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How to build a website: What you need to get started

Welcome to our guide to what it takes to get started with an online presence.



I’ve been building websites since 1995. Courtesy of the Wayback Machine, you can even see the slightly cringe-worthy first one I ever put up. You’ll need to make your browser much narrower because it was designed in the days when screens were only 800 pixels wide.

With 26 years of experience making sites, it’s fair to say I’ve been asked, “So Dave, what do I need to do to get my own website?” a few hundred times, minimum. In this article, we’re going to answer that question. To get started, let’s define our terms.

What is a website?

From a website visitor’s perspective, a website is someplace online you visit to get information or to do something. But from a site operator’s perspective, a website is, fundamentally, one or more directories of files, possibly accompanied by one or more databases of tables.

You may have heard terms like HTML, CSS, JavaScript, Java, PHP, and more. These are all, more or less, computer languages in that they follow a specifically defined syntax and, when processed, produce a result of some kind.

HTML (Hypertext Markup Language): This is a text file containing formatting commands for constructing a webpage. You can control the text style, add headings, lists, and place media content. Most HTML pages also embed or include content from other web languages as well, like CSS.

CSS (Cascading Style Sheets): These are files that help format the webpage. They contain positioning and styling information that gives a page its pleasant look.

JavaScript and Java: These are programming languages, initially developed to run in the browser to modify a page’s behavior on the fly. Now, there are server-side versions, like Node.js for JavaScript and Enterprise Java Beans for Java. Almost all web applications, like Gmail and Facebook, use Java and JavaScript (or a modified dialect) to make the pages more dynamic.

PHP, Python, Ruby, etc: These are server-side programming languages that run web applications on the server. For example, an online store will need to call out to a payment processor. Most of that payment processing is handled server-side in a web programming language.

Back in 1995, when I got my start on the Web, there were no web builders or content management systems. I had to hand-code all my HTML. Today, unless you’re writing custom functionality, you probably won’t have to know any of these languages in detail to create a successful site. But you might want to have a passing awareness of them and to understand basic HTML and CSS at the least, because little bits of customization in terms of how your site looks may require CSS or HTML tweaking.

A webpage is essentially a single document. A website is a collection of related webpages. Many websites, using web programming languages, also work with databases (which provide fast search and retrieval). These sites build the webpages dynamically, constructing all the elements as a user visits the page, and then transferring that cluster of elements as files to a user’s browser.

Although we hand-crafted our pages — HTML tag by HTML tag — back in the mid-1990s, that’s no longer a preferred practice. Today, you’re almost always going to use some sort of page builder or content management system (CMS), which will do most of the super-tedious page formatting and assembly work for you.

Content site vs. web application?

According to Internet Live Stats, there are 1.8 billion websites live right now. Each site is different (except, of course, for those sites cloned by scammers who hope to get web traffic from the stolen work of others). But even though there are millions of variations in what constitutes a website, right now we’re going to lump them all into two categories: Content site and web app.

Even here, there’s some wiggle room. Many apps have content as well. And many content sites have sections that are web apps. Any site that has a forum, for example, is hosting a web app.

From a “Dave, what do I need to do to get my own website?” point of view, if you’re reading this article or asking that question, let’s agree you’re looking to build a content site. You’re asking because you want to present information about the goods and services you offer, or about a topic of interest, or some other site that’s mostly information-based.

Web applications, although incredibly valuable (see all our writing about the cloud), usually require skilled programmers to create. If you’re looking to set up your first site, you’re not ready to worry about coding. For the rest of this article, we’ll assume your site is mostly content-based, although you may have some app features (like e-commerce or a forum).

Build it yourself or hire a consultant (or get your nephew to do it)

If you run a large corporation that can hire a web team, sure, go out and hire a consultant. And while there are many web developers out there (freelance and with agencies) that do a wonderful job, they can increase complexity considerably. For now, I’m going to tell you a few reasons why I don’t recommend you hire someone. After, I’ll show you some tips for succeeding if you do.

Let’s start with the reasons you might want to avoid hiring someone. At the top of the list is cost. Building a custom website is a lot of work. While it’s possible to crank out cookie-cutter sites where only the logo and colors change, anything built with more of a personal touch will take days to weeks to months.

I volunteer with a nonprofit. I agreed to build their site. It had just a few highly custom features (a tweaked membership list and member-only access). Even with just a few custom features, it took me a couple of weeks to put it together. Even the cost of hiring the least expensive developer, billing for 80 to 100 hours of time, is going to add up.

Beyond cost, however, is the loss of control. I also maintain a free donations app, again as part of my pro bono work. At least once a week, someone contacts me telling me that they lost their developer (or they have no idea who the original developer was) and they need to know how to modify their site.

