a practical guide to creating a website

I'm straying off the Wiki theme for this one, but that's allowed because the topic is still Information Professional related... It covers a lot of ground, so be warned that this post is long. While it's still fresh in my mind from creating my site, I'm going to set down a practical guide to creating a website. This won't be a how-to-use-Dreamweaver, or an essay about the joys of xhtml; the point of this is to detail the logistics and mechanics of registering a functioning site and getting it live. I've created a couple of sites now, and sometimes contribute to my Dad's web-pages, so I've developed a fairly decent overview of the processes involved.

Why have your own site at all?

Some kind of web-presence is pretty much essential for an information professional these days; it's a big party that you can't afford not be invited to.

There are myriad ways to connect with people over the net of course, so you don't need your own web pages. But unlike Facebook or Twitter or, shudder, MySpace (oh by the way 2007 called, it wants its rubbish social networking back) - or indeed many of the other platforms, a website of your own is not dependant on others' having access to certain software or a username and password for a specific site. It is accessible to all, and it can be customised to contain as little or as much professional (or personal) information about you as you want. It's a way for people to reach you even if they don't have your contact details.

It is also a little more future-proof than some of the sites mentioned above - your website will endure, whereas any kind of social-networking site owned by an evil internet company (or one that is currently nice enough, but could easily turn evil in the future, like Google for instance) may have a limited shelf-life. They may start charging you money to use it meaning you or the people you network with may wish to leave, or they may pull the plug on it completely because it's not making them enough cash through advertising, or it may be a fad that eventually goes the way of Friends Reunited and is simply left behind by newer, more popular platforms.

With your own site, by contrast, you can be relatively confident that you will remain in control as long as you want to.

Your own site, your own blog, or a mixture of both?

So you want to create your own website – there are three approaches taken by most Information Professionals. The first, and easiest, is to write a blog hosted on a blogging site. The second is to write a blog which you host yourself. The third is creating an entire site of your own. You can also mix these last two together, as I have done with thewikiman.org.

Option 1, then - the blog hosted on a blogging site (a developer-hosted platform, to give it its proper name). The major advantage of this is that it is incredibly straightforward, and (usually) free. You simply sign up for an account with Blogger or Wordpress.com (the .com is important there; it's what separates Wordpress's developer-hosted platform software from its user-hosted platform, Wordpress.org, which we'll explore in Option 2) or any of the other examples, and start blogging away almost instantaneously. The major disadvantage of going down this route is the lack of flexibility you have in terms of what you publish - you don't get as much control over how it looks, or what features it has. That’s not to say it won’t be good though – an example of a blog like this is Thoughts of a [wannabe] librarian.

Option 2 is user-hosted platforms. This means installing the software (such as Wordpress.org, which I use on this blog and comes highly recommended as the industry standard) on your own server (not literally your own server - although that can be done, but if you have your own server already you won't be reading a how-to guide like this one - but one which you pay a web-hosting company to use) and creating a more sophisticated blog as your own website. You get much more flexibility this way (you can customise your blog, essentially, and add a lot more useful features and functions – see Joeyanne’s blog, with its custom-designed theme) and you can even add further pages in addition to the blog page, to create a larger site. The downside to this is that you will have to pay for hosting and registration (more on which below), and you still don't have quite as much control over your content and presentation as you would in...

...Option 3, developing your own site from scratch. Like so many things in life, the option that offers the most rewards is also the hardest to achieve! With your own website your only limitation is really your own ability to write xhtml - if you've no skills in this area whatsoever, clearly this isn't the way to go for you. But if you know how to use Dreamweaver from editing work web-pages etc, then creating your own site offers an unparalleled level of flexibility and customisation - you create exactly what you want, to reflect you. And of course, you can also have a blog on it too - either using the approach described in Option 2, or just updating your pages. The downsides are that it is a lot more complicated doing things yourself, you need to keep updating it and keeping it fresh and contemporary, and, as in Option 2, you have to pay for hosting and for your domain name. Let's look at that in a bit more detail.

