Written by Becca Edwards
You’ve waited long enough; it’s implementing time. Remember how last time we discussed hosting, the CMS, and the theme? Now it’s time to get practical. Here’s what I recommend:
Shopping for Hosting
As one of the web’s most popular hosts, DreamHost was voted the best hosting company by Lifehacker readers. Their hosting plans start at $8.95 a month and include features to help get your site up and running quickly.
(Trasparency: StoryForge uses and highly recommends DreamHost.)
2. A Small Orange
With the tagline “Homegrown Hosting,” A Small Orange focuses on top customer service 24/7, 7 days a week. If your audience is small and you don’t have a lot of traffic yet, they have a simple plan for $35 a year, which is enough to start. (Transparency: my personal site is hosted here.) As you grow, you can increase your server space.
3. BlueHost and HostGator
Two others that are highly recommended are BlueHost and HostGator. If you’re interested in learning more about these top hosting providers and their advantages, Lifehacker has a great article describing them.
Choose a CMS
Since you’re probably not going to start a large online company with thousands of products to display, you don’t need the most robust CMS. Drupal and Joomla are highly customizable and extensive, but they have a steep learning curve and will be more than you need to set up and manage.
For most creatives looking to build a web presence, I recommend a WordPress site. The CMS includes built-in widgets, with a wide variety ready for you to plug-in and go. However, widgets don’t always get along, and themes can get tricky if you want to customize them more intensely.
One more thing: WordPress has two sites for two different purposes. WordPress.org is for creating and hosting your site, whereas WordPress.com is for creating a free site. But it’s still like an apartment rental: your content is being hosted by WordPress, and that’s the actual cost you’re paying. To host your own site with additional plugins and customized themes, you’ll need to use WordPress.org. (Transparency: StoryForge is built on WordPress.)
A new alternative to WordPress, Ghost was Kickstarted in 2013. From the start, Ghost’s goal has been to get back to writing on the web. Though it lacks the additional plugins and customization of Wordpress, Ghost emphasizes the creating process by showing you what you’re writing on the left and how it will appear on the right. It also has built in mobile responsiveness. This CMS isn’t for everyone, since it is currently so limited. But if your goal is to focus on blogging, Ghost is a great CMS to choose. (Transparency: my personal site is built on Ghost.)
Pick A Theme
Picking a theme is more than just finding a stylish layout. You should evaluate what capabilities are provided. Here are some questions to ask while you’re looking:
- Do you like the homepage layout? This will be the most popular page
- What page layouts are shown in the demo? Do you like the portfolio and blog styles? How’s the contact page? Test the theme to see how it works.
- What plugins are included?
- Is social media share functionality included or will you have to add that later?
- What can I change easily? The theme descriptions should let you know what you can adapt in the theme without too much work.
- Is it responsive for mobile devices? You can test this by demoing the theme in your browser. Make your browser window slimmer and wider. Does the theme adapt to fit the width of the browser window? If it does, it’s responsive.
- If you need ecommerce functionality, is it included in the theme?
- What integrations does it include?
- What is it rated? If you’re looking on Theme Forest or a similar site with ratings, you should see how it’s rated and how many people have rated it.
As you’ll soon discover, many, many themes are built for WordPress, so you’ll have to filter by the type of layout you need—blog, portfolio, news—for the best results. Some of the best themes can be found at Theme Forest, Woo Themes, and Elegant Themes. Another great place to look for themes is Theme Roulette, where you type in a category and get a random theme for that functionality.
Since it’s a newer CMS, fewer themes are available for Ghost, but overall, they are beautiful. The layout is very straightforward since the goal is to put the content front and center. I recommend looking for Ghost themes at Ghost and Theme Forest.
3. A few other options: Svbtle, Medium, and Squarespace.
Two more popular platforms are Svbtle and Medium. Svbtle is a very minimalistic platform that focuses on writing. Similarly, Medium focuses on writing and has communities that are dedicated to different subjects. On Svbtle you can even point your domain name to it and let it function as your website. However, I don’t recommend them as platforms in themselves because they hold your content. They help you share your blog posts for more engagement with their communities, but they function more as secondary sites.
Squarespace is also newer; it offers a plug-and-play site, making it easier to make updates and personalize your layout. However, since they host your site and you design your site through their templates, it’d be difficult to move your content if you ever want to cancel.
You Can Do It!
If you come across any problems, remember that Google is your friend. Search to see if anyone else has had a similar problem. Depending on your issue, you might also find your answer on Stack Overflow or Github, but it’d probably be better to search Google to see what comes up in your search results. The best way to learn is by doing and testing. If you’ve looked really hard and still can’t find anything, submit a help request to the best place for your problem such as a the theme forum for a theme related question.
BONUS TIP: If you like another artist or writer’s site, copy the URL and search it on What Theme, which will show you their CMS and theme. It’s better to learn about the sites you like and how they’re created before picking the CMS and theme for your site.
The most important thing to do is get started. You can do this. Go be awesome.
Rachel Beck continues with “Personal Branding for Storytellers: Going Social.” Learn how secondary sites such as Facebook and Twitter can help boost your online presence and build an audience.