Building a Website with WordPress on Your Own Domain

If you are interested in owning your own domain (like www.jonathanbeer.ca) and creating your own website at a very low cost, read on.  Creating your own website is now easier than ever before using user-friendly publishing software like WordPress.

Great, you’ve decided you need to have a website!  Super.  …now what?

Feeling overwhelmed?  You’re not alone.  I have a degree in computer science and the thought of having my own domain both excited and terrified me.  Allow me to debunk some common website building myths, and then help you get your own WordPress website up and running in a matter of minutes.  I’m going to write this so that even my parents can understand it.  Don’t get me wrong, I love them dearly, but if I get another email asking me what the new green flashing icon that looks like a spider web that’s just magically shown up on their computer is, I may consider a vasectomy (to avoid doing this to my own unborn children sometime down the road).

By the end of this post (in about 5 minutes time), you will have all the information you need to start your own website.  I’m not kidding.

Myth #1) Building a website is expensive.

You can create professional looking websites, for free using WordPress.  Sure, building a website can be expensive: if you want to run a site like Amazon, you’re going to end up shelling out a lot of money to do so.   However, if you have more basic needs and just want to have a professional looking site, it can also be done for free.  It all depends on your needs.  Running your own site to blog, share photos, promote yourself or your small business, display your art, etc., then you can do all of this by yourself, with a few clicks of a mouse, for free.  You may be surprised how much you can do with freely available software these days, and how easy it is to use and setup.

Myth #2) Building a website is hard.

Setting up a professional looking website can be done by someone with relatively few computer skills in a matter of minutes.  You no longer need to know any HTML, or have programming skills to run your own website.  Of course, if you want to perform complicated database operations and create your own custom widgets, you will need some skills.  The truth is that most users simply don’t need these things (and chances are if you’re reading this, you don’t either).

Myth #3) WordPress is only for blogging.

If you’ve heard of WordPress and know it only as a blog site, there’s good reason for that: WordPress.com is one of the largest blogging sites on the internet.  However, WordPress.org offers free website publishing software that is used to power millions of professional looking websites.  There are literally thousands of non-blogging sites on the Internet that are running on WordPress.  There are WordPress themes for just about every type website available for free from WordPress, and an innumerable number of themes developed by people all over the world offered at a low cost or for free.

Let’s do it.

Take a deep breathe.  Have your tech-wizard son/brother/friend on speed-dial.  But this time, not to ask about the new magically appearing icons, but to show them your new website.  It’s go time.

To buy a domain, or not buy a domain?  That is the question.

First things first:  do you want to own your own domain, or do you want to simply start writing?  Owning your own domain (like www.jonathanbeer.ca) is simple and fairly low cost.  If you don’t want to buy your own domain and host your website, then simply go to WordPress.com, sign up for a account, and start writing.  For those of you that want to have your own website at your own domain (like www.jonathanbeer.ca), read on.

Buying a domain, and hosting a WordPress website

Buying a domain name and hosting your own website is no longer very difficult or very expensive.  This is the slightly more advanced option (compared to signing up for a WordPress.com account and hosting it there), but having your own domain name has a lot of advantages.  Most importantly, regardless of what you are using your site for, it gives you credibility.  Furthermore, if you change hosts (the company serving up your website to the Internet), your domain name stays the same.  Finally, it’s easy to remember (if you’ve chosen a good domain name).

Buying (aka registering) a domain name is really “leasing” a domain name for a certain period of time, for example, one year.  You can register a domain name through a number of websites.  I use GoDaddy, which is the most popular domain registration site on the Internet.  I use them because I trust them, their interface is easy to use, and their rates are competitive (you can register domains for around $10 / year, depending on the domain).

When you register a domain name using GoDaddy, it will ask you for the address of the “DNS” servers that will “resolve” your website.  Here’s what they’re talking about:  When you type a website address (like www.jonathanbeer.ca) into your address bar, that address has to be translated into an IP address (a unique number that is used to identify a computer) in order to get the website so it can be returned to you.  That process is called “domain name resolution”, and DNS servers (domain name servers) are the computers that know how to translate from the domain name into the IP address to get the website for you.  The details are not important.  What you need to know is the DNS servers of your host.  Which means that you need a host for your website.

After you have purchased a domain name, you need to create a website and have it “hosted” so when somebody types your domain name, it takes them to your website.  There are a lot of web hosting companies to choose from.  The packages they offer vary in bandwidth and storage space, and their services range from just hosting a website, to including email addresses, to actually doing the registration of a domain name for you (as part of a package), etc.  If a host will register a domain name for you as part of a package, there’s no need to register a domain name with a company like GoDaddy.  If you decide to go with a host like this, just make sure the hosting company is reputable to ensure that you are in fact the owner of the domain.

Hosts also vary widely in the technology that they support.  For us, what’s important is that they support the technology that is required to run WordPress.  Don’t worry, most web hosts do, it’s just wise to verify before you buy.  Some hosts go one step further than just supporting technology and offer easy installation of different types of websites, including WordPress.  For example, I host my sites with DreamHost and they have an excellent one-click installer for WordPress.  This is incredibly handy, and if you’ve got limited computer skills / computer phobia, I recommend looking for a host that offers a service like this.  Whatever host you decide on, just make sure to read the fine print (as you should with any contract you sign) to know exactly what you’re getting for your money.

If you have chosen to register your domain name separately from your hosting company (ie/ you registered a domain with GoDaddy), then you will need to enter the DNS servers of your host (which will be told to you when you buy a hosting package) into GoDaddy (or whoever you registered the domain with).  How to do that depends on where you registered your domain, but each site will make this part of managing your domains.

Installing WordPress

If you picked a host with a one-click installation of WordPress, then go to the host site and read about how to install WordPress using their installer, and do it — and you’re done!  You’ll have the default WordPress theme up and running on your domain.

If you picked a host that doesn’t have a one-click installation of WordPress, you’re going to need a few more computer skills (but not too many).  WordPress has an excellent set of instructions for installing WordPress.  They claim to have a 5 minute installation process (along with a far more detailed version of the instructions, don’t worry).  I’m not here to replicate those instructions, only point you in the right direction.  The WordPress forums have excellent support also, if you happen to get stuck along the way.

At this point, you now know everything you need to know to register your own domain, get your website hosted, and get your WordPress site up and running!  Congratulations!

Don’t be afraid.  Fear will hold you back from experiencing your true potential.

About Jonathan

Following an undergraduate degree in computer science, some worldly adventures, and years in the software industry, I find myself back at school getting a masters degree in Human Computer Interaction. And I love it.
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One Response to Building a Website with WordPress on Your Own Domain

  1. ange says:

    Thanks for the info, bro… good work making it simple. I was going to try to use the software on my macbook to make a site (there are some pretty classy-looking templates), but will have to make sure that will still jive. P.S. Now I understand why I get all the emails with questions about little green blinking spiders on the desktop!?!

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