Nowadays, creating your own website is a relatively simple task. Gone are the days of learning HTML and figuring out how to host a website on a server. Now there are a multitude of website-building services such as Wix, Squarespace, and Weebly. Even if you’re not tech-savvy and just need to quickly build a website, these options can be very enticing given their drag-and-drop user interfaces, variety of sleek designs, and simple deployment methods.
However, the huge downside to these website-building services is that they can be quite costly over time ($5-$25 per month depending on your feature set), and if you ever want to migrate your website to your own server or another website builder, you are basically starting from scratch.
In addition, even if you choose the cheapest or free plans that these services offer, they usually require you to display ads promoting their service on your website (which can look very unprofessional), and they offer bare-bones features such as low storage and bandwidth caps, the inability to display video on your website, and no tools to track and analyze your website traffic.
What if I told you there was a way to build and host your own website absolutely for FREE, and you can use your own custom designs, embed video content, and have advanced features like tools to analyze your website traffic.
And when I say FREE, I’m saying building the website is FREE and ongoing hosting of the website is FREE. If you’re thinking this is too good to be true, think again! By using free services such as GitHub Pages, Jekyll, Google Analytics, and YouTube, you can create your own feature-rich website and host it for FREE!
Getting started with GitHub Pages and Jekyll
Now for my non-tech-savvy readers, if you ever heard of GitHub, you may think it’s a service only for techie programmers. Now it’s true that GitHub is huge in the software development world and is the de facto method to gain version control over your code, back up your software projects to the cloud, and share your code with other programmers.
However, a little-known feature of GitHub is that it allows you to host your own personal website for free (no monthly fees, no startup fees, just FREE). It’s done through GitHub Pages, which is way to host a website directly on GitHub, and Jekyll, a static-site generator that allows to convert plain text into feature rich web pages.
Now there is a bit of a learning curve to using GitHub and Jekyll. For example, you have to use the Command Prompt (Windows) or Terminal (macOS) to get the website started and make updates, but once you’ve done it a few times, it becomes very second nature. And if you’re still thinking it’s not worth it to learn, think about the $100-$400 you’re spending per year to use Wix or Squarespace and whether you want that money back in exchange for a FREE, fully customizable, and more feature-rich website-building solution.
Rather than explain how to set up GitHub Pages and Jekyll step-by-step, I highly encourage you to watch the video above or follow GitHub Page’s official instructions.
Setting up Google Analytics
Once you have your GitHub Pages and Jekyll website up and running, you can easily track your website traffic using a free service called Google Analytics. I bring this up because if you’re interested in using the free tier of a website-building service like Weebly as an alternative to GitHub Pages and Jekyll, the free tiers of these services usually don’t include tools to analyze your website traffic.
Google Analytics has a very powerful set of features including advanced visualizations and the ability to track your website users based on a number of different demographic metrics including location, age, gender, and key interests.
To set up Google Analytics, I encourage you to watch the video above or read Google’s official setup documentation.
Embedding YouTube videos in your website
One of the best ways to make an engaging website is to include video content. It’s now being said that “if a picture is worth a thousand words, then a video is worth a million!” Even if you disagree with this statement, video content has proven to dramatically increase website engagement. On average, users spend 88% more time on a website that has video content.
If you’re interested in putting videos on your website, I recommend you always embed videos rather than upload the raw video files to your website. Embedding videos is a much simpler process, and you don’t have to use up any storage on your website to embed videos. And when I say “embed”, it’s a way of displaying the full video on your website through a hyperlink.
If you want to embed YouTube videos into your GitHub Pages/Jekyll website, I highly recommend you check out this guide from Adam Garrett-Harris. It’s short, simple, and very insightful.