(There is an Option 4, of paying a company to do the lot – design the site, update the site, host the site etc. But that’s pretty lazy for an Information Professional! Designing your own is a much better experience to have.)

Registering a domain name

Option 1 will provide a domain name for you, probably something along the lines of http://exampleblogname.exampledevelopername.com.  But if you’re hosting your own blog or creating your own site, you need a domain name, and that needs to be registered.

The first thing to do after choosing a name is find out if someone else has nabbed it already. You can type it into your Browser's address bar, and see if you get a website, or an error message; an error message means it either hasn't been registered, or the person who's registered it hasn't yet attached it to a website. Most hosting sites will have some kind of search facility to allow you to check for sure whether a URL is available or not, or you can use a dedicated search site such as http://www.who.is/.

It typically costs between £6 - £15 per annum to register a domain name (some places lock you in for a minimum of two years) depending on what it ends with; one-dot names tend to be more expensive than two-dot names such as .org.uk, and I personally think it is worth the extra cost for a punchier URL. I would have liked to use .com for my site, but sadly both the .com and .co.uk derivatives of thewikiman and wikiman were already taken. (They are taken by someone who doesn't use them, which is annoying. When you type thewikiman into Google, the results which aren't related to me appear to be related to someone who puts World of Warcraft vids on youtube and that kind of thing - that wikiman is most emphatically not me, I would like to stress... the name is also taken on Twitter, but that's okay as that is a blogging platform too far for me, at the moment.) My view is that it is a battle to get anyone remember your website address at all, so the snappier it can be the better - I'd always choose .com or .org over .co.uk for that reason, as I think people already start to fall asleep by the time you've said the first 'dot' let alone the second one.

There are specialist sites whose primary focus is domain-name registration (123-reg is an example), but really they all offer hosting as well these days, so you may as well look for the site which offers you the best hosting package for your needs, and then get them to register your domain name at the same time.  It costs me £12 per year to register www.thewikiman.org with my hosting company, Clook.


Your website needs to be hosted somewhere. If you work in an academic library, the library web-pages will probably be hosted on University servers. If you are an uber-techno geek and spend a lot of money on computer hardware, you may even have your own server. For the rest of us, we have to pay a company to host it.

The choice of hosting package is very important - you need to make sure the one you go for is appropriate for the specific needs of your particular site. Things to look for are price, size, email addresses, bandwidth and whether or not you are going have advertising forced upon you. Often very cheap (or free) hosting will look excellent in most respects, but will be crucially lacking one area which will make you rue not spending a little extra cash... Don't be too seduced by the space (or size) of the website, either; packages offering 500MB of 1GB of space seem very generous, but unless you are dealing with a lot of huge files you may not need most of it. My site, for example, totals a mere 770KB in size at the time of writing. The final thing you may need to look out for is whether MySQL databases are included in the package, and if so how many there are. You won't need any for a basic site with static pages, but for dynamically generated content like forums, or a blog, which are constantly changing and being updated, you will need MySQL databases to run these successfully.

For a previous site I created, I used Free Virtual Servers. As the title suggests the hosting was free, but of course the domain name still costs me an annual fee. What caught me out was the lack of bandwidth (or data transfer), basically because at the time I had no idea how important it was. Bandwidth refers to the amount of data that is transferred from your site to the person viewing the site. This does not just mean when they download a file, or right-click and save an image. Every time they load up a page of your site, the sum-total size of all the files on that page are 'transferred' - so if the pic you use in your header is 100KB, then 10 people opening the page equals 1MB of data-transfer (or even just the same person pressing ‘Refresh’ 9 times). Your hosting package will impose a monthly limit on you (that is what the figure listed against Bandwidth refers to, when you view the spec of a hosting package) - do not accept any kind of hosting with a small monthly limit! My Free Virtual Servers package was excellent in every way except its Bandwidth limit was, it turns out, tiny; this meant that around 10 or 12 days into each month, traffic to the site was such that I exceeded my limit, and the site went down for the rest of the month. There is nothing you can do about this once it happens, so do everything to avoid it happening in the first place... Incidentally, Free Virtual Servers have apparently increased their bandwidth limit on all their packages, so they may be worth checking out.

