While in the process of switching URLs, a friend suggested I blog about the experience. Great idea Benson ;) Today’s blog will be about how to set up your own webpage on a hosting space, and a future blog will talk about how I did the URL change. It will take too long for me to go step by step, so I’m just going to explain the general idea of how to get a website looking like mine.
A yummy platter of cheese at a friend’s party. Rachel, if you see this, I have to keep telling ya, you are a foodie’s dream! I’ll keep bringing sugar to all your parties if you’ll keep inviting me ;)
I manage my website using the following:
- Namecheap to register all my domains (about $14 a year for a .com URL with WhoIs Guard). I still own shangchenphoto.com today and I have it set up to forward automatically to saavedraphoto.com
- Hostgator for webhosting (plans start at ~$4/month). Hostgator also sells URLs, so you don’t have to do it separately. I just happened to be buying URLs from Namecheap at the time
- WordPress (free) is the backbone to the website
- ProPhoto is the WordPress theme I’m using. I’m currently on version 3 – obviously ProPhoto5 is better, but I don’t need the upgrade ($199 for self-install, $89 for upgrade from PP3 or PP4)
- Google Apps for Business to manage my email (~$5/month)
- Zenfolio for my client galleries- use my referral code RVM-A95-GGR to get a discount! (professional photogs, you’ll probably need the Premium or Premium Business plan to sell photos, $140 – $300/yr)
Pros of this?
- You have a legit .com web presence, a must for any professional business
- You have the power of Google Apps (Gmail, Calendar, Docs, etc.) at your fingertips. Also, having an email that ends in your domain name makes you far more legitimate sounding than a gmail account
- WordPress is one of the most powerful, if not best website self-publishing tools available out there that do not require much coding, and ProPhoto’s templates make it easier for photographers to create beautiful websites
- WordPress allows you to move your website content as long as you are diligent about backing up. Moving content from one place to another typically requires a database download and upload, though I did have a friend help with this 3 years ago. I often see people get a completely new website redesigned but then lose content. That’s great for starting anew, but sometimes it sucks to lose years of blog posts
- You need to be comfortable learning a bit more about DNS, FTP, what a control panel is, and all the fun back end stuff that makes your website work. However, I think this is great stuff worth learning
- You’ll have to have some patience. Things can and do go wrong and take time to fix
- This is more DIY, so if you mess things up it’s also up to you to fix it =) While each of the services above offer help and support, response times can take a couple of days. Sometimes Googling and pestering great techie friends is the fastest way to solve things (sending more hugs out to all my techie friends right now)
So What Do I Do?
Step 1, get your credit card ready.. haha, but seriously, most of this stuff is pretty low-cost yet high-return. At one point I contemplated getting a complete custom website done for $2,000. That was a luxury that I seriously thought about doing, but I canceled because what I do currently costs me a maintenance fee of around $300 a year ($160 a year if you take out Zenfolio) and for where my business needs are right now, I have more than enough functionality.
Buy a domain name
I’ve never been a fan of GoDaddy, but I do like Namecheap. It had a redesign recently and the UX is relatively okay to follow on the website as long as you know what you’re looking for. I like it because they give a lot of notice for when to renew my domains. In addition, Namecheap is very easy to work with in terms of URL forwarding and setting up MX records (which is something you have to do with Google Apps)
Buy hosting space
Buying a name doesn’t mean you have a website – you just have a name. Now, you need space to put your website. I love Hostgator, they have some of the most sophisticated and low cost hosting plans available and they rarely go down * knock on wood *. Granted, Hostgator’s billing is separate from its control panel login and half the time I don’t remember my passwords, but other than that, they’re a good no-frills place to host everything. Their support isn’t too bad either. The below picture is just a partial view of the various tools available to me on my control panel for saavedraphoto
Point your name server to the ones provided by your hosting space
Unless you bought your URL from the same web host, you have to tell the your domain name registrar (in this case, Namecheap) that you need your URL to direct people to the space that you’re hosting. Your hosting service will provide you with the nameservers. This is where I enter it for saavedraphoto.com
One hard lesson I had to learn when switching URLs is that once you point to the nameservers, it’s not immediate. I’m not very clear on the technology behind this, but basically, it takes about 24 – 48 hours for servers all around the world to “propagate” and recognize that your URL has to travel to a certain spot in the web. This is why I recommend that after this step, you wait another 2 days before attempting the below
Once you have a host, then you need to create a website. You could do everything from scratch if you know how to write HTML, but obviously for more advanced websites, more time is required. This is why a lot of people prefer WordPress for a content-driven website, because it is a great tool for publishing text and images. Hostgator actually has a tool that guides you through a wordpress install, and the famous five-minute install that WordPress has is simple too.
WordPress already comes pre-loaded with some free themes, so you don’t need to buy a theme and you can actually stop here. However, I highly recommend buying a theme if you want to significantly alter the way you want your website to look
How’s this for meta – a screenshot of this blog post in process
Extra credit: Install Google Analytics on your website! By far one of the best, and still free, ways to analyze your website stats.
Buy ProPhoto theme
At the very least I think you should learn to install a theme yourself – because it is SO EASY and not worth the $80 expert install premium that ProPhoto charges. However, if you do get stuck, you do have the option to get help. Here’s a screenshot of what ProPhoto looks like when you now ask it to change the appearance of your blog. The menu is extremely intuitive and easy to understand. Hmm… something tells me they want me to upgrade =)
Set up Google Apps
Once you’ve finished doing all the above, you can then sign up for a Google Apps for Business to activate your email. To be clear, most excellent web hosting services such as Hostgator already come with their own email client, but having a Gmail-like account is far better. You may have to upload a file up to Hostgator to allow Google to verify that you own your website (hence, learning about FTP or at least, file management on your host), but the installation should be easy after that.
And you’re done!
Wait, this is really not for me
…and that’s okay. I think everyone needs to focus their energy on something where the returns justify the effort, but for some people, that means focusing just on the photography. You can always set up a free blog at WordPress.com, maybe you can get a beautiful template website at Squarespace, there are a lot of options out there. Do your research on what you need from your website, ask others to let you take a test drive around the back end of their website, before making your own decision.
Shang Chen Photography has rebranded to Saavedra Photography
Based in NYC | Open for select photography commissions on Sundays only