How To
Set Up a Real Web Site

Having your very own dot com web site might sound intimidating but it can actually be very easy and cheap. If you already have your own blog or photo gallery or personal site buried somewhere on the web, this will guide you how to get your very own .com, where you are in control of everything. You can even get going without any knowledge of code, just a few clicks in your web browser.

You must buy two things to have your own site. The "dot com" domain, and the computer or hosting service that it will exist on. That might sound expensive but you can do it for as low as $2.99 a month! There are some options to consider when comparing services including how much space you will get and what extras are offered. For example, some hosting includes the domain registration. Others include utilities to make a site from templates in a few clicks. The quality and response time of customer service will also vary.

Here are the hosting services that I highly recommend, with a quick comparison of their different features:

$600 in Free Software with all 1&1 Hosting!1&1 gives you a lot of space for cheap (5 gigs for $2.99, 10 for 4.99). Although it does have an easy to use control panel, it only has their single limited site builder, not the more popular and powerful blog, site, and gallery software that others hosts give. You get a string of numbers as a user name to your site, and you can only do things via FTP. However you can register your domain with them for free. Customer service takes days to respond and is not very helpful. I host my photo galleries,, here.

Site5 is somewhat cheap (5 gigs for $5.47, 11 for 7.77), but comes with some of the best features. Instead of doing everything themself, they offer a wide selection of popular free utilities for blogs, site management, photo galleries etc. Login is a friendly user name. You can access files via ftp, web, or shell. Customer service is so-so but responds within a few hours. Site5 also has nerdy options that you can't find elsewhere at this price range such as static IPs and SSH access. They do not offer domain registration so you must do it separately (I recommend GoDaddy). is hosted here; the best balance of features, price, and unmatched nerdy features.

website hosting by InMotion Hosting, IncInMotion Hosting is slightly more expensive but offers a lot of space (15 gigs for $7.95, 30 for 9.95). They are rated #1 for customer service. They offer similar popular free utilities like Site5. You can access files via ftp and web. They can register your domain for a fee. Be aware their base plan only offers one SQL database, needed for each blog, gallery, and site management utility installed. I have friends hosted here because of their high quality of service

The first step is to pick a domain. This is or whatever else you can think up. Of course many are already taken, so you must get creative to get one that is not. You can also choose .net or many other endings, however people may forget that it is not .com when you tell them. The domain registration portion of the process will tell you if it is taken and even suggest alternatives; keep trying till you have a domain name you are satisfied with. In reality, every domain name points to a number called an IP address, which points to a specific computer on the internet. Every computer on the internet has its own IP address. Your domain will point to the IP address of the computer that is hosting your web site. When registering a domain, your name and address will go into a public database, some registrars offer private registration for a fee so your information is not public.

Once you pick your domain (or separately register it through GoDaddy), you can then pick your host and plan. Most people and small businesses will want a shared linux hosting package. That means your web site exists with many others on one computer, and that's what keeps the prices so low.

The Storage space is the main feature to compare between plans. Just like how much space is on your hard drive, you need more for more data. Web sites themselves are only a few megs and do not require much, however if you plan to upload photos or videos you will want a lot more space. For example, all my web pages on are only about 50 megs, but my photo gallery is about 4 gigs. Buy only what you need, you can always upgrade your plan in the future.

Bandwidth is the amount of data sent to the internet. It is more a measure of how popular your site is. For example, my bandwidth is usually about 2 gigs a month. However if your web site is ever mentioned on a very popular site and thousands of people go to it, you will suddenly use a lot of bandwidth. Therefore you should make sure your bandwidth limit is way more than you need so you are not cut off or charged extra.

Once you sign up for hosting, they will email you in an hour or so when your account is set up. They will give you the details needed to access your account. You will be given a login and password to access their web control panel, as well as the login information needed to upload your files via ftp. If you separately registered your domain, they will give you the domain name server information that you must enter into your domain registration so your .com points to their server that is hosting your site.

At this point your web site is live. But you may not be able to access it. The .com takes a while to propagate through domain servers on the internet, so it may actually take a day or two before you can access it. In the meantime, the email should have also given you an alternate name or IP address you can use to access your site. You will most likely see a "coming soon" page. Now it's time to create your site.

HTML is the code used to make web pages. It is not very hard to learn and even if you don't plan to use it it is useful to know, especially if you need to fix problems that come up. But if you want you can just use the site-creating software below to create your site. Web pages are just text files ending in .html, and normally you can create these on your hard drive and upload them to your site via ftp. If you don't have ftp software, search for FTP Client to find a popular program to download. I highly recommend reading HTML: The Definitive Guide, an excellent book that not only teaches HTML to the beginner but also serves as reference for the experienced.

Site Utilities
You may also use software that runs on your web site to create its pages. 1&1 for example has its own SiteBuilder, while others have a part of their control panel called Fantastico that will allow you to choose from a selection of utilities and install and set them up for you. Often these utilities need to keep track of their data in what is called an SQL Database, which your hosting plan may limit you to a certain number of. You may also download site utilities to your computer and upload them to your site via ftp, and manually run them and set them up. When they are run for the first time they will often ask you to create a username and password to administer them, and then have their own control panel where you can customize that part of your site.

Blogs are becoming popular and are very easy to run. There are several blog programs out there that are free to use. For example I use MINI blog. It takes just a few clicks to get a blog running, and later you can upload themes to change its look, without affecting all the information you already have. If you already have a separate blog service such as Blogger, you can configure it to automatically upload itself your your web site.

Photo galleries will allow you to easily upload your digital photos and organize them. Then anyone can view them on your web site, and often leave comments as well. Gallery is probably the most common.

Content Management Software, or CMS, can create a complex web site with several pages. Many large companies use them to easily update their web sites, but they are excellent for a small web site as well, especially if you do not want to code yours yourself with HTML. My favorite CMS is Mambo.

It is up to you if you want to keep your current email address. If you decide to use your domain for email, you can pick any email address you want, you can even make several of them. Hosts will provide at least one easy to use web-based email program, but you can also set software up on your computer to download the email. It is never a good idea to use the email address that comes with your internet provider (AOL, Earthlink, Comcast, etc) in case you decide to leave them. It's best to have an independent email at a popular site (Yahoo Mail, Google GMail) so it is not affected by changing companies and can be accessed anywhere.


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updated 1/5/06 ©Josh Wardell