Are you looking for some way to fill your time while you can’t go to the movies or a sports event or school? Do you have kids who need a project to keep them busy while school’s out? Worse, are you actually quarantined and climbing the walls with boredom?

If you answered yes to any of these, I have a suggestion: build your own website. One of the least expensive web hosting companies is having a sale on their lowest-priced plans. You can start out at anywhere from $50 to $99 for one to three years of hosting, and get a free year of domain registration also.

What’s a web host?

A web host is the company that provides the server where your website will be stored and the software that you will use to build it. I have several web hosts that I recommend. They are listed below. HostGator is the one that’s having the sale for the rest of the month of March, 2020.

HostGator is one of the few hosts that will bill monthly if you choose (but with their sale, you’re much better off paying for 1 to 3 years up front). HostGator also has an inexpensive drag-and-drop site builder if you don’t wish to use WordPress and don’t know much about building a website.

Bluehost is another inexpensive option, and it’s a reputable host that’s been in business since 2003.

InMotion Hosting is where my website is hosted. If you want a host that’s a smaller company with good customer support, this is a good choice.

SiteGround is another very reputable host, the other one that I considered when I made the move to InMotion Hosting (in the end I just flipped a coin). SiteGround has servers in Europe and Singapore as well as the US, so if you’re aiming at a worldwide audience, they would make a good choice. They are also committed to open-source.

Note: the links above are affiliate links. That means that if you follow them and make a purchase, I get a commission. It doesn’t mean you pay any more than you would otherwise. In fact, during the Black Friday/Cyber Monday web hosting sales (up through December 2), these links could get you the “flash sale” rate even if you show up during an hour when the flash sale isn’t running, or it might get you an free domain name when you otherwise wouldn’t. The actual sales they are offering vary a bit from day to day and site to site and from plan to plan, so I opted not to list specific prices here.

You really can’t go wrong with any of these, and for a website that’s mostly for a hobby, you are fine choosing the very lowest price plan. If you want more than one website, will use your site for a business, anticipate a large amount of traffic, or want to sell things, you might want to choose one of the higher level plans. But the good news is, you can always upgrade later.

What else do I need to know?

Buying a website is not like buying a bicycle. It’s a bit more like buying a cell phone or a gym membership. There are several parts to the price, and also a pricing structure you need to be aware of. When you enter billing information, you’re generally signing a contract to be billed again when the initial time period is up, assuming the credit card you use is still valid at that time.

There are 3 things you need to have a website:

  • A domain name. These are registered for a year at a time and cost between $10-20 per year. Many hosts include the first year for free, and then you’ll be billed for the regular price at the end of that time, even if you paid for 3 years of hosting up front. If you’re not sure about the domain name, choose the option that you’ll figure that out later, because once you buy it, you can’t change it. But also, don’t sweat about it too much — if you change your mind, you have to buy a new one, but it’s like buying a package of paper plates and deciding later you want a different design. It didn’t cost you all that much and you can always buy another one.
  • A web hosting plan. There are lots of variations here, but unless you’re launching a business that will generate a lot of web traffic, you often need the plan with the lowest price, and you can always upgrade later if necessary. Read more below.
  • Design or a site builder or a theme. This part depends on your skill level, whether you want to learn how to do it yourself or pay someone to do it, and your choice of content management system or site builder. Read more about this below.

The fine print about web hosting

There are lots of things to know about web hosting. I’ll try to cover some basics here. Feel free to contact me if you have questions.

You pay less per month when you pay for more months up front. Most hosts bill for a year, two years or three years. If you pay for 3 years, you get the best per-month price. HostGator also lets you pay per month, and the monthly price is quite a bit higher than the per-month price when you pay for 3 years. If I’ve confused you, go to their site and start the purchase process and you’ll see the different prices listed depending on how long of a time period you’re paying for.

