I'm assuming that you are not a web developer yourself, and that you will need either a tool to create your site (similar to creating a blog) or you will hire a professional web designer/developer.
I'll talk more about hiring a pro in a later installment, but if you go the do-it-yourself route, there are many ways to easily create great-looking author websites.
If you are here, you probably already blog. Blogs can be customized to the point that they look like a regular website, and they can run under your own domain name.
- Here on Blogger.com, go to Customize->Posting->Edit Pages to create new pages and add navigation. Under the Settings->Publishing tab, you can specify your own domain name. Your blog is still hosted for free here on Blogger, but both the original blogspot.com and your new domain name will both point to it.
- WordPress is another highly-customizable blogging platform (really a Content Management System or CMS) that can be also run on your own host/web server. Doing so allows even more customization and you can eliminate the “Powered by WordPress” branding. This requires a little more technical knowledge, but the super-customized results can be seriously professional – many high profile, big-company sites run on WordPress. Joomla and Drupal are other popular CMS’s that you might hear about.
Hosting Service Tools
Many hosting services provide other tools to create websites using templates and components while still allowing you to use your own domain name. Many are even free, such as weebly.com.
- Only consider such hosts that promise not display ads on your site.
- The template quality and options vary widely, so you might want to try out several of these free services to find the one that gives you the best results.
- Download speed is important. Some of these services create very bloated web pages, or have slow servers, or are on the other side of the world, any of which can make your site take forever to load in a typical visitor’s browser, and people tend to abandon slow sites.
- Make sure the created site works on all major browsers. For example, wix.com creates slick flash animation sites (though you have to pay to use your own domain name). The downside is that not all of your visitors will have the flash player installed, and it’s not supported on the iPhone. I’ll talk more about browser compatibility in a later installment.
- The main downside of using these template-based sites is that they tend not to be very flexible and your site may look an awful lot like a lot of other sites.
- The other minor downside is that you probably can’t take the template with you if you move to another host. Since you’ll probably be moving in order to update the look of your site anyway, I wouldn’t worry too much about this.
Website Creation Software
You may have heard about WYSIWYG website creation software. Examples are Adobe Dreamweaver and Microsoft Expression. These purport to be easy to use and are advertised with phrases like No Coding Required! What they don't tell you is that you still have to understand the code (plus a lot more) to make the tools really work for you. So try out free versions if you want to, but without basic working knowledge of HTML/XHTML and CSS you will probably get very frustrated very quickly, and you will still have to figure out how to test your site and publish it to an actual hosted web server.
Another option that might seem appealing is using the “Publish to Web” feature in your word processor. I do not recommend this. The web pages these generate are not standard and are not well supported by browsers. They simply aren’t going to give you professional-looking results.