Whether your goal is to learn to code, build an online portfolio or an e-commerce business, this post can help you decide which route to take.
A few years back, I was overwhelmed with all the information that I found on the web. It’s not because it wasn’t useful. It’s because there was too much of it and it was scattered all over different websites. In this guide, I tried to put all the crucial concepts together so that you can get familiar with the basics in one reading and explore in more detail the areas that are right for your needs.
Table of contents:
- Website builders vs WordPress CMS
- WordPress.org (none, minimum or advanced coding skills)
- Web design and web development agencies
- Mini SEO checklist
The option you go for (website builders, WordPress.org, professional agency or other) depends a lot on your main goal. If you are an individual looking to showcase your portfolio to the world, you may benefit from website builders. If you are someone thinking of running a professional business on a larger scale, you may want to look into outsourcing to a company who will build that website for you.
Finally, for all those who are fascinated by web design and web development – don’t be disheartened if you have limited coding skills. You can still successfully set up a self-hosted website and learn how to code on the go.
Let’s start with the most simple and quickest solution – website builders.
Website builders – pros and cons and how they compare with WordPress.com
I won’t cover all available website builders here because there are just too many of them. However, I have some experience with using Squarespace and WordPress.com so I’ll focus on those. I’ve also added Wix to the comparison table as they have gained popularity in recent years.
A few years ago, I was like you – I wanted to build a website by myself. Back then, I thought that without coding skills I was limited only to the use of website builders. What I have discovered was that this is not entirely true. You can still set up a self-hosted blog or a website without being a web developer. You cannot, however, modify your theme code to build a customised template for your website or blog without knowing how to code or ideally being a web developer. That is not to say that you never will if you keep on learning! There are plenty of tutorials out there, and it is all about trial and error.
To keep things clean and easy to follow, I have created a comparison table. Since I have not had that much experience with Wix – I found this quick and informative tutorial by Consumer Research Studios extremely helpful!
|no access to hosting||no access to hosting||no access to hosting|
|domain name with ads unless you buy a plan||domain name with ads unless you buy a plan||domain name with ads unless you buy a plan|
|over 7K themes available||around 110 ready-made website templates available||500 ready-made website templates available|
|over 57K plugins available (popup forms, social media buttons, chats, etc.)||more or less 1000 apps available (popup forms, blog chats, etc.)||more or less 250 apps available (popup forms, blog chats, etc.)|
|absolute freedom when it comes to design (if you know how to code)||there are design limitations due to the use of a grid system (fixed layout for elements such as text, images, etc.)||more design flexibility compared to Squarespace that uses a grid system|
|changes you make for desktop are automatically applied to mobile too||any changes you make for desktop, you must make them for mobile too (you repeat the process)||changes you make for desktop are automatically applied to mobile too|
|you can add an unlimited number of pages||you can add a maximum of 1000 pages, and anything more than this increases the loading time||you can add a maximum of 200 pages and anything more than this increases the loading time|
To summarise, website builders are not a good choice for bloggers due to their limitations. WordPress.com seems to be a much better choice, and it also allows a smooth transition to WordPress.org once you get a good grasp on things. Nevertheless, website builders are great for those who, for example, want to quickly and easily set up a portfolio website!
WordPress.com versus WordPress.org
The difference between WordPress.com (hosting service) and WordPress.org (software) is that it is either you who manages your hosting, or it is them who handle it for you. As you may expect, you are bound to some limitations with the first option. WP Beginner is a great website that provides WordPress resources that are easy to follow and understand – especially for beginners. ‘WordPress.com vs WordPress.org – Which is Better‘ is an infographic that they have created to highlight the different aspects between the two. I highly recommend you check it out! It will give you a good idea about what compromises you make in terms of features offered and advertising options that are available to you.
Many people who start learning about WordPress don’t know what WordPress.org is or that it even exists, and they pick WordPress.com instead. It is also what I did when I first started learning about WordPress.
Here is how it works in short. With WordPress.com, you go to their website and register an account. From there, you will get access to your CMS dashboard where you can choose a WordPress theme and customise it to suit your taste and preferences – add a logo, change colours, set a menu, etc. For more customisation freedom, you will need coding skills. You have limited access to code and other files.
