Having your own hosted web domain has never been cheaper, or easier, with the vast array of free resources out there. Here are our ten favourite tools to help anyone launch and maintain their internet presence. Photo by Jasison_Judd.
10. Control access to your pages with .htaccess Editor
You're working on a project you want to show a few friends, but not the whole world—and that includes Google's curious crawlies. Drafting an .htaccess file to password-protect files can be laborious text work, but webapps like .htaccess Editor make short work of your privacy needs. It's not the only one of its kind out there, but we like its step-by-step approach to shielding what you've got and setting up who can get at it—and it can also help you set up multiple subdomains.
9. Optimise your site for iPhones and mobile browsers
You might blog about the latest Linux kernel developments, but an increasing number of the web's readers are getting their blog reads done on mobile Safari. Make it easier for them to read, and you to publish, with tools like the previously mentioned Intersquash, which, while not perfect by any means, does take most of the code-hacking work out of an iPhone-friendly site. If that really slimmed-down, feed-only look isn't your thing, your blogging platform might have a handy plug-in, like WPtouch for WordPress users.
8. Search-optimise your site (without feeling slimy)
Whatever you do, don't do a web search for "SEO solutions," unless you like the net equivalent of getting bum-rushed by 9,000 car salesmen at once. For bloggers and personal sites that don't need a whole team of suits and engineers working to improve their relevance, there are straight-forward, if not exactly quick, lessons on how to get in Google's good graces. We've previously written up a guide to SEO Made Easy, which covers a more diverse range of search engines. Matt Cutts, the search quality manager at the Big G, has posted his own "Whitehat SEO tips for bloggers that cover a whole lot of ground.
7. Find a clever, workable domain name
One reason so many new-fangled webapps have such crazy, vowel-deficient names is because the net seems almost completely picked over for .com addresses. Don't sacrifice your clever idea or give up on your name, though—head to Domai.nr. See how it uses another country's web code for its last letters? The little web utility can do the same for your own phrases and names, as well as tell you which standard .com/.net/.org versions are free or taken. It gets creative with the arrangment of words and forward slashes to find a good fit for whatever you want to get on the net. Hurry now, though, before all you John Smiths of the world have to actually take something like
6. Use free, reusable code and media
5. Kick back against content thieves
Few web phenomenon come close to the sight of seeing an inspired post you write near the top of a Google search—but it's on someone else's site, plagiarised completely. Keep track of who's stealing from you with a search at Copyscape, or subscribe to an RSS feed of your site's leechers at CopyGator. Edit your blog's own RSS feeds to include link-backs that boost your own Google ranking and show the reading world exactly who wrote what when lazy spam-bloggers re-publish your feeds. And, when all else fails, take a multi-step formal and legal approach to getting the copycat stuff knocked down. It isn't fun writing to domain hosts, advertisers, or site admins with your copyright gripes, but it's reassuring when your work is reclaimed as your own. Thanks and credit to Digital Inspiration for the last two links.
4. Pay nothing for hosting with free apps
Back when "YouTube" was just a funny way of describing your television, anyone who wanted a web site pretty much had to pay for the domain name and the remote storage space to host it. Not so in these modern times, when any number of services are begging to give you the free space and tools you need to put yourself, or your project, on the web. As we've pointed out, the best of those free apps—like Google Apps, Tumblr, the no-fee hosts like Freewebs and Google Page Creator—can help even the most novice (yet cheap) would-be site owner up and running with a decent web presence.
3. Write smarter blogs with Windows Live Writer
It might just be the smartest marketing move Microsoft has made in years—creating a free software tool that most any blogger the Lifehacker editors have chatted with think is just great. It works with WordPress, Blogger, MovableType, and lots of other blog platforms. It takes the HTML and grunt work out of drafting, editing, and posting your work. And it supports plug-ins that empower it to grab photos from Flickr, start writing from Firefox, and do much more. Check out our feature on tips and tweaks for Windows Live Writer to get familiar with why this surprisingly open-ended tool is so neat.
2. Google Analytics Reporting Suite
This free, cross-platform Adobe Air app puts a fast-moving, attractive-looking face on the raw visitor data Google Analytics can dish out. Tabbed and profiled reports let you skim through all the data you want to know, rather than have to hunt it down. Multiple profiles helps anyone with a handful or more sites and blogs keep up on all their sites' traffic, no login required. It just works, and, for most personal site owners, it's more convenient than the site—not something one can always say about a Google product, either.
1. Get a reliable, affordable web host
Of course, all the tools in the world don't make much difference if your site isn't available in the first place. When it comes to picking a hosting company, nothing teaches like experience, so ask around amongst friends and family, do lots of research, and don't sign up for too long. if you're happy to sing the praises of your chosen hosting company, share in the comments.
The Lifehacker editors have their own sites and favourite tools to manage them, but we're just a small sampling of geeks. We want to hear from you on what sites, software, or strategies helped you get a web site up and running, or makes it easier to update. Trade your web admin wisdom in the comments.