You are unlikely to have access to the same developer for the entire life of your site. Consultants move on, get new jobs, move away, die, or get fired. If you are solely reliant on someone else to keep your site alive, you’re at serious risk. It’s incredibly valuable, especially for your first few sites, to build them yourself. Learn about hosting. Learn about your content management system. Learn about backups.

If you build up these basic skills, you’ll be able to jump in if your developer is unavailable. At the very least, you’ll have a better chance of understanding whether the consultant’s asking price is reasonable or over-inflated.

If you do want to hire a consultant, my biggest piece of advice is to keep each job simple, with clear objectives and a measurable set of guidelines. Rather than hiring someone to develop your entire site, you might hire someone to configure your e-commerce plugin — and teach you how to maintain it. Rather than having someone design the entire site, you might hire someone to help you choose your site’s colors and tweak your CSS to display them.

You get the idea. Keep the jobs simple, tangible, and objectively measurable. It’s much easier to convince a vendor to make a fix because payments aren’t processing than it is to try to convince a consultant to redesign because you didn’t get the light and airy feeling you were hoping for.

Getting ready to get ready

Up until this point, you’ve been getting ready to get ready. You’ve learned about the different kinds of files a website uses. You’ve learned to think about the difference between content sites and web apps. You’ve looked into hiring consultants and (at least if you follow my advice) you’re going to try to build your first site on your own.

You have a couple of more decisions to make about what web technology to use and what hosting provider. But before you jump into the logistics, you need to think through more about your site itself.

We know it’s going to be content rather than mostly code. But beyond that, what are you trying to accomplish? If you want to take orders, you’re going to need to look into payment gateways and payment processing. If you ship physical goods, you’re going to need your cart software to manage shipping and fulfillment tracking. If you ship digital goods, you’re going to need your cart to manage licensing, expiration, renewal, downloads, and registration.

If you plan on building a mailing list, you’re going to need a mailing services partner to manage your list and deliver your mail messages. And you’ll also want to decide how tightly you want to integrate your mailings with your web content. Do you want a mailing automatically triggered for each new blog post, or do you want to write your own mailer when you’re ready to do a promotion?

Also: Best email hosting in 2021

You’re also going to need a domain. Do not let any of the web hosting providers try to convince you to use something like It’s better to have as your domain name. Domain names cost about $10 a year and you go to a domain registrar to buy one. The only challenge, like with vanity license plates, is finding one that hasn’t already been used.

Here’s a caution: Most registrars also offer some form of domain marketplace, where those who own domain names try to sell them to others who want them. Stay away. I have an acquaintance who decided he wanted a very specific name and spent thousands to buy it. Yes, the name of your company might have already been taken. Be creative. There are still many great combinations of letters out there. Don’t spend hundreds, thousands, or even tens of thousands of dollars on a domain name. Just be creative and choose one that’s available.

These decisions will help you look into the features that you’re going to choose when you look for a web builder or content management system. Let’s talk about that now.

Choosing a content management system

There is a wide spectrum between writing every bracket around every tag in every HTML file when coding a site completely on your own, and dumping text and photos into Facebook or Medium and being at the mercy of some walled-garden corporate algorithm.

We’re going to focus in the middle of that spectrum. There will be some configuration and setup decisions and a lot of design decisions, but it isn’t really a choice between writing all your own code or letting Facebook dictate who sees your message. You’ll be able to build a site that’s your property, with your look, feel, and identity.

Here, too, there are decisions. You can go the website builder route. You can sign up to Wix or Squarespace or an equivalent service, and they’ll take care of both hosting and constructing your webpages. All you’ll need to do is choose a theme, and then fill the site with your content.

Also: The best website builder for 2021: Your step by step guide

Depending on your budget, going with a website builder is a very simple and practical solution, especially if the themes provided are appropriate for the kind of work you’re doing. There is, however, a substantial downside: Lock-in. Most web builders are proprietary, so if you want to switch to another service, you’ll have to rebuild your site either mostly or entirely from scratch. At the very least, there will be a ton of cutting and pasting between services.

For smaller sites, that’s not much of an issue. Rebuilding five or 10 webpages is no big deal. But if your site is 50, 100, or even thousands of pages, that’s a lot of copying and pasting (or, if you’re very lucky, exporting and importing). Think about this: If you do one blog post every weekday, you’ll have at least 261 pages by the end of a year. Content expands very quickly.

