Build a free website in a weekend
A personal website lets you share your passions with the world. It could be a hobby (photography, writing, cooking and travel are all popular topics), a professional portfolio to showcase your expertise (a kind of online business card), or a place to share information about a club or organization you’re involved in.
It’s not difficult either, and with free tools you can create a website from scratch in a few hours. You don’t have to use a dull template to make your site either – with a tiny bit of extra effort you can create something totally unique and utterly stunning without writing a line of code.
1. Make a sitemap
Before you can begin building your site, you’ll need an idea of its structure, and how the pages will link to one another. This is called a sitemap, and even simple sites will benefit from having one.
There are lots of online sitemapping tools, and our favorite for very small sites is WriteMaps. The free plan lets you create up to three sitemaps and doesn’t include any unnecessary frills. Once you’ve signed up, take 30 seconds to watch the introductory video and you’re ready to go. Your map will take a tree-like structure, with pages branching off a central index page. Just hover your mouse over a page, then click the plus symbol to add a ‘child’ page underneath it. Easy.
WriteMaps only lets you create and label branches, which might be all you need, but if you’d like to add notes and colors to make things clearer you can use free mind-mapping software Freemind in exactly the same way. Start with a central index page, then tap [Insert] to add child pages branching off it. See all Freemind’s keyboard shortcuts.
2. Edit your pictures
Even if it’s mainly text-based, you’ll want to include some images on your website – and you’ll probably need to edit them a little first, even if it’s just to crop and resize them.
Our preferred tool for the task is GIMP: a completely free photo-editor that’s ideal for everyone from novices to experts. You’ll find a guide to more advanced image-editing techniques here, but the basic crop and scaling tools are self-explanatory; you’ll find them in the toolbox that appears on the right. Once you’ve finished editing, choose File > Export and select a format to save the image in. There’s a comprehensive guide to image formats on Wikipedia, but JPG generally provides the best balance of image quality and file size for photographs displayed online.
If you need some attractive images but don’t have any of your own, check out Pixabay – it’s a fantastic source of public domain photos that you can download and use without worrying about copyright.
3. Pick a host
This is the most important decision you’ll make – the company that will host your website from its servers and ensure it stays online – and your choice will depend on your priorities. If you simply want to get your site online as quickly as possible, you might be happy with a hosting service that only lets you create sites using its own templates.
However, if you’d rather make your own pages using a tool like Mobirise (see below), which gives you far more flexibility over the design and layout, then you’ll need a host that supports FTP (file transfer protocol) so you can upload it yourself – more details on that below. You also need to consider how large your site will be, and how much site traffic you’re expecting each month.
Here’s our guide to some of the best free web hosts:
- URL: www.weebly.com
- Ads: Small Weebly banner on each page
- Site builder: Yes
- FTP: No
- Disk space: Unlimited (but no single file can exceed 10MB)
- Monthly site traffic: Unlimited
- URL: www.wix.com
- Ads: Small Wix banner on each page
- Site builder: Yes
- FTP: No
- Disk space: 500MB
- Monthly site traffic: 500MB
- URL: www.biz.nf
- Ads: No
- Site builder: No
- FTP: Yes
- DIsk space: 1GB
- Monthly site traffic: 5GB
4. Build your pages
If you’re happy to use a website builder provided by your site host then you don’t need to worry about this step, but if you’d prefer to build your own pages then check out Mobirise. No knowledge of coding is required, it’s free, and your site will be responsive, meaning it will adapt seamlessly to work with different devices and screen sizes.
Sites are built using a simple system of blocks, and the results look smart and stylish thanks to features like video backgrounds, content sliders and Google Maps integration. Your finished site can be hosted by any service that supports FTP (see above). Keep your sitemap handy while you’re working; if you only have one monitor, it might be useful to print it.
If you want to make something less flashy, take a look at SeaMonkey Composer, which comes as part of the SeaMonkey internet application suite. It looks and functions much like Microsoft Word and it’ll take more effort to create good-looking web pages, but no prior knowledge of HTML is required. Indeed, you’re likely to learn quite a lot about basic web design while you’re using it.
5. Upload your files
An FTP (file transfer protocol) client is a program used to upload HTML pages, images and other files from your PC to your web host’s servers.
Most site builders include their own built-in FTP clients (including Mobirise – it’s accessible via the ‘Publish’ button on the top right), but if yours doesn’t then SmartFTP is a good option. Find out how to get started with SmartFTP.
6. Get your own domain
This step is entirely optional. Your free hosting will probably provide you with an URL in the format yousite.freehost.com, but to make it truly personal you might want your own domain. You can register a free .tk domain at Dot TK, but bear in mind that the free registration is only valid for 1-12 months – to keep the domain longer you’ll need to buy a subscription.
Hundreds of new top-level domains have become available since last year, and some are available very cheaply – for example, a domain ending in .site, .xyz or .online will cost a fraction of a .com or .org. You can investigate your options at domain registrars like 123-reg or GoDaddy, then search around for the best price. It won’t be free, but it’s likely to be very cheap – particularly if you get a discounted subscription for the first year.
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