[DAY 4] Establishing Our Website

[DAY 4] Establishing Our Website

Note: This is Day 4 of a 10 Day series on building N-ter, a place where you can manage your job applications online, from idea to launch. You can find the previous posts here:

[Day 0] Let’s Build an Online Startup in 10 Days
[Day 1] Creating a Value Proposition for Our Idea
[Day 2] Refining the Business Model and Naming the Baby
[Day 3] Designing the Product Using a Method from the Lean Startup

Today it’s all about getting our website up and running! We are covering the following topics:

  • Looking into the costs of establishing our digital product
  • Buying the domain, setting up the hosting and installing WordPress
  • Setting up a coming soon page on our new website

 


The Costs of Getting Our Website Online

After some of the previous posts I was asked to show a way on how you can start such an online product if you’re on a tight budget, for example if you’re a student. I think that there is nothing different you need to do, other than what we are doing here.

Let’s have a look on what we need to make N-ter happen. We need four main ingredients for it:

  1. A domain – 20 $ / year
  2. A hosting provider to host our website – 5-10 $ / month (depending on the host)
  3. A WordPress installation – FREE
  4. Basic coding skills – FREE

 

This means that, as long as you’re willing to put in the effort, you can start an online product for way under a 100 $ for the first year. I would argue that anyone who lives in a developed country and is over the age of 18 can come up with this kind of money within a reasonable timeframe.

A word of warning though: Depending on the country you’re living in, there might be laws or regulations that force you to establish a company if your intention is to make money with the website. I cannot discuss this issue here, as I am not a professional in that topic and I cannot cover this for all the countries you guys live in. Please talk to someone who knows what they are talking about, preferably a lawyer.

Pro tip: If the regulations in your country are too tight or establishing a company is expensive, there is quite a new alternative. The Estonian government is offering an e-residency, with the help of which you can establish a company in Estonia, without ever physically setting foot on Estonian soil. (And who really cares where your company is registered anyway?) I haven’t tried this myself yet, but I know people who did, and it seems to work fine. There seem to be more than 20.000 e-residents with 3000+ companies already and they are showing all statistics on a public dashboard. Again, I have not tried this out and therefore cannot vouch for this. Everything you do is at your own risk. Please consult a professional and make sure that you’re not overstepping any legal boundaries. But if anyone around here has experience with this e-residency, I would love to hear about it!

That being said, let’s get back to the topic and dive into each of the four components I mentioned at the start:

 

The Domain

When I came up with the idea for the name, I checked the domain availability straight away on GoDaddy. And what I saw is this.

Whoops. Not exactly the kind of money we have available.

Here’s what to do: If your desired domain name is not available or too expensive, try other domain endings. Popular startup choices nowadays are alternative domains like “.co”, “.io” or “.ly”. Alternatively, try varying your name or add something to it. A possibility is something like “[NAME]app.com”. There are cases where even those adjustments do not work, for instance if you choose a very common or popular word. In that case you either play around with other words to add or reconsider your name choice.

My choice was simple: The domain n-ter.co was available for 16.99$. No second thoughts. Domain bought. As a rule of thumb, try not to spend more than 20$ on a domain name, it’s rarely worth it. Unless you really want it of course, but that’s your decision to make.

 

The Hosting

Unless you want configure and hook up a server to the internet yourself, you’ll need someone to host your website online.

There is an abundance of global and local hosting providers. I’ve tried some of them before, but I stuck with SiteGround since I started using them. I haven’t had any notable issues with them and the websites I host with them have 100% uptime until now. Any questions or minor issues I had were all resolved by the first contact person on their customer service team, usually within a couple of minutes via live chat. Plus, they’re optimized for WordPress hosting.

The costs? As of today, it’s 5 $ / month for their startup plan.

There are more good hosting providers out there, so choose one you like, sign up with them and you’re ready to go. If you’re intending to use WordPress, make sure your provider offers easy (usually “1-click”) WordPress installation.

From here on, I will be assuming that we are using GoDaddy as the domain provider and SiteGround as the hosting provider to keep things simple. If you’re going with other providers, certain things might work differently.

If the place where you bought the domain and your hosting provider are not the same (like in our case), what you need to do is to log in with your domain provider and point the name servers of your domain to your hosting provider. It usually doesn’t take longer than 5 minutes. Every decent hosting provider should have a tutorial on how to do this.

 

Before You Do Anything, Secure Your Website with SSL / HTTPS

One of the things I learned from previous projects is: Enable SSL encryption on your website as soon as possible. Once your website grows, shifting from http to https can be a difficult task. Why? For example, every single link and every single image on your website that are still in “http” format need to be replaced, before your website is actually secure. Trust me, do it right at the start.

In the SiteGround cPanel, there is a “Let’s Encrypt” application. You can install the required certificate there for free and even enforce all incoming traffic to use the “https” protocol. Done in 2 minutes – and the data users transmit to the website is secure now. It took Stackoverflow four years to go through this transition.

 

Installing WordPress

So, we’ve bought the domain on GoDaddy, established our hosting account on SiteGround and linked the two. From now on we don’t really need to login to GoDaddy anymore, everything can be done via our SiteGround account.

Once logged in, there should be a button taking you to the cPanel. What SiteGround does is they host our website files on a computer (the server) that they have somewhere in their data centers. cPanel is the configuration tool that lets you access and interact with this server. You can modify your website files, view and edit databases and do various other things.

