Setting-Up a Quick Website

November 12, 2007

What do you need to create a maintainable, scalable website quickly? Perhaps not as much as you think. Let’s go through the list of website requirements and some suggestions.

First, you will need a domain name. Decide on a top-level domain (“com”, “net”, “org”, etc.), go to a domain-name registrar like “godaddy.com” or “networksolutions.com” and start entering domain names you might be interested in purchasing.

If you have a unique brand or company name, your choice should be easy because it is not very likely that anyone else has already bought your domain name. If you want a domain name like “cheapcomputers.com”, on the other hand, you will have a more difficult time. Most of the easy domain names have been taken, but you should still be able to come up with a good one based on your registrar’s suggestions and by using a bit of creativity.

Once purchased, you will need a place to host your site. Here’s a word of warning: do not register your domain name with your hosting provider even if they offer it for free. Hosting providers come and go. They vary in quality. And they can change management. Should you need to change web hosting providers at some point, you do not want to give them a chance to hold your domain name hostage.

Here are some things to look for in a hosting provider. The first thing is Fantastico. Fantastico is a script maintenance package that allows you to quickly set up a blog, content management system, or discussion board.

The next thing you should look for is Cpanel. This is a web-based graphic user interface that helps you maintain your website without having to learn any arcane Unix commands.

Finally, make sure that the Drupal (see drupal.org for more information) content management system is one of the installations available through Fantastico with your provider.

Compare your hosting provider candidates. A couple of recommended providers are AN Hosting (anhosting.com) and Hostgator Web Hosting (hostgator.com). Both offer Cpanel, Fantastico, and Drupal in plans that start at less than eight dollars a month.

Once you have set up your hosting account, your provider should have sent you two domain name server (DNS) addresses. Go back to your domain registrar account, and enter these addresses in the name server area for the domain name you just purchased. It usually takes a few hours for the internet to realize that your domain name is now hosted with your provider. Sometimes it can take as long as two days, though, so you’ll need a bit of patience.

While you wait for the DNS for your domain to establish itself, though, you can set up the rest of your site. Fantastico and Drupal make this easy.

First, log into your administrative account with your hosting provider. Click on the Fantastico icon, and then the Drupal link. Now establish a new Drupal installation. Choose the domain name from the drop-down box, do not enter a directory (we’ll be driving the whole site with Drupal), enter an administrative id and password (do NOT forget these), and enter a your permanent email address for the administrator email. Click the “Install Drupal” button to continue installation.

This should take you to the second screen (out of three) of your Drupal installation. This screen has some important information, like the access URL for your new site, so you should print it and put it in a safe place. At this point you can finish the installation.

Now you can go to your domain and login. You are now in the Drupal CMS, and there are some basic things you will want to do.

In most fresh Drupal installations, there should be a menu in the left column that includes an item called “administer”. Click on this item, and more items should appear. Click on the “modules” item and enable the path module — for a simple installation, all the default-enabled modules plus the path module should suffice. Make sure to click the “Save Configuration” button at the bottom of the page.

Next, you will want to modify your settings. Click on the “settings” menu item. Then click the “General Settings” link in your page’s main content area. Here, you can change the name of your site, the slogan, your mission statement (not always displayed — it depends on what theme you use), the webmaster email address, and the footer message. The footer message, by the way, can contain HTML so you can include links to other areas of your website like a privacy policy, an “About Us” page, and a sitemap, once they’re built. When you have made these changes, hit the “Save Configuration” button.

Usually, you will want your pages to have readable URLs, so click the “General Settings” link again and scroll down to the “Clean URLs” section. Click on the link that says “Run the clean URL test”. If your server passes the test, you should be able to scroll down the the “Clean URLs” section again, and enable clean URLs. Remember to save the configuration.

Now you can go the menu in the left column again and click on the “Create Content” item. The most often used content type is the page. Create a title and add content, and your site is up and running.

If you are interested in customizing your site further, you can use the official Drupal website (drupal.org) as a resource. Not only does it cover much more about using Drupal, it also includes downloadable themes to change the look and feel of your site, and modules that can add functionality to your site.

Here are some of the most useful modules and their uses.

* gsitemap – Creates a Google Sitemap.
* nodewords – Populates meta tags.
* path – Enables URL renaming.
* pathauto – Automatically creates paths based on content attributes like title and date of publication.
* pathfilter – Converts internal Drupal paths to absolute or relative URL addresses.
* sitemenu – Creates a user-friendly sitemap.
* urllist – Allows management of URLs and their aliases.
* userlink – Enables you to create a links or bookmarks directory.

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