So you've decided that you want to take the plunge into the wide world of the Internet, and you're ready to take the first steps into starting your very own website. You might have heard a friend, co-worker, or family member talk about creating their own website – or perhaps you built one a long time ago and haven't tried again since. Either way, you know you'd like a website, and you know you'd like it to be free if possible.
Good news, you've come to the right place. At UENI, we build websites, so we know quite a bit about how to get you online for free. We'll walk you through how to do it.
When you read about setting up a website, you're probably thinking of the web page you'll need to create – the thing you see when you click on a link from your computer or your mobile. While that's certainly one aspect to creating a website, it's not the only one.
Broadly speaking, setting up a website can be divided into three parts: finding a hosting service, choosing your domain name, and then actually creating the site. Let's go through these steps.
Simply put, the hosting service is where your website lives – they provide the physical and digital space for the files that make up your website, and you have to lease a portion of a server the same way you would rent a flat (or an apartment, depending where you live) or a house. When someone wants to go to your website, they are accessing the files stored on the server you are renting from the hosting service.
But, of course, in order for someone to find your website, it has to have a domain name.
If you want a simple and easy explanation of a domain name (or the domain), you can think of it like this: the domain name is the name of your website. Typically this mirrors the name of the business – for example, our domain is UENI.com – but this doesn't have to be the case.
The domain name is the most important part of your web address, what is also known as your business's URL (the Universal Resource Locator). It is the biggest box for your website: all the other pages on your website will be part of your domain. When someone wants to go to your website, they'll type the domain into their web browser and then the browser will be directed to your website, which is hosted on the server.
Everything making sense so far? Your hosting is where the website lives, and the domain name is how people can find your website. All that's left is to discuss is how to actually create a website so visitors have something to look at once they get to it.
As the Internet has become more and more widespread, creating a website has become easier and easier. There are now quite literally hundreds of different ways to create your own website, even if you haven't got the slightest clue about web design or coding. We've talked a bit about what makes a great website before, but the fact is that there are many great tools out there for folks looking to build their own websites – no matter if you're comfortable with HMTL and CSS or you want someone to do it all for you, you have options.
If you'd like to do it yourself, you'll want to look into a Content Management System (or CMS) once you have a domain name and hosting sorted. As the name suggests, a CMS will allow you a quick and easy way to manage the content of your website. Depending on the focus of your website, you will likely want to opt for one management system over another – an e-Commerce business will want different functionality than a hair salon, which will want different functionality from a blog, and so on.
For those less inclined toward DIY, you'll want to look at a CMS. You know what they say about reinventing the wheel, and so on. While only you can know exactly what you'll need your particular website to do, we do have a bit of expertise (ok, we have a lot of expertise) when it comes to building professional websites for small businesses, so we'll shine some light in the section below.
In order to create a free website for your business you'll need to do all three of the things we've discussed above – find hosting, a domain name, and actually build the web page – without paying any money for any of it. This can seem a bit tricky, but it's far from impossible.
Because the Internet has exploded from a niche interest into a global necessity, there are a number of free web hosting services available to business owners today. They will often take care of the domain name, and some even provide a CMS as well. Unfortunately, many of them will restrict aspects of your website's functionality to the point that it may be difficult to actually use your business website as you've intended it to be used.
For example, If your website goes offline once per day, or if you're not allocated enough bandwidth to allow all of your customers to visit your webpage, or you can't edit the layout of your page to really help your you're not going to have a good time. That said, free hosting opportunities do exist, just sure to do your research into the providers you find to make sure they're a good fit for what you want your business to do.
Regarding domains, it's important to keep in mind that many of the free website offerings will allow you to have something of a unique domain, but it will almost certainly be tied to the provider in some way. Let's say your business is named Healthy Snax – if you go with free hosting, your domain could appear as Healthysnax.Bigfreewebsitehosting.com or Bigfreewebsitehosting.com/freewebsites/HealthySnax rather than Healthysnax.com. This might not be a deal-breaker for you, but a clean, straightforward URL can be the difference between a potential customer finding your website and being lost or buried under thousands of your competitors.
Small businesses don't typically have a lot of leeway when it comes to budgeting the cost of building a website, and fewer still can really justify the thousands of pounds that it can cost to get a fully-functional bespoke website built for them. But many free website service providers are designed more for bloggers or more artistic pursuits – they can lack an easy or intuitive way to display some of the essential elements a small business needs to show, such as the location or opening hours.
Obviously part of the reason UENI is so special is that we do build websites for small businesses for free. No strings attached. That's because we strongly believe that every business owner should be allowed to have space on the internet, no matter their budget. Are we biased? Of course. But if you're looking for a Do-It-For-Me website builder for your small business, we're proud to say we consider ourselves the best provider around.
If you're looking to design your own business website from the ground up, though, there are a few other providers that might tickle your fancy. You've probably heard of Wix, for example: they have great templates that are easy to use and you can easily create a great-looking website with them. Of course, unless you want to pay for a Premium plan, you're going to have a Wix advertisement on every page. And you can't deal with online payments or bookings. However, if you're willing to pay them a bit of money each month, Wix can provide an excellent website for you.
WordPress is one name you might have heard of, and that's because the blogging-based website builder and CMS provider is a huge presence when it comes to bespoke website building. Think about how different the Internet looked when WordPress debuted in 2003, and you'll get a good idea of how much staying power they've managed to have.
There are two major issue with Wordpress, when it comes to building a website for a business. First, like Wix, their free plan features WordPress advertising on the page.
Secondly Wordpress is at it's heart still built around building websites that are primarily blogging platforms. While you can use it for your business, many of the free plans and templates are not ideal for showing off your business in the most positive light, and it can be difficult to manipulate the free features you get with a WordPress site to really show off the parts of your business you really want to.
Weebly is another excellent resource for building your own free website, but it's a bit trickier to say whether or not their free plan is a good fit for most businesses. For one thing, their free plan only covers a website, not an online store (those start at £5 per month), and like Wix and WordPress, the free plan means you're going to have advertisements for Weebly all over your website.
Another popular business website platform is Squarespace, but they only offer a two-week trial of their services – for most businesses you'll have to pay between £15 to £20 per month to use their platform. If you're handy with web development concepts like HTML and CSS, though, Squarespace can be a powerful tool for creating your business website, especially if you're in an industry that puts a premium on aesthetics.
But, of course, Squarespace isn't free. We're just mentioning it here because, like Wix, Weebly, and Wordpress, it's a common website building tool. If you've got the knowhow and the budget, Squarespace is worth a look.