The other approach is to run a non-proprietary content management system on a hosting provider. That way, you can switch hosting providers and your CMS can move with you. If you run an active website for any number of years, you WILL switch hosting providers. Whatever you start with will become unreliable, more costly, offer less quality support, or give you some other reason where you’ll want to leave. It’s rare to stick with one hosting provider unless you simply have no way out. So planning to be able to switch is useful.

The sweet spot: WordPress

I’m going to go out on a very safe limb and recommend you consider WordPress as the foundation of your website. According to tracking service W3Techs, WordPress now runs 40% of all websites and has a 64.3% market share of all sites based on a content management system.

WordPress is an open-source CMS you install on your hosting provider’s site. Usually, WordPress comes pre-installed, or you need to run a quick installer to create the site. The installation process involves answering a few basic questions. To just get WordPress up and running, it rarely takes more than about five minutes or so.

Also: Best WordPress hosting in 2021

It’s the customization of WordPress that can take a while. That non-profit I told you about earlier was a WordPress site that took weeks to build. Some of that time was spent on getting the non-profit to decide on a logo, gathering all the names of the members, and agreeing on wording and messaging. But the bulk of the time was spent choosing and configuring the plugins, themes, and layouts that best fit the group’s mission and provided the professional look and feel that was desired.

Speaking of plugins and themes, let’s talk about them. Plugins extend WordPress’s capabilities. There are thousands upon thousands of them. I consider plugins the great strength of WordPress because they allow you to customize WordPress to do almost anything. Many are free, many more are paid add-ons. Many offer a free core plugin but sell either a pro version or add-on capabilities.

The second great strength of WordPress is its enormous themes library. There are some very nice free and default themes, and a tremendous number of excellent commercial themes available. This, too, is one of the reasons I confidently recommend WordPress.

But… keep in mind that once you integrate a bunch of plugins and themes into WordPress, you’re going to have something of a lock-in situation as well. It’s not the same as being stuck on one hosting provider, but you may have data formatted just to work with your chosen plugins, or pages formatted to work with just the theme you’ve chosen.

The difference between module-level lock-in and hosting-level lock-in is that you can often find replacement themes and plugins, and you can almost always move your entire WordPress site (including all those plugins and themes) to another host without too much work.

Also, you may have heard about security problems with WordPress. Don’t let that scare you away. Keep in mind that 40% of the internet is running WordPress, so millions of websites run it. That makes a very large target of opportunity for bad guys and opens up a wide range of errors people can make in configuring their sites. But if you do the simple practices of backing up your sites and applying updates as they come out, you’ll almost always be in the clear.

One other benefit of WordPress: Because it’s so huge, there’s an enormous user community and almost unlimited amount of training, help, and support, and a virtual cornucopia of resources, sites, and helpful people out there who know WordPress.

Choose a hosting provider

If you go with one of the all-in-one web builders like Wix or Squarespace, you won’t have to choose a hosting provider. But if you go with some other CMS or WordPress, you’ll need to contract with a company to deliver your webpages to your visitors.

Also: The best cheap web hosting in 2021

I wrote about the hosting provider business model in Best free web hosting in 2021: Cheap gets expensive fast, so click over there and give it a read-through. You’ll learn a ton about how to think about hosting, what services hosting providers offer, and some of the pricing tricks hosting providers try to foist upon their customers.

Another article to check out, on our sister site CNET, is How to choose a web hosting provider. There, I wrote about the different types of hosting and servers to take into consideration.

Also: Best web hosting in 2021: Find the right service for your site

Here’s a quick tip: You can probably get by with shared hosting if you don’t have a ton of pages or a complex site. But stay away from the bottom-of-the-barrel pricing plans. You get what you pay for. Look for a plan that’s roughly about $10 per month if you’re running WordPress or anything with a basic CMS. If you’re running complex e-commerce, expect to spend more.

The reason for this is that you’ll need a base level of performance to be able to feed pages with any responsiveness. The super-cheap sites will have terrible performance and often lax security. If you’re creating your first impression on the Internet, make it count. Spend a few bucks — way less than we used to spend mailing out brochures back in the pre-Internet dark ages — to get a decent quality but still affordable offering.

Final thought

There’s a lot to learn, but it’s not unreachable. More to the point, if you go through the learning curve, you’ll never be completely at the mercy of expensive consultants who may cost a lot and still leave you unsatisfied. I’m not saying consultants are bad, but taking control by learning how to set up your own site will help you become an informed site operator.

You can follow my day-to-day project updates on social media. Be sure to follow me on Twitter at @DavidGewirtz, on Facebook at, on Instagram at, and on YouTube at




Tencent Cloud pledges SEA expansion with launch of Indonesia data centre

Chinese internet giant launches its first data centre in Indonesia, with plans to open a second one in the Southeast Asian market as well as Thailand and South Korea within the year, as it looks to build out its cloud footprint across the region.



