Learning how to build your website for free is much easier than you might think! Until recently, such a project required a serious investment.
This extensive guide will show you a step-by-step process to build your first site, while keeping your wallet happy, including:
- Setting the intention/purpose of your website
- Creating a basic website map
- Choosing the free site builder
- Designing your website
- Cutting Costs
What needs to be done before site-building?
One more thing before we dive into the actual building process.
While you can definitely build your website for free, two main preparation steps will require a small investment.
- If you want to have a professional website that properly reflects your brand, you’ll need a unique domain name. Depending on the domain, prices vary, with the cheapest ones costing around $10/per year.
- Finally, you’ll need a reliable hosting service before you start building your website. The cost is a bit higher than the one for a domain but remember – hosting it’s not only the foundation but also a crucial element of your site’s security.
Once these two steps are completed, you’re going to save literally hundreds (if not thousands) of dollars by learning how to build the site yourself! No need to hire an expensive developer, especially if a basic website is what you need.
1) Setting the intention/purpose of your website
If you skip this first step and head straight to site building, you may end up paying for a wrong hosting package or picking an unfitting website builder.
So, start by asking yourself these questions:
- What is the main purpose of your site – will it only display your company’s info or sell actual products/services?
- If your free website will serve as an online store, how much space (in GB) would you need?
- Will your site serve primarily as a blog?
According to answers to these basic questions, you’ll be able to choose the suitable hosting and site-building software options. Make sure that your host supports online stores if that’s what you’ll need.
Likewise, if a blog is what you plan to create, then blogging platforms should be your building option. Your blog can be up in minutes (read on to find out more).
2) Creating a basic website map
A sitemap is simply a clear visual plan of your soon-to-be website.
This step takes little time, but it will provide unique clarity and save you time when an actual building process begins!
Draw a simple visual plan covering:
- The general structure of the site (one-page or not)
- Which pages will you need
- Where your basic information (contact details, main description/offer and similar) will be located, etc.
Remember, the more you plan ahead, the easier your building is going to be.
3) Choosing the free site builder
There are hundreds of platforms available for website building online.
As you’ll notice, some of them are simple to use, and some are more confusing than the code itself. Also, you will encounter free, cheap, and expensive options.
Among all programs which are both free and user-intuitive, we warmly recommend only two. Here they are:
Definitely the most popular website building platform available. WordPress is free, true, but be careful of its two different forms – WordPress.com and WordPress.org. If your goal is to build a lasting, stable site (which we believe it is), then a bit technically demanding option WordPress.org is the right one for you. Read more about it in this brilliant post, and choose wisely!
Building your website with WordPress is a smart idea. Why?
For anyone who has tried to get into the “website world”, I’m sure you’ve noticed the labyrinth of tools, coding languages, web platforms etc.
It all can get very confusing, quickly.
This is where WordPress shines. It’s simplicity & intuitiveness has made it one of the most popular web platforms (over 30% of sites online run on WordPress).
Ease of Use
WordPress has a great user experience. It takes a little bit to learn the entire system – but to get the basics and manage your website, you won’t find anything easier.
The correct term for WordPress is a CMS; Content Management System.
Basically, it’s built to help you manage all of the content on your website… From your logo, website theme to your blog articles etc. It’s all there in one location, helping even beginners at all things computers/technology run their own site.
There are also “themes” which give you super simple drag-and-drop page builders, so you can build awesome looking web pages without knowing how to code at all.
For most budding website owners – there are usually a list of functionality that you want built into the site.
Do you want to have something to pop-up and get the information of people on your articles, get them to share or put your YouTube video on the site?
Any “features” you could ever want are available in the WordPress Marketplace. All you have to do is download a “plug-in” that automatically sets your website up with new features.
You can get free plug-ins for almost everything but there are also great paid solutions.
Since there is such a huge community of people using WordPress, finding help online is usually one click away.
Of course, if you were hosting your site with CanSpace you would have our team of 24/7 customer support representatives (click here to find a hosting package).
