Step #1 – Make a List of Features You’ll Need
As a first step, you should write down a list of features that you know for sure that your website would need. Things like contact forms, search functionality and how complex will these need to be, shopping cart functionality, forums or threads, social media integration, etc. More often than not, this list will be incomplete, but it will help you on the next step.
Step #2 – Choose a Website Builder / Platform
Once you have an idea what features your website needs, it’s time to pick the platform in which all the features can be implemented. If you want a simple personal website, something like a blog, you can choose a blogging platform like WordPress, Ghost, Serendipity, etc. If you are planning on starting an eCommerce website you might go with Magento, osCommerce, Joomla VirtueMart, WooCommerce, etc. For a forum vBulletin, phpBB or BuddyPress would be a great choice.
Do some research, if you came across a website that has the functionalities or some of the functionalities you need, look it up with tools like http://guess.scritch.org, which will tell you what framework or CMS is used on that particular site.
There might be cases when something that you want in your website is not implemented in any of the website builders or their plugins or themes. In that case, you should pick the website builder that meets most of your needs, and hire a developer to develop the custom feature or features you need.
Top CMS Website Builders
There are a lot of website builders out there, which can help even a non-technical person to create professionally looking and well-performing websites. The so-called CMSes or Content Management Systems have seen a great deal of development during the years, and today, they do much more than just managing content. Almost all of them can create great content, handle media files, products, custom forms, and of course simple HTML pages like articles or blog posts.
There are many CMS systems because there is a great demand for them, most of them are free, so you can try out a couple of them, but there are three CMSes that stood the test of time: WordPress, Drupal and Joomla.
WordPress started out as a simple blogging platform, then it became a full-blown CMS, and today, thanks to its wide support and huge community, it’s THE de facto content management system. Over 24% of the websites use WordPress as their CMS of choice, which is understandable since WordPress is free and open source, it’s easy to use, it’s SEO friendly, it can help you create any type of website and handles any type of media, and it’s also secure.
WordPress is written in the PHP language and uses MySQL as its main database. There are a lot of plugins and themes for WordPress, some of them are free and can be downloaded from wordpress.org, while premium themes are priced anywhere between $1 and $100.
With these plugins, you can turn a WordPress blog into an eCommerce (WooCommerce) site, into a forum (BuddyPress) or into pretty much anything really. A lot of premium themes come with website builders either incorporated or with a plugin like VisualComposer, which allows anybody to create a website just via drag-and-drop, without any coding being necessary.
WordPress has a huge community behind it, so if you get stuck anywhere you will be able to find help pretty quickly on StackOverflow or WordPress forums. Also, if you need something which involves custom developing, there are lot of WordPress developers out there which are familiar with the core WordPress and they can extend it as needed.
Another great benefit of WordPress is that it can be installed on any hosting account (shared, VPS, dedicated, etc.) and many reputable hosting companies offer WordPress optimized hosting, which has WordPress pre-installed and includes WordPress management (automatic updates, free hosting and design support, free themes, etc.), and other tools for making your WordPress site faster (e.g. content delivery network) and more secure.
Drupal started its journey in 2009 as a CMS, today, however, it’s more of an Application Framework than just a CMS. Similar to WordPress, it can be extended with plugins or so-called Modules, and its look and feel can be customized with themes. There are free modules that you can install from the management interface, also you can buy premium themes for it or hire a web designer to create a custom theme for you.
It is considered more secure than may other CMSes, including WordPress, and the security team behind Drupal always respond swiftly and promptly to any security related bugs.
Around 3% of the websites use Drupal as their CMS or Application Framework and Drupal proudly advertises this. Many sites such as the Economist’s site or The White House’s website is built using Drupal.
It’s believed that Drupal has a steeper learning curve than WordPress, but once accustomed to it, it becomes a superior in terms of flexibility and performance than many other CMSes. Drupal is considered a more robust and faster CMS, it has native support for page caching and a lot of performance-oriented modules like Memcached, Boost, APC, different CDNs and even MongoDB, etc.
You can easily scale a website build with Drupal to handle millions of requests a month without any major changes, this means that you will always have room for improvement to squeeze a bit more out of it pretty easily.
Joomla is an Open Source CMS, its development started back in 2005, so it’s a well established and stable project. About 3.5% of the websites currently use Joomla as their CMS. It’s a bit higher than Drupal’s numbers, but it’s pretty small compared to WordPress.
Being a CMS, you can build any type of website with Joomla, and if the core CMS does not have the features that you need, you can extend its functionality with Components, Modules or Plugins and customize its appearance with Templates. Like any other major CMS, it has support for Language files as well to help translating it to any language. If you plan on creating a multi-language website, you should know that most of the Components, Plugins and Modules are already translated to many other languages and oftentimes, you can download the language files for free.