With WordPress.org, you have to choose a hosting company and buy a hosting plan yourself. You will also need to purchase and register a domain name. Once you have purchased the hosting plan, you should be able to log in to your hosting account. There, you have to locate a cPanel that is your control dashboard. This dashboard gives you access to your website files, settings, and applications like WordPress. From there, you can easily install WordPress and you don’t need any coding skills to do that.
If you happen to know how to code, you can create a child theme and apply design changes that WordPress will not overwrite with the next scheduled update (there are regular updates to WordPress themes due to security measures). A child theme is a secondary theme that inherits all the functionality and styles of your parent theme. It is a great fallback solution if anything goes wrong with your coding.
There is also an option to install WordPress locally on your computer. It means that only you can view your website since all your website data is stored on your computer. This option is great when you want to explore WordPress and experiment more with coding and theme development.
There are plenty of YouTube tutorials with step by step instructions on anything related to domain or hosting registration, WordPress installation and more. Please note that the installation process may differ slightly depending on the hosting company you choose.
Web design and web development agencies
This section is for those who are looking for a solution that will ideally serve you for years to come. If you are an individual who is not interested in learning the technical aspects, I recommend you hand over the work of creating your website to professionals. Since choosing an agency can be a challenging task, I have come up with a list of points to consider before you make a final decision.
- They have a great website: this shows that they care about their online reputation. It’s usually a telltale sign that they take their business and customers seriously.
- They have a solid portfolio: this does not mean that they should have plenty of projects to show, but they should be of high quality.
- They don’t start a conversation asking about your budget. They ask about your requirements and expectations since this will allow them to form a rough estimate for your project.
- Their team is friendly and knowledgeable. Website design is not a quick task. It can take few weeks or more to complete it. You need to ensure the communication process will be as smooth as possible.
- Their reviews are, on average, good.
- Their team is skilled: check the people behind the agency. See what the company culture and values are. Do they follow the latest industry trends?
- They are active on social media: this is not as important but is good to know that an agency is involved in the social media scene and what they are up to.
- Their pricing is not too low. Beware of agencies whose prices are surprisingly low. It’s not a rule, but usually, good quality comes with a higher price.
All in all, the above are just a few points worth considering when choosing a web development agency. Let’s now move on to the final part where I give you some tips on SEO.
Mini SEO checklist
SEO (search engine optimisation) is an integral part of any web design and development process. It is a sort of strategy for your brand that combines both technical and content elements. SEO usually involves ongoing work and regular monitoring. It is rarely a one-time task. However, getting the basics right from the start can give you an edge over the competition.
- Good hosting plan: fast websites get better rankings
- Robots.txt file and XML sitemap in place
- Unique and SEO-friendly metadata for every indexable HTML page
- Clear navigation structure and proper usage of keywords
- Website added to Google Analytics and Google Search Console
SEO is an extremely broad subject and the above is just an indication of the basics to consider. Below are a couple of SEO-related posts that I wrote not long ago. You may find them to be a good starting point.
- Search Engine Basics – Climb to the top of Google
- Basic Guide to Structured Data for SEO
- How to Create SEO-friendly Content
Setting up a website does not have to be a difficult task. A lot depends on where you already stand with your skillset and what your priorities are.
In summary, if you are someone looking to build a professional brand but are not that tech-savvy and not interested in learning – I suggest you use a reputed web design and web development agency service.
If you are an artist that wants to show off your craft to the world, but your current budget is limited, then website builders can be a temporary solution. They will allow you to establish your online presence and potentially find future clients or business partners.
Lastly, if you are interested in web design and web development, you can start with WordPress.org. As I said, you don’t need coding skills to set up a self-hosted website. It can be a great learning curve for you, where you get to experience code first-hand. You can start by modifying the existing templates and transition slowly to building the entire websites and even themes as your experience and skillset improve.
Let me know what you think or what your experience with WordPress, website builders or web design and development has been overall. I would love to hear your thoughts!