If you’re not though… There are tons of resources for WordPress users out there. Including forums and groups dedicated to building and managing your website.
You can use these places to support you… Especially when you’re brand new to websites.
We pride ourselves on this free, web-based site builder that almost reads your mind. Especially if you have no prior experience with websites, test this program out. It’s included for free with any hosting option offered by CanSpace, and it comes with thousands of templates, plugins for social media, and content management features.
Last but not least, always choose the options (such as WordPress.org and rvSiteBuilder) where you’ll be using your own domain, not a subdomain (e.g. yourdomain.blogspot.com).
4) Designing your website
This step consists out of two parts. Fortunately, they’re both pretty fun.
- Overall design – choosing the main theme
- Content design – positions of elements, uploading of content, and fine-tuning of site’s look
Most site owners, particularly at the beginning, tend to over-complicate this stage of site building.
No matter how strong your perfectionistic side might be, do your best to set the basics, and then move on to other elements of your business that truly move the needle. With that said…
1. Picking a theme
When browsing through themes in your chosen site builder, make sure you pick the one that suits your business and brand. There is a lot of free themes available (both in WordPress and rvSiteBuilder) for you to choose from.
Another factor you should keep in mind is user experience.
Great themes are simple, easy to navigate, and with eye-pleasing overall structure.
2. Content design and fine-tuning
Remember that simple website map you made in step 2? This is where it comes handy.
You’ll know exactly how many elements (pages, categories, etc.) you need for the skeleton of the website. With site builders we mentioned, adding those elements and modifying them is as easy as it could be. Usually, you won’t need coding experience at all.
When designing your business website, beware of overloading the design with unnecessary images, shapes or colors. Upload the basic content, but leave the space for future uploads. Clearly, less is more in most cases!
1) Determining your website type and audience
The starting point of planning your site-building budget is to try and visualize your future website. While doing so, consider these aspects:
- Your industry
- The size of your business and audience
Why would you want to consider the industry? Essentially, the bottom level requirements (size and quantity of images, overall design, etc.) may vary depending on your business’ industry. As an example, if you’re creating a website for your business focused on fashion, chances are you’ll need a larger hosting capacity (which, of course, costs more).
Perhaps you’re a retailer, which means you will need an in-built online store. Surely, keep in mind that each integration brings an additional expense in a long run.
Next, examine the current size of your business and traffic estimates. According to those numbers, you’ll gain clarity on the type of a website you need. Could you start with a basic hosting plan? Remember you’re free to expand later, but if you already know the numbers, then plan your budget to spend a bit more on hosting services.
2) The general costs of websites
Take time to learn about spending before you start creating a website for your business, and you’ll have a chance to prepare ahead and make better choices. The truth is: professionals from all walks of life often underestimate the possible costs of their website. In our honest opinion, it’s wise to educate yourself on possible (yet often necessary) spending that might occur, regardless of the industry you’re in.
We already mentioned that the prices of websites vary. But, what does that mean exactly?
- The basic website can cost anywhere from $50/month (if you’re creating and maintaining it yourself) to $2000-$5000 (if you’re paying for a full service of a freelancer or an agency).
- An advanced website requires a deeper pocket – prices start from $10,000 to $50,000. They’re usually equipped with tools you can use to update your site yourself.
- The fully custom-made website is the option that satisfies all your needs with advanced functionality. The costs start from around 25,000 and might even cross $100,000.
Obviously, these prices do not include only a domain name and a hosting service. Those costs could also easily pile up for larger companies with constantly growing traffic. But the service of creating, customizing, and monitoring the site is what costs the most.
Depending on a business itself, sites vary in:
- Need for additional software and apps,
- Design, and more.
So, you learned that a cost of a high-quality, secure website is a combination of various services, beyond basic domain and hosting combination. In the next section, you’ll discover what lies behind often impressive figures spent on also often impressing websites.