The Joomla terminology can be a bit strange when it comes the extensions, so here is a small example what is the difference between them. A Component is considered to be a major extension, like for example VirtueMart, which is a shopping cart system, is a Component. A Module would be something that displays information, more like a widget, this could be a Login module, Latest news module, etc. It’s focused more on the front end of the website. A Plugin is something that doesn’t necessarily change the look and feel of a Joomla website, but instead modifies its core functionality and they are associated with events and triggers in the core Joomla. An example of a plugin would be a Search plugin, which might provide a different set of results or more filters than the standard search.
If you are planning on creating an eCommerce website, then you should especially consider Joomla with its VirtueMart component. It’s a well thought out shopping cart system used by many websites. It can be further extended with shipping methods, custom products, payment providers, etc.
Step #3 – Choose a Professional Design
The great thing about site builders and CMSes like WordPress, Joomla or Drupal it’s that you don’t need to be a hard-core programmer to create a site. You also don’t need to be a designer either to create a professional-looking website. Ready-made templates or themes will allow you to choose and apply the design you want.
Free themes are available for all the CMSes discussed above. The WordPress repository includes multiple free templates for various types of websites (blogs, corporate, etc.). Free themes and templates are available for Joomla and Drupal sites as well, albeit WordPress has a larger selection of free templates.
While free templates are a good starting point, they may not support certain features that you need, and they may not be responsive, which is an absolute must in a mobile-first world. This is where premium templates come in that are available to buy on platforms like themeforest.net, which is populated with amazing, mobile-ready templates for any CMS.
Premium templates also come with updates and support, which may not be available with free themes.
Step #4 – Choose a Good Domain Name
This might sound easy, and it is in some sense if you are lucky and your domain name is free or up for sale. In the .com TLD there are over 120 million registered domains, chances are pretty big that your pick has already been registered by somebody, and then you can choose another TLD (Top Level Domain) like .net, .org, .pro etc, or pick another name.
Once you’ve picked a domain name, you should choose a web host and check if they offer free domain registration with their hosting, chances are that if you pick a plan for 1 year or more they will provide a free domain, which you will own, and if for whatever reason you may want to switch hosting providers, you will be able to transfer the domain name as well.
Step #5 – Choose a Reliable Web Host
Now that you’re ready to launch your website, you need a reliable hosting provider to make your site available to your visitors or prospective customers. Since a web host has the potential of making or braking or site, you need to choose carefully. Likewise, choosing the hosting plan that fits your needs is also crucial for the success of your website. Here are some things to consider when choosing a web host:
- Uptime & Reliability: Choose a hosting provider with a proven track record of high availability and good performance. Extended downtimes, slowly loading pages will drive away your visitors, and prevent you from gaining ground in search engines.
- Hosting Plan Variety: a hosting provider that is limited to offering a single type of hosting plan (e.g. shared hosting) may not be a good choice if you’re in the business of growing your site. Choose a hosting provider with multiple types of scalable hosting plans, so when the time comes to go big, you can seamlessly upgrade without having to switch hosts.
- Features and Pricing: look for a hosting provider that offers all the features you need (free domain, content delivery network, free backups, cPanel, SSH access, malware protection, etc.) and never decide based on pricing alone. Both prices and features vary from provider to provider, so make sure to do a little research to find the hosting provider that meets all or most of your requirements.
- Support and User-friendliness: Many hosting providers are not geared towards beginners and don’t do much hand-holding, so if you have no experience with hosting, make sure to choose a beginner-friendly hosting provider. 24/7 support is also very important, since problems can appear anytime and you will want them resolved swiftly.
Once you’ve found the hosting provider to go with, the next step is to choose the hosting type your website needs. Most full-featured hosting providers will offer the following main types of hosting:
Shared hosting is a hosting type where the resources are shared among multiple websites hosted on the same server. This setup can potentially cause performance issues, when certain sites use up too much resources, but it helps hosting providers keep prices low for customers that need to host low-resource websites. Shared hosting is suitable for small and medium-sized websites with a low traffic load.
Some shared hosting plans come with unlimited resources (bandwidth, storage, hosted domains, email accounts, etc.), which means that you are not charged based on the resources you use up, but it doesn’t mean that these plans are not capped at a certain limit. Most often than not, however, you will run out of memory and CPU before you go over the bandwidth or storage limit.
Because shared hosting is so widespread, it’s also very competitive, and hosting providers will include lots of freebies to make their plans appealing to customers. Thus, you can get a free domain registration, free backups, free templates, free advertising credits, free drag and drop site builder, and many other perks with your shared hosting account.
Unlike shared hosting plans, virtual private servers offer dedicated resources that are guaranteed for each website. Like shared hosting, virtual hosting accounts exist alongside each other on the same server, albeit in fewer numbers, and are managed separately, so one’s activity has no bearing on the activity of the other.
