The Shiny guide to creating your own website: How to make a blog in 5 easy steps

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It seems pretty much everyone has a blog nowadays but if you’re one of the shrinking number that has never quite got to grips with web 2.0, I’m here to simplify this process for you. It doesn’t have to be baffling talk of mySQL and server accounts, I’m going to break down the tools you need to create a site online in five easy steps.

First it’s a good idea to plan the kind of site you’d like to create. Do you want a site that’s a personal blog, where you just update it occasionally with images and ramblings on topics of your choice? Or would you rather have a professional looking site which will act as an online portfolio to show off your talents? Then there’s creating a commercial site which allows you to sell products with PayPal buttons, and there’s also the option of creating a website for a company. If you’re opting for the most basic option, you’ll most likely want to stay within a small budget, whilst if you anticipate heavy traffic to the site, it’s worth splashing out a bit more.

Step One: get a domain name

Domain names are really, really cheap. They are also called the URL (Unique Resource locator) and sits across the top of the screen, with www in front of the name. Expect to pay more for a .com or .tv, but on average you’re looking at around £10 a year for a basic URL. I like 123-reg and Who Is for buying domain name as they’re very easy to navigate and allow you to purchase via PayPal! WhoIs also offer you alternative domain names that fit around your keywords if your name is taken- for instance when searching for OnlyZara.com they suggested FairZara.com, FirstZara.com and SingleZara.com (thanks very much!).

If you don’t want to pay for a domain name, you can get a free one, but this would be with services such as Blogger or WordPress, where your URL will say something like FirstZara.blogspot.com, so if you want a domain name without any additions you’ll have to pay.

Step Two: Choose a hosting service

You now have a lovely URL and are starting to imagine all the kinds of exciting content you can have on your website, from a a top ten list of your favourite humming birds to a shop selling your hand knitted Christmas jumpers.

Well to get this up and running you need to find some space on the web to host all this info, and you can do this a number of ways. It’s not impossible to find free hosting, but this does come at a price- usually advertisements and unwanted banners on your site. If you use free hosting you’ll also be limited to using their page designs and might not have a huge amount of autonomy when designing a page. Good free hosts are WordPress and Blogger; but these do have limitations such as one database for your files, and of course the frustrating URL with their tag in it.

When choosing a host that you’re going to pay for there a few things to consider. Do you want to make a one off payment for the year- or would you rather pay monthly- which means it will be easier to get out of. You also want to look at what they offer you.

How much web space do they provide- and does it come with free email accounts? You also want to check how many databases you’re getting, as you’ll need at least two if you want to run a forum of have more than one blog section per site. Check that they provide a helpdesk which is email accessible instead of being an expensive phone call away, that you get FTP accounts built in, and make sure you get a couple of sub domains– these will be really useful when your site gets larger, as well as letting you back up your data.

To get running on your own domain it’s worth checking out which website hosting options meet your requirements.

Some web hosts worth trying include 123-Reg, , UK Cheap hosting, Network Solutions

Step Three: Choosing a platform to publish from (also know as CMS -content management system)

THe CMS system you use is essentially a hi-tech version of Microsoft Word, where you input and alter text, upload images and video files and put in links to content on the web.

There are a variety of wild and wonderful services out there which provide you with a way to publish your work, and I’m going to look at four of the most common ones, and let you decide for yourself which one is suitable for you. These would be WordPress, Blogger, Typepad and Movable Type. I realize I’ve already talked a little about the first two, and this is because some of the CMS systems do a LOT of different things. For instance on Blogger you can get a free .blogspot domain name, host your site there AND publish to it using Blogger, all for free. Even if you’ve chosen not to host your site at Blogger because you wanted a URL without blogspot.com address, you can still use it to put content on your site.

The differences lie in the back end of these systems, and this would be how easy it it to maneuver around their user panels. Some people love how simple Blogger is to use, whilst other people enjoy the variety of widgets such as RSS trackers and Twitter feeds that are built into WordPress. Moveable Type is often used by professional companies and Typepad is a great service, but does require a monthly fee.

Step Four: Synchronization

So you now have your domain name, you hosting platform and your CMS service set up- but how do you sync them all together? Incredibly easily. If you’re using this stage I’m assuming you’ve opted to go for a unique domain name hosted externally, as if you’ve gone for a one size fits all Blogger account you can skip straight to the next step.

First you want to place your domain name on your hosting platform. This can normally be easily done through their integrated hosting services, which should take you through the process step by step. You may have been sent an email with php and MySQL information, but try not to worry about what those words mean to much and concentrate on making sure your site is landed properly.

Some hosts may require you to transfer your domain name by using an FTP service, which is very simple to use. You don’t need to pay for it either, as there are a lot of free versions around. I like Cute FTP , and you can get a free trial for free from their site. When that has been uploaded successfully you simply use your chosen CMS system to upload content after making sure you’ve added all the necessary info in their database- something that should be easy as all hosts will send out an email with the codes you need.

Step Five: Design and Content

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Finally, we’re on the home stretch! I’m sure you’re feeling more tired than a ten year old after a Harry Potter marathon, but we don’t want to lose you just yet. All the content systems come with basic template layouts for your site, but often you’re looking at a one column pony in a boring blue.

But don’t despair! The internet hold a wide variety of attractive templates for you to use, and loads of them are free! Decide if you’d like one, two or three columns and then a random Google search should bring up a variety of options. I like ones that are widget enabled which let you add a variety for features to the design such as tag clouds and galleries, but decide what works best for you.

If you’re creating a commercial site you want to look for secure add ons such as PayPal functionality and security settings.

Check here for:

Typepad themes here.
Wordpress themes
Moveable Type
Blogger themes

I’ll be featuring some ten best galleries for all these sites quite soon, so keep your eyes peeled! A word of warning though- using a free template means LOTS of other people will have it as well, so if you need something very original you may want to have it custom made for you. Hot Igloo productions do great web design, and charge £150 for a stylish site. Another good one to check out is Kite Communications for a very slick looking site.

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Are you to lazy to do any of this? Try out MrSite, the takeaway website in a box. One CD will take you through the whole process, from registering a domain name (for free), to designing and creating your site. They don’t have the most attractive designs, and customization is limited, but for ease of use you can’t fault it- and the packages start at £20!

Now all you need to do is start blogging!

Zara Rabinowicz edits Shiny Shiny has finally set up her own website after months of faffing around. Check out her blog, Almost Zara here.

Zara Rabinowicz

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