Tencent has opened its first data centre in Indonesia, with plans to open a second within months alongside new sites in other Asian markets including Thailand and South Korea. The Chinese technology giant says the investment is part of an “aggressive” plan to build out its infrastructure in the region and tap growing cloud demand.

Located in Jakarta’s central business district, the data centre boasts two utility power lines and 2N redundant transformers as well as N+1 redundant diesel generator with capacity to support up to 72 hours at full load. Tencent’s cloud coverage currently encompasses 27 regions and 61 availability zones, most of which are located in China and the Asia-Pacific, and includes markets such as Singapore, Tokyo, Mumbai, Seoul, Moscow, Toronto, and Frankfurt.

The tech vendor operates more than 40 data centres in China alone, where its cloud business debut was a decade ago. Its international business was launched some three years ago across various regions and currently operates 19 to 20 data centres outside its domestic market.

It added a second data centre in South Korea early this year and, last month, announced plans to launch its first such facility in Bahrain by year-end to support the Middle East and North Africa region.

The latest site in Jakarta would better facilitate access to data and applications for customers in the region and support Indonesian organisations in their digital transformation efforts, said Poshu Yeung, Tencent Cloud International’s senior vice president, in a call with ZDNet. He added that there had been strong online demand across various verticals including financial services, e-commerce, games, education, and media and entertainment.

Tencent itself had seen significant growth for its online services in Indonesia, where its JOOX music streaming app was the second most popular in the country, Yeung said. It also launched WeTV last year, with plans to create more local production this year, and would soon introduce more games for the local market.

Strong demand for its consumer services had further underscored the need for Tencent to build its own data centres in Indonesia, he said, adding that a second data centre would be operational in the country likely in August. This marked the first time the company was launching two sites in the same market in the same year, he noted.

It also should signal how “aggressive and invested” Tencent was bolstering its presence in Indonesia, which he said was one of the leading growth markets for cloud in Southeast Asia. This demand was also evidence in other markets in the region as well as the wider Asia-Pacific, where it saw significant growth last year, he added.

This was despite the fact that the vendor last November had reported “lingering impact” of the global pandemic on its cloud revenue during its third quarter earnings. Tencent then had pointed to delays in project deployment and new customer signups as well as “non-recurring adjustments” to some IaaS (infrastructure-as-a-service) contracts, which led to a lower growth from its cloud and other business revenue.

Asked to elaborate, Yeung said 2020 was a tough year for many businesses but the cloud market was one of few to see robust growth–fuelled by accelerated digital transformation initiatives–not just for global players, but also Tencent. The vendor’s international cloud business last year had clocked triple-digit growth, he said, noting that this upward momentum was expected to continue this year.

He revealed that Tencent would soon launch a second data centre in Thailand as well as in Japan in June.

Apart from supporting its own business and local enterprise customers, its data centre buildout across the region would tap growth potential from Chinese enterprises looking to expand overseas as well as international companies investing in the local markets.

ZDNet asked if he saw fellow Chinese cloud vendors such as Huawei and Alibaba Cloud, which also were eyeing growth in Southeast Asia, as bigger rivals than global cloud players such as Google, Amazon Web Services, and Microsoft. Yeung noted that the cloud business remained sizeable and there was room for several major players.

He added that cloud providers also often worked together, since enterprise customers increasingly were looking to adopt multi-cloud deployments as part of efforts to avoid being locked into one cloud vendor.

“So there are clear opportunities for everyone,” he said, noting that Tencent aimed to offer added value with SaaS products developed for verticals, such as financial and fintech, media, retail, and healthcare.

The vendor also had a wide ecosystem backing its cloud infrastructure and services, including its WeChat platform, he added.




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Blockchain-based Odysee keeps your social media content online

Upload whatever content you want without threat of removal and makes sure it stays online. But you will never be able to remove it – ever.



Odysee ensures your social media content will not be monitored–or removed zdnet Odysee

If you want to put whatever video content you want online and keep it there without risk of it being removed, the Odysee platform will keep your content on the blockchain permanently.

Created in July 2020, video platform Odysee has grown its user base since its launch in December 2020. The YouTube-like platform hosts video content on the LBRY network. Unlike YouTube there are no moderators, and no safety filters for younger viewers – and the content remains on the blockchain permanently.

People forget – or do not know that once data has been added to the blockchain it can not be changed or removed.

Odysee is built on blockchain technology and ensures that its creators’ channels can never be deleted. When a channel is created, it is recorded permanently in a distributed ledger on the blockchain.