The initial price is lower than the renewal rate, even if they’re not running special a sale. The first transaction will always be lower, and then when it renews, the price goes to the regular price. All host companies do this, though some make it easier to find out what the regular price is compared to others. If you buy during a sale, and if you pay for 3 years, you’ll get the very best price, but 3 years later, the price will be higher. The best way to benefit from the sale is to pay for as much up front as you can. If you pay for a year, that’s the amount you get at the lower price, and the renewal comes sooner than if you pay for 3 years.

You should make a plan for the future. It’s like a gym membership or a cell phone plan; it’s assumed you’ll continue and they’ll try to bill you when it’s time to renew.

What if I need help?

If you buy through one of my affiliate links, you can contact me with any questions and I’ll help you get it all sorted out. Or you can pay me a small fee to set up your website and get you started. Fill out my Contact form at the bottom of the home page if you have questions, either before or after purchase.

Some options for web design

Web design is definitely something many people can do without paying any extra. It’s a matter of your ability level (or that of the person you’re giving the website to) and your budget. The worst waste of money is when someone pays for a domain and hosting and then realizes it’s above their ability to make the website, and never do anything with it. But that doesn’t have to happen.

One of the most popular options used to build a website is WordPress. Many hosts will do the initial setup for you, but it can be a bit confusing if you never did anything like that before. Read more below for some details.

Some hosts also offer one of several drag-and-drop site builders which will make it easy for most people to set up a website. Usually these come with either some limitations (like the number of pages you can have) or an extra cost. Make sure you read the fine print if you think you want to use one of these.

There are lots and lots of add-ons the hosts will try to sell you. It’s like when you’re at the drive-through at McDonald’s and they ask, “Would you like fries with that?” But the difference is that you may be paying per-month for some of these add-ons, so they could cost quite a bit more than the medium-sized fries. A good thing to do is start going through the purchase process with a pen in hand, and back out before you complete the transaction. Write down all of the add-ons they are offering and go do some research to see if they’re worth it. Or if you don’t have time, decline them all; you can always add them on later — they’ll probably send you an email explaining why you should. Some of the add-ons might be for security, back-up or SEO (search engine optimization), or for an SSL certificate, or for domain privacy. Many of these are things you can get using Plugins if you use WordPress. Domain privacy is a good option and it’s likely to be a yearly price, not monthly.

More details about WordPress

There will be a separate login for WordPress. When you sign up for hosting, you’ll have a login to get to your dashboard or control panel. From there, you can install WordPress if it hasn’t already been installed. Once it’s installed, you log in using a different login from the one you use to get to the dashboard. It’s important to save both logins in a safe place, and to have good secure passwords. Most of your work on the actual site will be done by logging in with the WordPress login, but there will be reasons to use the hosting plan’s login sometimes, too, so don’t lose it.

WordPress is powerful and can do a lot of things, but it doesn’t have to be complicated. You need a theme and probably some plugins. There are a few themes and a couple of plugins that will be automatically installed on your WordPress dashboard, and a bunch more of both that you can download and install for free. There are also a huge number of them that are premium, which means you pay for them, and a lot that offer a free version and a paid version that has more features. It’s a good idea to look for recommendations rather than just installing any that you find. Also, look for when each one was last updated. If it was more than a year ago, don’t install it; it could create a security problem.

Themes control what the website looks like. They allow you to control everything from colors and fonts to whether the menu is on the top or at the side and what the home page looks like. Generally you want one that is mobile-responsive, which means it knows how to rearrange the elements of the pages so they look good on both a computer screen and a phone screen. If you look on your phone and the website looks like a very tiny version of the site you see on your big computer monitor, and the type is so small on the phone that you can’t even read it, that site isn’t mobile-responsive.

Plugins add functionality to your site. There are plugins for security, to help you make forms, to help with Search Engine Optimization, to interface with social media platforms or email newsletter providers. You don’t have to use plugins, but I recommend using one for security at least.

Wow, it sounds complicated

It’s definitely more complicated than buying breakfast cereal, but many people find it less challenging than purchasing sanitary napkins. If you buy from any of my links above, I will help you figure it out, so reach out to me and ask. Or post a comment below.