VPS plans are great for any website that needs dedicated resources, better performance and security. VPS hosting is usually available in unmanaged and managed variants, it comes with root access, and allows users to customize the VPS environment (run custom applications, install software, etc.), something that is not possible with shared hosting accounts. On VPS account, you can also host content that may not be allowed on shared hosting accounts (e.g. video content).
VPS plans are suitable for those who need dedicated resources for their website and more control over their hosting accounts.
Dedicated hosting is an entire server, whose resources are dedicated entirely for your website. It’s the hosting that packs the biggest performance punch and reliability for your website. It’s also the most expensive hosting plan, preferred by businesses or professionals that need to run complex, resource-intensive applications, or want to host high-traffic websites or multiple websites.
Dedicated hosting is suitable for high-traffic eCommerce sites that process a lot of credit card transactions or businesses that need to store sensitive business data in a fail-safe and highly secure environment. Dedicated plans are also available in managed and unmanaged variants.
Cloud hosting is a highly scalable and powerful hosting environment that relies on the power of an entire network of interconnected servers. It’s decentralized, on-demand, and pay-as-you-go nature is why many businesses choose cloud hosting.
If you or your business plan on running highly complex applications that need enormous computing power and scalability, cloud hosting can handle these needs. Cloud hosting is also impervious to malfunctions such as data centers going down (other data centers will take up the slack) and can seamlessly handle traffic spikes without any disruptions to your website’s performance.
Cloud hosting allows their users to scale up and down according to their website’s need, thus, eliminating superfluous expenditures and easily managing costs.
Looking for a web host for your website? Read our review of BlueHost to see if it’s the host for you.
We Recommend BlueHost
BlueHost has been an important presence in the hosting landscape since 2003. Today, the company operates under the umbrella of the web hosting conglomerate Endurance International Group along with other famous hosting brands like HostGator.
Among BlueHost’s wide range of hosting services, WordPress specific plans are some of the most popular ones, so much so that BlueHost is recommended by WordPress.org as the best hosting for WordPress sites.
BlueHost offers Linux-based hosting and plans come with the industry-leading cPanel control panel. They offer support and one-click installation for several open-source CMSes including Drupal, Joomla, and of course WordPress.
Plans & Features
BlueHost’s hosting services include multiple plans for each type of hosting. Shared hosting plans start at $2.75/month, and include cPanel, a free domain name, unmetered bandwidth, hosting for unlimited sites, and unmetered storage with some of the plans.
Prices for managed WordPress hosting plans range between $19.99 and $49.99 per month depending on the resources your website needs. WordPress optimized plans include an enhanced cPanel, SiteLock CDN and security, free SSL certificates, dedicated backups, and 30-day money-back guarantee.
Those launching an eCommerce site with WordPress and WooCommerce, can check out BlueHost’s WooCommerce hosting plans, which include WooCommerce pre-installed, an SSL certificate and dedicated IP, unmetered bandwidth, unmetered storage and unlimited email account and storage with certain plans. WooCommerce plans start at $6.95/month and go as high as $12.95/month.
Those who want to enjoy the flexibility and power of cloud hosting, can opt for one of BlueHost’s cloud hosting plans, which feature premium hardware and low density servers, varnish caching layers and global content delivery network. Prices range between $6.95/month and $15.95/month, and some plans feature unlimited domain hosting, unmetered bandwidth and storage, unlimited email accounts and email storage, 6 GB RAM, dedicated IP, SSL certificate, Domain Privacy, Site Backup and Restore, etc.
BlueHost virtual private servers are built from the ground using SSD storage and start at $19.99/month for a standard plan (2 cores CPU, 30 GB SSD storage, 2 GB RAM, unlimited bandwidth, 1 free domain, 1 IP address, and 30-day money-back guarantee) and go as high as $59.99/month for the Ultimate plan, which packs 4 cores CPU, 120 GB SSD storage, 8 GB RAM, unlimited bandwidth, 1 domain for free, 2 IP addresses for free and 30-day money-back guarantee.
Dedicated hosting is also available at BlueHost with RAID storage and instant provisioning. Dedicated hosting plans start at $79.99/month and go as high as $119.99/month. You can get a dedicated server with up to 4 cores CPU, 1 TB mirrored storage, 16 GB RAM, 15 TB bandwidth, 1 free domain, 5 IP addresses for free, and 30-day money-back guarantee.
BlueHost offers in-house customer support 24/7 via live chat, phone and email ticketing system. Specialized support for WordPress and other CMSes is also available.
BlueHost can handle the hosting needs of any website you want to build, be it with WordPress, Drupal, Joomla or other content management system. You can start small and go big, since BlueHost plans are easy to upgrade and resources can be added on the fly.