While this seems like a great idea, it could have far-reaching consequences for some content creators years down the line – especially as attitudes change over time. Content creators might be saddled with stupid content that they very much regret as they get older.

Placing video content on the blockchain means that no one entity controls or can change it, making de-platforming impossible no matter how extreme, violent, or untrue the content might be.

Odyssee says that there are about 300,000 content creators on Odysee who upload a wide range of video content across topics ranging from informative to downright odd. Users can view any of the videos for free – unlike other video streaming platforms like Streamanity where the content creator sets the price to view videos.

Its press release in December says that the platform boasts 8,7 million monthly active users, however, Sitechecker reckons that gets less than 10,000 unique visitors per month to get a good result.

Odysee is built using the LBRY protocol which developers use to build apps to interact with content on the LBRY network. The platform’s predecessor LBRY.TV has now been retired in favour of Odysee.

When users upload a video, they deposit a minimum amount of LBC (LBRY Credits) starting from 0.01. 0.01 LBC is less than a cent.

Content creators can set an LBC price to watch the video if they choose. Fans of the video can also tip the content creator if they like the video. Each video shows indicate how many credits they have earned for the creator.

The deposit to upload ensures that the content is registered on the LBRY blockchain and will become discoverable by other users.

Users need to have an Odysee wallet associated with their account, which is viewable once they are logged in. They can also use third-party cryptocurrency wallets to store their cash.

Earnings vary for content influencers. Odysee says that the amount typical influencers make varies, and creators “earn $100 per month all the way up to $5,000 per month” for their uploads.

LBRY Credits are not tied to the price of Bitcoin (BTC), but can be purchased via the app. You can also sell LBC at an exchange for cash.

Users can upload any video they want – which could lead to discussions about what should and should not be allowed and regulated – especially as international conversation around social media regulation is growing.

There are concerns that far-right, or extremist content will find it has a permanent home on platforms such as Odysee, with little moderation or takedown.

Odysee does have some general community guidelines – but its comment “We don’t care what you post for the most part” could encourage posters to push the boundaries.

Guideline number 4 says “It’s the internet, we get it; try not to be overtly abusive and nasty toward other users. This extends to continuously harassing other users, encouraging the slander and defamation of other users, and threatening or bullying others in videos.”

Does this mean that users can occasionally harass other users? The guidelines seem to encourage people to step over the line.

Using blockchain gives users and creators more control over their content. Just like in a bar, users still have to adhere to some terms and conditions such as not inciting violence. They are otherwise are free to post and engage as they would in a public setting.

Odyssey’s alternative to demonetization and deplatforming is delisting, whereby a user’s channel and content remain, but cannot be discovered using search, browsing channels, or other tools. This allows the content to continue to be shared as desired.

Users can issue a command to delist their own content. Odysee itself retains the right to delist extremist or troublesome users. However, the content is not delisted from the LBRY network, but just from Odysee.

There is certainly a lot of interesting content on the platform – as well as the usual conspiracy theories and parody accounts.

Top accounts have hundreds of thousands of support credits, whereas other, less compelling, and downright dumb videos, have earned nothing. Will it become a refuge for extremists and nutjobs? Time will tell.

But for content creators, who want to earn LBC right now, and ultimately convert it into cash from their efforts – without a third party dictating how much they can earn – Odysee could be the platform for them.



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Optus believes telco customers want the ability to disconnect

Telco is adding functionality to its app for customers to pause connectivity to devices.




Optus Pause: It starts with no

Image: Optus

Customers of Optus will soon have the ability to pause the very product they are paying for — telecommunications connectivity.

The telco has said the functionality available in its My Optus app will allow “our customers the freedom to ensure they enjoy the time that matters most”.

Switching off connectivity will be per device, with a timed period of unconnectedness.

“Optus is pioneering digital and customer innovation through a ‘one click’ solution that works across mobile and home WiFi connections; across Optus connected services and all devices connected via WiFi on Optus NBN plans with the latest Optus supplied modems, on the same account and household,” Optus vice president of TV, content, and product development Clive Dickens said.

“We’ve listened to our customers who’ve asked us to develop a product that gave them a right to disconnect.”

The telco said it would be rolling out the feature progressively to customers.

Customers of a certain supermarket-branded MVNO that uses the Optus network might feel like they have had a preview of the feature for years already.

On Wednesday, Optus claimed it reached a new 5G speed record with 10Gbps aggregated through a live 5G site.

Telstra retorted that it had hit 20Gbps over the weekend.

“Congratulations to Optus but, unfortunately, it’s not a new record,” a Telstra spokesperson said.

Related Coverage

Switching off connectivity will be per device, with a timed period of unconnectedness.



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