I am not a web designer (as I'm sure you can tell). In fact, I know very little about setting up websites or any of the technical steps in setting up a site. Right now I’m maintaining this site and two others without having written a line of code.
I used a service called Squarespace to set my sites up. If you listen to podcasts regularly, you’ve probably heard one of their ads. Squarespace is a company that does a lot of the steps for you in setting up a website. You can buy your domain name from them, they can host your site, they have their own content management system that you use to add content and they have a bunch of very nice, very customizable templates that you can choose from to create the look of your site. Really, the only thing you have to do is provide all the content.
If you sign up for a year of their service, you get the domain name for free. The domain name belongs to you, so if you eventually decide to leave Squarespace, you can take the name with you.
Squarespace has been a reliable host for me (granted, none of my sites get a huge amount of traffic), I’ve never noticed my sites being down for any amount of time. Their own homepage is a Squarespace site, they say that they use the same system that hosts their customer’s pages so you would think it would be reliable.
Their content management system is really nice. It’s very slick, very clean. You choose ‘content blocks’ (text, images, an image gallery, video, etc…) and add them to a page. They can be moved around by dragging and dropping, so it’s all very intuitive. You can even sell things on your site, they have all sorts of tools to let you take credit card numbers, display your products nicely, etc..
If you want video on your site, you do have to have it hosted somewhere else, either on YouTube or on Vimeo.
The final piece is the templates. If you go to Squarespace’s site, you can see all the templates they have there. Some are geared towards business, others are targeted for stores, bloggers, artists, restaurants, musicians or weddings. All of the designs are well thought out and tastefully done. I think they all look great.
All of Squarespace’s templates are responsive, meaning that they’ll adapt to different screen sizes. If your site is loaded on a mobile device, the menus will shift around, the pictures will be automatically resized, it all just works.
There is no free plan. You can get the first two weeks free and then you would have to start paying or your site would be disabled. They do have 24 hour support over email which is very fast. They’ve usually gotten back to me in a half an hour when I’ve had to write them.
I think it’s important if you make a website, to have a clear focus on what you want it to be. I made my personal site when the company I worked for went out of business and I wanted an online portfolio. If a company Googled my name, I wanted to have some control over what came up. It’s a very basic site, but if someone visited it, I think they’d get a pretty good idea of what I’m about.
Squarespace’s plans start at $8 (US dollars) a month if you sign up for a year. That includes the domain name. You can often find discount codes from popular podcasts for another 10% off on top of that. Could could definitely make your own site for much cheaper running Wordpress, a free content management system. Ultimately I went with Squarespace because everything was so easy, I couldn’t be bothered with learning Wordpress installs (even though I’ve heard Wordpress can be quite easy as well).
There are other online website builders, Wix and Weebly are ones I’ve heard about, but I wasn’t feeling their templates. There are sites that review all of this, check out Site Builder Report, they have reviews of just about every website builder there is.