Making a website on a budget
- Buy a domain for a couple of years in advance
- Consider crowdsourcing for design
- Hire an art or tech student
- Apply an already existing theme
1. Buy a domain for longer than one year
This simple hack has three main benefits:
- Usually, registrars will give a discount if you buy in a bundle
- No need for annoying reminders to renew your domain every year
- You’ll avoid the risk that your website and its connected email addresses are not functioning because of the missed renewal date
Essentially, this small hack is more than a smart financial move. By making sure your domain is safely stored for a longer period of time, you’ll also save yourself from unnecessary stress. When you’re running a business, every chance to lower the pressure counts.
Bonus tip: let’s say that the .com domain you want to purchase costs more than you can currently afford. If so, and especially if your desired domain is a two-word phrase, consider using new, creative extensions. As an example (random one), if you wanted to buy canadiantier.com and it’s too costly, consider canadian.tier as an (often cheaper) alternative.
2. Consider crowdsourcing for your design
The expenses for website design can easily cross the $1,000 line. Fortunately, you could easily lower those design costs with a crowdsourcing company.
Not only will you be able to pick a website design you like from a variety of sample designs, but you’ll pay less as well. While searching for the best design, you will gain clarity on branding questions like: “What kind of a look will represent my business in the best way?”
Keep in mind though that it is only a design your purchasing through this crowdsourcing option. Still, a skilled developer will be needed to bring it to life.
3. Delegate tasks to a student
This money-saving trick is one of our favourites! The reason is simple: it’s a true example of a win-win collaboration.
Think about it:
- Why is it a win for you? You need to build your website on a budget. The money you save at the beginning makes a huge difference in your business.
- What does a student gain? Any website design student needs to volunteer and build the portfolio during studies, in order to open a door for easier employment afterwards. From a student’s perspective, each reference matters a lot.
One of the ways to connect with talented students is to get in touch with a program director at the nearest college and simply ask for a recommendation. Even if the student requires a fee, it most probably won’t be as high as the one of an established professional.
Furthermore, you could use the same tactic for other services, such as web development, marketing, etc.
4. Use one of the existing themes
Sometimes, the cheap solutions are right in front of our eyes. If we had a penny for every site owner who tried the common, but often pricey options while building their website…
Make sure you’ve checked already available themes, before even considering any custom options. Especially if you’re using WordPress or rvSiteBuilder (the most user-friendly builder you’ll get with any of our hosting plans), there are hundreds of themes for you to choose from!
Only if none of them fits in the early stages of your website, then start searching for designers (either students or professionals). There are many beautiful, up-to-date, fully responsive and SEO-friendly themes out there, so make sure you check them first.
3) The services included in website costs
Beyond a domain and your chosen host, these are the most common services you’ll need to invest in:
- Web design and/or design: the time, expertise and effort of a developer or a group of developers is the main element of this equation. Usually, these professionals negotiate an hourly rate with the site owner. In other scenarios, negotiating the price for an entire project is also possible.
- When it comes to hourly rates, they depend on professional skill set, as well as the desired quality of a project. Hourly costs range anywhere from $25 to $200 and more.
- Monitoring and development: in most cases, the same developers who were in charge of its creation are the ones who cover these services.
- Features and integrations: the complexity of maintenance depends on the last part of website cost equation – features and integrations. We warmly suggest that should plan the features ahead. Knowing exactly what you’ll need will enable you to create a cost estimate and/or better negotiate the rates.
List of main services
- Your website’s domain name
- Hosting services
- The initial coding, done by a developer or a group of developers (agency) – web design
- Development and maintenance of the site
- Integration of additional software and features (shopping cart for eCommerce sites, various plugins, etc.)
Well done, now you learned how to make a website for your business – with little stress and without emptying your pockets!
Remember, starting your own website and business online doesn’t have to be an expensive adventure. But merely reading is not enough, so go ahead and try out these money-saving techniques that make your life easier today. Our domain and hosting services are among the cheapest available, which makes them a great starting point.
For more tips on site building, blogging, and saving money, take a look at our comprehensive guide for Canadian bloggers and site owners.