5.10 Building a Website for Free

A website is an organized collection of web pages, generally created in HTML markup language, and containing a home page labeled index.html, index.htm, home.html or home.htm. Ecommerce websites are planned, designed, built, tested and maintained about some carefully thought-out sales strategy.


Webpages are viewed with web browsers, where display varies a little with the computer operating system and browser employed: Internet Explorer, Chrome, Firefox, Safari, Opera and Flock are the common browsers. 

A web server is a computer that stores web pages and makes them available to others who point their browser to the website address (URL). The server usually offers extra functions: scripts, third-party software, databases and website analytics (traffic statistics). Large companies generally run their own servers, which are maintained by the IT Department. Other companies and private individuals lease facilities from hosting companies, which today are large and highly efficient operations offering better than 99.7% uptime with 24/7 technical support. Charges depend on the type of hosting required (shared, virtual dedicated, dedicated, managed, colocated, cloud-hosted or clustered {3}) and the memory used, both the disk space occupied by the stored webpages and the bandwidth (total page memory accessed each month). Hosting companies can be found/assessed through Free Web Hosting, FreeWebspace.net, FindMyHost, Webhosting Geeks and other review sites.

DIY Considerations

Readers will learn more by building a small website themselves than from pages of explanation, and the account below explains how to do so at negligible cost (if the links are followed up).

Before embarking, however, the reader should be advised that:

1. HTML editing skills take time to master, and even a simple website will consume many hours of hard work.
2. Any ebusiness website needs to be carefully planned around a marketing approach.
3. Many ebusinesses do not need a website: see email marketing.
4. Webpage space is available for practically nothing on cloud computing services, galleries, blogsites and media sites such as Facebook.
5. Websites can be built online, gratis for a limited period, at many hosting companies that offer simple tools that eliminate the need for HTML coding. While useful for projects, the sites can't generally be exported to other hosting companies, however, or developed beyond what the tools allow. Examples include Weebly, Designer360, Webs, NetworkSolutions, and HandzOn.

Website Build

Web pages typically possess a title, page header, main section, page footer, and navigation bar or section. Intuitive layouts, quality graphics, style consistency, company credentials and customer guarantees help provide the necessary customer trust. Pages are built with some combination of the following:

1. 'Out-of the packet' website kits.
2. Website-building software supplied by hosting companies
3. Professional HTML editors like Dreamweaver and GoLive.  Cheaper favorites include CoffeCup and Web Page Maker. For free alternatives consider KompoZer (Windows, Mac, Linux), Quanta Plus (Windows, Linux), Bluefish (Windows, Mac, Linux), SeaMonkey (Windows, Mac, Linux), WaveMaker (Mac), OpenLaszlo (Windows, Mac, Linux) and CSSED (Windows, Linux)
4. Graphically-designed webpages subsequently 'sliced up' for text insertion.
5. Modification of commercially-available templates.
6. On the fly with scripting languages like Perl, Javascript or PHP. Free PHP-editing tools include phpMyAdmin and asyPHP.
7. Open-source, collaborative languages like Joomla and Drupal.

HTML, the markup language for webpages is well covered at HTML Goodies, Webmonkey HTML Cheat Sheet , HTML Basic Tutor and W3Schools. HTML5, the latest HTML version, is simpler than the current XHML version, and introduces new tags. Information can be found at WC3 HTML5 Reference, HTML5 Unleashed, and HTML5 Quick Reference Guide. Basic web page markup is very simple:

<title>Page Title</title>
Main body of text

So that web servers know what to expect, a header is added to the HTML tag, e.g: <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/xhtml1/DTD/xhtml1-transitional.dtd">. HTML coding can often be viewed for any web page by choosing the browser View menu followed by Page Source or equivalent. 

Layers, frames and tables add diversity, and scripts (Javascript,  VBScript, and Perl) greatly extend HTML functionality. Useful scripting tutorials can be found on Tizag, Web-Wise-Wizard, and Web Monkey.

Colour, Graphics and Fonts

Webpage color is expressed in hexadecimal value (e.g. FF65E5) and free color calculators/guides are located at ColorCombos, DeGraeve and ColorLovers.  Images are commercially available at iStockPhotos, Photos.com, PictureQuest and other sources. Free sources include Freestockphotography and Visipix. Webpages will display graphics in the .gif, .jpg and .png formats, commonly at a resolution of 72 pixels per inch. Displays on Windows machines are a little different than those on Mac machines, and web designers plan for both. Digital images are manipulated and converted to the requisite format with graphics editors. Photoshop and Fireworks are used by professionals. Free graphics editors include GIMP (Windows, Mac, Linux), Inkscape (Windows, Mac, Linux), Paint.Net (Windows) and Seashore (Mac OS X).

As only those fonts installed in client computers will display on the visitor's VDU screen, web designers commonly employ just those that come with the Windows and Mac operating systems.

Free web typography tools are listed on Binary Turf.


Text and page layout can be closely specified  by Cascading Style Sheets, though the support of CSS functions varies somewhat from browser to browser: tables can be found on W3C Schools and CSS Tutorial. CSS is typically specified with a css text file, linked to the webpage and containing instructions like: h2{ font-size:1.45em; padding:0 10px 10px 10px; margin:10px 0; border-bottom:1px solid #d6d6d6;}


Sound clips and videos are stored on the server, and easily inserted into the web page with a simple HTML link. A popular sound recording/editing program is Audacity (Windows, Mac, Linux), and videos may be captured, edited, and rendered with Blender (Windows, Mac, Linux), Avidemux (Windows, Mac, Linux) and Cinelerra-CV (Linux only). Practical advice can be found on How to Record Audio for the Web, Podcast Recording QuestionsPodcasting in Plain English Video Files & Editing Tutorial, Web Multimedia Tutorial, and Web Video Tutorials.

Widgets and Mashups

Widgets, plugins and mashups are small, stand-alone programs that are readily added to make websites, social media sites and blogs more functional. An enormous number are freely available from IBM Mashup Center, Apple, Google, or can be easily created at Programmable Web, etc.


Once created, webpages are uploaded to servers with FTP clients. Popular examples include FileZilla (Windows),  Fetch (Mac) and Cyberduck (Mac). The program needs to be configured by entering the hostname, username and password supplied by the hosting company.


Build a simple 3-page website using Weebly, Designer360, Webs, NetworkSolutions, or HandzOn. Explain the design in terms of market sector and segment.


1. What alternatives are there to building your own website?
2. List the seven ways in which websites can be built.
3. Describe the basic layout of a web page.
4. How can sound, Flash and order pages be added to the website?
5. How would you choose a hosting service, and why?

Sources and Further Reading

1. Build a Website for Free: Second Edition by Mark Bell. Que. 2010.
2. HTML & XHTML Pocket Reference: Fourth Edition by Jennifer Niederst Robbins. O'Reilly Media, Inc. 2009.
3. Web hosting service. Wikipedia. Explains the types of web hosting available.
4. Open source (i.e. free) programs are listed at Open Source Windows, Open Source Mac, Open Source as Alternative and Open Source Alternatives.
5. 10 Editors for Ecommerce Audio by Sig Ueland. Practical Ecommerce. August 2011.
6. Ecommerce Developer. Focuses on ecommerce site design and development.