In the cPanel, you can find a WordPress Autoinstaller. Simply click on it and follow the instructions to install WordPress on your server. Once that’s done, open a new browser tab and open your website. You should now be able to see some generic text. Congratulations, your website is online!

 

Why Are We Using WordPress Anyway?

WordPress started out as a platform for bloggers, but as it is evolving, more and more functionalities become available. Their CEO Matt Mullenweg said that the vision of WordPress is to transform into an operating system for the web. And if we can believe their figures, they’re quite successful at it already. According to their numbers, they’re already powering 25% of websites on the internet.

The main reason for using WordPress from my perspective is: It is a platform where many functionalities you need for a website are already prebuilt. Either by Automattic (the developer of WordPress) themselves, or by the numerous plugins that other people developed. So instead of coding functionalities like log-in or security features yourself, you can just install plugins that take care of those things for you. We’re going to dive into which plugins we are going to use in tomorrow’s post.

The downside of this is, that if you have a need for very customized features or designs, it can be quite hard implementing them to your exact specifications. That’s why for more advanced endeavours I would recommend custom development. But as we want to validate an idea quickly and cheaply, we’ll accept the downside of not getting some things 100% the way we want them to be.

WordPress is very well documented, so if you want to learn more or need a first steps guide, you can find everything on on Getting Started with WordPress.

 

On “Basic Coding Skills”

It’s possible in almost all cases to create a basic website in WordPress without touching a single line of code. But I am anticipating that there will be a small amount of functionality for N-ter, where we will have to write a few lines of code to make it happen. I will try to keep this as minimal as possible.

As I’ve mentioned a couple of times before, I am not a coder. But in the past, I got frustrated that I wasn’t able to build and test simple applications myself. And hiring a good programmer is very expensive. So, I decided to do something about it and learn how to code. (I must add I have experience with HTML, SQL and Python back from when I was in school. But that was a while ago and I was still quite a bit away from being able to build web applications.)

So here’s what I did: I signed up at Codeacademy.com and took the following free courses: HTML, CSS, JavaScript and PHP.

Why exactly those four languages? In simplified terms:

  • HTML is the basis for every website and creates the building blocks that you see on it (text, boxes, buttons, images etc.)
  • CSS is responsible for the styling of the website (colours, backgrounds, spacing etc.)
  • Javascript enables basic website functionality such as animations or showing/hiding elements

 

All three are so-called “front-end” languages, meaning they are executed on your computer. You can even see the code of every website and play around with it (just right-click on any webpage and click on “view page source”).

  • With PHP, more sophisticated functionality can be programmed than with the three languages I mentioned before

 

PHP is a “back-end” language and is executed on the web server (that’s why you can’t see it in the page source). There are other popular (and arguably better) back-end programming languages like Python or Ruby. But the reason I chose PHP is that WordPress is entirely built on this language. So to get into WordPress code, you have to understand PHP.

What I mean when I am speaking of “basic coding skills”: Of course, you can do the courses on CodeAcademy or similar platforms. After that it’s highly likely that you will be able to understand and adjust existing code and also create functionality yourself. But you have to keep in mind that this will not make you a good and efficient programmer. Here is a critical view on why that is the case. We are only aiming to acquire the skills that are necessary to build our MVP and validate our idea. Once this is done and we are optimistic we can scale the idea and make money with it, the actual development work should be handed over to professionals who can write good code.

 

Setting up the Coming Soon Page & Collecting User Emails

How to Install Plugins in WordPress:

To set up the coming soon page that users will see while we are working on the website, we need to install our first plugin. In the SiteGround account area, click on “Go to Admin panel” next to your domain name. This will take you directly to the WordPress Admin panel, where you can build and edit your site. Click on “Plugins” -> “Add New” and search for the plugin you want to install.

For the coming soon page, I am using the plugin “EZP Coming Soon Page”. After installing and activating, there is a new item on the left-hand side that says “Coming Soon”. Go there, configure your page, set the status on “On” in the settings and it’s done! Just open your webpage in another browser than the one you’re currently using (This is important, because you are logged into the admin panel in your browser. So you won’t see the coming soon page.) and check the results! Here is our result on n-ter.co:

The cool thing about this plugin is that we can also collect e-mail addresses on our coming soon page. People who signed up appear under the “Subscribers” menu item. (Note: this mailing list is NOT the same as the one for this 10 day post series)

 

Setting up Website Analytics

One last thing to do for today is to enable Google Analytics on our website to see how many people are visiting.

  • Go to analytics.google.com and create an account.
  • Follow the instructions to set up your account.
  • Insert the tracking-script you receive from Google in the “Analytics code” field in the Coming-Soon-plugin settings.
  • Visitor data should start showing up in your Google Analytics account soon.

 

Day 4 Summary

If you are following along, today do the following:

  • Choose and purchase a domain for your idea
  • Purchase hosting on SiteGround or a hosting provider of your choice and point the nameservers of your domain to it
  • Secure your website by installing and enabling an encryption certificate
  • Install WordPress
  • Set up a Coming Soon page for your website
  • Create and link a Google Analytics account

 

That’s it for Day 4! Tomorrow we will:

  • Select and configure a theme for our WordPress appearance
  • Install all required WordPress Plugins
  • Create the first webpages and page elements

 

Meanwhile, sign up for the email-newsletter and I’ll let you know when the new posts go online!

4 Replies to “[DAY 4] Establishing Our Website”

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