If you are going to be conducting any sort of organized action, you will need a presence on the Internet to help spread the word about what you are doing and provide updates to followers. While it’s tempting to use social media sites like Facebook or Twitter as your main home base on the Internet, a stand alone website is a better option. It has better privacy for users, is not subject to social media site terms of services (and also not subject to vindictive reporting and removing of your site for supposed violations) and allows you to better control the appearance and flow of your information. That’s not to say you shouldn’t have a social media presence, just that it shouldn’t be the sole outlet for your information.
A website can be made in a few hours and with little to no monetary investment. This guide will cover the basics that you will need in order to get an up and running website.
URL, CMS and Hosting
There are three preliminary decisions that you need to make before you can put content on the web. They are (1) What website address to use? (2) What platform to use? and (3) Where to host it? These questions can be answered in any order.
URL. The website address is called a Uniform Resource Locator or URL. You can also call this a domain name. You can find a domain by searching Google Domains – it will tell you what web addresses are available and suggest related domains if yours are taken. The prices for domains vary, but you can get one for as low as $10 a year. If you go with a paid hosting option, you may be able to get a URL/domain included in the price of the package.
CMS. Websites are built upon something called “content management systems” or CMSes. Our preferred CMS is WordPress. It is a free and open source software that was originally developed for blogging but now is used for all sorts of websites. The latest figures show that WordPress websites make up a little over a quarter of the web. WordPress allows you to create a beautiful and very functional websites without knowing any coding languages. If you can use email or Microsoft Word, you can build a website with WordPress.
When it comes to hosting your website, you can use either free or paid hosting.
FREE HOSTING There are several free website hosting services available. Our recommended service is WordPress.com. The number of website options are not as plentiful as with paid hosting, but you can get a basic and pretty decent looking website made with no investment of money. The URL will be [yoursitename].wordpress.com if you do nothing. While this does not affect the performance of the site, you may choose to purchase a standalone URL in order to lend some credibility to your site. As with social media, you will be subject to WordPress.com’s terms of service. They are very generous and generally not a problem, but if you want complete freedom over what you post and how your website looks, you should opt for paid hosting.
PAID HOSTING. While not free, paid hosting plans are not terribly expensive. You can expect to pay around $50/year for a basic hosting plan and that will include the cost of a URL. No matter what hosting service you use, be sure you get one that offers one click installation of WordPress.
When you’ve got your domain and downloaded WordPress, you don’t have to design a website from scratch. WordPress has something called “themes” which act as templates for your website. After choosing a theme, all you will have to do is add text and images.
When you log in to your WordPress site, you start from a dashboard for your new site. WordPress will have a few themes pre-loaded for you to use. From the left menu, select Appearance | Themes to pick your theme and get started. But those aren’t your only options. If using wordpress.com, you will have the option of selecting free or paid themes. If using self hosted WordPress, there will be some already installed options available. If you want to explore more, select ‘add more themes’ and you can search and install new themes with one click.
Depending on what theme you select, you’ll have the varying amounts of ability to change the way your website looks. Go to Appearance | Customize to open up the “customizer.” There you will be able to make selections that change the way your website looks. Most important? You be able to add the name of your website here, which can be different than your web address.
Customizing Your Website
Once you’ve picked a theme, it’s easy to start adding pages and content. Most likely your website will be initially only a few pages. Still, it is helpful to take a few minutes and sketch out the architecture of the website. Ask yourself “How many pages do we want?” “What should be on each page?” “How should pages link to each other?” You can use mind mapping software for this or just draw it out on pieces of paper. Remember: It’s okay to have just a one page website!
On the left menu, select Pages | Add New. You’ll get a blank page where you can add text, pictures, or anything else, much like a word processor or blog post. You can see what the pages will look like by clicking the Preview Changes button. To save your work, click the Update button.
To make pages findable, you will want to add them to the menu (which normally appears at the top of the website.) To add pages to your menu, click Appearance | Menu, and select the title of the page you just made. You can drag and drop pages around the menu to put them in the order you wish.
There are lots of extra widgets and plugins you can add to change the functionality and look of your website.
PLUG-INS: Because WordPress is open source, it means that anyone can look at its code and build upon it. One way this happens is through the building of “plug-ins”. These change the look and functionality of the site. For example, would you like to display a twitter feed on your website? There’s a plugin for that. If there’s anything you’d like your website to do, try searching plugins because chances are someone has already created a tool to do it.
WIDGETS: Widgets are similar to plugins in that they change the way your website looks and acts. The types of widgets available vary according to which theme you use, but you can expect to see things like a search box or a blank text space that you can add to. Widget spaces are included in most wordpress templates. To add widgets, go to Appearance | Widgets and drag and drop the widgets that you wish to use.
In addition to widgets and plugins, you can search Google for a how-to for your template. It’s likely that someone has written a guide for using your selected template effectively.
Most websites incorporate images as a central design component. There are a number of sites in which you can get creative commons or license free images. Some good ones include:
If you search Google Images, you can select Tools | Usage Rights and select images with the license appropriate to your project.
There are also many sites from which you can purchase stock photos, often of very high quality, and for relatively low cost. Shutterstock offers a great searchable archive, but there are many of these.