Main Body

Building the Website

In the last section, we explored basic principles of effective web design. Here, we will explore the various tools for creating a website. Unless you have a professional need to get your hands dirty with HTML and CSS, I would suggest using a commercial website builder to get yourself online. I really like Squarespace, it is simple and produces great results.


Getting Started

In order to create a website and get it online, you will need a hosting service, domain name, and a website builder (or know how HTML and CSS). Fortunately, there are a number of commercial services available to help you create a functional, informative and great looking website, and then host it online. These website builders will provide stunning templates that you can customize, and feature intuitive interfaces that make creation similar to working with PowerPoint or Keynote.

As always, there is a catch.  If you use a hosted website builder such as or Weebly, they will display banner adds in exchange for their web creation and hosting service.  Therefore, you will be effectively advertising for whatever company happens to use your site as a advertising spot.  I would suggest that is perhaps unprofessional.

If you want to keep your website free of 3rd-party advertising, you have two options. You can build a site on your own, or pay a yearly fee for a service (like Squarespace) that will help you build and host your own site.


Domain Name

Before we look at Website builders and hosting services, I want to quickly explain the purpose of domains. A domain is often informally known as a web address: for example, or It’s the address that allows computers to find particular information on the World Wide Web. Most website builders will register a domain name for you for free, although you will be required to pay (usually around $15) to renew it every subsequent year.

Having a domain name that ties your website to you is important. It brands the site with your name, and makes it easy for potential employers to find you online. If you sign up for a service like, you will be given a domain name such as  These types of domains, are easy to remember, but having “” in your website name mean you’re effectively advertising for WordPress every time you give someone your website address.  Getting your own personal domain name is entirely optional, but something that allows you to keep your website’s focus entirely on its main purpose, promoting you as a professional.


Website Builders

I suggest building your website using a website builder. This requires some money. However, the cost is actually quite minimal if you consider the opportunity costs involved — or, in other words — if you consider what you could accomplish (like write on you dissertation) in the time it would take you to learn how to design a website, build it manually, polish it, and then keep it up-to-date.  Keeping this in mind, the payments are quite minimal.

Of the available website builders, I like Squarespace most. It’s designs are amazing, its software intuitive, and customer service second to none.  Its $164 p/year price tag is among the highest for this type of service. However, if you have your content ready, you can build a great looking, fully functional website in only a day of work.  Furthermore, if you don’t like your initial design, you can switch to any other template with ease.

If Squarespace just isn’t your style, or you consider the price prohibitive, many find that Weebly and Wix offer a comparable web-building experience. I would also suggest checking out (which is based on the WordPress CMS – more below).  Its designs are limited, and aimed at bloggers. However, it is significantly less expensive than similar products, and produces a nice – if simple – result.

Do a little research to see which fits best for you.




1st-year cost*

subsequent yearly cost 


Squarespace easy to use, drag-and-drop interface, beautiful templates $72 $164 SiteBuilderReport Review
Weebly easy to use, drag-and-drop interface $96 $112 SiteBuilderReport Review
Wix offers a bit more control over website than Weebly, drag-and-drop interface $120 $136 SiteBuilderReport Review good starting point, but some complaints about interface $36 $54 SiteBuilderReportReview short-form, one page website creation free, you pay for custom domain free, you pay for custom domain

* Yearly costs include price of hosting, custom domain registry, and no advertising (current Nov. 2016).


Building your own website

Learning how to build a website on your own may be important for you professionally. If that is the case, I offer two suggestions.

First: Do not build using pure HTML and CSS unless absolutely necessary.  Learning the basics of HTML and CSS can be useful in a wide variety of professional settings.  However, if you are just building one or two websites, it is not worth the time and effort required to learn these two markup languages to the extent that you can use them to create stunning websites that adapt to screen size, work well in all major browsers and platforms, and do not continuously break.

Second: If you really feel it important to wield a significant amount of control over your website and work with basic HTML/CSS, I suggest using WordPress’ content management software (CMS). The WordPress CMS serves as the backbone of, it is endlessly customizable, and has a rich support network of enthusiastic users.  You can create amazing websites with WordPress for free. However, you will need to know a bit of HTML and CSS, perform regular updates, and still find (and pay for) a service on which host the content and link it to a domain name.  There are a number of hosting services (with optional domain registry) available on the web.  Bluehost and eHost consistently get high reviews from users. However, they have more features than you will need and are relatively expensive; Bluehost costs $100 after the first year, and eHost costs $72. I would therefore suggest trying Reclaim Hosting. Reclaim is bare-bones, but it is designed for academics, and is a steal at $25 p/year for both hosting and domain registry services.

So, if you have some extra time on your hands, and think it important to learn how to build your own site, create it with the WordPress CMS and host it on Reclaim Hosting.



This guide has offered but a brief overview of webdesign and creation.  However, as a University student you have access to a wide range of software and support tools to help you design and build your own website. Use them.

Our university subscription to provides us free access to an impressive variety of training videos and technology courses.  It has a number of video tutorials on WordPress, HTML and CSS. You can access it from any computer anywhere in the world via your student ID.

Click here to navigate to UW Madison’s portal.



DesignLab is dedicated to helping UW students, faculty, and staff with digital content creation.  They won’t build the site for you but will help you edit it to look more stylish and professional. You can schedule an appointment with DesignLab at any time of the school year.

Click here to navigate to UW-Madison’s DesignLab homepage.


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Developing Your Web Presence by Lane Sunwall is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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