff is secure and in order, then I definitely recommend you at least hire a developer/agency to help you out with this. The last thing you want is to be panicking if something goes down – and trying to figure out everything out yourself.
Also, note that there’s a difference between wordpress.com and self hosted wordpress. WordPress.com has their own plans and you’d be using them as the host. The difference is that you’ll be paying something like $50 for the functionality you can get if you go self hosted (which costs as little as $2.95/month – more on this later in this post).
I started off building websites on Wix way back, and really enjoyed the freedom when it came to the design. It was kind of like making a digital collage or poster: you could drag any element anywhere and there were a lot of different design options. It’s kind of like the Canva of website creators. But as I delved further into the world of web development, I definitely found that WordPress is better when it comes to actual development freedom. Everything in Wix is restricted to the functionalities that they let you build out. This means you can’t really use code to build out certain things.
If you’re really set on doing a DIY website because you don’t have the funds yet to hire a professional, then going with Wix and using one of their templates is a good option. They make the website building process quite easy and understandable, and they’ll handle the technical stuff for you (so you don’t have to manage security and hosting files yourself).
If you’re looking to build an e-commerce website, Shopify is a great e-commerce platform to use. I’ve built some e-commerce websites on Shopify, and Woocommerce through WordPress, and can say that both are great options. Of course, Shopify is a bit more expensive, but the backend is easier to navigate (specifically, the e-commerce backend where you are tracking orders, managing products, etc.). However, if you’re looking to build a whole website on Shopify and make it customized, it’s hard to DIY because you will need to use code. Otherwise you will need to rely on a template. It will be hard for you to truly customize it in a way that makes it look different from the template.
Shopify does have a plan where you can integrate the Shopify e-commerce backend features, and then build the rest of the website on WordPress. I won’t go into the details of how to do that here (but if you’re not super techy, I recommend consulting with a design agency about this option).
Others (Webflow, Squarespace)
Webflow is a nice platform with a lot of design freedom and functionality. Plans are a bit pricey but from my experience building some websites on there, it’s a robust platform that I can recommend as well. A warning though: Webflow definitely has a bit of a learning curve, especially for people who are not designers. Their interface is designed in way that would be easier to pick up if you have some Adobe software experience. So when it comes to DIY, I wouldn’t say that Webflow is on top of my recommends.
I haven’t had too much experience with Squarespace, but from what I’ve seen, Squarespace is a good option as well. There are many beautiful and well-developed websites built through Squarespace. Their plans are a bit pricey though.
Step 2: Choosing Your Host
Now for step 2, I’m going to assume you’re going self hosted WordPress (since for Wix there’s no option to do self hosted, you’d just host your domain and website through them).
For self-hosted WordPress, you’ll need to find a web hosting service. Then you’ll install WordPress, the software you build your website on through. Now, I did a lottt of research when I first chose a web host to use. If you did a bit of research into this already, some of the “big names” you probably heard of right off the bat are Bluehost and Siteground. Perhaps WP Engine. I almost went with Bluehost because I saw so many bloggers promoting it. It was also listed on wordpress’s website as one of their hosting partners as well. But boy am I glad I did some more research and didn’t go with them.
First off, avoid any company owned by EIG. Just do a quick google search of EIG hosting companies and you can find a list of all of them (Bluehost, Hostgator, iPage, etc.). It’s the #1 thing you’ll hear a well-seasoned blogger or web design agency say if you ask them about hosting platforms.
Bluehost has had a plethora of horror stories: people having their website held hostage when they wanted to move, being charged money when they cancelled their plan, being charged upgrade fees when services should have come for free within their plan, etc. And the websites are slow too which is a big no-no. Avoid Bluehost at all costs.
GoDaddy is another one I see a lot – they’re overpriced too. They literally charge $99/year for a SSL certificate, which should be free. SSL certificates are essential because that’s what gives you the little “lock” icon you usually see on the left of any website link in your search bar. This also shows that your website is safe from attackers. Google is very particular about you having this as well – so basically, its a non-negotiable thing to have.
I also came across Dreamhost. They had super affordable plans, which I liked, but I didn’t like that I’d have to pay for each domain email (e.g. email@example.com).
Then I came across Greengeeks and was like, hmmm they’re really well priced, and their plan included everything I was looking for (free domain emails, free SSL certificate, free backups – super important as well – and unlimited databases, plus even more). But even better, Greengeeks was the only eco-friendly web hosting service out there. When you host with them, they’ll plant a tree AND they use eco-friendly data centers and servers AND they’ll match 3 times the energy they use through renewable energy credits (offsetting their energy footprint).
Top Factors To Consider When Choosing A Web Hosting Service
- Uptime is super important when it comes to a host: you don’t want your site randomly going down. I researched a comparison among the different hosts, and Greengeeks has a 99.9% uptime, so that’s really good!
- Backups: your host should ideally offer automatic backups so in the case something goes wrong, you’ll be able to restore your site easily.
- Security: make sure your host has security measures in place and secure data centers so your website won’t easily be compromised. Check their website to learn more about what they offer to protect the security of your website and hosting.
- CDN: this speeds up your website, so if your host offers free CDN, that’s definitely a great plus!
- Free domain emails: of course, because you’ll want to look professional with that branded email!
- Free SSL certificates: this secures your website and is crucial for e-commerce websites to ensure that nothing compromises payment processing. I touch on it earlier in this post as well.
I decided to test Greengeeks out, and haven’t looked back. They have a phenomenal customer service team, and I’ve since moved all my clients over to them.
So if you’re looking for a really good host, I’ll have to definitely give it to Greengeeks. Of course, do your own research to see what host works best for your needs (because I know, some companies have certain unique things they need in a web host), but be sure to look into Greengeeks! Their most basic plan is $2.95/month, which is perfect for most small business owners (if you need to scale it’s super easy to upgrade to their other plans).
There you have it! An overview of the main two decisions you’ll have to make when it comes to building your first website: choosing what platform to build your website through, and then the web hosting service itself.
If you have specific questions you’d like to run by a pro before you make your final decision, feel free to shoot me an email firstname.lastname@example.org! I’ll be happy to help out.