I used Clook for this site. It costs me £50 per year  (plus VAT, which I should of course claim back as this is a professional website, but I've not got around to sorting that kind of thing yet!) for shared-hosting, and I could have chosen to pay £5 a month, working out at slightly more over the year, if I'd wanted. The only problems with shared-hosting arise if the other sites which share your server are using too much of its resources and everything starts to slow down, but this should never happen with a decent hosting company. Shared-hosting is the standard way of doing things, as to rent your own dedicated server from a hosting company would cost you literally thousands of pounds per year.  For my £50 I get 500MB of space (more than enough), 50 email inboxes (much more than enough), and crucially for me after my problems with the other site, 10GB of bandwidth / data transfer (hopefully, enough...). It also offers the option of hosting two websites in the same package - although all the resources listed above would be shared between the two of them, and of course I would have to pay to register the other domain name separately. But that still represents a useful feature, if you're itching to create a second site as well as your professional one.

I would whole-heartedly recommend Clook, as it is good value and very easy to use, their technical support is said to be excellent and, according to a web-developer friend of mine who knows about these things, "they are not at all evil" - so that can only be a good thing…


If you are just blogging, either hosting it yourself or developer-hosted, editing is easy. You open your blogging software's dashboard or control panel online, and edit from there. If you're creating your own website from scratch it's a slightly different matter. It is one thing to preview the pages in Dreamweaver or in your Browser, but another to actually make them live. (Do as much work as possible in creating them before they go live in the first place, then you can tweak and edit them here and there more easily.)

When it comes to uploading content to your server, there are various ways of doing this and later editing your site. I would absolutely recommend using Firefox's FireFTP client, which you can get here. Unlike most of my colleagues I've not gone all-out Firefox yet, and I'm still clinging on with Internet Explorer as my Browser for most things. However, for editing I will always use Firefox and FireFTP (FTP stands for File Transfer Protocol) - it is easy and efficient and you don't have to mess about. It basically brings up the folder structure of your hard drive or memory stick, and allows you to transfer over the pages / images / files of your site, onto the server. They are then live, and can be seen by anyone accessing your website’s address. You can use this to edit your pages anywhere, too - FireFTP will transfer your live pages back onto your hard drive / memory stick / friend’s computer / work computer / whatever you happen to be on, allowing you to edit and update them wherever you are and then transfer them back onto the live server again.

You can edit content and make it live through other means (even via Word, for example) but I highly recommend choosing this route and sticking to it – at least until something even simpler comes along at a later date.

Ensuring Google knows you're there...

So you've chosen your platform, registered your site, and edited it nicely. It's live, and you're just waiting for the hits to come rolling in. There's one more step to go though; if you don't tell search-engines about your site in one way or another, they won't know you are there. You can put in all the tags and key-words you like, but if you type the name of your site into Google you won't find it.

The first thing to do is to tell Google that your new site exists. You need to go to http://www.google.com/addurl/ and ‘share your site’ with Google. Thereafter you can boost your site's search-engine ranking by linking to it from other sites. (There are specialist sites which just offer endless links to other sites for this purpose, which is a bit naff. A better way of achieving links is to comment on others' blogs with your URL included, or, ideally, have other people link to your blog from their blogrolls - clearly they'll only do this if they think your blog is any good...)

A very simplistic explanation of all this is that every couple of days, Google 'crawls' the entire internet, looking for links. The more links there are to your site, the more important Google will think your site is - and therefore the more readily it will come up when people search for it.

And finally, thanks to:

Bogdan Leonte, Jo Alcock, and Oskar Smith at Orchestrand Ltd, without whose advice and guidance I probably  wouldn't have been able to create a website at all, let alone write a guide about doing so!

Any queries, leave them as a comment and I’ll do my best to answer.

- thewikiman